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F15E: Horse of a Different Color

by Mark Donaldson
 

With the recent retirement of the FB-111, the F-15E has become the USAF's premier deep strike/interdiction aircraft. While the USAF's new F-22 will be able to carry A/G ordinance internally and externally, the F-15E will still continue to serve as the principle A/G weapons delivery platform until a new design is approved. Due to the recent budget crisis that the US military have been experiencing, this could be some time to come.

The original F-15 design has come a long way from its role as an interceptor. While externally it may look similar to a mere two-seat Eagle, The F-15E is very much its own aircraft. Born out of a desire to replace the F-111, the US Air Force looked to a private venture created by McDonnell Douglas to create a strike version of their F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter.

The idea was to create a fighter-bomber which could conduct its strike mission with a minimum of support and without the need for accompaniment by escort fighters. While the original prototype, dubbed the "Strike Eagle" was a modified F-15B, today's F-15E is a different aircraft both inside and out.

While essentially retaining the same dimensions of a two-seat Eagle, The F-15E's structure has been redesigned and strengthened, increasing its takeoff weight from 68,000 to 81,000 pounds. Giving the F-15E a beefier appearance are two Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) which attach to either side of the fuselage, serving a dual role. Each CFT is capable of carrying 723 US gallons of fuel with less drag than would be present using standard external tanks.

Each CFT also features six stub-pylons for the mounting of ordinance. The stubs are placed tangentially, causing less drag than would be present with the use of the standard Multiple Ejection Racks mounted to the wing stations. This new placement arranges the bombs in two rows along the sides of the aircraft. This reduction in drag translates into slightly higher speeds and increased range. The F-15E still retains the ability to mount standard MERs on the wing and centerline pylons in order to carry additional ordnance.

LANTIRN (Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red for Night) system. The APG-70 is based on an improved F-15C's APG-63 pulse-doppler radar. The most notable feature of the APG-70 is its ability to produce photo-realistic patch maps of a given area down to the 8.5 foot (2.6 m) resolution at 10 nautical miles from the target. Resolution diminishes to a maximum of 127 feet (38.7 m) at 160 nautical miles.

The LANTIRN system is made up of two separate pods, one mounted under each air-intake of the F-15E. One pod is primarily for low-level navigation in poor weather conditions while the other pod performs targeting roles. The AAQ-13 navigation pod under the right intake features a Texas Instruments terrain following radar.

F15E

This radar has been coupled with the flight controls and throttle to provide a hands-off terrain-following course while maintaining a constant altitude down to a minimum of 200 feet. Mounted above the TFR pod is the Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR). Through a small window at the front of the unit, the FLIR provides the pilot with a 1:1 IR image of the world which is superimposed on the aircraft's Heads Up Display, allowing the pilot see at night.

Beneath the left intake, the AAQ-14 targeting pod is made up of a sepparate attack FLIR and laser designator/range-finder housed inside a small aerodynamic turret at the front of the cylindrical pod. This FLIR offers several levels of magnification to allow for identification of targets from considerable distance. The laser designator/range-finder is correlated with the attack FLIR and can provide accurate ranges to designated objects. In addition, it is capable of sending specially-coded bursts of laser for the guidance of laser-guided bombs.

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F15 E
Janes F15

Controlling this avionics package is a crew of two who occupy a cockpit optimised for the strike role and designed to ensure an efficient division of labour. The pilot is seated in the front while the Weapons System Operator (WSO) is seated directly behind the pilot. Both cockpits feature flight controls though the WSO is typically not a qualified pilot. The pilot's station features a Kaiser ID2349/A wide-angled HUD below which is mounted the Up-Front Controller which is used to select radio channels and to enter in navigational data.

Mounted on either side of the UFC are a pair of 6"x6" Kaiser monochromatic Multi-Function Displays. Below the UFC is mounted a 5"x5" Sperry colour Multi-Function Display. Each of these three MFDs can display a wide variety of data as well as radar and FLIR images. Superimposed on these displays are menu options that can be selected via buttons mounted to the bezel of each MFD, or through the HOTAS controls mounted on the stick and throttle.

The WSO station features a row of four MFDs with two Sperrys at the ends of the row, and two Kaisers occupying the two inner positions. In addition to the normal flight controls, the WSO has a separate hand-controller on each side of the seat in order to more efficiently control the sensors and the displays.

To survive in the skies above the modern battlefield, the F-15E is outfitted with an electronic warning/defence package designed to detect threats, classify them, and provide adequate protection against those threats. The heart of this defensive system is known as the Tactical Early Warning System (TEWS). The TEWS alerts the pilot to threats to the aircraft and administers countermeasures against those threats. Electronic countermeasures are delivered via the ALQ-135C radar jammer through antennas located at the tip of the right vertical stabiliser and in fairings at the end of each tail-boom. Countermeasures can also be delivered by way of the Tracor ALE-45 chaff/flare dispensers.

The F-15E was the unsung hero of Desert Storm. The aircraft logged approximately 7,700 combat hours in the air during the conflict, with each of the two squadrons present in the theatre flying some 1,200 missions. F-15Es were among the first aircraft to lead the strike against Iraq during the opening night of the war, and appeared over the skies of Baghdad. From that initial attack, they struck at strategic targets such as communication facilities, key bridges, and command & control facilities deep in the heart of Iraq.

F-15Es were key players at night in the hunt for SCUD missiles in the desert near the Jordanian border. Due to the F-15E's precision-strike capability, it could carry the fight to the enemy day and night. In addition to these types of sorties, F-15Es also participated in tactical strikes against tanks in the Kuwaiti Theatre of Operations. Armed with laser-guided GBU-10s, F-15Es routinely assisted A-10s in missions dubbed "tank-plinking."

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