Just weeks after delivery to Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, the F-15EX Eagle II – both 001 and 002 – have taken to the Alaska skies for Northern Edge 21, May 3-14, 2021.
As explained by 1st Lt Savanah Bray, 53rd Wing, in the article F-15EX takes to the Alaska skies for deep end test, the purpose of the F-15EX’s participation in Northern Edge is to allow for immediate deep-end testing in a complex jamming environment to gather essential test data for what works and what needs improvement. This is critical to expose the F-15EX to this environment now to make changes early on and allow for an aggressive test and fielding timeline.
“At Northern Edge we’re assessing how the F-15EX can perform in a jamming environment, to include GPS, radar and Link 16 jamming,” said Maj. Aaron Eshkenazi, F-15EX pilot, 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “The other main goal is assessing the EX’s interoperability with fourth and fifth generation assets. With more than 60 aircraft airborne during every vul (vulnerability period – the period of time when an aircraft is vulnerable to harm) at Northern Edge, we’re putting the jet in the role it will perform in once it’s fielded, and seeing how it does. So far, it’s been performing really well.”
While at Northern Edge, F-15EX pilots, test engineers and others from both the 85th TES, 53rd Wing and 40th Flight Test Squadron, 96th Test Wing, are gathering test data points and accomplishing test objectives, to include:
- Performance of technological advancements and subsystems, such as the advanced cockpit system, large area displays, and the new helmet, the digital Helmet Mounted Cueing System for the F-15EX,
- Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System performance defending both the F-15EX itself and other joint fourth- and fifth- generation platforms,
- Overall radar performance, and
- Interoperability with other platforms
Eshkenazi explained that the F-15EX is able to come to an exercise like Northern Edge and safely participate in an operationally complex and dynamic environment because it’s not an altogether new platform. Much of the initial testing typically required on a new platform was accomplished during flight test of the other versions of the F-15. This has also allowed for seamless integration between developmental and operational test between the 53rd Wing, 96th Test Wing, and the Air Force Reserve Command’s 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron.
During Northern Edge, some pilots are flying the F-15EX for just the second time ever, which showcases how smooth the transition is from the F-15C to the F-15EX. Furthermore, The F-15EX is flying with Suite 9.1 “X,” a version of Operational Flight Program Suite 9.1, which is comparable to Suite 9.1 “RR” that F-15Es and F-15Cs are currently testing and preparing to field.
The F-15EX is a two-seat aircraft—though operable by a single pilot—with fly-by-wire flight controls, digital cockpit displays, and advanced avionics systems, to include the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System, an electronic warfare upgrade also being fielded on F-15E Strike Eagle models. The Air Force plans to acquire 144 F-15EXs from Boeing, to replace F-15C/D models and refresh the F-15 fleet.
At an average age of more than 37 years, the F-15C/D fleet is fast approaching the end of its useful life and operating on the margins of structural integrity. The F 15EX provides a cost-effective and expedient solution to refresh the F 15C/D fleet and augment the F-15E fleet to meet National Defense Strategy capability and capacity requirements well into the 2040s, while preserving aircraft availability from significant impacts that service life extension and modernization programs would have on the F-15C/D fleet.
The process to acquire the F-15EX aircraft started in February of 2019, when Gen. David Goldfein, then-Air Force chief of staff, signed the F-15EX Rapid Fielding Requirement Document to address readiness issues with an aging F-15 fleet. From there, the directorate’s F-15 Program Office developed the acquisition strategy, awarded the contract, conducted design and verification reviews, and worked with Boeing to manufacture and test the aircraft in record time.
Photo credit: Boeing and 1st Lt Savanah Bray / U.S. Air Force