The latest video features the US Navy’s numerous VAQ squadrons and the US Air Force’s 390th Electronic Combat Squadron as well as the No. 6 Squadron in the Royal Australian Air Force.
The “Ball” series (“Hornet Ball”, “Rhino Ball” and “Strike Fighter Ball” ) is a very well known yearly compilation of the best videos filmed during the previous 365 days by U.S. Navy pilots and WSOs (Weapons Systems Officers) of “legacy” F/A-18A-D Hornets and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets (and, more recently F-35C Joint Strike Fighters). Although each one is unique (here you can find those we featured here at The Aviationist: Strike Fighter Ball 2017, Rhino Ball 2016; Hornet Ball 2015; Hornet Ball 2014; Hornet Ball 2013), generally speaking these videos show day and night catapult launches and trap landings, low level flying, dogfights, aerial refueling and so on.
Along with the “main” series, there’s also a “Growler” one produced by EA-18G aircrews.
The Boeing EA-18G Growler is an Electronic Warfare/Attack variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service. Along with actively jamming enemy communications, the Growler, operating in a networked environment along with other two aircraft of the same type can use its EW pods to geo-locate a signal source and target it from stand-off distance with air-to-surface missiles.
Interestingly, along with the U.S. Navy squadrons which fly the jet (VAQ-129 Vikings; VAQ-130 Zappers; VAQ-131 Lancers; VAQ-132 Scorpions; VAQ-133 Wizards; VAQ-134 Garudas: VAQ-135 Black Ravens; VAQ-136 Gauntlets; VAQ-137 Rooks; VAQ-138 Yellowjackets; VAQ-139 Cougars; VAQ-140 Patriots; VAQ-141 Shadowhawks; VAQ-142 Gray Wolves) and the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron (a geographically separated U.S. Air Force unit of Mountain Home Air Force Base, working out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash. – indeed there are USAF pilots assigned to Navy expeditionary EA-18G squadrons) “Growler Ball 2019” also features Royal Australian Air Force electronic attack jets. In fact, 11 EA-18G Growlers (one was written off after it caught fire at Nellis AFB) are operated by No. 6 Squadron based at RAAF Base Amberley about 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Brisbane. The RAAF received their first EA-18G Growlers in 2017 and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was declared in April 2019.
The video shows the Growler during blue waters operations, launching and recovering from aircraft carriers, flying ultra-low level, firing AGM-88 HARM missiles, refueling from “buddy” Super Hornets, dogfighting with adversary F-5s. Not bad, considered the extensive use of GoPros and 360° stabilized cameras.
Unfortunately there is little footage filmed during real operations, such as Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But we know the reason and expalined this back in 2017, commenting the lack of “combat footage” we had noticed in Strike Fighter Ball 2017:
[…] whereas previous years videos featured plenty of bomb, ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra Red) pod, HUD (Head Up Display) and Gun Camera footage, this year’s compilation has just some AIM-9X Sidewinder and AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) shots.
Indeed, according to multiple sources, the U.S. Navy was not too happy when the VFA-31 Tomcatters release their 2017 OIR cruise video that included footage of the aerial engagement between an F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors” and a Syrian Su-22 (that ended with the Fitter being shot down by an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile near Raqqa, Syria), filmed with an ATFLIR pod.
In order to prevent some sensitive footage from leaking to the public, the Navy has probably decided to put the kibosh on all footage taken on theater…