Thursday, 13 February 2014

So You Have A Growler-ski?!

What's a Growler?

Well, in case you are wondering, the Growler is the nickname for the US Navy's (USN) carrier based electronic warfare aircraft the Boeing EA-18G. It is essentially a highly modified twin seat F/A-18F Super Hornet for jamming enemy radars and to oppose the enemy's electronic warfare efforts ( Electronic Counter- Countermeasures, or ECCM ). The primary users are the USN and the Royal Australian Air Force ( RAAF ).

Boeing EA-18G Growler of test and evaluation squadron VX-31 over Ridgecrest, CA, near Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Source : USN


An EA-18G Growler of test and evaluation squadron VX-9 Vampires, carrying an array of payload, including 3 ALQ-99 external jammer pods, 2 external fuel tanks, 2 AGM-88 HARM ( High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile ) on outermost pylons and 2 AIM-120 AMRAAM ( Advanced Medium Range Air To Air Missile ) missiles, circa 2008. Source : USN

Growler - Origins

The Growler's predecessor is actually the Northrop Grumman EA-6B, nicknamed Prowler. The EA-6B is itself derived from the A-6A Intruder all-weather attack aircraft of the Vietnam War era, made famous in Stephen Coont's military thriller Flight of the Intruder. With the retirement of the USAF's EF-111A Raven in 1998, the USN's EA-6B Prowler became the only dedicated electronic warfare aircraft left in service to support US and NATO air operations, until its eventual replacement by the Growler in 2009. Now it is quite plain to see where the Growler nickname originated from - the "G" version of the F/A-18 and the "Prowler" it had effectively replaced.

US Navy EA-6B Prowler from the Electronic Attack Squadron-133 (VAQ 133) circa 2002.
Source : Wikipedia / USN

The Origins of The -Ski Suffix

As we already know, Russian names typically end with a -nov, -pov, -lev, -vich, and -ski! Some of the more famous ones include Babinski ( plantar reflex ), Sikorsky ( helicopters ) and Tchaikovsky ( no explanation required ). We also know that the Russians are really the masters of espionage and imitation since time in memorial. For any weapons or weapons platform that the Americans and their allies fielded, there was usually an equivalent Russian copy sooner or later. These copied versions frequently had striking physical and functional similarities to the original product and were usually dubbed with a -ski suffix to indicate a Russian imitation attempt. They are usually reverse engineered from stolen blueprints or from captured equipment from various military conflicts around the world. Because their industrial knowledge and technology generally lagged behind those of the western powers by a generation or two, they had to resort to such under the belt tactics to catch-up quickly and by all available means.

Of course being fabricated this way usually meant an inferior product compared to the original. In the sixties, the then revolutionary Harrier jump jet manufactured by the British aviation company Hawker Siddeley ( now BAe ) had its Russian clone in the form of the Yakovlev YAK-38 ( NATO code name Forger ). The Harrier had more elegant lines. The Forger looked unusually elongated and crude. The Harrier is currently still operational with the US Marines in the upgraded form of the AV-8B while the Forger had long faded into history after an unimpressive tenure as a carrier based VTOL ( vertical take-off and landing ) aircraft. And it is by no means restricted to military equipment as seen below :

Concorde : British Airways Concorde G-BOAC Source : Wikipedia


Concordeski : Tupolev TU-144 at Moscow Air Show 2007 Source : Wikipedia


For Once The Second Time, A Russian Success Story :
The KnAAPO T-10 Family of Fighters a.k.a. The Flankers

Least we forget about the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle. As the Cold War raged on in the seventies and eighties, this technology gap actually narrowed to such an extend that it was almost breached, well almost. We began to see Russian equipment that were truly impressive and innovative, sometimes even better than their western counterparts. The Sukhoi SU-27 jet fighter ( NATO code name Flanker ) was one such fine example. Introduced into service in 1985 mainly as an air superiority fighter, the SU-27 was intended to counter the 4th generation American fighter aircrafts like the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15 Eagle. It is highly maneuverable, comes with an advanced avionic suite, thrust vectoring nozzles, carries a huge payload and has a super long range. It is also the base model for subsequent variants such as the multi-role SU-30, the naval SU-33, the nuclear strike capable SU-34 Fullback fighter-bomber, the SU-35S ( Improved Flanker ) and the SU-37 advanced technology demonstrator.

