By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
WHIDBEY ISLAND NAVAL AIR STATION — The Navy had a change of command of sorts Tuesday as the Oak Harbor base welcomed its first EA-18G Growler, a radar-jamming jet that will replace the EA-6B Prowler that first went into service in 1971.
The Navy rolled out the Growler during a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance at an Ault Field hangar on the base.
Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter; Rep. Rick Larson, D-Wash.; Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik; and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Chief Executive Officer Jim Albaugh all spoke highly of the new jet.
The Growler is based on Boeing’s two-seat, twin-engine F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet, with electronic systems built by Northrop-Grumman for the aircraft’s airborne electronic attack missions. The Growler, which like the Prowler can fly from the deck of an aircraft carrier, will be used to jam enemy radar and radio communications in the air and on the ground.
The Growler can be armed with air-to-air missiles for self-defense and with air-to-surface missiles that can home in on and destroy enemy air-defense stations.
The Growler, with its advanced technology and easier maintenance, has an onboard crew of two, smaller than the Prowler’s crew of four.
The Navy’s switch to Growler from Prowler is scheduled to be complete in 2013 with a total of 85 EA-18Gs that will be used in 10 squadrons and to support training. At NAS Whidbey Island, there will be nearly 60 Growlers, replacing the more than 70 Prowlers.
Eventually, NAS Whidbey Island will lose more than 1,000 personnel because of the switch to the Growlers.
Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce director Jill Johnson said she doesn’t believe the economic impact will be great.
“We prefer the replacement of the Growlers as opposed to not having a replacement at all,” Johnson said. “It’s all positive. We think this investment by the Defense Department bodes well for the area’s economic future.”
Navy Lt. Tom Clarity, originally from Albany, N.Y., said he is excited to start flying the Growler. And the transition to the new jet should mean that, eventually, training flights will be a little quieter over Island, Skagit and Snohomish county neighborhoods, Clarity said.
Navy Secretary Winter praised the defense contractors and Navy personnel for their efforts to make the Growler a reality.
“The successful delivery of the Growler today is part of the answer to the terrible losses and suffering of this war and every war, and this aircraft will play a key role in providing us with a decisive advantage against our adversaries,” Winter said.
Albaugh said his company looks forward to working with the Navy for many years to come.
“We understand how important our work is,” said Albaugh, who presented a ceremonial plaque to Navy Capt. Bradley Russell, commander of the Electronic Attack Wing of the Pacific Fleet.
“Thanks for the plaque and thanks for the airplane,” Russell said.
“This jet, this pointy-nosed, fun, really awesome jet that our Boeing and Northrop-Grumman team has built for us gives us the tactical edge and survivability we need to fight in this highly sophisticated and technical world.”
Russell told the younger crew members assembled for the dedication ceremony that he wishes he could be one of those flying the Growler.
“Get ready to strap this baby on and learn a new way to fight,” Russell said. “As the saying goes, ‘This ain’t your father’s Oldsmobile.’ “
Aside from a squadron based in Japan, NAS Whidbey is the home to all of the Navy’s airborne electronic attack aircraft.
The Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet is served by 4,970 active duty personnel in the Navy, Marines and Air Force, along with 92 Department of Defense civilian employees and 180 contractors.
Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or email@example.com.
Started service: 1971
Jamming: Suppression of radar signals from enemy bases
Weapons: Air-to-surface missiles
Top speed: Mach 0.7
Typical mission altitude: 25,000 feet
Range: About 1,150 nautical miles
Length: 59 feet, 10 inches
Wingspan: 53 feet
Height: 16 feet, 8 inches
Weight empty: 33,750 lbs.
Started service: 2008
Jamming: Suppression of communications and radar signals from enemy bases
Weapons: Air-to-surface missiles, air-to-air missiles
Top speed: Mach 1.8
Range: About 1,275 nautical miles
Typical mission altitude: 30,000 feet
Length: 60 feet, 2 inches
Wingspan: 44 feet, 11 inches
Height: 16 feet, 6 inches
Weight empty: 33,094 lbs.