The RAAF in February quietly replaced the EA-18G Growler that caught fire in 2018 – but the Department of Defence made no announcement of its arrival.
Australia had an original fleet of 12, and it was only confirmed it would replace the written-off jet in 2021 at a reported cost of $170 million.
The original aircraft was damaged beyond repair while taking off over the Nellis Test and Training Range in Nevada in preparation for the start of Exercise Red Flag 18-1.
As it approached rotation speed, it suffered what Defence described at the time as a “malfunction”, with the crew forced to conduct a high-speed abort.
The two crew stayed with the aircraft until it came to rest off the side of Nellis’ eastern runway and were able to climb out of the jet and get clear of the flames.
Engine component failure was subsequently identified as the most likely cause of the catastrophic engine failure that sparked the incident.
As a result of the right-hand side engine’s failure, the RAAF placed a temporary operational pause on all F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler flying. Both aircraft types, operated by 82 Wing, are powered by GE F414 engines.
Defence only confirmed the arrival of the new replacement jet a week after a request from Australian Aviation, following unconfirmed reports suggesting it had touched down in Australia.
The Growler is a variant of the Super Hornet but differs in several key areas. In place of the nose-mounted gun, it carries two ALQ-218 tactical jamming receivers (TJR) pods on its wingtips and up to five ALQ-99 jammers on centre-line and wing stations.
This technology allows it to both shutdown enemy defences if it senses they’re tracking it or proactively jam them anyway using its radar.
It can even take out specific frequencies and comms devices, locating their emitters.
The fleet is operated by No. 6 Squadron and based at RAAF Base Amberley. The first only arrived in 2017, and the RAAF is the only air force outside of the US to own any.
Australian Aviation reported last month how Australia would spend $2 billion to upgrade its Growlers and the training ranges its pilots fly over.
The package will initially include a $277 million deal with CEA Technologies to install advanced radar capabilities at RAAF Base Amberley and the Delamere Air Training Area.
It will be followed by a larger program that will also see the aircraft itself kitted out with new sensors, jammers and longer-range missiles.