When combined with the latest PESA radars ( and undoubtedly AESA radars in the near future ) and advanced Russian air to air missiles like the Vympel R-77 medium range missile ( NATO code name AA-12 Adder ), a.k.a. AMRAAM-ski, the Flanker is superior to all American fighter aircrafts except the F/A-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Even the F-35 does not stand a chance. It has also been widely exported to several countries worldwide, especially in Asia. Users include India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Venezuela and Uganda, just to name a few.

Malaysia bought a squadron of 18 SU-30MKMs in 2003 and might be looking for more to replace the ageing MiG-29 Fulcrums and even older F-5E Tiger IIs. MKM ( Modernizirovannyi Kommercheskiy Malaysia ) simply means " modernized export version, Malaysia ". They are an advanced configuration similar to India's SU-30MKI.

The Sukhoi SU-30MK Multi-role Fighter. Source : KnAAPO (Sukhoi)


From Flanker To Growler-ski : The SAP-14 and SAP-518 ECM Pods

Add a couple of advanced high power external ECM ( electronic countermeasures ) pods to the wingtips of a Flanker and what do you get? An instant conversion to an electronic attack aircraft, capable of suppressing / jamming electronic signals in support of incursions into enemy airspace and perhaps even DEAD missions ( Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses ). Basically the equivalent of the EA-18G Growler.

First revealed in the 2009 Moscow Airshow, the SAP-518 ECM pod replaces the older wingtip mounted SPS-171/L005 Sorbtsiya phased array defensive ECM pods. It operates between 5GHz and 18Ghz.

The SAP-14 support jammer ECM pod is a heavyweight, high power analogue to the US ALQ-99 pod. It was developed for the Flanker family of aircraft and is carried on a large centerline pylon. It operates between 1GHz and 4GHz.

All are developed and manufactured by Kaluzhsky Scientific Research Radio-Technical Institute (KNIRTI).

Malaysia's Electronic Flanker

During the Royal Malaysian Air Force Flanker fly-by in Kuala Lumpur to celebrate the Malaysian Armed Force's 80th Anniversary on 21st Sep 2013, one of a quartet of SU-30MKMs flying in formation sported a strange set of wingtip pods noted by bloggers to be the SAP-518 advanced jamming pod. It was widely reported to be the first public revelation and appearance of the Malaysian Growler-ski.

However, if we go back a year earlier to Oct 2012, a USN photo already showed a pair of RMAF Growler-skis flying in formation with a couple of F/A-18E Super Hornets over the aircraft carrier USS George Washington ( CVN-73) somewhere over the South China Sea ( No it is not owned by China and is nowhere near China ). A scene like this will never be imaginable during the height of the cold war!

There are also circulating claims about a blogger who was the first to coin the name "Growlerski" after they were noticed overflying Kuala Lumpur. This was certainly erroneous as that name has already been widely used by those in the industry for quite some time. For example in his article titled Understanding Network Centric Warfare published in the Jan/Feb 2005 edition of Australian Aviation, Dr Carlo Kopp wrote "Russia is also marketing high power jamming equipment, especially pods using Digital RF Memory (DRFM) technology, and there is a good prospect of a Growler-ski based on the Su-32 materialising before the end of the decade." How remarkably accurate was that prediction!

See caption below. Source : U.S. Navy

Two F/A-18Es from the Royal Maces of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27 fly in formation with two Sukhoi Su-30s from the Royal Malaysian air force over the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), South China Sea Oct 2012. Source : USN

Final Thoughts

So you really have Growler-skis?! It is hardly surprising, given that even the Indian Air Force has them, and in fact you would be a moron not to have bought the ECM pods as a complete package when shopping for the SU-30s. They can be a very potent force multiplier in good hands. Definitely needed to give the Republic of Singapore Air Force's up and coming land based Aster 30 - SAMP/T surface to air missiles and the G-550 airborne early warning aircraft a run for their money. Note that the Republic of Singapore Navy already deploys Aster 15s and 30s in the six Formidable class stealth frigates. Quickly now, brush up your Russian before hitting the tome of that KNIRTI manual.

MBDA Aster 30 - SAMP/T Firing with Transporter Erector Launcher in foreground Source : MBDA 

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