On July 27th, 1972, a true knight of the skies first took flight. Over 40 years later and the F-15 Eagle is still in service and this year the Air Force is putting in an order for a brand new variant known as the F-15X. As if unshakable air dominance wasn’t already enough… however they may not being bought to bolster our strength, but to keep Boeing’s factories open.
The F-15C is famous for having a kill-to-loss ratio of 104 to 0, making it perhaps the most successful fighter in the history of air warfare. The F-15C was first built in the 1970’s and few were upgraded; unfortunately even those upgraded are nonetheless today outdated. The sensors and avionics are old, the electronics-warfare suite is lacking, and vital new weapons are incompatible.
Boeing fixes all of these problems and more, with the new F-15X’s capable of carrying 22 air-to-air missiles, a large leap from it’s previous capacity of only 8 AAM’s. The F-15X will boast a modern cockpit and enhanced avionics to accommodate the use of new sensors apparatus, as well as make pilot operation of the aircraft simpler and more efficient.
Furthermore, pilots will gain access to the JHMCS II helmet mounted display, which will provide them with much greater situational awareness and the ability to utilize the AIM-9X’s high off-boresight capability.
Lockheed Martin has protested the decision to buy new F-15’s, arguing the Air Force should stick to the F-35 in replacing the F-15C. This was not going to happen for a few reasons; first of all, the Air Force wants to prevent Boeing from shutting down its F-15 production line, and secondly, because the F-35 requires greater numbers to fulfill the same role as the F-15.
An F-35 can carry 6 missiles air-to-air missiles, and only 4 in its interior bays. Mounting weapons on the exterior pylons negates the aircraft’s purpose, which is to remain undetected or difficult to track. The F-15X can carry an entire 22 missiles, all whilst traveling faster and higher, and with perhaps greater maneuverability, despite having similar avionics and sensors.
In a conventional war against a serious enemy, US planes would be facing almost entirely Sukhoi fighters, and more specifically the Su-27 and its numerous derivatives. These Russian aircraft are designed to evade and outmaneuver their American counterparts, and do this rather well. An F-35 pilot will find that he is only able to down one or if lucky, two enemy aircraft before needing to return to base and rearm.
An F-35 pilot may use all of his missiles but fail to win the engagement, leading him to retreat from enemy jets that have missiles left over. Since the F-35 is slower and less maneuverable than its Russian and Chinese counterparts, it may be chased down and destroyed. This means the F-35 is somewhat vulnerable in air-to-air engagements, wielding a strong upper hand when in greater numbers.
The F-35 was not built for maintaining air supremacy and should not be used for that when the military has the resources to build dedicated air supremacy fighters. Initial orders for the F-15X are small but the Air Force may seek to upgrade its existing F-15s which would give the US a decisive edge in any air conflict.
Hopefully the military continues its slow but steady return to the conventional doctrine of superior firepower, instead of hedging all bets on the unproven and questionable reliability of all-aspect stealth, such as that utilized in the F-35 and F-22.