As more EA-16G Growlers like this one join the fleet, the Navy's wrapping up its EA-6 Prowler training, including shutting down a key West Coast simulator. (Paul Farley / Navy)
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As the Navy transitions from the Prowler to the new Growler, one cornerstone of electronic warfare training will disappear before the legacy aircraft: the Prowler simulator.
The loss of the last high-fidelity simulator at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., this spring will put a twist in the training program for freshly-winged aviators who still have to learn how to operate the EA-6B Prowler. But the loss will make room for a new EA-18G Growler sim.
The Navy is halfway through transitioning its Prowler squadrons to the Growler, and there isn't enough space at Whidbey for simulators for both aircraft, said Lt. Aaron Kakiel, spokesman for Commander Naval Air Forces.
The last wave of Prowler students at Electronic Attack Squadron 129, the fleet replacement squadron for both the EA-6Bs and the EA-18Gs, will be without a simulator when the equipment is removed in late winter, after the initial stages of their training. They'll finish their curriculum with actual flight training and, because the simulator will be gone, they will travel to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., and use the Prowler simulator there.
One admiral was concerned a tight budget may discourage the Navy from sending FRS students 2,500 miles from Whidbey to Cherry Point, and that some training wouldn't be completed because of cost concerns.
"Are we, in the climate we are in, going to make sure we prioritize the dollars required to send people from Whidbey Island all the way to Cherry Point to get training, or are we going to take that risk?" asked Rear Adm. Brian Prindle, commander of the Naval Safety Center, during a presentation at the Tailhook convention in September. "This is an example of one area where I think we have a potential risk if we don't make sure people don't have the opportunity to get that training."
Kakiel said the Navy is confident students will be fully qualified after the training.
The Navy will stop production of Prowler aircrews in mid-fiscal 2014. There are 13 active-duty reserve electronic attack squadrons and one reserve in the Navy, and each has, on average, 28 officers and 160 enlisted sailors. Six squadrons have transitioned to the Growler while another is halfway through the process.
There are three Growler simulators at Whidbey, and the transition to that aircraft, combined with limited floor space, is driving the decision to remove the last Prowler simulator and replace it with one for the Growler.
"The Navy is confident this plan provides a safe and cost-effective way to conduct the remaining simulator events required to maintain the capability of its rapidly demising number of Navy EA-6B aircrew while keeping the EA-18G transition on-track to complete in FY-15," Kakiel said in a statement.
Kakiel said the fleet will still use the sim at Cherry Point in limited ways.
Meanwhile, the fourth Growler sim will be a big addition to Whidbey for both FRS students and aviators undergoing refresher training, since Growler training relies heavily on simulations.