McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle

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F-15E Strike Eagle
F-15E Strike Eagle.jpg
USAF F-15E out of RAF Lakenheath
Role Multirole fighter, strike fighter
Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas
Boeing Defense, Space & Security
First flight 11 December 1986
Introduction April 1988
Status Active, in production
Primary users United States Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
Israeli Air Force
Republic of Korea Air Force
For other users, see operators
Number built 420[N 1]
Unit cost
F-15E: US$31.1 million (flyaway cost, 1998)[2]
F-15K: US$100 million (2006)[3]
Developed from McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
Variants Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle

The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15E Strike Eagle is an American all-weather multirole fighter, derived from the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The F-15E was designed in the 1980s for long-range, high speed interdiction without relying on escort or electronic warfare aircraft. United States Air Force (USAF) F-15E Strike Eagles can be distinguished from other U.S. Eagle variants by darker camouflage and conformal fuel tanks mounted along the engine intakes.

The Strike Eagle has been deployed for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. During these operations the F-15E has carried out deep strikes against high-value targets, combat air patrols, and providing close air support for coalition troops. It has also seen action in later conflicts and has been exported to several countries.

Development[edit]

Origins[edit]

The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle had been introduced by the United States Air Force (USAF) as a replacement for its fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. However, unlike the F-4, the F-15 was strictly designed for the air-superiority mission with little consideration for a ground-attack role; the F-15 Special Project Office opposed the idea of F-15s performing the interdiction mission, giving rise to the phrase "Not a pound for air to ground."[4] In service, the F-15 was a very successful fighter, with over 100 aerial combat victories and no losses in air-to-air combat.[5][6]

Despite a lack of official interest, McDonnell Douglas quietly worked on an F-15-derived interdiction fighter. The company envisaged the aircraft as a replacement for the General Dynamics F-111 and the remaining F-4s, as well as to augment the existing F-15s.[7] In 1978, the USAF initiated the Tactical All-Weather Requirement Study (TAWRS) which looked at McDonnell Douglas's proposal and other options such the purchase of further F-111Fs. TAWRS recommended the F-15E as the USAF's future strike platform.[8] In 1979, McDonnell Douglas and Hughes began a close collaboration on the development of the F-15E's air-to-ground capabilities.[9]

To assist in the F-15E's development, McDonnell Douglas modified the second TF-15A prototype, serial number 71-0291, as a demonstrator. The aircraft, known as the Advanced Fighter Capability Demonstrator, first flew on 8 July 1980.[8] It was previously used to trial conformal fuel tanks (CFT), initially designed for the F-15 under the designation "FAST Pack", with FAST standing for "Fuel and Sensor, Tactical.[8] It was subsequently fitted with a Pave Tack laser designator pod to allow the independent delivery of guided bombs.[10] The demonstrator was displayed at the 1980 Farnborough Airshow.[11]

Enhanced Tactical Fighter[edit]

The second TF-15A, designated 71-0291, which saw use as an F-15E demonstrator

In March 1981, the USAF announced the Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) program to procure a replacement for the F-111. The program was later renamed the Dual-Role Fighter (DRF) competition. The concept envisioned an aircraft capable of launching deep interdiction missions without requiring additional support by fighter escort or jamming.[12] General Dynamics submitted the F-16XL, while McDonnell Douglas submitted the F-15E. The Panavia Tornado was also a candidate, but since the aircraft lacked a credible air-superiority capability, coupled with the fact that it is not American-made, it was not seriously considered.[11]

The DRF evaluation team, under the direction of Brigadier General Ronald W. Yates, ran from 1981 through 30 April 1983, during which the F-15E logged more than 200 flights, demonstrated take off weight of more than 75,000 pounds (34 t), and validated sixteen different weapons-carrying configurations.[13][14] McDonnell Douglas, to assist 71-0291 in the evaluation, added to the program other F-15s, designated 78-0468, 80–0055 and 81-0063. The single-engine F-16XL was a promising design which, with its radically redesigned cranked-delta wing, lifted the F-16's performance enormously. In the event that they were chosen, the single- and two-seat versions would have been designated F-16E and F-16F, respectively.[14] However, on 24 February 1984, the USAF chose the F-15E; key factors in the decision were the low development costs of the F-15E compared to the F-16XL (US$270 million versus US$470 million), a belief that the F-15E had future growth potential, and possessing twin-engine redundancy.[13][15] The USAF was initially expected to procure 400 aircraft, a figure later revised to 392.[14][16]

Construction of the first three F-15Es started in July 1985. The first of these, 86-0183, made its maiden flight on 11 December 1986.[13][15] Piloted by Gary Jennings, the aircraft reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.9 and an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,000 m) during the 75-minute flight.[13] This aircraft had the full F-15E avionics suite and the redesigned front fuselage, but not the aft fuselage and the common engine bay.[13] The latter was featured on 86-0184, while 86-0185 incorporated all the changes of the F-15E from the F-15.[13] On 31 March 1987, the first officially completed F-15E made its first flight.[17]

The first production F-15E was delivered to the 405th Tactical Training Wing, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona in April 1988. The F-15E reached operational capability on 30 September 1989 at Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina with the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, 336th Tactical Fighter Squadron.[15] Production continued into the 2000s with 236 produced for the USAF through 2001.[18]

Variants of the F-15E have been developed for Israel (F-15I), South Korea (F-15K), Saudi Arabia (F-15S), and Singapore (F-15SG).

