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For decades, this twin-engine airframe has remained the U.S. Air Force’s primary tactical strike fighter. Its unparalleled capabilities and stunning record of 104-to-zero kill ratio over 40 years of service make the Eagle a powerhouse platform. More than just emulating the Western world’s premiere multi-role fighter, the Eagle has operated in every single war the Air Force has been involved in since the 1990s.
The F-15E’s Origin Story
During the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense prioritized the need to produce a dedicated air-superiority fighter. McDonnell Douglas’s Eagle design met these requirements, resulting in the original F-15 platform. The F-15A took its first flight in 1972 and was delivered to the 58th Tactical Fighter Training Wing two years later. While the F-15 certainly achieved its intended air-superiority capability, the Air Force also desired a platform that could fly at low altitudes during close air support duties.
Designed in the 1980s, the F-15E Strike Eagle was derived from the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The Pentagon awarded the defense giant a $1.5 billion-valued contract as it chose the F-15 Eagle to become the Air Force’s main fighter-bomber. The Eagle surpassed the F-16 Fighting Falcon in competition due to its greater versatility, however, both platforms remain among the Air Force’s premiere fighters today.
What makes the Strike Eagle special?
The F-15E Strike Eagle can be distinguished from the other U.S. Eagle variants by its conformal fuel tanks, darker airframe camouflage, and tandem-seat cockpit for the pilot (front seat) and Weapons Systems Officer (rear seat). The Eagle’s head-up display, which projects essential flight information on the windscreen to provide tracking and detection functions, is perhaps the Strike Eagle’s most impressive improvement from its predecessors.
The newer Eagle also features advanced technologies, including radar, inertial and tactical navigational systems, and an electronic warfare system. According to the Air Force, “The APG-70 radar system allows aircrews to detect ground targets from long ranges. One feature of this system is that after a sweep of a target area, the crew freezes the air-to-ground map then goes back into air-to-air mode to clear for air threats. During the air-to-surface weapon delivery, the pilot is capable of detecting, targeting and engaging air-to-air targets while the WSO designates the ground target.”
The F-15E Strike Eagle’s ability to fly at low altitudes is made possible by its low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night (LANTIRN) system, which also enables the airframe to fly in any weather condition and to attack ground targets with various precision-guided and unguided weapons. Strike Eagles are powered by two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 or 229 series engines, which produce approximately 25,000 pounds and 29,000 pounds respectively.
With a high engine thrust-to-weight ratio, the Strike Eagle can accelerate even in steep climbs – something its sister variants cannot achieve. Maybe the most impressive feature the Strike Eagle possesses is its payload, which can carry up to 23,000 pounds of bombs with a carrying capacity of 15 JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) as an option. As detailed by Sandboxx Media, “Each JDAM’s guidance system includes a GPS receiver and aerodynamic control surfaces to guide the bomb’s descent.
With the guidance kit installed and GPS working properly (i.e. isn’t being jammed by the opponent), JDAMs ranging in weight from 500 to 2,000 pounds can hit their targets within less than five meters at distances as great as 15 nautical miles. Of the 400,000 or so JDAMs Boeing has built, around 30,000 have also added laser targeting capabilities, giving pilots even more options when engaging ground targets.”
The Air Force needs the Strike Fighter
Although all of the F-15 variants have earned their legendary reputations in the military aviation space, the Strike Eagle stands out. The platform’s versatility and cutting-edge capabilities have aided the Air Force’s success in numerous conflicts. Even though new fifth-generation fighters like the F-35A have emerged, the Strike Eagle isn’t going anywhere.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.