The Commonwealth has announced an upgrade to the Royal Australian Air Force’s electronic attack capabilities through funding for a number of key enablers for the Boeing EA-18G Growler.
To be conducted under the Project AIR 5439 Phase 6 Advanced Growler program, some of these enablers have already been announced including the cooperative development of the AN/ALQ-249(V)1/2/3 Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) system with the US Navy to replace the current AN/ALQ-99 jammers, and the acquisition of the Northrop Grumman AGM-88E2 Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM), approval for which was granted in June 2022.
What is new in the latest announcement published on 6 February is an investment in additional anti-radiation missile war stocks, and “new longer-range and more advanced anti-radiation missiles”, perhaps hinting at an acquisition of the new AGM-88G AARGM-ER which features a new motor and missile body for longer-range employment.
Also being funded through the Phase 6 upgrade is a new electronic warfare training range designed to train and test the Growler’s new capabilities. These enhancement will be installed at a range near Oakey in Queensland, and on the vast Delamere Air Training range near Katherine in the Northern Territory. To this end, Canberra-based CEA Technologies has been awarded a $277 million contract to develop advanced capabilities such as threat systems for these ranges based on the company’s advanced electronic scanned array technology.
“The Albanese Government is working closely with defence industry partners and Australian companies will be involved a much as possible throughout the life of this project,” Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy said in a 6 February statement. “I’m proud that this project will continue to develop Australia’s own CEA Technologies, a world leading radar technology company.”
“We are delivering leading edge technology the RAAF needs to face an increasingly complex and uncertain strategic environment,” he added.
The statement also says the aircraft themselves will receive “modifications including sensor upgrades”, and says the upgrade will ensure Australia’s Growlers maintain “commonality with US Navy aircraft”, likely through an alignment with the US Navy’s Growler Block II upgrade program.
Being conducted in conjunction with the US Navy’s Super Hornet Block III program, Block II Growlers will receive new 10×19 inch touchscreen cockpit displays, new modes for the AN/APG-79 AESA radar, subtle tweaks to the aircraft’s low-observable shaping and materials, and the Tactical Targeting Network Technology and Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (TTNT/DTP-N) which provides an advanced core networking and processing capability. Australia is believed to have already funded TTNT/DTP-N kits for its 36-strong Growler and Super Hornet feet through a US Navy contract awarded in June 2021.