Military Aviation

“The F-15EX Eagle II can shoot farther than any other fighter in the USAF arsenal,” Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center says

“One of the main takeaways from these live fire shots is the F-15EX Eagle II can clearly function as a long-range, standoff weapons system,” Capt. Max Denbin, team’s lead test engineer.

Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 6 team members recently analyzed two of the first developmental and operational test missile shots for the F-15EX Eagle II.

Engineers and analysts from the AFOTEC Detachment 6 F-15 division traveled to Eglin Air Force Base and Tyndall AFB, both in Florida, to draw results from the AIM-120D and AIM-120C3 missile shots performed as part of the Weapons System Evaluation Program, or WSEP, conducted by Eglin’s 53rd Wing. As explained by Lt. Cameron B. Greer, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, in the article F-15EX missile shots examined to verify combat capability, these missile shots conducted on Jan. 25, 2022 showed how the F-15EX can be employed in theater and provided the context needed for Detachment 6 to verify its combat capability.

As already reported, on that day the 40th Flight Test Squadron aircrew and aircraft fired the weapon pursuing a BQM-167 aerial target drone as part of the 53rd Wing’s Combat Archer, a WSEP conducted near Tyndall Air Force Base.

The 40th Flight Test Squadron’s Majors Benjamin Naumann and Mark Smith fly the F-15EX Eagle II preparing to fire an AIM-120D missile during a Weapons System Evaluation Program mission near Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla, Jan. 25, 2022. This was the first live fire performed from the Air Force’s newest aircraft.

During the flight, the F-15EX detected the drone using onboard sensors, acquired a weapons-quality track and launched the missile at the target. After tracking the missile’s release and flight toward the BQM-167, the shot was determined a WSEP success, at which point the missile flight was terminated.

The successful release marked the first weapon fired from the aircraft.

“One of the main takeaways from these live fire shots is the jet can clearly function as a long-range, standoff weapons system,” said Capt. Max Denbin, the team’s lead test engineer. “The F-15EX can shoot from a significantly increased range – farther than any other fighter in the U.S. Air Force arsenal – and provides the unique capability of holding 12 AMRAAMs or other large ordinance.”

This long-range, standoff capability is a fundamental pillar of ensuring US power projection on a global scale.

“As adversaries continue to develop combat capability, the weapons systems with standoff capability, like the EX, are going to be critical in maintaining a tactical advantage,” Denbin said.

The F-15EX Eagle II fires an AIM-120D missile during a Weapons System Evaluation Program mission near Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla, Jan. 25, 2022. This was the first live fire performed from the Air Force’s newest aircraft.

While the data gathered from the WSEP shots was useful, Detachment 6 analysts and engineers focused on more than just data collection. In the past two months, they have explored exactly how the F-15 EX performs as part of a force package with fifth-generation fighters.

“Analyzing data elements is always important,” said 1st Lt. Hagan Strader, lead analyst. “As an operational test organization, we’re focused on communicating exactly what pilots can expect from the EX when it’s time to fight. Even at the unclassified level, the new capabilities that the F-15 EX offers push it squarely into the future of combat. This is a platform that can work with penetrating assets in a network-enabled battlespace with the potential to cause significant problems for our adversaries.”

WSEP and other dedicated F-15E and F-15EX missions have also generated key insights on the performance of the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS. EPAWSS provides both the F-15E and F-15EX with fully integrated radar warning as well as advanced jamming and countermeasure employment capability in highly contested environments, according to EPAWSS manufacturer BAE Systems.

EPAWSS is a defensive system designed to provide F-15 aircrews with situational awareness of, and countermeasures against, radio frequency (RF) surface and airborne threats. It is designed to integrate and replace three of the F-15 legacy Tactical Electronic Warfare System (TEWS) components: the AN/ALR-56C Radar Warning Receiver, AN/ALQ-135 Internal Countermeasures Set, and AN/ALE-45 Countermeasures Dispenser Set.

EPAWSS was intended to replace the TEWS on the F-15C and F-15E aircraft. This year, the Air Force directed that the F-15C be excluded from the EPAWSS upgrade because the F-15C will be replaced by the new F-15EX aircraft.

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“Participating in WSEP events shows us exactly how useful EPAWSS is,” Denbin said. “We’ve already seen that the F-15EX can serve as a standoff asset, but EPAWSS proves that the jet can also get into the middle of a fight and cause massive issues for our adversaries.”

“The Air Force is currently planning to acquire 80 F-15EX aircraft. AFOTEC Detachment 6 is responsible for delivering the operational truth about the F-15EX, and the F-15 test team aims to do so at the speed of relevance,” said Lt. Col. Ken Juhl, F-15 test director and AFOTEC Detachment 6 deputy commander. “This program is unique in that we’re not acquiring aircraft on decades-long time scales – we’re seeing this program evolve weekly.”

Having confirmed the F-15EX long range, standoff capability as well as the effectiveness of EPAWSS in a heavily contested combat battlespace, the team is now shifting gears toward preparing for the second round of dedicated operational test missions for the aircraft.

“These missions will happen at Nellis AFB in fall 2022,” Juhl said.

Photo credit: 1st Lt. Lindsey Heflin and Tech. Sgt. John Raven / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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