On May 11, 2021 the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) completed a munitions proof-of-concept called Project Strike Rodeo that validated loading five AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) on an F-15E Strike Eagle. This lays the foundation for follow-on flight testing that would more than double the F-15E’s current JASSM-carrying capacity.
As told by 1st Lt Savanah Bray, 53rd Wing, in the article Project Strike Rodeo: F-15E loaded with five JASSMs, according to Lt. Col. Mike Benitez, 53rd Wing director of staff, the grass-roots initiative started in January 2021 during a WEPTAC working group. A team of expert tacticians were working through a specific scenario that relied on the ability to escort a bomber loaded with stand-off munitions to a release point in a highly-contested environment.
Some warfighters hypothesized that using a formation of fighters instead of a single bomber to employ the JASSM salvo could not only reduce the size and complexity of the strike package required to execute the mission, it would also distribute mission risk across the force. Unfortunately, the maximum number of JASSMs any fighter can currently carry is two, meaning though the idea is feasible it wasn’t viable based on the number of fighters required, unless… a fighter could carry more JASSMs.
With this idea in mind, the F-15E Strike Eagle was the platform considered for taking on the task of carrying more JASSMs, and Project Strike Rodeo was born. Unfortunately, the munitions would not fit on the conformal fuel tank weapons stations of the F-15E, as JASSM was designed to be loaded directly from the base of their shipping containers, which is too large to fit under the F-15E without hitting the main landing gear.
A small Eglin-based team was formed comprising multiple units within the 53rd Wing, 96th Test Wing, and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to find a solution. Using Squadron Innovation Funds, the team designed and manufactured a special loading tool and wrote new weapons loading procedures. Project Strike Rodeo then drew the interest of the F-15 System Program Office, which provided the funding to execute this load test.
With the successful execution of this load test, Project Strike Rodeo went from idea to execution in five months.
Project Strike Rodeo follows the ACE proof of concept of Feb. 22, 2021 that saw the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron flying an F-15E carrying six JDAMS on a single side of the aircraft, in a single sortie.
Before the ACE proof of concept the F-15E was authorized to carry a max of nine JDAMs, but the success of the test expanded that to 15 JDAMs. The Strike Eagle is now able to carry enough JDAMs for an active combat mission, land at a remote location, and reload itself and/or another aircraft – such as an F-35 or F-22 – for additional combat sorties.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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