Tags: EA-18G, Electronic Warfare, Growler, Royal Australian Air Force
Delivering the EA-18G to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will be a highly celebrated event, and rightfully so. This December, RAAF Six Squadron began their transition from the F/A-18F to the EA-18G. In January of 2017, the RAAF will take custody of their EA-18Gs and begin flight operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. In February of 2017, the RAAF EA-18Gs will fly-in to the Avalon Air Show, Melbourne Australia – a capstone event for the U.S.-Australian team orchestrating the foreign military sale (FMS). Unfortunately, media announcements and fanfare may not adequately capture or commemorate the storied relationships, close partnership and hard work of the team that made this epic milestone possible.
The Electronic Warfare (EW) landscape has been one of the most heavily-guarded domains of the U.S. military portfolio. The marking “NOFORN” was the default classification for all EW information, indicating that EW information was not be shared with any foreigner. Growing up in this environment, it seemed inconceivable we would one day execute the EW mission side-by-side with any partner nation.
That changed in 2013 when the RAAF redefined their EW posture and requested twelve brand-new EA-18Gs, two electronic warfare ranges, a training contract for EW aircrew, intelligence officers, and maintenance professionals. This pivot exponentially expanded the RAAF’s ability to sustain an EW infrastructure and offensive capability for years to come. The RAAF and wider Australian Defense organizations designed the EW material acquisition plan impeccably. The plan accelerated the EA-18G’s “capability realization” through an academically disciplined architecture of networked FMS cases. The RAAF EW portfolio encompassed all elements to support the EA-18G as a “platform,” or in other words “EW equipment.”
A straightforward move on paper, but EW tacticians will understand that EW requires a vast depth of knowledge beyond the equipment. To quip, if EW had a Facebook status it would read: “it’s complicated.” There is a “je ne se sais quoi” ingredient to EW. As the RAAF realized, this ingredient lies within the people and the know-how. Traditional FMS transactional activity could not capture the “je ne sais quoi” ingredient, it required compressing seven decades of EW “corporate knowledge” into 24 months. If anyone could make that leap, it’s the RAAF.
Aligning EW methodologies is an incredible asset to both Australia and the U.S. Aligning tactical know-how and EW methodology is critical to our shared interests, and it was imperative that Australia gain this knowledge. EW is unlike kinetic air-to-ground payloads that simply require target coordinates, or an air-to-air missile that needs an appropriate target. It requires our sensors to call the signals the exact same thing, employ the exact same waveforms/payloads, and deliver at the exact same time with exact positioning. If we do not put the “right” payloads on the “right” target, we undo each other’s effects, degrade blue systems (called electromagnetic interference – EMI), or completely miss the target. Simply put, having the same equipment is not enough. Mission effectiveness requires that we think alike, train alike, and speak the same EW language.
To achieve total alignment and close the “corporate knowledge gap,” the U.S. and RAAF established a personnel exchange program (PEP), to embed RAAF pilots and aircrew in operational U.S. Navy Expeditionary EA-18G squadrons. In July of 2013, only three months after signing the FMS for twelve EA-18Gs, we ambitiously planned to start training aircrew in October of 2013 at the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), with RAAF aircrew serving two year stints in deployable units by early 2014. This aggressive timeline represented the hardest path to traverse in our fledgling EW partnership.
Integrating RAAF aircrew into the FRS and then into operational VAQ units meant moving mountains. Mountains made from decades of cultural biases resisting the precise things we were trying to accomplish. This meant assembling a team and working through painstaking details, dubbed “stubby pencil work” by one of the most vital and experienced active duty EW experts leading our team.
The short story is that we did it. A cross-functional team including professionals from the Naval service and other wider DoD organizations changed the tactical EW realm from “NOFORN” to “YESFORN.” Men and women worked long hours, gave up “flex-Fridays”, curtailed summer leave plans, even skipped convalescent leave and poured their hearts and souls into the mission. Senior Navy, U.S. DoD, and RAAF officials took risks, trusted their teams and approved the necessary things to ensure the partnership would be durable. The team believed in the mission and got it done.
The fruits of the combined Navy and RAAF endeavor are nothing short of epic. During their two years of service, RAAF aircrew did more than simply learn EW tradecraft and “tick the box,” or “tick” as the Aussies would say. Instead, RAAF officers excelled at nearly every squadron leadership position including, but not limited to: acting Executive Officer, Operations Officer, Training Officer, Division Officer(s), and Standardization Officer. RAAF officers served in every critical billet in an EA-18G squadron and did so with the utmost professionalism and dedication.
This experience and its success continues to be all about the people. It is about the dedication to establish the partnership, the camaraderie forged on deployments, the life-long friendships and bonds that will never be forgotten. There should be little doubt that the capital effort put forth by RAAF officers in U.S. Navy squadrons will persist and carry them to commanding heights within their organizations, just as they “raised the bar” of excellence within ours.
These conspicuous achievements send a clear message that “this thing isn’t over, it’s just warming up.” The way forward includes Growlers in Australia, an indefinite U.S. Navy-RAAF officer exchange beginning in 2017, continued RAAF training at FRS Squadron 129 (the cradle of U.S. Navy EW), and select RAAF aircrew attendance at the EA-18G graduate course HAVOC. The combination of these institutional and close interpersonal relationships will forever align and bond our countries in the EW domain, a massive “tick.”
Without a doubt, the celebration and congratulations for the incredible hard work of the many people in the EA-18G RAAF program is well deserved and symbolized by the Avalon fly-in. This piece was nothing more than a reflection on the incredible depth of the successes forged by people. As our unassuming RAAF brothers and sisters would say in celebrating years of hard work, “cheers mate, well done.”
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