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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Boeing's F-15E+ "Super Eagle"

US Aerospace giant Boeing has designed a major revision for the F-15 Eagle, known as the F-15E+ "Super Eagle". Boeing is offering the Super Eagle to the US Air Force as an interim solution should the Lockheed F-35 encounter further production delays such as the 14 month delay proposed by the US Navy.

The F-15E+ Super Eagle will closely match the technology on board South Korea's new F-15K and Singapore's F-15SG, (incidently, these versions will keep Boeing's F-15 production lines busy until around 2010). The South Korea and Singapore versions are the most technically advanced F-15's on the planet, or at least they were before the F-15E+ Super Eagle.

According to Boeing represenatives the Super Eagle should cost $60 million and includes enhancements such as Raytheon's APG-63 Version 3 AESA radar featuring electronic attack and broadband communications capabilities, the most advanced ground attack software, a new radar warning receive and 15 "smart stations" under the wing enabling it to carry more weaponsthan ever before.

These "Super Eagle" technologies could also be retrofitted onto the existing F-15E fleet. The Air Force has 217 F-15E Strike Eagles.Boeing reps say an additional wing or two of F-15E+'s, somewhere around 100-150 aircraft, would fill the long range strike role until F-35 Lightning II fighters reach combat units in sufficient numbers.

So will the Super Eagle ever take flight? It's a very political issue, since any USAF move to buy an interim force of F-15E+s could send an unintentional message to international F-35 Lightning II partners that the USAF is backing away from its JSF commitments. Congress, the State Department and Lockheed will most likely not let this happen. However, foreign friends have expressed interest in the Super Eagle.

My Opinion:
I personally feel that they should retrofit all the existing Eagles with the Super Eagle package. I say this because I agree that a buy of completely new airframes would be a provocative move politically with our F-35 partners.

Posted by Natalie @ 10:24 PM

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During OEF, 'just to prove they could' an F-15E was flown all the way from Dharan to Kabul and back. A 17hr trip, they had to peel the aircrew out with a snow shovel and a jammer.

During these and subsequent missions out of the Arab republics, the F-15E was typically flown assymetric tanked to allow it to carry at least one heavy weight, large finned, munition under wing and a mix of GBU-12 or GBU-31 on the CFT. Ignoring the fact that ANY use of external gas (where you don't drop the tanks on emptying them) is an exercise in diminishing returns and that the F-15E /already/ has 24,000lbs internally and in the conformals, it must be kept in mind that the F-15E has _zero_ HARM or other suppression missile options and even if it should gain this option, when it carries large carriage box munitions, it also typically loses the wing shoulder (rail) stations for even 'self defense' AAM. Which themselves total all of four weapons, only two of them BVR capable.

You just don't want to 'self escort' your way into a truly deep target matrix without a host of reactive systems options. Not when you're conventional signatured. Because now tired fights against outnumbered and limited ordnance/EW backups as you begin an infinitely complex decision process by which you choose to fight or choose to bomb but cannot do both (one F-15E crew in ODS dropped all their expendables getting to within 10nm of target, only to have to go home because 'they thought they could' make it in to what should have been clearly seen to be a package-target that did indeed next-day get 'the full treatment' with Weasels and EA).

As a legacy airframe, the F-15E doesn't meet spec for the GSTF. But adding more aircraft (widening the spares pipe) would mean accepting it's deployment tail as a given in the 'specialist interdictor' mission whose only true advantage is a small edge in gas pass from KCs over F-16s.

My understanding is that the F-15E/GBU-39 setup is already sufficient for 16 independent weapon releases. And from photos, I assume that this is a function of the forward and aft HRL stations each being loaded with a BRU-61 smart rack.


