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Aussies ‘invade’ NAS Whidbey
Over the next three years, six crews of the Royal Australian Air Force will train to fly the new EA-18G Growler at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
The pilots will join the base’s Fleet Replacement Squadron and Electronic Attack Squadron 129.
As part of the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales program, the Australian government is purchasing 12 of the Boeing-made Growlers.
Australia is the first foreign customer of the Growler, and will start taking delivery of this platform in 2017. The U.S. started using the Growler in 2008 and is replacing all of its various electronic attack aircraft platforms with this particular aircraft.
Overseeing this joint U.S. and Australian venture is the FA-18 and EA-18G Program Management Office at Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md.
NAS Whidbey’s Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, commanded by Capt. John Springett, provides direct training support.
“Training with CVWP is essential to our ability to establish a credible AEA (airborne electronic attack) capability,” said RAAF Wing Commander Paul Jarvis, Deputy Director for EA-18G Growler Transition in a news release.
“We’ve started early as there is an awful lot to learn between now and when we begin flying our own EA-18Gs in 2017,” said Jarvis. “The support that we have had from the U.S. Navy, particularly from Capt. Springett and his team here at NAS Whidbey Island has been truly magnificent.”
Each of the six Australian teams will consist of one pilot and one electronic warfare officer. The 12 Australian aviators will learn land-based Growler operations exclusively, and will not be performing field carrier landing practice as required of the U.S. pilots.
FLTLT Sean Rutledge, who arrived in Oak Harbor Sept. 18, will become the Australian instructor for the Growler. He said the first of the his teams will begin their nine-month training cycle in January.
“I’m pretty well aligned with American fliers,” said Rutledge, who has several multi-national exercises under his belt. He spent three years flying F-111s, and another three years flying FA-18F Super Hornets.
Rutledge is from Far North Queensland. He came stateside with his wife and family dog.
“It’s a great spot with plenty of outdoor things to do,” he said, “but I’ll have to ‘transition’ from surfing to snow skiing to fit in with the very welcoming people here in the Northwest.”
“Growler is a game changer for the Royal Australian Air Force,” said Jarvis. “With its unique mix of capabilities it provides multiple options to commanders, all of which reduce the risk to supported Australian Defense Force or coalition forces whilst increasing their lethality.”