USAF hypes up F-15EX after exercise debut

The US Air Force (USAF) has lauded the capabilities of its new multi-role fighter, the Boeing F-15EX Eagle II, after the first two examples completed the type’s exercise debut at Northern Edge 21 in Alaska.

Exercise Northern Edge 21, held from May 3-14 across a variety of Alaskan military installations, was the first event in which the F-15EX was able to demonstrate its capabilities to the wider US armed forces. During the event, the USAF’s first two Eagle IIs – serials 20-0001 ‘ET’ and 20-0002 ‘OT’ – completed 33 sorties, accumulating 89.8 flight hours with a team of six ‘total force’ air force pilots at the controls.

F-15EX takes off from JBER during Northern Edge 21 [USAF]
A Boeing F-15EX Eagle II - serial 20-0002 'OT' - assigned to the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, departs Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, on May 12, 2021, for a sortie in support of Exercise Northern Edge 21. USAF

Lt Col Weston Turner, director of the F-15 Division at the Air National Guard (ANG)/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) and an Eagle II test pilot, said: “It is imperative that the total force [participates] in these capstone exercises, we need to assess how our platforms perform and how we can integrate at a joint level.”

The air arms states that the new multi-role fighter “was able to seamlessly integrate with all F-15 variants, as well as the F-35, highlighting its capabilities to the entire joint force.” Northern Edge 21 served as a platform in which the F-15EX’s expanded abilities could be tested, as well as its advanced systems, such as the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS).

EPAWSS provides the F-15EX with fully-integrated radar warning, geolocation, situational awareness and self-protection capabilities. Compared with the legacy F-15C/D Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle variants, the F-15EX comes equipped with a variety of upgrades, including a digital cockpit, fly-by-wire flight controls and a more advanced ADCP-II mission computer. For any sortie, the platform can be outfitted with a greater number of munitions in comparison with its legacy counterparts, as well as a wider range of weapons to enhance mission flexibility.

F-15EX at Northern Edge 21 [USAF/Alejandro Peña]
Air and ground crews prepare an F-15EX Eagle II for a sortie in support of Exercise Northern Edge 21 at JBER on May 12, 2021. USAF/Alejandro Peña

“We were able to get higher and faster than the F-15Cs due to the GE-129 motors,” explained Turner. “The expanded capabilities with EPAWSS and enhanced avionics brought significantly increased situational awareness and capabilities to the exercise. Additionally, the increased loadout options improved the F-15EX’s lethality and mission flexibility,” he added.

At present, the USAF’s first two F-15EXs are undergoing an expedited developmental and operational test campaign. This initiative aims to field the platform operationally as soon as possible, while certifying it against a variety of test objectives. In the coming years, the F-15EX will become synonymous with the ANG, as units within the service will be the predominant operators of the type.

Turner is the first F-15EX pilot within the ANG and was one of the initial cadre members for the platform at the AATC. Following the completion of Northern Edge 21, more AATC pilots will now be trained on the Eagle II at the AATC. “From the first two deliveries in March and April, to one of the biggest exercises in the entire joint force, the expedited timeline and work of everyone involved showed how a programme can be fast tracked,” Turner concluded.

F-15EX in flight [USAF/1st Lt Savanah Bray]
The USAF plans to procure 144 examples of the F-15EX, which will replace the legacy F-15C/D Eagles in service. The Eagle II will supplement the air arm's fleet of F-15E Strike Eagles once operational. USAF/1st Lt Savanah Bray

In total, the USAF intends to acquire 144 examples of the F-15EX from Boeing. These multi-role fighters will be used to replace the air force’s ageing F-15C/D fleet, which boasts an average age of more than 37 years. According to the service, these two matured variants of the Eagle family are rapidly approaching the end of their useful service lives. It adds that these aircraft are already operating on the margins of structural integrity.

The Oregon ANG’s 173rd Fighter Wing (FW) at Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base (ANGB) in Klamath Falls, Oregon, will become the first unit to operate the F-15EX in 2024. The 173rd FW is currently responsible for training F-15C/D pilots and will continue to serve as the formal training unit for F-15EX aircrews.

Subsequently, the 142nd FW ‘Redhawks’ – also a component of the Oregon ANG – will serve as the first operational unit for the Eagle II. When it converts to the new multi-role fighter, the wing will be responsible for conducting critical homeland defence alert missions from Portland ANGB. The unit has operated the F-15C/D since 2007 and will have converted to the F-15EX by 2025.