As such stating that '15' new stations could be activated is not particularly 'new' so much as bragging about a capability that is already a given. OTOH, if you actually do mean that actual hardpoints will receive Mil1760 standard wiring to support the J-Weapon interface, my response must be "Why?". There has been ZERO proof that a manned asset can remain on station long enough to employ all sixteen shots intelligently in any but a high intensity warfare scenario against prefragged ATO targets. While under a more realistic operational condition as the East/West CAS-corridor scenarios of OIF proved, even with the Marine system of OBAS control from a forward air asset, we can't generate targeting fast enough to use the platforms we have with the 'both pylons today I tell'ya!' smart munitions of the previous generation. We run out of tanking or the CAS stacks get just ridiculously clogged as everybody wants to drop /something/. Indeed, Iraq was the watershed event for what Hezbollah has since proven to be a coming fad of 'hit fade fade fade' warfare. In which the differences between irregular and conventional forces becomes blurred as to both technology levels and general contempt of engagement doctrine which simply refuses to generate freeby targets.

There will likely never be another B-52/WCMD 'Skeet Shoot' scenario. Because it just gets the threat humiliated while costing them forces they cannot regenerate.

OTOH, the BRU-61 is itself a wonder in that, as a smart pneumatic rack it is capable of adjusting carriage and release performance to numerous locations on multiple airframe types AND (along with the BRU-57) accomodating 90% of the current smart weapons inventory. Which means that if we need to, we can shift to MALD or CLAW or GBU-38 or SMACM or Dominator as the situation requires STILL without commiting to wireup of all those stations. Even as the rack itself can be shifted on to the F-22/35 fleet without any major change in THEIR cleared useage of it either.

Which of course brings us to targeting. 90% of todays 'fighter mission' in both Iraq and AfG are NTISR related. And the pilots /hate them/ because, just as the A2A fleet once did, they are effectively boring holes in the sky doing all of nothing, waiting on the enemy's convenience.

In this mission, the APG-63V(3) is just next to worthless because the APG-70 is already capable of displaying a .64nm patch map from 20 miles out. And would not see the kinds of 3-4 man IED planting party along a major road network that would be useful in that role. But the AAQ-33/38 CAN see these kinds of targets. And it is another largely plug'n'play system compared to the heavyweight AESA installation which required dedicated fusealge engineering changes in the F-15C fleet.

And let's be real here. WITH AIM-120D, the F-15E can probably defeat most (limited opfor count, low technology) threats with single shot STT or HDTWS or even MIDS type uplink and no change whatsoever to the mechanical APG-70 array. OTOH, if the threat is 'serious' in either numbers or longer pole, then the F-15E, is a bit of a pig in a poke regarding both the number of shots available and it's ability to generate the PHYSICAL performance necessary as a _bomber_ to aggressively match and defeat threat geometries.

A new radar thus comes off as useless 'Golden Eagle' _plating_ for a system installation that, especially in small numbers, may well run 4 million+ dollars per aperture set for a fleet, fully half of which will be fatigue dated by the time the program even starts. And the other half of which will be _conop obsolescent_ long before they even enter into service.

Lastly, let's talk engines. Unless something has just radically changed recently, the majority of the existing F-15E fleet still runs on F100-PW-220 engines. Engines which are so low powered that one F-15E pilot commented that, with full fuel and the equivalent of 3 Mk.82 bombs in weight, he could barely maintain level flight and 300 knots indicated at 25,000ft. And that to plug the tanker often meant going to burner on one side or toboganing just to hold station. As such and /particularly/ if you are going to continue to employ the Beagle as a 'dual role' platform with D1/R1 employment tasking at longer ranges, you had better well acknowledge that you are going to be tanker dragging those F-15Es by the nose all the way to target and all the way back. Simply because you cannot get the profile altitude and airspeed you need to get good legs to great radius such as the E's huge internal fuel load would nominally suggest. Again, this is a PROVEN FACT based on quotes from the lead designer of Janes F-15E. And other pilots talking about ODS operations in Smallwood's _Strike Eagle_. Which means you are either buying into the F100-PW-229. Or starting up an entirely NEW engine line based on the GE IPE powerplant. Which is going to mean another 6-8 million dollars per airframe, even as an 'upgrade'.

