CANBERRA, Australia, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Australia is set to be the first export country for Boeing's EA-18G Growler, which the U.S. government approved for full-rate production only last December.
The decision was made by the U.S. Technology, Transfer, Security Assistance, Review Board, a brief report in the Australian newspaper said, quoting unnamed sources.
The order for the advanced electronic attack aircraft was given the go-ahead in late August, The Australian said.
The board's ruling to allow export of the highly sophisticated planes comes as Australia ramps up its air force's capability.
The Growler is essentially a specialized version of the two-seat F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fitted with ITT ALQ-99 radar jamming pods and an interference cancellation system, Northrop Grumman ALQ-218(V)2 radio frequency receiver and Raytheon ALQ-227 communication countermeasures suite for electronic surveillance.
Power is from twin General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans giving a maximum speed of nearly twice the speed of sound, around 1,190 mph at 40,000 feet.
Maximum ceiling is 50,000 feet with a range of 1,275 nautical miles.
The armaments have been removed to accommodate electronic surveillance and jamming equipment. This includes removing the wingtip missile launcher rail for the AIM-9 Sidewinder, as mounted on the Super Hornet, and replacing them with AN/ALQ-218 detection pods.
In February 2009, the Labor government, which was re-elected this month, requested that 12 F/A-18F Super Hornets -- half a $6 billion 24-plane order -- be wired for electronic attack capabilities while they are still on the production line. This allowed the Super Hornets to be upgraded to the U.S. Navy's Growler configuration at a later date.
"Wiring 12 of the Super Hornets as Growlers will give us the opportunity to provide taxpayers with better value for money," Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said at the time. "If finally pursued, the relatively small investment will significantly enhance the Super Hornet's capability by giving electronic attack capacity and, therefore, the ability to nullify the systems of opposing aircraft.
"It will also provide the Super Hornets with counter-terrorism capability through the ability to shut down the ground-based communications and bomb triggering devices of terrorists," he added.
The purchase of the Super Hornets is bridging a foreseeable gap in Australia's air defense capability, authorities have said. The planes are to cover the retirement of its aging fleet of F-111 strike aircraft in the near future until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is operational by 2018.
The U.S. Navy's current advanced electronic attack platform, the twin-engine, mid-wing Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler, in service since 1971. The Prowler, with a maximum speed of 650 mph and four crew, is being phased out in favor of the Growler that has been operational since 2008.