February 27, 2009
TWELVE of 24 Boeing Super Hornets on order for the RAAF are to be rewired to give them an advanced electronic warfare capability.Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced the Government would spend $35 million for the aircraft to be modified as they move down the Boeing production line in the US.
That's a far cheaper option than seeking to modify the aircraft once in service.
What the RAAF will get are F/A-18F Super Hornets able to be upgraded to full EA-18G Growler configuration, comparable to the Growlers now entering service with the US Navy.
"If finally pursued, the relatively small investment will significantly enhance the Super Hornets capability, by giving electronic attack capacity and therefore the ability to nullify the systems of opposing aircraft," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"It will also provide the Super Hornets with counter-terrorism capability through the ability to shut down the ground-based communications and bomb triggering devices of terrorists."
Once modified, the RAAF aircraft could be upgraded to full Growler capability through acquisition of electronic warfare pods.
Mr Fitzgibbon said that would cost an additional $300 million with a decision likely to be made in the upcoming Defence white paper, set for release in March or April.
This would give Australia an extremely advanced airborne electronic attack capability, far in excess of any regional power.
Much of the information about electronic attack remains highly classified.
Some reports suggest it would allow a hostile aircraft or ground radar to be jammed or even spoofed through inserting false data. Hostile missiles could be distracted away from their real targets or even made to attack their own side.
Under plans launched by the former coalition government, the RAAF's ageing F-111 bombers will be retired in 2010.
The RAAF's current fleet of F/A-18 Hornets will remain in service but will be gradually replaced by the new Lockheed F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) from 2015.
To ensure there was no capability gap between retirement of the F-111s and the arrival of the JSF, the former government ordered the 24 Super Hornets at a cost of $6 billion.
The first Australian Super Hornets will be delivered next year.
The Growler is similar to the conventional Super Hornet. Other than the extra internal wiring, the key difference is that it has no gun, with the space taken by dedicated electronic attack components.
For the RAAF, the gun would apparently remain, but with wiring to allow later installation of the electronics.
A yet to be resolved issue is whether the US would agree to sell Australia some of its most advanced electronic equipment.
A Defence source said the fact that the US had agreed to the installation of the wiring left them confident other equipment could be supplied.