Even as a young lad, I was a war buff. There was my favorite video game and flight simulator F-15E Strike Eagle in which you could pick a number of different missions and go up against the best. My favorite scenario was an attack on Syria and fighting against Soviet-era fighters and surface-to-air missiles.
I wish I could say I had an unblemished experience with the game. The bad guys were good enough to shoot me down in simulations. But the real F-15E Strike Eagle is still a marvel. The F-15 series of variants has a perfect record in real life – enjoying a 104 to zero kill ratio – no losses in over 40 years of flying for the U.S. Air Force. Let’s take a closer look at what made this fighter a true marvel.
What’s Great About the F-15E?
The F-15E showed that it could strike deep in any weather night and day in numerous combat engagements. Its targeting system can track an enemy fighter and at the same time paint installations and equipment on the ground for precision-guided bombs. The MACH 2.5 speed is one its top attributes. The fighter can launch air-to-air Sidewinders and Sparrows plus carry Small Diameter Bombs and JDAMs along with other laser-guided munitions. An M61 Vulcan 20 mm Gatling-style rotary cannon is also included in the arsenal. The airplane also sports an electronic warfare suite with jamming and countermeasures.
History of the F-15 Series
The Vietnam War proved the Air Force needed an air superiority fighter that could best enemy airplanes and deliver the goods in close air support roles. This new airplane would replace the F-4 Phantom workhorse. Designers and engineers worked on the two-year FX competition that had three entrants from Fairchild Hiller, North American Rockwell, and McDonnell Douglas in the late 1960s. McDonnell won the bid for the advanced tactical fighter program in 1969 because of its notable performance and affordable price.
“Streak Eagle” Was a Record-Setting Monster
Designers and engineers were able to deliver an airplane in three years that met McDonnell’s promises and expectations. The F-15 became known as the Eagle and the first pilot flew it in 1972. Later that year the fighter entered serial production. One of the first delivered F-15A models was nicknamed the “Streak Eagle.” This airplane blew away several records – numerous time-to-climb feats and high altitude flight. It could climb vertically with amazing thrust, which set it apart from other fighters.
Flying Low, Fast, and Lethal
The Air Force loved this air superiority role, but acquisition chiefs wanted an F-15 that could fly low during close air support duties. This led to the F-15E Strike Eagle that first flew in 1986. The Strike Eagle could carry 23,000 pounds of munitions and had a better navigation system and infrared targeting. That high MACH 2.5 speed came in handy.
The Israelis Went to Combat First with the F-15
Israel was an early customer of the F-15, and like my video game, its air force flew against the Syrians. The Israeli F-15s shot down 50 Syrian airplanes in 1982 without losing a single F-15. The U.S. Air Force’s F-15Cs and Ds had a perfect record against the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm totaling 34 dogfighting wins in Cs, Ds, and Es against MiG-29s, and Mirage F-1s.
Deadly Over Iraq
Operation Desert Storm was the Air Force’s coming out party, after all that realistic training at the Red Flag exercises in Las Vegas over the years. One unit of F-15s, the 58th Tactical Fighter Squadron, had 12 kills against the Iraqis – some pilots had more than one. This squadron’s performance surprised its pilots. They didn’t know what to expect in combat and feared the worst before the war.
But All that Training Paid Off
One of the aviators echoed that sentiment. Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel William Thiel was concerned about possible casualties and was excited about his F-15 pilot’s performance. He looked back at Desert Storm in Aviation Geek Club, “War is a terrible thing, but if you have to go to war it’s nice to go to one where you’re well prepared. You can do your job and bring everybody home,” Thiel said. “We so overmatched the enemy, which made it less frightening, and we were able to do a great job and be very effective.”
Balkans Showed More Air Superiority
And later in the 1990s, F-15 variants even showed their prowess over the skies of former Yugoslavia racking up numerous kills against MiG fighters flown by Serbia in 1995. In 1999, F-15Cs from one squadron quickly racked up four kills against MiG-29s.
Global War on Terror Dominance
After 9/11, the F-15E Strike Eagles again had an outsized role to play in flights over Iraq and Afghanistan. F-15Es were quickly deployed over Afghanistan and bombed Taliban supply depots and other infrastructure. They even went after Al-Qaeda terrorists hiding in caves and those militants operating out of command and control centers. One F-15E’s mission lasted an astonishing 15.5 hours with refueling executed 12 times during the mission. The F-15E pilots displayed that famed close air support expertise as they repeatedly dropped bombs and fired cannons close to friendly forces.
In Iraq in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom the F-15E was busy destroying enemy airplanes on the ground and bombing air defenses. During the war, F-15Es destroyed 60 percent of the Iraqi Medina Republican Guard. They also executed successful strikes on 65 MiGs on the ground.
The F-15 and all its variants, including the Strike Eagle, have developed an enduring legacy. The war record is impressive. The improvements over the decades have been timely and just what pilots needed because it is extremely pilot friendly. The versatility is probably its main attribute. It is difficult to imagine the Air Force without this fighter. The F-15E Strike Eagle certainly deserved its own video game and consideration as one of the best fighters ever. And it might explain why so many experts are fans of the F-15EX, as shown above.
Bonus Photo Essay: Meet the F-15EX
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.