F-15 fighter jets sit at Japan's Air Self Defense Force base at Naha in Okinawa on February 6, 2019. Will they also get the F-15X? Photo: AFP / Yomiuri Shimbun

The US Air Force is ordering the first eight of 80 new F-15X aircraft from Boeing, which manufactures them in St Louis alongside production of the F-18 Super Hornet.

According to reliable reports, the new F-15’s will have even greater carrying capacity than older F-15 models and will have upgrades found in the F-15 model being sold to Qatar. Deliveries to Qatar are now underway so the production line is active.

The proposed US Air Force acquisition is strongly opposed by Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-35 “stealth” fighter, on the grounds that it would undermine the F-35 program. The Air Force has denied this and claims F-35 purchases won’t be affected by the new procurement.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether Congress will agree to the Air Force request.

Moreover, the “X” version, as currently defined, does not make use of the electronics and sensor integration that is a key feature of the F-35. Whether future F-15 platforms would have the costly electronics of the F-35 is uncertain.

The F-35 is optimized for “stealth” – that is, a very low radar signature, while the F-15X apparently is not.

‘Stealth’ detection capabilities

But Boeing has a “stealth” version of the F-15 on its drawing board, called the Silent Eagle. Israel was very interested in the Silent Eagle for many reasons, including the ability of the heavy F-15 to carry a large payload of precision weapons and a capability to penetrate enemy air defenses.

The US is still on the stealth bandwagon, even though the F-35 is not stealth capable from all directions. But the more important development is the emergence of new stealth-aircraft detection capabilities which are being pursued heavily by the Russians and others. These include much more capable electro-optical systems able to pinpoint threats at greater distances, which rely on visual and non-visual signatures, such as heat profiles in the infra-red bandwidths, and more exotic detection systems including quantum radars and photonic detection systems.

Electro-optical systems and their detectors are being steadily improved and can be integrated into air defense systems. A key advantage is that these sensors are passive: they do not emit any radio energy, meaning they can’t be knocked out with anti-radiation weapons nor can they easily be jammed.

Reportedly, Russia’s S-400 Air Defense System can detect stealth aircraft including the F-22, which may help explain why it is being sold successfully to Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries that normally don’t buy Russian hardware.

Along with electro-optical, lower frequency radars operating in the very high to ultra-high frequencies (VHF, UHF) along with L Band radars are being integrated into new Russian fighter aircraft and ground air defenses. The problem with these systems in the past was that while they can detect a threat at some distance, they could not accurately locate the threat. But there is evidence that this weakness is being overcome.

Most ideas about air combat today are focused on long-range intercept using beyond visual range (BVR) missiles. BVR missiles do not need to be mounted only on stealth aircraft, but stealth allows more protection from enemy counterattacks at long range.

Hypersonic weapons

BVR missiles come potentially in three designs: standard missiles, stealthy missiles and hypersonic missiles. Of the three, Russian Chinese and US defense establishments are increasingly focused on hypersonic weapons, mostly for ground attack. But if hypersonic missile sizes can be reduced, they can perform both the air-to-ground and air-to-air role, creating a major problem for a defender.

One of the reasons the Air Force wants the F-15X is it can carry, in its beefed-up design, hypersonic missiles. These are currently believed to be too large to fit into the F-35, which must carry its weapons – including its air-defense missiles – internally, to maintain its penetration capability.

Another key advantage of the F-15X is that it can fly long-range missions while the F-35 is much more a tactical aircraft optimized for relatively short range missions. Problems such as removing threats in places such as Iran or North Korea would typically need long-range aircraft. While the existing F-22 can do this mission, it has constant readiness problems because the platform is aging and has problems in repairing stealth coatings on the aircraft’s surface. These coatings are eroding and require skill and time for repair.

In 2017 the average readiness level of the F-22 was a poor 49%, compared to an overall fleet average of 71%. There are around 195 F-22’s currently operational, but some 17 were damaged at Tyndall AF base in October 2018 by Hurricane Michael. It is reported it will take years for these aircraft to be repaired, if they can be. Given operational readiness levels that may continue to decline, as priority is given to F-35’s, which have their own maintenance issues, that leaves 89 F-22 aircraft or less that can be used in combat.

An F-15 I fighter jet launches anti-missile flares as it performs during a graduation ceremony of Israeli pilots at the Hatzerim base in the Negev desert in December 2018. Photo: AFP / Jack Guez

The F-15X, missiles

The F-15X like Qatar’s F-15 QA will have a greatly enhanced cockpit with touch screen displays and a new, highly capable and updated heads up display (HUD). Among its significant capabilities is it can operate very well at night because of its terrain following radar, meaning it can penetrate enemy air defenses at low altitude, giving an enemy limited time to react. The F-15X can also carry a load of air-to-air missiles including a capacity of 22 AMRAAMs.

The AMRAAM is a medium-range intercept missile that qualifies it as a BVR system, although it has less range than Russian and Chinese BVR weapons and particularly a new Russian design for a ramjet-powered version of the R-77 air-to-air missile.

An important factor in missile design is the ability to maneuver as the missile heads in for a kill, especially to turn tightly as the targeted aircraft tries to avoid being hit. Here the Russians seem to have advantages in the later designs of their air-to-air systems, especially versions of their R-77 mid-range BVR air-to-air missile. Typical missiles as they hone in on a kill fly entirely on kinetic energy, as the missile engine has already burned out, but a ramjet air-to-air missile does not have this problem and, while slower, is more maneuverable.

