The Royal Australian Air Force's first Boeing EA-18G Growler has entered production at Northrop Grumman’s El Segundo plant in California.
As with every "classic" Boeing F/A-18 Hornet and E/F-model Super Hornet before it, Northrop will build the centre and rear fuselage of the Growler before shipping it to Boeing for final assembly and flight testing in St Louis, Missouri.
Australia's lead aircraft, which will be numbered A46-301, is the first of 12 EA-18Gs on order for the nation's air force. It is expected to roll out in mid-2015, before conducting a 12-month flight test campaign with the US Navy in order to meet Australian airworthiness requirements.
The production milestone comes after the first Australian Growler crews started training on the type earlier this year with the US Navy’s VAQ-129 unit at NAS Whidbey Island near Seattle, Washington. Six crews will have been trained at the location by 2016.
A first tranche of five or six Growlers is expected to be ferried to Amberley air base near Brisbane, Queensland in early 2017, and will be followed about six months later by the balance of the fleet.
The aircraft will be operated by 6 Sqn – the former General Dynamics F-111C and F/A-18F operational conversion unit. In order to accommodate the Growlers, the unit will relinquish its training role and Super Hornets to the air force's 1 Sqn. Further Australian Super Hornet conversion training will be undertaken with US Navy training units at NAS Oceana, Virginia from 2015.
Australia is scheduled to declare initial operational capability with the EA-18G in mid-2018, with full operational status slated for the early 2020s.
Source: Flight International