Gulf Sales Boosts F-15 Eagle Fighter Rebirth

Over the past two decades, the Boeing F-15 Eagle has undergone a remarkable renaissance, despite the basic design dating from the late 1960s. Deliveries of the fighter to the US Air Force ended in 2002 with the handover. of the last F-15E Strike Eagle. Export derivatives of the F-15E were also delivered to Israel (F-15I) and Saudi Arabia (F-15S) in the 1990s.

For a while, this seemed to be the end of Eagle’s line of development, but in the 2000s, two Asian air weapons selected modernized versions of the F-15E. South Korea chose the F-15K Slam Eagle for its heavy fighter needs, while Singapore chose the F-15SG. Both versions had AAS-42 IRST (Infrared Search and Track) sensors, new electronic warfare systems, and the ability to carry new weapons. Both also had a new powertrain in the form of the General Electric F110-GE-129 engine (although the second Korean batch went to the Pratt & Whitney F100).

Enter the advanced eagle

These sales sparked renewed interest in the F-15, Boeing (Stand 1200) responding with an Advanced Eagle concept that drew on the characteristics of the F-15K / SG but added electric flight controls, a scanning array active electronics (AESA) radar in the form of the Raytheon APG-63 (V) 3 or APG-82, two additional anchor points under the wings, F110 engines and the option of a single wide screen that occupied the entire dashboard width. At the same time, the internal structure of the wing has been redesigned to improve production efficiency and extend the life of the F-15 up to 20,000 hours.

The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAD) was the first to order an Advanced Eagle version, which became the F-15SA. The RSAF’s existing F-15S are also upgraded. With an APG-63 (V) 3 radar, a new digital electronic warfare system, additional pylons and a revised cockpit, albeit without a widescreen display, the F-15SA was for a time the most capable Eagle version to fly. .

The F-15SA for Saudi Arabia introduced a new electronic warfare suite, characterized by additional antennas on either side of the cockpit and revised tail boom antennas. (Photo: Boeing)

This situation did not last long as Qatar announced an order for 36 F-15QAs in 2017. Essentially similar to the F-15SA, the QA version also had a widescreen. Boeing flew the first Qatari aircraft on April 13, 2020. In early 2021, Qatari pilots began training on the aircraft at Mid America-St. Louis Airport in Illinois (a civil-military airfield shared with Scott Air Force Base) in preparation for the start of deliveries to the Gulf country. Along with placing the initial order, Qatar also took an option on another batch of 36 which, if exercised, would bring the fleet to 72. The first was officially handed over on August 25, when the F – 15QA received the name of Ababil.

F-15QA

Three F-15QA Ababils fly on a training mission from St. Louis Mid-America Airport. (Photo: Boeing)

New Eagles for the USAF

In 2018, the US Air Force began discussing the possibility of acquiring an advanced version of Eagle based on the F-15QA to augment the Lockheed Martin F-35A and replace the aging fleet of F-15Cs. Originally known as the F-15X, it was to be a single-seater with QA characteristics, but with an Amber weapon carrier that would increase the air-to-air missile charge to a maximum of 22.

In early July 2020, the Department of Defense ordered eight planes, and 12 more requested a contract in the 2021 budget. Designated F-15EX, and later named Eagle II, the plane is two-seater, although the Air Force intends to make them work on most missions with a single pilot.

The AMBER rack was discontinued, but the aircraft has the same systems as the F-15QA, including F110-GE-129 engines, a large area display, and AESA radar in the form of the APG-82. The F-15EX features a new low-profile head-up display from BAE Systems, the EPAWSS electronic warfare suite, and extended weapons carrying capability. At the heart of the mission system is a high-speed Advanced Display Core II processor and open architecture that allows for the insertion of new technologies as they emerge.

Due to its similarities to the F-15QA, the F-15EX was developed rapidly and Boeing flew the first copy, known as the EX1, on February 2, 2021, with the chief test pilot of the F -15 Matt Giese at the controls. The flight took place nearly five decades after the Eagle’s first flight on July 27, 1972. The EX-2 made its maiden flight soon after.

Eagle II deliveries

On March 10, the EX-1 was officially handed over to the US Air Force at Boeing’s Lambert Field site in St. Louis. The next day, the first Eagle II was airlifted to its new home at Eglin Air Force Base in Fla., To begin the Air Force’s test and evaluation program for the new version of the Eagle. . The F-15EX is the first Air Force aircraft to undergo a combined development and operational test program, which is managed by a Combined Operational Flight Program Test Force (OFP CTF). The goal of combined testing is to get the aircraft into the field as soon as possible. To further expedite the process, the team is drawing on data from completed tests of advanced foreign military sales variants of the F-15, adding tests of US-only subsystems and software from the F-15. operational flight program.

The EX1 was flown to Eglin by the commanders of the two squadrons that will carry out the work, Lt. Col. Richard Turner, commander of the 40th Flight Test Squadron at 96 Wing (Developmental Test), and Lt. Col. Jacob Lindaman, 53 Wing 85th Test Commander. and Evaluation Squadron (operational test). The 40th FLTS operates EX1 with its tail code “ET”, while EX2 — which was delivered in April — is assigned to the 85th TES and carries an “OT” tail code. The six aircraft remaining in production from Lot 1 will also be assigned to Eglin’s test fleet, and are expected to be delivered in 2022/23.

The Air Force plans to procure 144 F-15EX to replace the F-15C / D serving in the Air National Guard. With an average age of 37, they are rapidly approaching the end of their useful life. The F-15EX in Production Lots 2 and 3 are slated for delivery in 2024/25 to two Oregon Air National Guard squadrons: the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field, currently serving as the F-15C / D schoolhouse and will perform the same role for the F-15EX, and the 142nd FW, an operational unit based in Portland.

While the Air Force recognizes that the Eagle II will not be able to operate in denied airspace beyond the late 2020s, the type can be used for home air defense missions currently undertaken by the ANG. , operations in benign air defense environments, and as ranged attackers. The aircraft is touted as a long-range hypersonic missile carrier currently in development.

The adoption of the Eagle II by the USAF further strengthens its export credentials, and interest has been registered from India and Israel, among others. The type can also be seen as a replacement for the USAF F-15E Strike Eagles.

F-15QA cockpit

The cockpit of the F-15QA and EX is dominated by a single screen that can be configured in a number of ways to meet pilot preferences and operational requirements. Similar screens are also found in the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the latest Boeing F / A-18 Super Hornets, including those for Kuwait. (Photo: Boeing)

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