An interesting report from Air Force Magazine says the new F-15EX performed with “mixed results” in a recent service wargame in Alaska called Northern Edge.
Citing Air Force officers involved in the testing and assessments, the report says the newly arrived F-15EX was pitted against extremely sophisticated “red-team” adversary forces to assess its ability to rival or engage 5th-Gen attacks. The F-15EX was also integrated with U.S. 5th-Gen assets such as F-22s and F-35s.
However, Lt. Col. John O’Rear of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron, told the magazine that some losses were appropriate, expected, and helpful in this kind of sophisticated wargame environment, in part because they present learning opportunities and because the “red team” adversaries were made to be extremely sophisticated.
Also, the F-15EX’s advanced Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System was said to be showing promise, although analyses are still ongoing.
The F-15EX performance, at least in terms of what details are available so far, paints an interesting and expected picture, meaning as a super-charged, newly upgraded 4th-Gen fighter, the aircraft brings substantial impactful attributes to combat.
However, while any results are preliminary, and losses in these kinds of wargames are expected, there may be some questions about whether an F-15EX can truly compete with an enemy 5th-Gen asset. Perhaps its lack of stealth is a significant limiting factor, given that both Russian and Chinese 5th-Gen aircraft do appear to be stealthy, making them less detectable to fighter-jet radar and targeting systems.
A big unknown, however, is just how precise are rival 5th-Gen sensors and targeting? In terms of range and computing, it may still be entirely unclear if either the Chinese J-20 or Russian Su-57 can rival the F-35. Will be interesting to see what the Northern Edge wargame determines in this regard.
Also, there are other interesting questions regarding how the F-15EX’s upgraded assets may have performed, as upcoming results will likely prove quite illuminating regarding the extent to which certain attributes impact combat. For example, the F-15EX contains extremely advanced computing able to process billions of functions per second and is armed with advanced weaponry. For example, the F-15EX is armed with the Stormbreaker, a cutting-edge air-dropped bomb able to track and destroy targets at ranges up to 40-nautical miles and use a two-way datalink to adjust course in flight.
The Stormbreaker is also engineered with an integrated millimeter wave, laser, and IR targeting seeker giving it an all-weather capability. Weapons of this kind, combined with high-speed computer processing, may enable an F-15EX to attack and compete at longer ranges, a factor which may compensate for its lack of stealth. However, the ultimate concern may be its ability to truly compete in a high-end fight in a major war against an extremely sophisticated adversarial force.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.