Upgrade programs and replacement[edit]

The first production F-15E (86-0183)

The F-15E will be upgraded with the Raytheon APG-82 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar after 2007, and the first test radar was delivered to Boeing in 2010.[19] It combines the processor of the APG-79 used on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet with the antenna of the APG-63(V)3 AESA being fitted on the F-15C.[20] The new radar upgrade is to be part of the F-15E Radar Modernization Program.[21] The new radar was named APG-63(V)4 until it received the APG-82 designation in 2009.[22] The RMP also includes a wideband radome (to allow the AESA to operate on more radar frequencies), and improvements to the environment control and electronic warfare systems.[23]

Having a sturdier airframe rated for twice the lifetime of earlier variants, the F-15E is expected to remain in service past 2025.[24] As of December 2012, the USAF's F-15E fleet has an average age of 21 years and an average airframe flying time of 6,000 hours. Reportedly Air Force leaders were considering future options to replace the fleet in the long term; while some F-15C/Ds have been replaced by the F-22, there is no slated replacement for the F-15E. One choice is the F-35 Lightning II, which is already set to replace other attack aircraft such as the F-16 Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II. Industry sources have studied a possible "F-35E" variant that could lead to a two-seat or extended range Lightning model. It would be a complex task, and thus expensive, to add a second seat to the F-35, especially to preserve its stealth profile; providing for greater range and payload would also be difficult tasks. Alternatively, the Air Force could choose to forego this niche role, instead covering it with a combination of fighter and bomber aircraft; this could involve increasing the planned numbers of Long Range Strike Bombers from 100 to 250-300, which could deploy a stealthy unmanned aerial vehicle to perform strike missions. The F-15E could also be retained until the 2030s and replaced by a clean-sheet sixth-generation aircraft design.[25][26]

Silent Eagle[edit]

The F-15SE Silent Eagle is a proposed upgrade of the F-15E by Boeing using stealth features, such as internal weapons carriage and radar-absorbent material. This version features conformal weapons bays (CWB) to hold weapons internally instead of conformal fuel tanks and the twin vertical tails canted outward 15 degrees to reduce radar cross section. Weapons storage takes the place of most of each CWB with the remainder for fuel storage.[27] However, unlike the Strike Eagle, the Silent Eagle is optimized for air-to-air missions, as it does not have all-aspect stealth features to conduct offensive strike missions into areas protected by ground-based anti-aircraft systems.[28]

The first production F-15E, s/n 86-0183, was modified to the F-15E1 configuration to serve as a Silent Eagle demonstrator. It first flew on 8 July 2010 with a left-side conformal weapons bay,[29] and on 20 July 2010 an AMRAAM was successfully launched from the CWB.[30] Potential customers included Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea.[27]

ALASA[edit]

On 1 April 2014, Boeing won a $30.6 million contract from DARPA as part of the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program. The goal of the program is to cut the cost of putting microsatellites into orbit by 66 percent through advances in launch systems. Under the 11-month contract, Boeing will build twelve 24 ft (7.3 m) launch vehicles, each with a payload capability of up to 100 lb (45 kg). An ALASA vehicle is to be fitted under an F-15E, which would climb to 40,000 ft, then be released and fire its four engines to reach low-Earth orbit.[31]

Design[edit]

The F-15E's deep strike mission is a radical departure from the original intent of the F-15, since the F-15 was designed as an air superiority fighter under the mantra "not a pound for air-to-ground."[32] The basic airframe, however, proved versatile enough to produce a very capable strike fighter. The F-15E, while designed for ground attack, retains the air-to-air lethality of the F-15, and can defend itself against enemy aircraft.[33]

The F-15E prototype was a modification of the two-seat F-15B. The F-15E, despite its origins, includes significant structural changes and much more powerful engines. The aft fuselage was designed to incorporate the more powerful engines with advanced engine bay structures and doors. The advanced structures utilized Superplastic forming and diffusion bonding (SPF/DB) technologies. The back seat is equipped for a Weapon Systems Officer (WSO pronounced 'wizzo') to work the new air-to-ground avionics. The WSO uses multiple screens to display information from the radar, electronic warfare, or infrared sensors, monitor aircraft or weapons status and possible threats, select targets, and use an electronic moving map to navigate. Two hand controls are used to select new displays and to refine targeting information. Displays can be moved from one screen to another, chosen from a menu of display options. Unlike earlier two-place jets (e.g. the F-14 Tomcat and Navy variants of the F-4), whose back seat lacked flying controls, the back seat of the F-15E cockpit is equipped with its own stick and throttle so the WSO can take over flying, albeit with reduced visibility.[34]

An underside view of an F-15E Strike Eagle with landing gear down.

