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Insight: How will the US Navy keep its EA-18G Growler EW aircraft flying until 2046?

14th September 2023 - 17:30 GMT | by Defence Insight Team in London


The Growler was the first newly designed electronic warfare aircraft produced in more than 35 years. (Photo: USN)

The carrier-based EA-18G Growler entered service in 2010 and is intended to remain in service until 2046. Shephard Defence Insight analyses the key operational technologies on the aircraft and the upgrade path needed to keep it flying and effective for another two decades.


The EA-18G Growler is a variant in the F/A-18 family of aircraft that combines the F/A-18F Super Hornet platform with a sophisticated electronic warfare suite. It is in service with the USN and the RAAF. Australia and the US are both in the process of upgrading their respective fleets of EA-18Gs.

Additional information

What is the EA-18G's role?

Built to replace the EA-6B Prowler, the Growler was the first newly designed electronic warfare aircraft produced in more than 35 years. The aircraft also retains all of the F/A-18E/F’s multi-mission capabilities to perform a wide range of enemy defence suppression missions. Two General Electric F414 engines power it.

The USN and the RAAF are the sole operators of the aircraft.

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The first test aircraft went into production in October 2004 and made its first flight in August 2006. The first production aircraft was delivered on 3 June 2008. IOC and full-rate production followed in the autumn of 2009, and the first deployment was in 2010.

What upgrades are planned for the EA-18G


According to the USN, the extensive commonality between the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G, as well as its flexible platform, gives the Growler much-needed room for future upgrades and growth.

The navy is funding an ongoing F/A-18E/F and EA-18G Service Life Extension Programme, aimed at providing structural and subsystems enhancements. This will extend the F/A-18E/F/G's service life and maintain sufficient aircraft inventory to meet the fleet's operational requirements through to 2046.

This is complemented by another ongoing set of upgrades undertaken under the umbrella of the F-18 Operational Safety Improvement Program. These provide capability upgrades to the weapons and sensors, including the APG-79 radar, AN/ALQ-99 jammer (in advance of its eventual replacement by the Next Generation Jammer) and MIDS JTRS data link; and core avionics improvements, including integration of the Advanced Cockpit System and Advanced Capability Mission Computer.

Mercury Mission Systems has been contracted to provide data transfer units and high-definition video recorders for installation aboard the EA-18G Growler. Works are expected to be completed by 2024.


The RAAF's EA-18G Growler capability is being overhauled through Project AIR 5349 Phase 6 - Advanced Growler, which will ensure commonality with USN aircraft. 

The upgrades include: cooperative development of the Next-Generation Jammer system with the US to gradually replace the AN/ALQ-99; aircraft modifications, including sensor upgrades; anti-radiation missile war stock; longer-range and more advanced anti-radiation missiles; enhanced EW training ranges capability; facility improvements at Amberley near Brisbane and the Delamere Air training area near Katherine in the Northern Territory.

In February 2023, Australian radar company CEA Technologies was awarded a A$277 million ($207 million) contract to provide advanced capabilities for Australia’s EW ranges. The contract will include a number of fixed and portable emitters to support training exercises and strengthen capability across the joint force. It is the first contract to be awarded under Phase 6, which has an approved budget of more than A$2 billion ($1.5 billion).

What subsystems is the Growler equipped with? 


The Growler is fitted with the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system.


The armament includes AIM-120 missiles, AGM-88 HARM missiles, and AGM-154 JSOW glide bombs.

Electronic warfare

The EA-18G Growler is equipped with an ALQ-218 receiver, ALQ-99 jamming pods, communication countermeasures and satellite communications. The AN/ALQ-249, the Next Generation Jamming Pod, is in final development and will be the successor for the long-serving ALQ-99.

What is the cost of an EA-18G


The USN procured a total of 160 aircraft between 2006 and 2016. The last seven aircraft cost $563.1 million, or just under $80 million each.


Australia's 12 EA-18Gs were procured as part of Lot 38 in 2014-15. In 2017, 12 aircraft were delivered; however, one was subsequently lost to an engine fire in 2018.

In September 2021, the US State Department made a determination approving a possible FMS to the government of Australia of an EA-18G Growler aircraft, related defence services, and related equipment for an estimated cost of $125 million.

The new aircraft is intended to replace the platform lost in 2018. The aircraft was delivered in March 2023.

This article was created using data and analysis from Shephard's Defence Insight market intelligence tool. For more information or to request a demo, visit our information page here.

Defence Insight Team


Defence Insight Team

The latest data insights and analysis brought to you by our dedicated Defence Insight Team, …

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