‘Rare Setback’ For F-15 Fighter: How Russian-Origin AD Missile Shot Down Strike Eagle In 1991

The F-15 Eagle, known for its ability to reach speeds of Mach 2.5, engage in agile maneuvers, and excel in dogfights, has maintained an unblemished combat record since its debut in 1976.

Its proficiency in executing attack missions with a range exceeding 1,000 miles has solidified its status as an unparalleled air superiority aircraft. With nearly five decades of service, the F-15 has consistently adapted to evolving threats, remaining a highly capable jet.

Recently, the F-15EX Eagle II program reached a pivotal phase as the US Air Force confirmed the arrival of the third and fourth airframes at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

The announcement on December 30 signifies a crucial phase in the program’s testing and development, which aims to keep pace with the tight schedule.

Designated as EX3 and EX4, the newly arrived aircraft touched down at Eglin on December 20. These airframes, assigned to the 53rd and 96th Test Wing, are integrated into the fleet for developmental and operational testing.

The decision to conduct simultaneous testing is geared towards compressing the overall test schedule, expediting the deployment of operational aircraft, and ensuring the program stays on track.

Since the delivery of the first EX to Eglin in 2021, the testing phase has incorporated valuable flight data obtained from similar aircraft sold under the Foreign Military Sales program.

The testing effort aims to address challenges and streamline the integration of the advanced F-15EX into the Air Force’s fleet.

While Aircraft Nos. 3 and 4 are approximately a year behind schedule; Boeing attributes the delay to supply chain issues, manufacturing errors, and the complexities of transitioning production work from South Korea to the United States.

The remaining four aircraft from the initial batch are expected to be delivered by spring. The program is under significant pressure to meet a crucial deadline, as the F-15EX contract originally aimed to attain Initial Operational Capability (IOC) by July 2023.

Even though this goal wasn’t achieved, there is still a chance to meet the minimum-required Initial Operational Capability (IOC) deadline of July 2024. However, success in this endeavor is contingent upon the delivery of a total of eight aircraft by that specified time.

If the deadline is not met, it could trigger a breach of the Nunn-McCurdy Act, necessitating certifications from the Secretary of Defense for the program to proceed.

In the future, attaining full operational capability—encompassing 44 jets, pilots, spares, and support gear—is currently anticipated for 2027.

The Air Force emphasizes its commitment to overcoming challenges and ensuring the successful integration of the Boeing F-15EX Eagle II into its fleet.

Rare Setback

The F-15EX fighter jet holds crucial significance for the service and plays a vital role in advancing its capabilities to meet future operational needs. F-15’s combat prowess is underscored by its flawless air-to-air record, boasting an impressive 104 victories and zero losses in dogfights. However, even the most formidable machines face rare setbacks.

The F-15 encountered a challenge during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, tarnishing its impeccable record.

Despite the operation’s overall success, there was a poignant incident involving an F-15, where the pilots lost their lives to enemy fire on the second night of Operation Desert Storm.

F-15E 87–0172 in 1990; it crashed on September 16, 1991.

During Operation Desert Storm in January 1991, the United States initiated missions over Iraqi-controlled Kuwait with a squadron of 24 F-15Es, swiftly reinforced by an additional 21 from the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Their primary objective was to eliminate heavily defended Iraqi Scud missile sites.

One of the most dangerous missions of the entire war was assigned on the second night to Major Thomas Koritz and Lt. Donnie Holland of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Their target was a heavily defended petrol, oil, and lubrication plant near Basrah, Iraq. The mission involved a six-jet F-15E formation facing a formidable array of defenses, including SA-3, SA-6, and SA-8 surface-to-air missiles and 23mm and 57mm anti-aircraft artillery, including the feared ZSU-23-4.

On January 16, 1991, an F-15 aircraft, under the command of Koritz and Holland, was downed by hostile anti-aircraft fire following the successful release of their bombs onto the designated target. Following that, both pilots were listed as missing in action.

Legacy Of Major Tom Koritz & Lt. Col. Donnie R. Holland

In the aftermath, hope lingered for their survival, fueled by conflicting reports from Iraq, which initially claimed to have captured some coalition forces in a CNN broadcast on January 20, 1991.

For the next forty days, only one more Strike Eagle was downed, with both crew members surviving as prisoners of war until the war’s conclusion on March 1, 1991.

However, it was a different fate for Major Thomas Koritz and Lt. Donnie Holland. When Iraq withdrew from Kuwait and released the POWs, it was revealed that the two heroes had not been captured but had perished in the crash of their F-15E.

Subsequently, their remains were repatriated, and their official status was updated to “Killed in Action.” Nevertheless, the enduring bravery of both pilots continues to be commemorated.

In a tribute, a memorial honoring Lt. Col. Donnie R. Holland was unveiled on June 15, 2022, and displayed in the lobby of the Donnie R. Holland Mission Training Center at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. This center houses the F-15E Strike Eagle simulators.

A memorial of Lt. Col. Donnie R. Holland, former 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron weapons systems operator, is displayed in the lobby of the Donnie R. Holland Mission Training Center at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, June 21, 2021.

Conversely, the legacy of Maj. Tom Koritz was honored in various ways. On January 11, 2008, the 14th Medical Group clinic underwent a renaming ceremony, becoming the Koritz Clinic, nearly 17 years after Major Koritz’s fateful mission. 

Additionally, the 4th Medical Clinic at Seymour Johnson AFB was dedicated to Koritz on August 6, 1993. His hometown, Rochelle, paid homage by naming its airport, where Maj. Koritz commenced his flying career in 1969 at Koritz Field on July 4, 1991.

Maj. Tom Koritz, survived by his wife and three sons, leaves a lasting legacy in the military aviation community. One of his sons, 2nd Lt. Jon Koritz, graduated from Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus AFB in August 2013.

Notably, Major Koritz belonged to the distinguished Undergraduate Pilot Training class 82-01 at Columbus Air Force Base, earning his silver wings on October 8, 1982. 

In a unique career trajectory, Major Koritz completed his residency before undertaking Undergraduate Pilot Training, excelling both as a physician and in the cockpit. 

Launching his USAF aviation career in the F-15C Eagle after pilot training, he earned the title of Top Gun in his F-15 training class at Luke AFB, Arizona, leaving an indelible mark on the history of aerial excellence.