RAAF F/A-18G (image : Aus DoD)
WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. (NNS) -- Five Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircrew personnel graduated from basic training at Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129, the U.S. Navy's EA-18G Growler Fleet Replacement Squadron, during a ceremony Feb. 27 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island.
The graduation marked a milestone in the RAAF-U.S. Navy partnership in airborne electronic attack as it was the first time RAAF aircrew completed basic training in the EA-18G.
The five RAAF aircrew will be assigned to U.S. Navy expeditionary units for approximately two years, deploying and operating the EA-18G under the Personnel Exchange Program.
One of the five graduates already deployed and is operating in the U.S. Pacific Fleet area of responsibility.
The Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, located at NAS Whidbey Island, provides direct training support to VAQ-129.
"The graduation of the first crews marks a key milestone for our partnership," said Capt. Darryl Walker, commander, Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet. "The RAAF aircrew are truly outstanding in the air and have proven to be highly-capable officers. The RAAF personnel addition to our expeditionary force is a win-win for both countries."
RAAF Director, General Capability Planning, Air Commodore Mike Kitcher attended the graduation, travelling to NAS Whidbey Island to personally extend his appreciation and preside over the inaugural event. Kitcher also presented a RAAF Achievement Award to a graduating aircrew.
As part of the U.S. government's Foreign Military Sales program, the Australian government is purchasing 12 of the Boeing-made EA-18Gs. Australia is the first foreign customer of the Growler, with delivery expected in 2017. Training and integrating RAAF aircrew into U.S. Navy forces prior to acceptance is a critical component to ensuring that the RAAF have a lethal force.
"Training with CVWP (Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet) is essential to our ability to establish a credible AEA (airborne electronic attack) capability," said RAAF Wing Commander Paul Jarvis, acting director, 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. The support that we have had from the U.S. Navy, particularly from Capt. Walker and his team here at NAS Whidbey Island, has been truly magnificent."
As the RAAF transitions to the EA-18G, they are joining the ranks of its American allies in flying the world's most advanced electronic attack aircraft.
"Growler is a game changer for the Royal Australian Air Force and the whole Australian Defence Force, and we couldn't be more pleased with the reception and support of the entire Whidbey Island and the broader U.S. Navy team," said Kitcher.
"We are celebrating the RAAF achievements and the program's successes, but are excited to build on our partnership with the RAAF going forward," said Walker, regarding the RAAF's fleet integration following the graduation. "This is an exciting time as the community is growing in all directions, including 'down under.'"