YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – The USS George Washington’s air wing will gain a squadron of advanced electronic warfare aircraft early this spring, representing the Navy’s latest move to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, military officials said Monday.
The introduction of the recently developed EA-18G Growler jets gives the Navy new radar- and signal-jamming capabilities in a region where top Defense Department officials have expressed concern over China’s modernizing military, and its apparent pursuit of a strategy designed to deny U.S. access to large parts of the East and South China seas.
“The United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged,” the Pentagon’s Priorities for 21st Century Defense strategic document stated in January. “Sophisticated adversaries will use asymmetric capabilities, to include electronic and cyberwarfare, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, mining and other methods to complicate our operational calculus.”
Although China and U.S. officials have emphasized that they are not adversaries, the U.S. remains sworn to defend Taiwan, whose reintegration into China remains a “core interest” for Beijing.
The electronic attack squadron VAQ-141 and its Growler jets will replace VAQ-136 and its EA-6B Prowler aircraft at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan. The Prowler squadron will transfer to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., Navy officials said.
The EA-18G Growler first saw combat in late 2010 and also flew during NATO operations in Libya last year. The Prowler has been updated multiple times since its introduction in 1971.
The Growler is much faster than its predecessor and requires only two operators, instead of the four-man crew needed for the Prowler.
“When this transition is complete, the George Washington and Carrier Air Wing 5 will possess the most capable carrier air wing in the U.S. Navy,” said Cmdr. KC Marshall, spokesman for Commander Naval Forces Japan.
The Prowler is a variant of the F-18 fighter jet and shares about 90 percent of its parts, Marshall said.
“Since we already have F-18s, it decreases the cost of our maintenance,” Marshall added. “That’s one of the biggest advantages right off the bat, along with its capabilities.”
During the past year, the carrier air wing has seen numerous upgrades, including upgraded E-2C Hawkeye 2000 planes, which provide data links to ships conducting ballistic missile-defense operations at sea.
The air wing also received 24 upgraded F/A-18E Super Hornet fighters last year.