Archive for the 'EA-18G' Tag

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.

RAAF’s first Growler during a July 29, 2015 ceremony in Boeing’s plant in St. Louis, Mo. USNI News Photo

RAAF’s first Growler during a July 29, 2015 ceremony in Boeing’s plant in St. Louis, Mo. USNI News Photo

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.

Cockpit view of an Australian EA-18G Growler off the West Coast of California, Pacific Ocean, August, 2016. Courtesy FLTLT Todd "Woody" Woodford.

Cockpit view of an Australian EA-18G Growler off the Coast of California, August, 2016. Courtesy FLTLT Todd “Woody” Woodford

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.”



And so, yesterday it started in earnest. In what seems strangely like a mix of the immediate aftermath of DESERT STORM’s Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, DESERT FOX, with a whiff of the Suez Crisis thrown in – what in the USA we are calling Operation ODYSSEY DAWN, ELLAMY for the British, HARMATTAN for the French, and MOBILE for the Canadians in now underway.

We saw yesterday the launch of TLAM – both traditional and tactical TLAM – along with Anglo-French strike aircraft going after Libyan government positions to “shape the battlespace” for further operations. The Pentagon created slide below outlines the Maritime forces – but unfortunately leaves out one of the TLAM shooters, the SSN HMS TRIUMPH (click image for larger).

From the same Pentagon brief, the below slide shows we plan on a two-station No Fly Zone Libya (NFZ-L). So far it looks like it will be using land-based aircraft only. See the previous posts about those challenges – especially for any long-term presence.

Where did we strike? This should give you an idea.

A few things stand out for me. First is the USS FLORIDA SSGN, the mixed use of the Tactical TLAM, and the British use of their Anglo-French-Italian ALCM Stormshadow. Initial reports just mentioned French and British aircraft, but AFRICOM also reports that EA-18G made their combat appearance, and AV-8B Harriers aboard the USS KEARSARGE (LHD-3) participated in strikes. More information will follow as the day goes forward, I’m sure.

Also, until a Coalition Command is set up (!), from the Pentagon brief (watch it here), it seems that this is being run by Commander, Africa Command; General Ham with Admiral Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, III apparently in Tactical Command with Joint Task Force ODYSSEY DAWN embarked USS MOUNT WHITNEY (LCC-20).

As a final thought for now, I want to return to VADM Gortney’s brief from the Pentagon where he stated that the initial strikes were done to “Create the conditions and shape the battlespace, partners can take the lead.”

Now that we are in, it begs a few questions.

1. Will the anti-Gadaffi forces be able to advance under Coalition top-cover?

2. Do our Coalition partners have the political, military, and financial ability to support a protracted NFZ-L? If partner nations start to fall out over time – when do we decide to remove our support, or do we plan to be the last nation standing, again?

3. As we have intervened in a civil war; what if any obligation do we have to prevent defeat of the rebels’ ground forces – or if their defeat is eminent – evacuate them and resettle with their families?

4. What is the diplomatic plan if the Gadaffi forces defeat the rebellion? According to The Telegraph CJCS Admiral Mullen stated,

Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the outcome of military action from the air was “very uncertain” and made it clear that Washington did not see the goal of Operation Odyssey Dawn as removing the Libyan leader from power.

Well, I can tell you that however you spell his name, Gadaffi thinks we are. The leaders of the rebellion thinks we are, and … errr …

Since military action was authorised, Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, has said that the only logical conclusion to the military campaign was the removal of Col Gaddafi. David Cameron has also reiterated demands for the Libyan leader, who yesterday vowed a “long war”, to step down.

STRATCOM fail. Next.

5. If the rebellion succeeds, what are the Coalition’s obligation to prevent reprisal killings and tribal based score settling?

6. If the rebellion succeeds and the war on the ground becomes a series of human rights incidents, as is often the end game in civil wars (which we will have no control over as we have no forces on the ground), do we continue to give those forces top-cover to continue their human rights abuses?

7. If this is our basis for intervention, then what do we tell the leaders of uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain, Iran, and other places?