Australia will upgrade half of its frontline warplanes with sophisticated American jammers, making it the first nation outside the United States to use the system, the country’s defence ministry has announced.
Australia is a close US ally and last year agreed to host 2,500 US Marines in the northern city of Darwin under President Barack Obama’s 'pivot' to the Asia-Pacific.
Twelve of Australia’s 24 Boeing-built F/A-18 Super Hornets will be converted to so-called Growlers, giving them the capability to use the same technology that paralysed communications and missile systems in the NATO air campaign in Libya last year.
The upgrade will cost around A$1.5bn (£985m), with the first converted aircraft to be operating from 2018.
The Growler is a specialised version of the two-seat Super Hornet multi-role combat aircraft, and is currently in service with the US Navy. The electronic warfare capability is provided mainly by Northrop Grumman.
A defence ministry spokesman said: “Electronic threats are an inherent part of modern combat and Growler will provide options for the Air Force to undertake electronic threat suppression operations in support of Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations, including land and sea forces.”
The Growler capability can also undertake intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The aircraft was first used in combat to help enforce the United Nations no-fly zone over Libya, provide escort and offensive jamming during air attack missions.
The deployment of US Marines to northern Australia has sparked concern in China, where officials have questioned whether it is part of a larger US strategy aimed at encircling it and thwarting the country’s rise as a global power.