The aircraft, A46-301, had already made its first flight on July 13, but was formally presented in front of RAAF and US Navy representatives, Boeing employees and the Governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon.
“It will be a magnificent addition to the Australia Defence Force’s joint operations, and I predict it will have one of the biggest strategic effects for the ADF since the introduction of the F-111 in 1970s,” newly-retired Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Geoff Brown, representing current CAF Air Marshal Leo Davies, told the ceremony.
“Occasions such as today,” Brown said, ”provide powerful and tangible evidence of the commitment of our government and our people to the maintenance of sophisticated Australian airpower.”
The second RAAF Growler has also made its first flight, while the following 10 aircraft are all currently in various stages of assembly at Boeing’s St Louis plant. All 12 are due to be ferried to Australia during 2017.
In between times the first two RAAF Growlers will fly to China Lake in August to undergo testing with the US Navy to clear the aircraft to carry the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile and ATFLIR targeting pod – currently unique Australian requirements – while the other aircraft will initially go into storage with Boeing in St Louis. Aircraft will then either be delivered to Whidbey Island, where RAAF aircrews are currently training on the jet with the US Navy, or delivered direct to Australia.
Air Marshal Brown explained the Australian requirement to fit the AIM-9X and ATFLIR came out of US Navy experience operating the Growler in operations over Libya.
“One of the things you see on our aeroplane is an ATFLIR and an AIM-9X. That was one of the lessons that the Navy learnt,” Brown told journalists after the ceremony. “We’re the only ones that have got that capability and I suspect the US Navy will follow very quickly.”
Modifying the Growler to carry the ATFLIR and AIM-9X requires a relatively minor change to the aircraft’s software, as the Super Hornet, upon which the Growler is based, is already cleared to carry both the missile and the pod.
“One of the big lessons out of Libya was to actually have an electro-optical pod on the Growler,” Brown said. “You can get the electronic emissions, see where something is and get eyes on with a pod.”
Brown also flagged that Australia would eventually equip its Growlers with the forthcoming Next Generation Jammer.
“As the US Navy upgrades this aeroplane, we’ll stay in lock-step.”
Apart from being the first Australian Growler, A46-301 also represents another milestone as it is the 100th Hornet airframe built for the RAAF, which has taken delivery of 75 F/A-18A/B classic Hornets and 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets.
The first Australian Growler is the 116th EA-18G to be built, while total Super Hornet and Growler production will reach 700 units later this year.
Boeing currently has orders to keep the Super Hornet/Growler production line running through until late 2017, but is hopeful a US Navy requirement for 12 further Super Hornets and orders for 24 to 36 Super Hornets from a new Middle Eastern customer, reported to be Kuwait, will be confirmed, which would see production continue through to late 2019.