The 50-year-old F-15 airframe remains a workhorse of the US Air Force (USAF), and with its latest F-15EX Eagle 2 variant, the aircraft is emerging as America’s most powerful aircraft.
The Eagle 2 recently completed a successful missile test that brought the aircraft closer to carrying more air-to-air missiles than any other USAF fighter.
Flying over the Gulf of Mexico, two F-15EX Eagle 2 aircraft from the service’s 96th Test Wing fired missiles from their new weapon stations, known as Stations 1 and 9, during a test in late November last year, according to the press release issued by Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) on January 4.
The 96th Test Wing’s pilots launched an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile from Station 1 and AIM-9X from Station 9 over the Eglin Test and Training Complex’s water range, thus confirming for the first time that missiles could be launched “effectively and safely” from these stations or hardpoints.
“The successful employment of these weapons is a major step in demonstrating the Eagle II aircraft’s missile capacity of 12 air-to-air missiles,” the USAF said, noting that before the F-15EX Eagle 2, F-15 aircraft models could carry eight air-to-air missiles, while the Eagle 2 adds four additional missile stations located toward the wing tips.
Another milestone, another capability💪 @TeamEglin F-15EX Eagle II aircraft fired AIM-120 air-to-air missiles, providing the first test points for the expanded capability of four additional missile stations.https://t.co/03sRMK6mFC pic.twitter.com/EpoTpo8kNs
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) January 6, 2023
The F-15EX will also carry more missiles than the other fighter jets in the USAF fleet, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, and F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which can hold up to six, eight, and six missiles, respectively.
“I’m really proud to be a part of this milestone for the F-15EX program to deliver increased payload capacity to the combat air forces,” said Maj. Jeremy Schnurbusch, the 40th FLTS-attached pilot, fired the AIM-9X missile.
According to the Eglin AFB’s statement, both Eagle 2 aircraft successfully released the missiles on separate passes against a target drone.
“Having been a part of the Eglin F-15EX team from day one, it’s exciting to see the progress made and new milestones achieved as we work to field the most combat-capable F-15EX,” said Maj Brett Hughes, who successfully fired the AIM-120 from Station 1.
F-15EX Eagle II
The F-15EX is the latest model of the F-15 air superiority fighters, reportedly brought in to replace the Air National Guard units’ successful but aging fleet of F-15C/Ds that protect America’s maritime borders.
The F-15EX is identical to a conventional F-15 but incorporates a new fly-by-wire (FBW) system, a more effective processor, and advanced electronic warfare (EW) suite.
FBW is a semi-automatic, computer-regulated aircraft flight control system (FCS) that replaces mechanical flight controls with an electronic interface.
Traditional mechanical and hydro-mechanical FCS uses a series of levers, rods, cables, pulleys, and more, which pilots have to move to adjust control surfaces to aerodynamic conditions.
While mechanical flight controls give pilots a direct feel of how the aircraft handles aerodynamic forces while flying, they are also complicated to operate, require constant monitoring, are heavy and bulky, and need regular maintenance.
The electronic FWB system is much lighter and less bulky than mechanical controls, offering increased fuel efficiency and flexibility in aircraft design, even in legacy platforms. Also, most FWB systems have triple or quadruple redundancy backups built to avoid critical flight failure.
The F-15EX is designed around what is known as an Open Mission Systems (OMS) architecture, which allows rapid insertion of the latest capabilities and systems.
Apart from replacing the old F-15C/D models, the F-15EX is meant to team up with the stealthy F-35 or F-22 fighter jets for some missions.
Because of the Eagle 2’s ability to carry a much larger weapons payload than fifth-generation types, it is being eyed for roles to carry future hypersonic missiles that could not be accommodated inside a fifth-generation fighter weapons bay.
As EurAsian Times reported earlier, the F-15EX will be the first aircraft in the USAF to be equipped with the new Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM).
Furthermore, the F-15EX has a top speed of Mach 2.5 and a combat range of over 1700 kilometers, compared to the F-35’s range of only around 1000 kilometers. Therefore, it is the best tactical jet for carrying hypersonic missiles over extended distances.
Hypersonic weapons will only become more critical as threats from near-peer nations such as Russia and China keep growing.
Currently, China and Russia are the only countries with operational hypersonic weapons, and Russia has even used its Kinzhal hypersonic missile in the ongoing Ukraine war. In contrast, the US is still catching up.
Also, the F-15EX could become one of the first aircraft in the USAF fleet to carry laser weapons, a priority for the US military, as discussed extensively in a previous EurAsian Times article.
The USAF received its first high-energy laser weapon in July 2022, called LANCE (or Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments), from Lockheed Martin.
LANCE is a pod weapon that can be fitted on an aircraft with the primary laser weapon supplied by Lockheed Martin and the pod carrying LANCE made by Boeing. Also, the beam control system that trains the laser on its target is provided by Northrop Grumman.
It is unclear how much power this new laser weapon will produce, but reports indicate it will probably not exceed 100 kilowatts.
It is also unknown which aircraft will test or deploy this pod laser weapon. However, Boeing had tested a pre-prototype pod shape on a USAF F-15 fighter. At the same time, Lockheed Martin had also previously shown the pod carried by an F-16 fighter jet in its concept art.
The Eagle-II is the world’s fastest (Mach 2.5) and most heavily equipped warplane (payload of 13.6 tons), with the greatest strike range of 2,222 kilometers. It will also incorporate some of the most advanced weaponry.
“The F-15EX is an incredible addition to the USAF inventory. This event, executed by a top-notch team of test pilots, engineers, and experts, proves yet again the F-15EX will be ready if, and when, our adversaries challenge our nation’s interests,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Wee, OFP CTF commander, following the completion of the recent test in November 2022.