To extend its range, the F-15E is fitted with two conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) that hug the fuselage. These produce lower drag than conventional underwing/underbelly drop tanks. They carry 750 U.S. gallons (2,800 liters) of fuel, and house six weapons hardpoints in two rows of three in tandem. Unlike conventional drop tanks, CFTs cannot be jettisoned, thus the increased range is offset by the degraded performance from the increased drag and weight compared to a "clean" configuration. Similar tanks can be mounted on the F-15C/D and export variants, and the Israeli Air Force makes use of this option on their fighter-variant F-15s as well as their F-15I variant of the Strike Eagle, but the F-15E is the only U.S. variant to be routinely fitted with CFTs.

The Strike Eagle's tactical electronic warfare system (TEWS) integrates all countermeasures on the craft: radar warning receivers (RWR), radar jammer, radar, and chaff/flare dispensers are all tied to the TEWS to provide comprehensive defense against detection and tracking. This system includes an externally mounted ALQ-131 ECM pod which is carried on the centerline pylon when required.

The APG-70 radar system allows air crews to detect ground targets from longer ranges. One feature of this system is that after a sweep of a target area, the crew freezes the air-to-ground map then goes back into air-to-air mode to clear for air threats. During the air-to-surface weapon delivery, the pilot is capable of detecting, targeting and engaging air-to-air targets while the WSO designates the ground target. The APG-70 is to be replaced by the AN/APG-82(v)1 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar (AESA) radar, which will begin flight tests in January 2010 with initial operational capability expected in 2014.[35]

Its inertial navigation system uses a laser gyroscope to continuously monitor the aircraft's position and provide information to the central computer and other systems, including a digital moving map in both cockpits. The low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night (LANTIRN) system is mounted externally under the engine intakes; it allows the aircraft to fly at low altitudes, at night and in any weather conditions, to attack ground targets with a variety of precision-guided and unguided weapons. The LANTIRN system gives the F-15E exceptional accuracy in weapons delivery day or night and in poor weather, and consists of two pods attached to the exterior of the aircraft. At night, the video picture from the LANTIRN can be projected on the HUD, producing an infrared image of ground contour.[36]

F-15E cockpit

The navigation pod contains a terrain-following radar which allows the pilot to safely fly at a very low altitude following cues displayed on a heads up display. This system also can be coupled to the aircraft's autopilot to provide "hands off" terrain-following capability. Additionally, the pod contains a forward looking infrared system which is projected on the pilot's HUD which is used during nighttime or low visibility operations. The AN/AAQ-13 Nav Pod is installed beneath the right engine intake.

The targeting pod contains a laser designator and a tracking system that mark an enemy for destruction as far away as 10 mi (16 km). Once tracking has been started, targeting information is automatically handed off to infrared air-to-surface missiles or laser-guided bombs. The targeting pod is mounted beneath the left engine intake; configurations may be either the AN/AAQ-14 Target Pod, AN/AAQ-28 LITENING Target Pod or the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Pod.

For air-to-ground missions, the F-15E can carry most weapons in the USAF inventory. It also can be armed with AIM-9 Sidewinders, AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-120 AMRAAMs for self-defense (though the Strike Eagle retains the counter-air capabilities from its Eagle lineage, it is rarely if ever used for counter-air missions). Like the F-15C, the Strike Eagle also carries an internally mounted General Electric M61A1 20 mm cannon with 650 rounds, which is effective against enemy aircraft and "soft" ground targets.

The MIDS Fighter Data Link Terminal, produced by BAE Systems, improves situational awareness and communications capabilities via the Link 16 datalink.[37]

Since 2004, South Korean firm LIG Nex1 has been manufacturing the F-15's Head-Up Display; a total number of 150 HUDs were delivered by 2011.[38][39] LIG Nex1 had been a participant in the F-15K program as a subcontractor to Rockwell Collins.[38][39] LIG Nex1 is also preparing to manufacture F-15's new multi-function display and flight control computer.[38] Also since 2004, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has produced the wings and forward fuselages of the F-15; in 2008, KAI established another production line for Singapore's F-15SG.[40] KAI is involved in the development and manufacture of the Conformal Weapons Bay (CWB) to be used on the F-15 Silent Eagle.[41]

Operational history[edit]

United States[edit]

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm[edit]

F-15Es parked during Operation Desert Shield

The F-15E saw action in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 for Operation Desert Shield. The 336th Tactical Fighter Squadron flew to Seeb Air Base in Oman to begin training exercises in anticipation of an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia; in December, the 335th and 336th squadrons relocated to Al Kharj Air Base in Saudi Arabia, closer to Iraq's border.[42] Operation Desert Storm began on 17 January 1991; 24 F-15Es launched an attack upon five fixed Scud installations in western Iraq; missions against Scud sites continued through that night with a second strike consist of 21 F-15Es. At night-time, F-15Es flew hunter missions over western Iraq, searching for mobile SCUD launchers. By conducting random bombings in suspected areas, it was hoped to deter the Iraqis from setting up for a Scud launch.[43]

On the opening night of the war, an F-15E tracked a MiG-29 and fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder, which failed to hit its target. Other F-15Es simultaneously tried to engage the lone MiG-29, but were also unsuccessful, although the MiG was eventually brought down by a missile of unknown source.[44][45] The same night another flight was attacked by a MiG-29. A low altitude engagement ensued and the MiG-29 hit the ground.[citation needed] On 18 January, during a strike against a petrol oil and lubricant plant near Basrah, an F-15E was lost to enemy fire, the pilot and WSO were killed. F-15E crews described this mission as the most difficult and dangerous of the war as it was heavily defended by SA-3s, SA-6s, SA-8s and Rolands as well as by anti-aircraft artillery. Two nights later, a second and final F-15E was downed by an Iraqi SA-2; the crew survived and managed to evade capture for several days and even made in contact with coalition aircraft, but rescue was unable to be launched due to security issues, one airman failed to identify himself with proper codes. The two airmen were later captured by the Iraqis.[46]

A 492 FS F-15E of the 48th Fighter Wing taking off from RAF Lakenheath

Strike Eagles were able to destroy 18 Iraqi jets on the ground at Tallil air base using GBU-12s and CBU-87s. On 14 February, an F-15E scored its only air-to-air kill: a Mil Mi-24 helicopter. While responding to a request for help by US Special Forces, five Iraqi helicopters were spotted. The lead F-15E of two acquired a helicopter via its FLIR in the process of unloading Iraqi soldiers, and released a GBU-10 bomb. The F-15E crew thought the bomb had missed its target and were preparing to use a Sidewinder when the helicopter was destroyed. The Special Forces team estimated that the Hind was roughly 800 feet (240 m) over the ground when the 2,000 lb (910 kg) bomb hit its target.[47] As Coalition bombing operation had commenced, the F-15Es disengaged from combat with the remaining helicopters.[44]

F-15Es attacked various heavily defended targets throughout Iraq, prioritizing SCUD missile sites. Missions with the objective of killing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were undertaken, several suspected locations were bombed by F-15Es. Prior to the operation's ground war phase, F-15Es conducted tank plinking missions against Iraqi vehicles in Kuwait. Following 42 days of heavy combat, a cease fire came into effect on 1 March 1991, leading to the establishment of Northern and Southern no-fly zones over Iraq.[48]

Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch[edit]

An F-15E over Iraq in 1999 for Operation Northern Watch

Following Desert Storm, two no-fly zones over Iraq were set up, and enforced typically by US and UK aircraft. In one incident, an attack on up to 600 Kurdish refugees by Iraqi helicopters at Chamchamal, northern Iraq, was observed by a flight of F-15Es. As they were not allowed to open fire, the F-15E pilots chose to conduct several high speed passes as close as possible to the Iraqi helicopters to create severe wake-turbulence, while aiming lasers at the helicopter's cockpits of the Iraqi helicopters in an attempt to blind their crews; this limited intervention caused the crash of one Hind. Afterwards, USAF leadership ordered F-15Es not to fly below 10,000 feet (3,000 m) to deter a repetition.[48]

F-15Es from the 391st Fighter Squadron, 492d Fighter Squadron, and 494th Fighter Squadron regularly deployed to Turkey throughout the mid-to-late 1990s. In January 1993, Iraqi targets in breach of the ceasefire agreement below the 32nd parallel north were attacked; 10 F-15Es conducted another punitive strike a few days later.[49] Most missions were of a defensive nature, though the Strike Eagles typically carried a wide variety of weapons on a mission, making them quite flexible. AWACS aircraft were in close contact with F-15E crews, who would receive new taskings while airborne and thus could fly unplanned attacks on Iraqi targets.[49] After 1993, violations of the no-fly zones were minimal as Iraq staged a minor withdrawal; in 1997 Turkey approved the creation of Operation Northern Watch (ONW) and permitted US forces to use the Incirlik air base.

In December 1998, Operation Desert Fox was conducted when Iraq refused UNSCOM inspections. On 28 December 1998, three F-15Es each dropped two GBU-12 500-pound precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to successfully strike an SA-3 tracking radar and optical guidance unit.[50] After Desert Fox, Iraq stepped up its violations of the no-fly zones, thus a number of retaliatory and pre-planned strikes were conducted by F-15Es; in ONW alone, weapons were expended on at least 105 days.[51] Between 24 and 26 January 1999, F-15Es expended several AGM-130s and GBU-12s against SAM sites in northern Iraq near Mosul.[52]

F-15Es flew in support of Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Provide Comfort II.[48]

Operations in the Balkans[edit]

Operation Deny Flight was a United Nations-enforced no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina due to the deteriorating situation in the Balkans. In August 1993, F-15Es from 492d and 494th FS deployed to Aviano, Italy. In late 1993, NATO ordered a limited F-15E strike at the Udbina airfield, targeting Serbian forces in neighboring Croatia. Eight F-15Es armed with GBU-12s took off to attack an SA-6 anti-aircraft vehicle; the mission was cancelled mid-flight over the application of stringent Rules of Engagement.[53] In December 1993, F-15Es were launched to destroy a pair of SA-2 sites which had opened fire on two Royal Navy Sea Harrier FRS 1s.[54] In August 1995, 90th Fighter Squadron joined the two other F-15E squadrons. The 492d and 494th had flown over 2,500 sorties since Deny Flight had begun, 2,000 of these were credited to 492d. Near the end of August 1995, in support of NATO's Operation Deliberate Force, F-15Es flew multiple strike missions against Serbian armor and logistics around the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. On 9 September, an F-15E deployed the first GBU-15 bomb for the type; a total of nine were dropped against Bosnian-Serb ground forces and air defense targets around Banja Luka.[54]

F-15E taking off from Aviano Air Base, Italy, for an strike mission in support of Operation Allied Force on 28 March 1999.

