Canberra to delay decision on Growler upgrade for F/A-18Fs

Singapore
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Australia may not immediately convert its 12 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets that are being wired for the E/A-18G Growler electronic-attack configuration and could receive them in their original standard instead.

The aircraft - drawn from a 24-strong order - are being wired so that they can be converted in Australia, but the government and the Royal Australian Air Force are not about to make a decision.

"There is an acknowledgement that we need a fighter that will perform non-kinetic electronic attack roles, and the [Super Hornet] fighters could fit that role," says Gp Capt Steve Robertson, head of the RAAF's air combat transition wing and officer commanding its Super Hornet wing. "But we could take all 24 aircraft in the Super Hornet configuration and then convert some of them into Growlers at a later stage. It will not be a simple task, but we will have the capability to do it."

ea-18 growler
 © US Navy

Robertson says Australia's strategy is something that the US Navy is considering as well. "They realise that this is a good option to consider as you refine your requirements," he adds.

Industry sources say that the decision to convert the Super Hornets into Growlers could also depend on when the RAAF takes delivery of its Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. While it is scheduled to receive its first aircraft in 2014, there remain worries that this could be delayed because of ongoing problems with the programme.

Such a delay could result in Canberra ordering another 12-24 Super Hornets, allowing it to convert some from the initial batch into Growlers while retaining its air combat capability.

But Robertson says there is no indication of whether there will be an order for additional Super Hornets. "The government has to make that decision," he says. "The focus is now on getting the Super Hornets in service and looking at getting the F-35s on board on time."