F-15EX Eagle II is starting to look quite promising: Flying in contested airspace means that fighters need the best possible situational awareness. It means navigating an environment with high amounts of radio frequency coming from enemy radar and weapons – what is called a “dense signal” area of operations.
Pilots of the F-15EX Eagle II will soon be better equipped to operate in these environments because the aircraft is getting a new electronic countermeasures system.
The new system will allow the aircraft to penetrate farther into contested airspace safely. Crews will be able to sniff out radio frequencies before enemy weapons can be fired. This will make the F-15EXs more likely to survive the most dangerous portions of their missions.
F-15EX Eagle II: Part of a Broader Solution
This feature is officially called the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS. The name is a mouthful, but the system allows the F-15EX to better sense enemy activity in all directions, covering the full 360 degrees around the airplane.
“EPAWSS provides the F-15EX with fully-integrated radar warning, geolocation, situational awareness, and self-protection solutions to detect and defeat surface and airborne legacy, current, and future threats,” according to BAE Systems.
EPAWSS program director Bridget McDermott said, “These aircraft bring speed, maneuverability, and payload to the fight, and now with EPAWSS, they can better detect and protect against modern threats.”
The integration is part of a broader BAE strategy to create the EWX Extreme Electronic Warfare solution.
F-15EX: Making the F-15 That Much Better
The F-15EX is the newest airplane from the F-15 family; the Air Force signed a contract for the aircraft in 2020. The F-15 program has been around since the 1970s, so it was time for an update, as the last F-15E Strike Eagle was made in 2001. The Air Force still has 500 F-15s flying today. Many U.S. allies fly the jet, and it has enjoyed a sterling, undefeated aerial combat record, but the older models are difficult to maintain and keep in the air.
The F-15EX Eagle II will be the first F-15 to have digital fly-by-wire controls. The cockpit features a large area display and an APG-82 AESA radar. Pilots will have a Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System featuring better night vision.
The Air Force originally wanted 144 F-15EXs, but that number has been trimmed down to 80 in the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act. One of the reasons is that F-15EX birds are not stealthy, and there are questions about whether the Air Force would be better off investing in more F-35s.
The F-35EX’s new electronic warfare suite should make it more survivable and allow it to integrate with F-35 missions – perhaps to stay back and fire stand-off missiles. The other big question is how well the F-15EX can go up against the kind of anti-aircraft systems that have been so potent against non-stealth aircraft during the war in Ukraine – so powerful indeed that Russian and Ukrainian fighters rarely venture over them.
The F-15EX could certainly serve well in National Air Guard units that fly the F-15. The new aircraft would be a significant upgrade for the reservists, allowing more pilots more opportunities to train with an advanced model.
The F-15EX Eagle II will have to prove its worth, but the F-15 platform is sound and combat-proven. It should integrate well with stealth fighters. Its mission set may be limited, but it should be an excellent dogfighter with ample maneuverability at speeds over Mach-2, and a range of at least 2,700 miles. Software can be updated easily. The new electronic warfare countermeasures will make it more survivable, and the cockpit features and fly-by-wire systems are ahead of the curve.
The F-15EX Eagle II has a promising future ahead of it if the advantages continue to outweigh the disadvantages.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.