Growlers on the hunt

US Navy EA-18G Growlers track down targets in Syria

Details have been reported regarding US Navy EA-18G Growlers of VAQ-137 embarked with the USS Theodore Roosevelt being used to track high value targets in Iraq and Syria.

The Growler’s ‘brain’ is the Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-218(V)2 re-ceiver that can detect, classify, and locate enemy radars and can then suppress those emissions using either anti-radiation missiles or AN/ALQ-99 jammer pods. It can also detect and disrupt communications, which has proven very useful in recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against so-called Islamic State (IS).

The US Navy plans a total of 16 Growler squadrons: nine carrier-based squadrons, five land-based expeditionary squadrons, one reserve squadron, and a Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). At present, 13 Growler squadrons have stood up, including the reserve squadron, VAQ-209 ‘Star Warriors’. Of those units, all but one (VAQ-141 ‘Shad-owhawks’ which is forward-deployed with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan) are located at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.

The Whidbey Island units currently include eight carrier-based squadrons, the EA-18G FRS VAQ-129 ‘Vikings’, and three expeditionary units: VAQ-132 ‘Scorpions’, VAQ-135 ‘Black Ravens’ and VAQ-138 ‘Yellow Jackets’. VAQ-142 ‘Gray Wolves’ will complete transition from the Prowler this summer and will be assigned to carrier duties. VAQ-134 ‘Garudas’ will complete the transition syllabus in 2016 and will likely be allocated to CVW-1. The final Growler squadron, the yet-to-be-named VAQ-143, will begin to form sometime in 2017 and will be the final expeditionary squadron.

VAQ squadrons operate with five Growlers, one aircraft more than the previous EA-6B squadrons. Studies are currently under way to determine whether the optimal squadron size is seven or eight aircraft. According to Boeing, which has performed its own internal studies, the Growler’s effectiveness is enhanced when operating in a three-ship flight versus the single or section operations often used by Prowlers. This flight configuration allows two Growlers to fly with active pods while the third EA-18G flies in a passive mode, using its sophisticated ALQ-218 electronic gear to listen.

In July 2013, VAQ-130 ‘Zappers’ deployed aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) supporting Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ and logged 226 combat sorties totaling 1,596 flight hours.

In August 2014, VAQ-139 ‘Cougars’ deployed aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) to provide support for air operations over Syria as part of Operation ‘Inherent Resolve’ and returned in early 2015.

VAQ-137 ‘Rooks’ is now deployed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

The full version of this feature appears in the US Navy and Marine Corps Air Power Yearbook 2015, a special edition of Combat Aircraft, which is currently on sale.

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