Larsen wants to see plans for Growler force structure

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen wants the Department of Defense to explain its plans for the EA-18G Growlers.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen wants the Department of Defense to explain its plans for the EA-18G Growlers.

Larsen, a Democrat who represents District 2, was able to secure a provision in the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that directs the Secretary of Defense to report on the Navy and Air Force plans for the airborne electronic attack force structure.

The action is a response to the Navy’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal to mothball all five expeditionary Growler squadrons at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. The Navy’s budget highlight book states that the expeditionary, or non-carrier-based, electronic attack squadrons consist of 25 airplanes and approximately 1,020 associated officers and enlisted personnel. Under the proposal, about half of the Growlers would be decommissioned in fiscal year 2024 and the remainder in 2025.

The Growlers would be placed in long-term storage at Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Arizona. The projected savings over the Future Years Defense Plan is $807 million.

Larsen is concerned that the action would create a gap in the Department of Defense’s ability to execute the electronic warfare mission under the National Defense Strategy, according to Larsen’s office.

The Boeing EA-18G Growlers are variants of the F/A-18F Super Hornet equipped to conduct electronic warfare. Expeditionary squadrons don’t land on aircraft carriers and so don’t practice aircraft carrier landings.

Larsen asked top military leaders about the plans during a House Armed Services Committee hearing in May.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said the Pentagon took a hard look at Growlers when setting priorities for Navy spending.

“This is a mission that played lower, essentially, than some of the other missions that we have to face right now in terms of major investments, specifically with regards to the high-end fight against China right now,” he said.

He added that the military still has time to do further analysis of whether all the expeditionary squadrons or just a portion of them need to be decommissioned.

Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, said Growlers are the “only type model series aircraft” in the Navy that deploy in an expeditionary manner.

“Part of the entering argument for the Navy is whether or not this mission, this expeditionary mission, is core to what we do as a naval service and what we bring to the joint force,” he said.

The provision Larsen added to the National Defense Authorization Act would direct the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Air Force, to submit a report to the House Committee on Armed Services, no later than May 1, 2023, with recommendations for the required airborne electronic attack aircraft force structure, according to Larsen’s office.

The proposed provision directs the Department of Defense to explain joint electromagnetic spectrum operations; the area of responsibility for services when operating in a joint theater; the joint operation concept for operational employment of airborne electronic attack aircraft operated by the Department of the Navy and the Department of the Air Force; and any redundancy in capabilities among services.

In addition, the provision would direct the creation of “a roadmap outlining how the Department of Defense plans to reach the force structure described including an established goal date for achieving the minimum number of airborne electronic attack aircraft.”

The Armed Services Committee approved the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act with bipartisan support and it now heads to the House floor for consideration.