After decades of service and upgrades, a perfect “zero-loss” combat record, and the introduction of the advanced F-15EX, the F-15 has emblazoned itself on the history of war and military operations.
While pilot ability, tactics, and experience are all less calculable “X-factors,” yet critical for air war victory, many are likely to wonder what kinds of technologies may have given the F-15 such an edge for decades.
The ability to fly at Mach 2.5 speeds, maneuver and dogfight with a high 1.24 thrust-to-weight ratio, and perform attack missions with ranges over 1,000 miles are likely reasons why the famous 1980s-era F-15 Eagle has never been shot down in combat.
Its combat record certainly speaks for itself, as the F-15 has remained a highly capable jet for decades, in large measure because it has kept pace with evolving threats. Although first introduced nearly 50 years ago, in 1976, today’s F-15 is nothing like it was at its inception.
Years of upgrades to the fighter’s avionics, weapons systems, computing, radar, and propulsion, among other things, have positioned the aircraft to remain viable and extremely problematic for adversaries.
Upgrades to the F-15 began even before the advent of the F-15EX aircraft, which is of course known for integrating a number of 4th-generation “plus” technological enhancements. Prior to the arrival of the F-15EX, Air Force and Boeing weapons developers were planning to fly the F-15 well into the 2040s.
Some enhancements include adding Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, which massively increases precision to detect, track, and destroy multiple targets at once.
For the last several years, the service has been in the process of testing, engineering, and integrating new Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability Systems (EPAWSS) into its fleet of F-15s to keep pace with fast-changing threats.
By operating in passive or active mode, the EPAWSS can perform both offensive and defensive missions, such as finding and jamming enemy radio communications, detecting the electronic signature of incoming weapons, or simply sustaining an electronic warfare-enabled operational presence.
Passive mode allows the electronic warfare (EW) system to in effect “listen” for enemy signatures while not giving off a signal itself. This can be of great significance, given that once any kind of electromagnetic signal is emitted, there is naturally a risk that it could be found or detected by an enemy.
At the same time, having the ability to operate in active mode is also critical as it enables the aircraft to disable ground-firing systems, perform air attacks, or even target enemy drones.
The EW footing draws upon various key techniques, such as finding what’s called a “line of bearing” or signal origin toward which to intercept or direct an attack.
These updated EW capabilities replace the Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite, which has been used since the 1980s, not long after the F-15 was first deployed.
The service plans to operate its F-15 fleet until the mid-2040s, so an overhaul of the Eagle’s electronic systems helps maintain U.S. air supremacy.
The multi-pronged effort not only includes the addition of electronic warfare technology but also extends to super-fast high-speed computing, infrared search, and enemy tracking and targeting systems. The addition of Active Electronically Scanned Array radar increased networking ability and upgraded weapons-firing capability.
Massive, High-Speed Computing
Among the upgrades is an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processor in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII. The computer is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second.
High-tech targeting and tracking technology is also being integrated onto the F-15, Boeing engineers said. This includes the addition of a passive long-range sensor called Infrared Search and Track, or IRST.
Fly-by-wire flight controls naturally increase the degree of onboard computer processing and autonomy-enabling technologies, and the aircraft is reported to contain massive avionics upgrades to include an integrated 10-inch x 19-inch digital touch screen display. This emerging ADCPII computer technology is also being leveraged to support a Mission Data Files system, a threat library of information incorporating threat-specific data.
The system, described by Boeing experts as of particular relevance to electronic warfare, can draw upon incoming sensor information, bounce it off a database of known threats, and identify particular enemy targets such as a Russian enemy fighter jet.
Other attributes or performance enhancements built into the F-15EX include more thrust and an increased weapons-carrying capability which places two new weapons stations further out on the wings. The F-15EX can now carry 12 missiles as well as elements of its standard arsenal to include the AIM-120D, AIM-9x missiles and typical JDAMs.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.