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F-15EX 'Missile Truck' Completes 1st Test

Eagle II Fighter Development Beats Missile Engagement Distance Records with AIM-120D

The U.S. Air Force has announced a milestone in the development of its new F-15EX Eagle II after a test aircraft fired an AIM-120D missile in a range over the Gulf of Mexico. The new Eagle II will replace the USAF's aging, increasingly tired F-15C and /Ds purchased through the decades. 

The new Eagle II has been referred to as a "missile truck", a concept that see the fighter carry ordnance into combat as a launch platform reliant upon stealthier, more advanced fighters like the F-35 Lightning II to penetrate hostile airspace and provide targeting guidance. The duo, if used correctly, leverages the increased payload of the Eagle with the advanced sensor suite and stealth capability of 5th generation fighters. The test firing saw one of 2 Eagle II prototypes fire an AIM-120D AMRAAM missile at a BQM-167 target drone, proving the functionality of its vastly upgraded AESA radar system. 

The basic test essentially boils down to the fighter launching a missile at the drone, ensuring the shot would be a solid hit as it closed to the target, then terminating the missile before impact (letting the drone live for another day). Those involved in the test remarked that the distances involved outshined previous F-15C launches in the same region, and while specific numbers are not disclosed to keep peer states in the dark as to the exact capability of the AIM-120D, it's comfortably assumed to be anywhere up to 100 miles. The promising test bodes well for the program, which is expected to see the Air Force acquire 76 of the fighters over the next 5 years, up to a final (expected) total of 144. 

The high operational tempo of its fleet has left the older aircraft tired after decades flying circles over the middle east. In order to buy more time for the legacy Eagles a service life extension from the original 8,000 hour limit to 12,000 was undertaken in 2011, but many C models are slated to continue soldiering onward through at least 2030, regardless. With an average age around 37 years, the new Eagle can't come fast enough. Like always, plans for procurement change often, with talk over the addition of the EX to replace even the newer F-15E Strike Eagle fleet, for which the chorus will probably only get louder. Leveraging mass production costs of new manufacture Eagles, a life extension program loses its luster against the EX and its 20,000 hour service life. Ultimately, the USAF plan has continued to change, but currently expects to purchase 144 of the new F-15EX, a qualitative increase in modernization and capability all around. 

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.boeing.com/defense/f-15ex


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