In response to the displacement of Kosovars and the Serbian government's rejection of a NATO ultimatum, Operation Allied Force was launched in March 1999. A total of 26 F-15Es flew the first strikes of Allied Force against Serb surface-to-air-missile sites, anti-aircraft batteries and Early Warning radar stations.[55] Strike Eagles were deployed to Aviano as well as RAF Lakenheath in the UK. In-theater, F-15Es conducted Close Air Support missions, a new idea in the late 1990s which has since become a popular concept within the USAF.[56] Missions typically lasted around 7.5 hours, included two aerial refuelings; F-15Es would carry a mix of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions to perform both Combat Air Patrol duties as well as strike missions in the same mission.[56]

Mobile SAM launchers posed a considerable threat to NATO aircraft and had made successful shoot-downs, most notably of a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk. In order to strike from increased distances, the F-15E was equipped with the AGM-130, which provided a stand-off strike capability.[57]

Operation Enduring Freedom[edit]

An F-15E Strike Eagle flies over Afghanistan in support of Operation Mountain Lion in 2006.

Weeks after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the 391st Fighter Squadron deployed to Ahmed Al Jaber air base, Kuwait, to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. F-15Es met little resistance during initial missions, in the first night targets ranged from Taliban military structures and supply depots, to al-Qaeda training camps and caves were the main targets. Both the AGM-130 and GBU-15 2,000 lb (910 kg) bombs were expended, this was the GBU-15's first combat usage.[58] GBU-24s and GBU-28s were used against reinforced targets, command and control centers and cave entrances. F-15Es often operated in pairs alongside pairs of F-16Cs. Within weeks of the start of combat operations, there was a lack of targets to strike as nearly all targets had been already destroyed. The Taliban had access to SA-7 and FIM-92 Stinger portable surface-to-air missiles, posing no threat to most aircraft flying above 7,000 feet (2,100 m). Additionally, fixed SAM sites near cities as Mazar-i-Sharif and Bagram were struck early on; Afghanistan had rapidly became a low-threat environment for air operations.[59]

Aircraft commonly flew on-call support missions for allied ground forces, F-15Es usually carried MK-82 and GBU-12 bombs in this role, other weapons were sometimes carried, during one mission a GBU-28, two GBU-24s and six GBU-12s were released.[59] Frequent targets during the rest of the war were individual insurgents, light vehicles and supply convoys; cannon fire was often expended as well as bombs from F-15Es.[60] It was during combat over Afghanistan that four 391st crews conducted the longest fighter mission in history; lasting a total of 15.5 hours, nine of those hours spent flying over the target area. Two F-15Es attacked two Taliban command and control facilities, two buildings suspected of being used by Taliban fighters, and a road block; the F-15Es refueled 12 times during the mission.[61]

An F-15E from the 391st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron launches heat decoys during a close-air-support mission over Afghanistan, December 2008.

On 4 March, another incident now known as the Battle of Roberts’ Ridge involved several F-15Es that had embarked on a Close Air Support mission for ground forces. Aircraft destroyed a Taliban observation post and responded to nearby enemy mortar fire upon Navy SEAL forces on a search for an ambushed MH-47E Chinook in the Shah-i-Kot Valley.[62] Several bombs were dropped as the SEAL team still took fire, however one bomb missed due to the wrong coordinates being entered by the aircrew.[62] An MH-47 carrying a rescue team was downed by an RPG while attempting to support the SEALs.[63] Following refueling, the F-15Es dropped a further 11 GBU-12s in coordination with ground forces, and fired their cannons on Taliban forces in close proximity to the survivors of the downed MH-47.[63] A section of F-16s from 18th Fighter Squadron made strafing passes as well until cannon ammunition was depleted, before resorting to further bomb drops. The F-15Es were affected by technical problems involving both radios and weapons that had failed, several GBU-12's were dropped before returning to Al Jaber in Kuwait.[64]

Years later, several incidents have occurred. On 23 August 2007, a friendly fire incident involved an F-15E mistakenly dropping a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb on British forces; three soldiers were killed.[65] The stated cause was confusion between the air controller and the F-15E crew on the bombing coordinates.[66] On 13 September 2009, an F-15E shot down a non-responsive MQ-9 Reaper drone over Northern Afghanistan to prevent it entering foreign airspace.[67]

Operation Iraqi Freedom[edit]

Wingtip vortices are visible upon a F-15E as it disengages from refueling with a KC-10 during Operation Iraqi Freedom

