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Why the F-15SE Silent Eagle Never Really Took Off

F-15SE Silent Eagle
F-15SE Silent Eagle. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Why the F-15SE Failed: The F-15 Eagle has been a remarkably successful jet fighter. With 100 confirmed kills and zero losses, the F-15 has a perfect combat record.

Today, the 50-year-old platform is still relevant. It still serves in the U.S. Air Force, and there are no immediate plans for retirement. 

The fifth-generation F-22, which was introduced nearly a quarter-century ago for the purpose of replacing the F-15, has been unable to fully replace its fourth-generation predecessor. The F-15 has proven itself too valuable and too capable, and it remains a foundational part of the Air Force’s force structure.

While the F-15 platform was first released in the 1970s, the avionics have been continuously updated, making for a somewhat modern jet, still able to perform in contemporary combat. Variants of the original F-15 have also been released, most notably the F-15E Strike Eagle. The Strike Eagle debuted in 1986. It was a unique F-15 variant in its air-to-ground capabilities. In all, the F-15 program has been exceedingly successful. 

F-15SE Silent Eagle: A History

However, one variant never quite panned out: the stealthy F-15SE Silent Eagle.

The Silent Eagle was introduced in 2009. Like the name suggests, it was a stealth-modified version of the standard F-15. Boeing introduced the aircraft primarily for the export market. The company hoped the Silent Eagle would provide foreign buyers with an alternative to  Lockheed Martin’s F-35 II Lightning. The Silent Eagle featured significant differences from its ancestors.

First, the Silent Eagle had a conformal weapons bay and fuel tanks, which reduced the jet’s radar cross-section. The F-15SE could carry four air-to-air missiles, and these could include any of the weapons the Strike Eagle was qualified to carry, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder, as well as JDAM satellite-guided bombs and Small Diameter Bombs. The Silent Eagle was also equipped to handle Raytheon AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation (HARM) missiles. The HARM missiles were often used by aircraft operating in a Wild Weasel role, hunting for enemy radar systems. The Silent Eagle would thus have been an excellent option for Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses missions.  

Second, the Silent Eagle had slightly different vertical stabilizers. While the original F-15 had two parallel, perfectly straight vertical stabilizers, the Silent Eagle’s stabilizers canter outward at 15 degrees. The outward canting further reduced the Silent Eagle’s radar cross-section while also giving the jet more lift. The additional lift wasn’t just for the sake of maneuverability. It also increased the aircraft’s range by 75 to 100 miles over previous F-15s. 

Third, the Silent Eagle was coated with radar-absorbent materials, or RAM, which also reduced the jet’s radar cross-section. “RAM is used on modern stealth fighters to minimize the radar return created by the facets of their designs that couldn’t be adjusted to deflect radar waves – things like ramjet inlets, the fighter’s nose, and the leading edges of its wings,” Alex Hollings wrote for Sandboxx. 

Why it Failed

Yet the Silent Eagle’s stealth-improving modifications did not make the jet stealthier than the F-22 or F-35, which were both designed from the ground up to be stealthy. Accordingly, the Silent Eagle never was able to elbow its way into the export market. The F-15SE was neither new and cutting edge, nor older and affordable. The Silent Eagle was somewhere in between. It was an expensive, souped up fourth-generation fighter, with a low radar cross-section but no true stealth abilities. 

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

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