Australians to train on Growlers at NAS Whidbey Island


The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) now has a presence at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station as FLTLT Sean Rutledge became the first RAAF pilot instructor to fly the new EA-18G Growler. Over the next three years, six crews from the RAAF will learn to fly this electronic attack platform at the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadron for 13 U.S. fleet and expeditionary Growler squadrons, Electronic Attack Squadron 129 (VAQ-129.

As part of the U.S. Governments Foreign Military Sales program, the Australian government is purchasing 12 of the Boeing made Growlers. Australia is the first foreign customer of 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.

The RAAF is training at NAS Whidbey Island as it is the home station for the entire U.S. fleet of EA-18Gs. Overseeing this joint U.S. and Australian venture is the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Management Office (PMA-265) at Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md. NAS Whidbey Island’s Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CVWP), 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.

“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. They have really made us feel welcome as new members of the AEA community.”

Each of the six RAAF teams will consist of one pilot and one electronic warfare officer. The 12 Australian aviators will learn land-based Growler operations exclusively. Most of their American counterparts are U.S. Navy aviators who must learn carrier based operations.

Rutledge, who arrived in Oak Harbor Sept. 18, 2013, will become the Australian instructor for the Growler. He said the first of the RAAF teams will begin their nine-month training cycle in January 2014.

“I’m pretty well aligned with American fliers,” said Rutledge, who has several multi-national exercises under his belt including Exercise Red Flag held at Nellis Air Force base, Nev. He spent three years flying F-111s, and another three years flying F/A-18F Super Hornets with Australia’s No. 1 Squadron, out of RAAF Amberley.

Rutledge hails from Far North Queensland, and 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.”

As CVWP continues transitioning its squadrons of EA-6B Prowlers to the EA-18G Growlers, the RAAF is joining the ranks of their American allies in flying the world’s most advanced electronic attack aircraft.

“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.”