On Aug. 5, 2021 the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) conducted the first-ever live fire of an AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile from an F-15C Eagle using an Infrared Search-and-Track system (IRST), successfully shooting down a QF-16 aerial target.
As Maj. Brian Davis, 85th TES Chief of Air-to-Air Weapons and Tactics explained in the article 85 TES F-15C fires first IRST-cued AMRAAM, the F-15C was equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Legion Pod IRST Block 1.5 system. The IRST passive target tracking capability was combined with the APG-63v3 RADAR to datalink the target location to the AIM-120. During the test, the sensors in multiple spectrums collaborated for the missile to successfully intercept the target and closed kill chains.
“This successful live missile test is significant because an F-15 equipped with an IRST-cued AIM-120 allows us to achieve detection, tracking, targeting, weapons employment, and verification of an intercept without being dependent upon RADAR energy,” said Davis. “It’s also not susceptible to radio frequency jamming or a target’s low observable design.”
The test also coincided with the fielding evaluation of the Legion Pod Block 1.5 IRST, where members of both the 85th TES and Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force collaborated to test the datalink characterization to further develop follow-on tactics.
Actually use of the Legion Pod and its IRST capabilities allows a pilot to have another sensor that integrates with the aircraft and builds a more complete picture of the battlespace. Because of its use of infrared, it provides the ability to identify, track and shoot enemy aircraft in a RADAR jamming environment to include stealth aircraft that a traditional radar may not see.
In 2017, Legion Pod was selected as the Infrared Search and Track system for the US Air Force’s F-15C fleet. Transportable between platforms, future expansion plans for Legion Pod include the F-15E, F-16, as well as unmanned systems. Flexible by design and production-ready, Legion Pod is set to serve as the next sensor system of choice for fixed-wing aircraft.
The pod is mounted on the centreline of the F-15 – mirroring what the Super Hornet Block III is doing – and the IRST21 long-wave infrared sensor being used is the same as the Navy version.
Photo credit: 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin / U.S. Air Force
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