Australian-U.S. Growlers Validate Warfighting Partnership

Commander Michael Lisa and Lieutenant Bruce Hill, U.S. Navy

Since January 2017, the RAAF has been conducteding operational “stand-up”–or verification and trials—after the successful acceptance and first flights of the EA-18G. The Growlers of RAAF 6 Squadron, based in Queensland, have established themselves as true peers with the USN Growler community. They are competent in all mission capabilities, as demonstrated through challenging trials and validation events in global operations.

The recent ARM live-fire missile shoot was one of those trials. For the USN team, it was not enough for the RAAF to simply shoot an ARM—we wanted to demonstrate combined combat EW interoperability. The Australian-U.S. Growler team had three objectives:

·      Distributed Lethality: Prove our operational aircraft systems can fully share data.

·      Distributed Planning: Prove the USN and RAAF can plan combined operations from separate locations, using austere networks    (sometimes even no networks), to arrive at an agreed location and co-execute a mission.

·      Combined EW Capability at the Junior Officer Level: Ensure EW can be executed by junior officers – not just by experienced test personnel.

These objectives capture the essence of warfighting capabilities needed in the Pacific theater: distributed lethality, distributed operations, and steadfast partnerships. We know historically what it takes to win in the Pacific. In the 21st century, the details are more complex, but the concepts remain the same.

Achieving these objectives was simple, and the senior officers worried more than the junior officers. In the minds of junior officers, the RAAF and USN always have worked together freely, so a live-fire exercise should be a piece of cake. It quickly became clear that the next generation of EW warriors was raised on integration and could not conceive of barriers.

Six USN aircrew departed Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in three EA-18Gs 96 hours prior to the live fire. All planning was finalized, with no ability to alter mission data after departure. The USN team flew more than 5,500 miles, traversed the continental United States, and after multiple stopovers, arrived at the agreed location 18 hours prior to missile launch with enough time to obtain range safety briefings. Show up ready to fight and kill the target? Sounds easy enough. It should be. It has to be. And it was that easy.

On the day of the live fire, a combined RAAF/USN team of five EA-18Gs pressed into the range complex, found the target, passed targeting data over complex networks, and eliminated the target. The RAAF crew completely “shacked” the target. 

There are three key take-aways from this evolution. First, the RAAF’s EA-18Gs bring increased combat power that is credible. Second, combined EW is 100 percent operational and executable by junior officers. Third, the cooperative targeting engagement validated the hard work of the wider RAAF-USN team over the past five years.  

AUTHOR'S NOTE: We would like to specifically honor our friend the late Andrew “Baghdad” Bahjat who was a driving force behind the RAAF-USN EW partnership.

Commander Lisa has flown more than 2,500 hours in 25 aircraft, numerous combat sorties, and made 510 arrested landings including piloting the first embarked arrested landing of the EA-18G aboard the USS  Dwight D. Eisenhower  (CVN-69). He is the commanding officer of VAQ-135 stationed in Whidbey Island, Washington.

Lieutenant Hill is a 2008 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and 2015 graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School.  He is an information professional officer finishing a tour as information systems security manager for VAQ-135. 

Photo Credit: Boeing 

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