Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

It was fascinating to watch the announcement by the Minister and the Chief of Air Force on the purchase of the Boeing EA-18G Growler advanced electronic warfare capability.

The system will be acquired using a US purchasing process (FMS or Foreign Military Sales), whereby we just give the US Government the money and the US gives us the equipment, thus avoiding a Defence Materiel Organisation bureaucratic process that makes the Indian Public Service look slick, and of course avoids having to deal commercially with Boeing.

The Minister said Australia would be the only country using the system apart from the US, which was intended to make us feel proud but given the problems the Growler system has had, might be like boasting that Australia is the only country in the world that uses the Collins class subs.

The more frequent appearance of the US ambassador on such occasions was also probably meant to assure Australians that we are still close to the US regardless of what the Government is doing to our own Defence Force, but the few words the Ambassador said seemed to indicate that he also was a bit bemused as to the point of his presence.

The emphasis on the system as a defensive capability was also amusing, in that almost all the rhetoric was about how Growler would 'decrease the risk' to all ADF operations, a strange approach for such an electronic warfare attack system. But then the Chief of Air Force offered his opinion that the Growler system was the biggest strategic gain in Australia since the acquisition of the F-111, possibly an acceptable statement.

We should, however, remember that the (then nuclear-capable) F-111 was purchased to give Australia the ability to strike Indonesia, but which took so long to bring in to service that the nature of our relationship with our giant neighbour had, in the meantime, totally changed.

Of course, to be a credible, sovereign 21st century military, the ADF needs a system such as Growler, but there is so much controversy about whether it will work or not, and whether we will get the new jammer pods that the US seems to be getting to overcome the current problems, that like the JSF, we can only wait and see. And aren't the radars on the JSF supposed to have an extraordinary electronic warfare capability?

It is not exactly clear to this part-time air power enthusiast what the final product is that we are buying for $1.5 billion. It is even less clear where this fits in to a plan that extends anywhere past the next budget update, where Defence is likely to be well and truly Gonski'ed. It is also a system that has more logic for operations independent of the US than in support or in coalition with the US, who will have 114 of these systems, compared to Australia's twelve.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.