In late 2002, during tension over suspected Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction, the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB was ordered to maintain at least one squadron ready to deploy to the Persian Gulf. During January 2003, the 336th was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, a total of 24 aircraft were deployed to Al Udeid in coordination with planners of the Combined Air Operations Center at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia.[68] In late January, the F-15Es began flying in support of Operation Southern Watch, typically performing surveillance and reconnaissance missions, additional missions included simulated combat against potential Iraqi targets and regional familiarization with local procedures and Rules of Engagements.[68] During OSW, F-15Es attacked a number of targets in southern and western Iraq, including radars, radio communications and relay stations, command and control sites, and air defences. On one night, four F-15Es fired multiple GBU-24s at the Iraqi Republican Guard/Baath Party HQ in Basrah while another flight of four destroyed a nearby Air Defense Sector HQ with six GBU-10s.[69]

Towards the end of February, the 336th received additional aircrews, many of which being drafted from the two non-deployable squadrons at Seymour Johnson (the 333d and 334th Fighter Squadrons) and 391st Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, for a total of four aircrews per F-15E.[69] In early March, the 335th Fighter Squadron's personnel and aircraft joined the 336th at Al Udeid. One objective was the destruction of Iraq's air defenses and Early Warning radar network near the border with Jordan, allowing F-16s and Special Forces helicopters to operate from Jordan at the outset of the war. Several radar sites and radio relay stations were hit in western Iraq near the "H3" airfield, during these missions coalition jets met with heavy anti-aircraft fire.[70]

On 19 March, as F-117 Nighthawks dropped bombs over Baghdad, targeting a house where Saddam Hussein was believed to be; F-15Es dropped GBU-28s around the H3 airfield. On 20 March, when the war effectively began, F-15Es fired AGM-130s against key communication, command and control buildings, and other key targets in Baghdad; a few of the weapons missed intended targets, possibly caused by the jamming operations of EA-6B Prowlers in the vicinity.[71]

Rear view of the F-15E

On 3 April 2003 a F-15E pilot mistook a M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) for an Iraqi surface-to-air missile site and dropped a 500 lb (230 kg) laser-guided bomb, killing three and wounding five others.[72] On 6 April 2003, an F-15E (88–1694), crewed by Captain Eric Das and Major William Watkins performed a critical interdiction mission in support of special forces.[73] On the following day, Das and Watkins crashed while bombing targets around Tikrit.[74] The crew were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for their actions.[73]

During the war, F-15Es were credited with destroying 60% of the total force of the Iraqi Medina Republican Guard. They also scored hits on 65 MiGs on the ground,[70] and destroyed key air defense and command buildings in Baghdad. During the war F-15Es worked closely with other jets that were deployed to Al Udeid, including RAAF F/A-18s, USAF F-16s and F-117s, RAF Panavia Tornado fighters and a detachment of US Navy F-14s from VF-154.[citation needed]

Operation Odyssey Dawn[edit]

Following the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 on 17 March 2011, 18 USAF F-15E fighters, and a variety of other NATO and allied aircraft were deployed to enforce the Libyan no-fly zone as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn. On 21 March 2011, an F-15E Strike Eagle, Tail #91–304, from the 492nd FS crashed near Bengazi, Libya.[75] Both crew members parachuted into territory held by resistance elements of the Libyan population and were eventually rescued by US Marines.[76][77] Equipment problems caused a weight imbalance and contributed to the crash when leaving the target area.[78]

Israel[edit]

The F-15I is operated by the Israeli Defence Force/Air Force No 69 Squadron, which had previously operated the F-4 Phantom II. After the Gulf War in 1991, in which Israeli towns were attacked by SCUD missiles based in Iraq, the Israeli government decided that it needed a long range strike aircraft and issued a Request for Information (RFI). In response, Lockheed Martin offered a version of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, while McDonnell Douglas offered both the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-15E. On 27 January 1994, the Israeli government announced that the intention to purchase 21 modified F-15Es, designated F-15I. On 12 May 1994, the US Government authorized the purchase of up to 25 F-15Is by Israel. In November 1995, Israel ordered four extra F-15Is, thus 25 were built from 1996 to 1998.[79]

The first F-15I combat mission was flown in Lebanon on 11 January 1999. The aircraft can carry: the AIM-9L, Rafael Python 4 and the Rafael Python 5 infrared-homing missiles; and the AIM-7 Sparrow and the AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided missiles. The Python 4 can be launched at up to 90 degrees off boresight, with the pilot aiming using the helmet-mounted sight.[citation needed] In 1999, Israel announced its intention to procure more fighter aircraft, and the F-15I was a possible contender. However, it was announced that the contract would go to the F-16I.[citation needed]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

In November 2009, Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s, along with Saudi Tornados, performed air raids during the Shia insurgency in north Yemen. This was the Saudi Air Force's first military action over hostile territory since Operation Desert Storm in 1991.[80]

Saudi Arabia requested 84 F-15SA aircraft, upgrade of its F-15S fleet to F-15SA standard, and related equipment and weapons through a Foreign Military Sale in October 2010.[81] The F-15SA (Saudi Advanced) variant includes the APG-63(v)3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, digital electronic warfare systems (DEWS), infrared search and track (IRST) systems, and other advanced systems.[81][82]

Variants[edit]

For earlier F-15A, F-15B, F-15C, F-15D, F-15J, F-15DJ and other F-15-based variants, see F-15 Eagle.

