The U.S. Air Force’s latest F-15 variant, the F-15EX Eagle II, completed its first live-fire test event. An F-15EX shot an air-to-air missile at a target drone.
During the F-15 EX test flight, the fighter “detected the drone using onboard sensors, acquired a weapons-quality track and launched the missile at the target. After tracking the missile’s release and flight toward the BQM-167, the shot was determined a (Weapon System Evaluation Program) success, at which point the missile flight was terminated,” a U.S. Air Force press release said.
“The successful release marked the first weapon fired from the aircraft and another major milestone following more than six months of integrated developmental and operational flight testing for the shot.”
F-15EX Eagle II
The F-15 EX is the latest iteration of the F-15 platform and incorporates several improvements and modernizations over previous variants. In addition to an improved weapon payload, the F-15EX airframe is designed for a lengthy 20,000-hour service life.
The Air Force initially contemplated both single-seat and two-seat F-15EX variants, though ultimately opted for a two-seat variant only. With a second person in the cockpit, a rear-seated Weapon Systems Officer can assist the pilot in more contested environments and operate loyal-wingman-type drones. Additionally, two-seat F-15s are the only variants that remain in production and are therefore a more economical choice.
Mass to the Fight
Even this latest F-15EX Eagle II variant is not thought to survive in highly contested environments, though. The F-15 EX provides the Air Force with a quick and easy solution to increase fleet numbers, especially for roles like homeland defense, airbase defense, and no-fly zone enforcement. Additionally, when combined in the future with standoff munitions or hypersonic weapons, the F-15EX could quickly bring mass to a fight.
The F-15EX could prove to be critical for the United States' hypersonic weapons program. At the current stage of development, some hypersonic weapons are too large to fit inside the small internal weapon bay of stealth fighters, necessitating carriage under the fuselage.
“Following the deployment, the F-15EX underwent developmental flight and ground testing to include survivability testing in various electromagnetic environments. This series of tests lead to the discovery of and resolution of issues identified in the F-15EX’s Suite 9 software system, leading to a more mature and stable product,” the Air Force press release said.
“After the developmental testing, it was time for some operational testing in October. The aircraft deployed to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada for another exercise focused on the air-to-air dominance mantle it will inherit from the F-15C. This exercise proved that while the platform still needs more development, it is completely capable of fulfilling its expected air dominance role.”
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson
Image: U.S. Air Force press release.