Better Than F-22 & F-35? US Air Force Calls Its ‘EX-Traordinary’ Fighter More Lethal Than Its Fifth-Gen Jets

The United States Air Force (USAF) recently stated that the newest variant of the F-15 air superiority aircraft, the F-15EX Eagle II, can shoot a target farther than any other fighter in its arsenal, which includes fifth-generation fighter jets like the F-22 Raptor and F-35.

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In a recent development, the US Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) Detachment 6 team members analyzed two of the first developmental and operational test missile shots for the F-15EX Eagle II. The F-15EX Eagle II conducted its maiden live-fire test event in January 2022.

Engineers and analysts from the AFOTEC Detachment 6 F-15 division traveled to Eglin Air Force Base and Tyndall AFB, both in Florida, to draw results from the AIM-120D and AIM-120C3 missile shots performed as part of the Weapons System Evaluation Program, or WSEP, conducted by Eglin’s 53rd Wing.

The test on January 25 involved the 40th Flight Test Squadron aircrew and aircraft firing an air-to-air missile at a target drone, the BQM-167.

The F-15EX aircraft obtained a weapons-quality track and fired the missile at the target using onboard sensors to identify the drone. The successful release marked the first weapon fired from the aircraft.

File:F-15EX Eagle II.jpg
F-15EX Eagle II

After tracking the missile’s release and flight toward the BQM-167, the shot was determined a Weapon System Evaluation Program success. At that point, the missile flight was terminated, according to a USAF Press release.

“One of the main takeaways from these live fire shots is the jet can clearly function as a long-range, standoff weapons system,” said Capt. Max Denbin, the team’s lead test engineer.

“The F-15EX can shoot from a significantly increased range – farther than any other fighter in the US Air Force arsenal – and provides the unique capability of holding 12 AMRAAMs or other large ordinance.”

It was revealed just over a week after the USAF marked the 50th anniversary of the F-15 air superiority fighter aircraft. With a reported record of 104 combat wins and zero losses, the Eagle has earned its reputation as the king of the skies over multiple conflicts and under various Air Forces.

The F-15EX Eagle II is the latest iteration of the aircraft that was also allegedly deployed by the USAF in Japan at the time of Nancy Pelosi’s high-voltage visit to Taiwan earlier this week.

The US is believed to have gone on a high alert following China’s warnings.

Long-Range Fighters With Hypersonic Missiles

According to a statement from the US Air Combat Command, the long-range standoff capacity as demonstrated by the F-15EX Eagle II aircraft is key to ensuring US force projection on a global scale.

“As adversaries continue to develop combat capability, the weapons systems with standoff capability, like the EX, are going to be critical in maintaining a tactical advantage,” Denbin said.

File Image: A USAF F-15C fires an AIM-7 Sparrow in 2005. (Wikimedia Commons)

The F-15EX is the most recent version of the F-15 platform, which has undergone significant upgrades and modernizations over the previous models. The airframe of the F-15EX is built with an improved weapon payload and a 20,000-hour service life in mind.

Andrew P. Hunter, the Air Force’s chief of procurement, earlier explained to the HASC panel that the fleet’s current F-15Cs are in such a dismal state that it was imperative to obtain the F-15EXs as soon as possible. Since the F-15C/D has had issues for a while, its availability has decreased to 45%.

The modern fighter jet is roughly the same size as the Su-30 and is designed on the same frame as the previous F-15. The fighter can perform various tasks, including standoff weapon deployment, no-fly zone enforcement against weak or nonexistent air defense systems, and homeland and airbase protection.

While the analyzed missile test demonstrated the aircraft’s long range and the ability to meet the challenge of adversaries like China, the aircraft is also set to be the first to be armed with hypersonic weapons.

The announcement was made when Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown testified before the House Armed Services Committee, as reported by EurAsian Times.

Since the missiles are too huge to fit inside the limited internal weapon bay of stealth fighters like the F-35 or the F-22 Raptors, which require a carriage beneath the fuselage, the F-15EX is said to be the ideal platform for hypersonic missiles.

The (EX)-Traordinary Eagle

Although the WSEP shot data was valuable, Detachment 6 analysts and engineers paid attention to more than just data gathering. According to the US Air Force, they studied the F-15 EX’s performance in a force package with fifth-generation fighters for the past two months.

Key insights on the effectiveness of the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS, have also been produced by WSEP and other specialized F-15E and F-15EX missions.

According to EPAWSS maker BAE Systems, EPAWSS gives the F-15E and F-15EX fully integrated radar warning and superior jamming and countermeasure employment capability in highly contested areas.

“Participating in WSEP events shows us exactly how useful EPAWSS is,” Denbin said. “We’ve already seen that the F-15EX can serve as a standoff asset, but EPAWSS proves that the jet can also get into the middle of a fight and cause massive issues for our adversaries.”

Analysts from AFOTEC Detachment 6 have also looked at EPAWSS data from F-15E involvement in several operational test missions for the F-35A Lightning II.
“Whether in a more passive jamming role or as a follow-on strike package, an F-15E or EX with EPAWSS causes detrimental impacts to opposing forces decision space,” Strader said.

“This system gives aircrews many more options when fighting through contested airspace and enables other stealth assets in a force package – like an F-22 (Raptor), F-35, or other futuristic penetrating assets – to more efficiently neutralize threats,” she added.

The crew is preparing for the second phase of specific operational test flights for the aircraft after confirming the F-15EX’s long-range, standoff capability and the effectiveness of EPAWSS in a fiercely contested combat battlespace.