F-15E[edit]

Two-seat all-weather long-range strike and ground-attack aircraft for the USAF. A total of 236 were built from 1985 to 2001.[18][79]

F-15I[edit]

An Israeli Air Force F-15I (Ra'am) from the No 69 "Hammers" Squadron maneuvers away after receiving fuel from a KC-135 during Red Flag 2004.

The F-15I is operated by the Israeli Air Force where it is known as the Ra'am (רעם – "Thunder"). It is a dual-seat ground attack aircraft powered by two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines, and is based on the F-15E.

The F-15I Ra'am is similar to the F-15E, but features several different avionic systems to meet Israeli requirements. To facilitate night-time strikes, the F-15Is were initially fitted with Sharpshooter targeting pods designed for Israeli F-16s. The Sharpshooter pod was less capable than the LANTIRN pods used on USAF F-15Es; Israel later purchased 30 LANTIRN pods. The F-15Is initially lacked Radar Warning Receivers, thus Israel installed its own electronic warfare equipment, the Elisra SPS-2110, as well as a new central computer and embedded GPS/INS system. All sensors can be slaved to the Display And Sight Helmet (DASH) helmet-mounted sight, providing both crew members a means of targeting which the F-15E lacks. The F-15I uses the APG-70I radar; its terrain mapping capability can be used to locate targets that are otherwise difficult to spot—e.g., missile batteries, tanks and structures—in adverse conditions such as heavy fog or rain. The radar can detect large airliner-sized targets at 150 nautical miles, and fighter-sized targets at 56 nautical miles, although it has a reduced resolution one-third below the standard USAF APG-70.[83]

F-15K[edit]

The F-15K Slam Eagle (Korean: F-15K 슬램 이글) is an advanced derivative of the F-15E, operated by the Republic of Korea Air Force. Several major components were outsourced to various Korean companies as part of an offset agreement, wherein Korea was responsible for 40% of production and 25% of assembly.[84] Fuselage and wings are supplied by Korea Aerospace Industries,[85] flight control actuator by Hanwha Corporation,[86] electronic jammer and radar warning receiver by Samsung Thales,[87] head-up display, airborne communication system, and radar by LIG Nex1,[39][88] and engines by Samsung Techwin under license[89] before final assembly at Boeing's St. Louis facility.

F-15K lands at Nellis AFB, Nevada, on 5 August 2008 to participate in Red Flag 08-4.

In 2002, ROKAF selected the F-15K for its F-X fighter program, during which the F-15K, the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Sukhoi Su-35 were evaluated. A total 40 aircraft were ordered with deliveries beginning in 2005.[90] On 25 April 2008, the Korean government announced the order of second batch of 21 F-15Ks, worth 2.3 trillion Korean won (US$ 2.3 billion). Aircraft of second batch differs from the first batch in having Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 (EEP) engines, license-produced by Samsung Techwin, for commonality with the KF-16 fleet.[91][92] Republic of Korea Air Force has received 50 F-15Ks by June 2011.[93] South Korea expects the F-15K to be in service until 2060.[94]

The F-15K variant has several features not typically found on F-15Es, such as an AAS-42 Infra-red search and track,[95] a customized Tactical Electronics Warfare Suite to reduce weight and increase jamming effectiveness,[95] cockpit compatibility with night vision device, ARC-232 U/VHF radio with Fighter Data Link system, and advanced APG-63(V)1 mechanical-scanned array radar. The APG-63(V)1 radar has common digital processing equipment with the APG-63(V)3 AESA radar, and thus is upgradable to an AESA radar via antenna replacement.[83] The F-15K is equipped with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System.[95] Weapons such as AGM-84K SLAM-ER, AGM-84H Harpoon Block II, and JASSM have been integrated.[96]

F-15S and SA[edit]

The F-15S is a variant of the F-15E supplied to the Royal Saudi Air Force in the mid-to-late 1990s. Saudi Arabia had previously wanted the F-15F, a proposed single-seat Strike Eagle. Saudi Arabia sought to order 24 F-15Fs, but was blocked by U.S. Congress.[97] The F-15S is almost identical to the USAF F-15E and the only major difference in the AN/APG-70 radar performance is the synthetic aperture mode.[79] The version was initially referred to as F-15XP.[97] 72 were built from 1996 to 1998.[79] In October 2007, GE announced a contract with Saudi Arabia for 65 GE F110-GE-129C engines for the F-15S in a contract worth over US$300 million.[98]

The F-15SA is a new version for the Saudi Arabian Air Force. The F-15SA will have a modern fly-by-wire flight control system in place of the hybrid electronic/mechanical system used by all previous F-15s. In addition the F-15SA includes the BAE Systems Digital Electronic Warfare System (DEWS) and redesigned cockpit that were also originally intended for the F-15SE.[99] These changes will allow the carriage of weapons on the previously unused number one and number nine weapon stations.[100]

On 29 December 2011, the United States signed a $29.4 billion contract to sell 84 F-15s in the SA (Saudi Advanced) configuration. The sale includes upgrades for the older F-15Ss up to the SA standard and related equipment and services.[101] A Foreign Military Sales contract for 68 F-15S to F-15SA modification kits was placed with Boeing on 26 June 2012.[102] First flight of a new-build F-15SA occurred on 20 February 2013.[103][104]

F-15SG[edit]

F-15SG on approach to Darwin International Airport, 2011.