But the US Air Force is not looking for the F-15X for air-to-air combat, even though it will be quite capable. Rather, the Air Force wants its long range and heavy load, plus the ability to use ‘smart’ weapons and, eventually, hypersonic missiles.

In the Middle East, using the F-15X has the advantage that support facilities in friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel are already in place, with logistics and repair facilities available to enable the US to operate with great ease and close to major threats such as Iran.

Japan, Taiwan better off with the F-15X

In Asia, Japan is a major F-15 operator, and the US Air Force has its own F-15s operating in Japan. These aircraft form a counterweight to China because they can penetrate deeper and cause much more damage than the new F-35 or even the older F-16. If the goal was to take out medium-range ballistic missile sites in either China or North Korea, the F-15X has the range to destroy them.

Japan seems to have gotten sidetracked in its search for new aircraft. Its greatest interest was in buying the F-22, but Congress prohibited its export abroad and, in any case, the F-22 aircraft is out of production and the jigs and forms needed to build new ones no longer exist. Now Japan is working on what it calls the F-3 fighter, which is a tactical fighter linked-back to the F-16. But that is not what Japan needs for a credible long-range capability. A better substitute for the missing F-22 would be the F-15X.

But it is not only Japan that needs a long-range heavy fighter. In fact, as Taiwan searches for a new high-performance aircraft, it should consider the F-15X, if the US will supply it. It would give the US and Taiwan a major defense asset in the region and perhaps counter China’s increasingly aggressive operations aimed at the island. Its big load of AMRAAMs would make it a superb air to airforce multiplier. The presence of the F-15X on Taiwan would be a significant counterbalance.

Will either of these countries buy the F-15X? The jury is still out, but the momentum of an Air Force procurement could shift the balance in favor of buying.

Join the Conversation

38 Comments

  1. An fascinating discussion is value comment. I believe that it is best to write extra on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject however typically persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  2. My wife and i felt now thankful when Albert could conclude his inquiry through the ideas he came across from your own site. It is now and again perplexing to simply choose to be making a gift of information which men and women may have been trying to sell. And now we do know we have got you to give thanks to for that. Most of the illustrations you made, the straightforward site navigation, the relationships you make it easier to instill – it’s all exceptional, and it’s really making our son in addition to the family know that the subject matter is amusing, and that’s unbelievably important. Many thanks for the whole thing!

  3. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year
    old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell
    someone!

  4. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as
    I provide credit and sources back to your website?
    My blog is in the exact same niche as yours and my visitors would certainly benefit from a lot of the information you present
    here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thank
    you!

  5. I love what you guys are up too. This kind of clever work and reporting! Keep up the very good works guys I’ve included you guys to blogroll.

  6. Magnificent goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you’re just
    extremely excellent. I really like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you are
    saying and the way in which you say it. You
    make it entertaining and you still care for to keep it smart.

    I cant wait to read far more from you. This is actually a
    terrific web site.

  7. I blog quite often and I truly thank you for your information. This article has truly peaked my interest.
    I will book mark your site and keep checking for new information about once per week.
    I subscribed to your Feed as well.

  8. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him.

    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a
    entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout
    and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

  10. Nice post. I understand some thing more difficult on diverse blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating you just read content from other writers and exercise a specific thing from their site. I’d would rather apply certain with all the content in this little blog no matter whether you don’t mind. Natually I’ll provide you with a link for your web weblog. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Hey there! Quick question that’s completely
    off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile
    friendly? My website looks weird when browsing from my
    iphone 4. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to fix this problem.
    If you have any recommendations, please share. Many thanks!

  12. I discovered your blog web site on google and examine just a few of your early posts. Proceed to maintain up the superb operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. In search of ahead to reading extra from you afterward!…

  13. You really make it seem so easy together with your presentation but
    I to find this topic to be actually something that I believe I might never understand.
    It kind of feels too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking forward to your subsequent submit, I’ll try to get the dangle of it!

  14. wonderful issues altogether, you just gained a new reader.

    What might you recommend in regards to your put up that you simply made some days in the past?
    Any certain?

  15. Hello I am so thrilled I found your website, I really found you by
    accident, while I was browsing on Aol for something
    else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like
    to say thanks for a tremendous post and a all round interesting blog
    (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to look over it all at
    the moment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds,
    so when I have time I will be back to read more, Please do keep up the superb work.

  16. Hello! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems
    with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no backup.
    Do you have any solutions to stop hackers?

  17. Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of
    volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a outstanding job!

  18. I’ve been surfing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never
    found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me.
    In my view, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be much more
    useful than ever before.

  19. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon on a daily basis.
    It’s always helpful to read through articles from
    other writers and practice a little something from
    their web sites.

  20. Excellent goods from you, man. I’ve have in mind your stuff prior to and
    you’re just extremely fantastic. I actually like what you
    have received right here, certainly like what you’re stating
    and the best way in which you assert it. You make it
    entertaining and you still care for to stay it wise.

    I cant wait to learn much more from you. This is actually a great web site.

  21. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  22. Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

  23. Excellent items from you, man. I have have in mind your stuff previous to and you’re just too excellent.

    I actually like what you have received right here, really like what you
    are saying and the best way wherein you are saying it.

    You make it entertaining and you continue to care for to keep it smart.
    I cant wait to learn much more from you. That is really a wonderful web site.

  24. Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  25. It is perfect time to make some plans for the future
    and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I
    desire to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions.
    Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article.
    I desire to read more things about it!

  26. Hey! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good results. If you know of any please share. Kudos!

  27. Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Bless you

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *