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F-15EX Successfully Completes Key Testing & Evaluation Stage

DOD Full-Rate Production Decision Pending

Boeing’s F-15EX Eagle II fighter has successfully launched a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground standoff munitions, thereby completing a key testing and evaluation phase—so stated the U.S. Air Force on Wednesday, 30 August 2023.

The data resultant of the testing will inform, in part, the DOD’s decision vis-à-vis full-rate production of Boeing’s extensively-modified, dramatically-improved iteration of McDonnell Douglas’s battlefield-proven fourth-generation fighter jet.

During late August’s Combat Hammer exercise in the skies over Utah’s Hill Air Force Base, two F-15EX test-aircraft undergoing USAF evaluation launched Joint Direct Attack Munitions-guided Small Diameter Bombs. The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit by which existing unguided bombs are converted into precision-guided smart munitions. The exercise was carried out by the USAF’s 53rd Wing, which is based at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base.

The 53rd Wing serves as the focal point in electronic warfare, armament and avionics, chemical defense, reconnaissance, and aircrew training devices. The wing is tasked, also, with the operational testing and evaluation (OT&E) of new equipment and systems proposed for use by the service’s combat air forces. Current wing initiatives include advanced self-protection systems for combat aircraft, aircrew life support systems, aerial reconnaissance improvements, new armament and weapons delivery systems, and improved maintenance equipment and logistics support. The 53rd Wing, which consists of four groups, numbers nearly two-thousand military and civilian personnel spanning 17 U.S. locations.

The Air Force reported the weapons utilized during the Combat Hammer exercise instantiated the longest-range air-to-air and air-to-ground standoff munitions in the U.S. military’s arsenal. Moreover the successful deployment of subject weapons marked the completion of the first-phase of the Air Force’s integrated testing and evaluation of the F-15EX.

To date, F-15EX test-aircraft have taken part in 19 large-force events during which the Air Force evaluated the jets’ ability to integrate with fifth-generation combat aircraft and fire a comprehensive gamut of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

By way of example, in November 2022, an F-15EX test-aircraft fired AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) from two new weapons stations.

Major Calvin Connor, F-15 division commander for the 53rd Wing’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, set forth in a statement that the Combat Hammer exercise had convincingly demonstrated the F-15EX’s ability to deploy three different Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

Proposed in 2018, Boeing’s F-15EX Eagle II fighter is a drastically upgraded variant of the F-15QA the storied American airframer built for the Qatar Air Force in 2016. The Eagle II is intended to replace the United States Air Force’s aging fleet of F-15C/D jets.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been allocated $1.1-billion to procure eight of the fourth-generation-plus fighters from Boeing, with another 136 specimens to be purchased and delivered in the coming years. Technophiles are wont to ruefully ponder the DOD’s decision to forgo acquiring additional F-35s and, instead, provision the USAF with an upgraded version of a fighter that first flew 47-years ago. Combat pilots, military aviation analysts, and legions of accountants, however, have applauded the F-15EX, citing the fighter’s durability, extraordinary warfighting capabilities, and relatively low-cost.

Compared to its forebears, the F-15EX sports a stronger airframe, more powerful and fuel-efficient engines, and a flight control system as advanced as any currently fielded by First World militaries. What’s more, the Eagle II’s digital backbone supports features the likes of cutting-edge radar and targeting systems, sophisticated mission computers, new cockpit displays, and the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS)—an electronic warfare and threat identification architecture.

In addition to toughness, speed, agility, and a high I.Q., the F-15EX manifests immense strength in the way of ordnance capacity. The Eagle II has successfully carried and launched up to 12 air-to-air missiles. Previous iterations of the F-15 were capable of carrying eight missiles; though burdens of six were more common. The F-15EX, however, is capable of bearing aloft and delivering 13.6-tons of ordnance—the highest combat load of any U.S. fighter aircraft.

Notwithstanding the machine’s extensive upgrades and the tactical advantages afforded thereby, the combat stratagems by which the F-15EX will deploy differ little from those of earlier F-15 models. Mighty but non-stealthy, the F-15EX is intended to complement the F-35, not replace it.

The F-35 Lightning II, by dint of its advanced stealth technology, enters enemy airspace and surreptitiously engages and destroys targets—often from over the horizon. Conversely, the F-15EX’s attack is overt and overwhelming, comprising some thirty-thousand-pounds of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons delivered at speeds of up to Mach 2.5.

At a unit cost of $87.7-million and an hourly operating cost of approximately $29,000, the F-15EX is a far more economical contraption than the $110-million F-35A—the hourly operating costs of which top $36,000.

The USAF—alluding to capability and perhaps cost—refers informally to the F-35 as a battlefield quarterback. By extension of the metaphor, the F-15EX ought be thought of as the 1985 Chicago Bears Defense—an unstoppable adversary that rolls into town, crushes all before it with brute-force, terrifying precision, and unmitigated fury, then wins the Super Bowl by the widest margin in history.

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

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