The F-15SG (formerly the F-15T) is a variant of the F-15E, ordered by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) after a seven-year evaluation period involving five other fighter aircraft under consideration. The F-15SG was chosen on 6 September 2005 over the Dassault Rafale, the only remaining aircraft still in contention.[105]

On 22 August 2005, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified US Congress about a potential Foreign military sales (FMS) of weapons, logistics and training in the event that the Boeing F-15 was selected by Singapore. Since the F-15 purchase was confirmed, it can be assumed that Singapore will follow up on this proposed weapons and logistics package, worth a further US$741 million if all options are exercised. Various weapons and hardware are included in this package such as AIM-120C, and AIM-9X missiles; GBU-38 JDAM, and AGM-154 JSOW air-to-ground weapons; Night Vision Goggles and Link 16 terminals.[106]

The Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) on 22 October 2007, exercised the option to purchase eight more F-15SG fighters which was part of the original contract signed in 2005. Along with this buy, an additional order of four F-15SGs increased the total order to 24 fighters.[107] The first F-15SG was rolled out on 3 November 2008. Deliveries of F-15SGs began in 2009[108] and all 24 were declared operationally ready in September 2013[109] Media reports in March 2013 suggested Singapore may buy more F-15SG fighters.[110]

Proposed variants[edit]

F-15H Strike Eagle (H for Hellas) was a 1990s proposed export version of F-15E for Greece, which was selected by the Greek Ministry of Defence and the Greek Air Force,[111] but the government chose new F-16s and Mirage 2000-5s instead.[112]

F-15G Wild Weasel was a proposed two-seat version to replace the F-4G Wild Weasel in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role. The F-15G was studied in 1986. A proposed modification to F-15Cs for the SEAD role was studied in 1994–95, but F-16Cs were modified to perform this role instead.[113] F-15Es are capable of carrying ARMs such as the AGM-88 HARM, and are well capable of performing the SEAD role, but are more often tasked with deep strike missions.

F-15SE Silent Eagle is a further developed version of the F-15E by Boeing using fifth generation fighter features, such as internal weapons carriage and radar-absorbent material. It features conformal weapons bays (CWB) to hold weapons internally and the twin vertical tails canted outward 15 degrees to reduce radar cross-section.[27]

Operators[edit]

Current operators of the F-15 in light blue, F-15E Strike Eagle in red, both in dark blue
An F-15E Strike Eagle breaking away from a tanker.
 Israel
 Republic of Korea
 Saudi Arabia
 Singapore
 United States

United States Air Force (219 F-15Es in operation as of September, 2012)[114]

Air Combat Command
333d Fighter Squadron
334th Fighter Squadron
335th Fighter Squadron
336th Fighter Squadron
85th Test and Evaluation Squadron
422d Test and Evaluation Squadron (Nellis AFB, Nevada) 1997-present
461st Fighter Squadron
550th Fighter Squadron
17th Weapons Squadron 2003-present
422d Fighter Weapons Squadron 1989-97
389th Fighter Squadron
391st Fighter Squadron
United States Air Forces Europe
492d Fighter Squadron
494th Fighter Squadron
Air Force Reserve Command
307th Fighter Squadron
706th Fighter Squadron
Air Force Systems Command
6512th Flight Test Squadron
Air Force Materiel Command
445th Flight Test Squadron
Pacific Air Forces
90th Fighter Squadron

Accidents and losses[edit]

Main article: List of F-15 losses

Specifications (F-15E)[edit]

F-15E deploys flares during a flight over Afghanistan, 12 November 2008

Data from USAF fact sheet,[2] Davies[118]

General characteristics

Performance

An F-15E undergoing maintenance showing the M61 Vulcan Gatling gun with its cover removed.
A F-15E releasing a GBU-28 "Bunker Buster" during a test

Armament

LANTIRN pods mounted underneath the engine intakes of an F-15E Strike Eagle, the AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod to the left with the AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod to the right

Avionics

See also[edit]

Related development
Related lists

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Number built for F-15E= 237,[1] F-15I= 25,[1] F-15S= 72,[1] F-15K= 61, F-15SG= 24, and F-15SA= 1; total= 421.

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Bibliography[edit]

  • Clancy, Tom. Fighter Wing. London: HarperCollins, 1995. ISBN 0-00-255527-1. 
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  • Davies, Steve and Doug Dildy. F-15 Eagle Engaged: The World's Most Successful Jet Fighter. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1-84603-169-9.
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  • Jenkins, Dennis R. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, Supreme Heavy-Weight Fighter. Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-85780-081-8.
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  • Smallwood, William L. Strike Eagle: Flying the F-15E In The Gulf War. London: Brassey's, 1994. ISBN 978-1-57488-122-6.

External links[edit]