During Exercise Northern Edge the F-15EXs were test flown to see if they could play the part now met in the Combat Air Forces by the F-15C plus add some capability to that mission.
According to a test pilot who participated in the recent Exercise Northern Edge in Alaska, the F-15EX both shot down some adversaries and was shot down itself during the recent drill, and work is underway to analyze the results of its first appearance in the major force exercise.
As reported by Air Force Magazine, the two F-15EXs that took part in the exercise flew a combined 33 sorties during the exercise from April 28-May 14, although statistics such as the mission capable rates of the aircraft have not yet been tabulated.
The two first-of-their-kind F-15EX Eagle II aircraft—being used for concurrent operational and developmental test— Northern Edge only two weeks after they were delivered to the Air Force.
According to Lt. Col. John O’Rear of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron, the F-15EXs (that took part in Northern Edge only a few weeks after they were delivered to the Air Force) were test flown to see if they could play the part now met in the Combat Air Forces by the F-15C plus add some capability to that mission.
Among the test points were how the F-15EXs could integrate with F-15Cs as well as larger forces, including fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s, O’Rear said.
“We flew them with two-ships of F-15C models, two-ships of F-15E models, … two-ships of EXs supporting other fourth-gen [flights], and integrating with the F-22 and F-35,” he explained.
O’Rear acknowledged that though the F-15EXs “tallied some kills while they were up there,” there were also some losses.
“If you go into any large force exercise and you come back with everybody—with no blue losses—I would probably say that your threat is not as robust as it needs to be, in order to get the learning,” he said. Northern Edge was meant to be a multi-service exercise against a near-peer threat having some low-observable capabilities.
O’Rear said that “in this kind of environment, most of your blue ‘deaths’ are probably going to be outside of visual range, just because of the threat we’re replicating,” although he couldn’t speak to the incidents where the F-15EXs were shot down. Visual range dogfights are “not something that happens a whole bunch.”
Fly-by-wire system; two extra weapon stations—which O’Rear said was “pretty impressive” in the overall mix—an updated cockpit with touch-screen color displays; Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS, an electronic warfare suite meant to buy the jet more survivability against modern threats) and advanced radar capabilities are the capabilities that the F-15EX adds to the F-15C.
The USAF is embracing the F-15EX as a means to shore up its fighter force, facing the hard reality that it just doesn’t have enough iron to go around. The service received only 186 F-22s and it never got the 381 Raptors it planned for to replace its F-15C/Ds and carry the air superiority mission through 2040. The USAF had to retain more than 200 of the youngest or lowest-time F-15Cs well beyond their planned service lives to meet global force requirements.
Eleven years later, those F-15C/Ds are so worn down that the USAF officials say it’s no longer cost-effective to fix them. Hence the service decided to buy the F-15EX to replace the F-15C/D.
Photo credit: Ethan Wagner / U.S. Air Force