The basis of F2T2EA is PRESENCE. Because like ASW, 90% of what you sanitize is empty void. At the same time, you have to be able to /stay on station/ so that what aircraft you do have deployed are able, in and of themselves as ISR assets, to be 'in the moment' when a fleeting/TCT target set does pop up. And not be (for instance) halfway inbetween in transiting back to base. Or asleep at the wheel (another Smallwood quote, regarding an entire FLIGHT of F-15E crews which simply 'napped' all the way across Kuwait during the 1991 campaign) due to conflicting ops needs to work both day and night. This argues against the use of a manned, in-and-out, system at all because systems like the A-45 which are honest about NOT BEING A 'FIGHTER' can take 12-14,000lbs of gas to 1,100nm and sit there for 2 hours while the F-15E rating is to hit 'Northern Greece from the base of the Sinai Peninsula' or some 750nm. If you want to do persistent strike, you have to BE THERE to achieve the mission. If you want in and out, use the F-22 which can only take half as many SDB but does so _internally_, _at speed_ which means that it is neither bothered by threats which simply never see it. And can hobbit it's way there and back again (to the same radius) at roughly twice total sortie evolution speed using HALF as many tankers.

When you say 'Super Eagle' you are really saying 'Boeing'. Just as when you say JSF or F-22 you are really stating 'Lunch...errr /'Lockheed Martin'/. It is not the fault of the taxpayer that the government failed to maintain supplier diversity and competition while lumping all it's eggs in one basket (ala F-111) for JSF in creating a situation whereby LM is in a position of dominant market advantage IF Boeing is not boy-scouted like granny across the street of of a bunch of legacy designs and no new program starts. Indeed, with the F/A-18E/F now looking at Lot 3 and maybe even Lot 4 and a navalized A-45 not /impossibly/ far away, Boeing may have superior multi-year contractual leverage inherent to being a 'sole Navy House' much as Grumman once was (LM's current commitment to the F-35C being a mere 170 airframes).

While the sole thing you need to know about LM is that they have leveraged themselves to the eyeballs 'buying in' to the technology base of both the F-22 and F-35. And so have both financial as well as technical reasons to continue their 60 year reputation of making Cadillac airframes in a Chevy market.

THAT is the inherent 'politics of the moment' here. Not some perception that the USAF needs or indeed /wishes/ for more fleet age, capability or spares pipe diversity in a world where there is about to be a 4:1 improvement in weapons delivery inventory requirements. Even as there _remains_ a dichotomy between achievable DMPIs-Per-Day and **actual** RISTA to support the bombs-off deliveries. It would be better to fund the Super Hornet and get back on the wagon with UCAVs than to go looking for some makework excuse solely to keep the USAF Stickshaker's 101 membership fully employed.


Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Wednesday, August 30, 2006 1:01:00 PM #

Well, I guess it's a moot point, the USAF basically said there's no way they would go with the F-15E+ with the F-22 production line still hot.

"General T Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, said that if JSF production suffers any major delays, he would rather depend on the F-22 Raptor than on the F-15E or any other fighters that are "fourth generation at best".

"I'm less interested in ... the F-15 issue, or the Block 60 F-16, or any of the other surrogates in there ... because if something happens to the F-35, we've got the F-22 line hot," he told Jane's in a 22 August interview.

"If you ask me what is the better deal for the American people, the joint team and the international community in this war on terrorism, I would say extend the F-22 line."

Source: USAF declines F-15E+ offer; USAF Aimpoints, 8/29/2006

Posted by Blogger Natalie @ Wednesday, August 30, 2006 6:15:00 PM #

The problem with the 22 is that they have leaned the line down from a 60 airframe per year capability to a 24 per year one. This is going to effect economies of scale and the ability to keep a uniform fleet age by rapidly bringing up new wings without having to hybridize new/old capabilities as occured with Langley.

Add to this the sheer stupidity of failing to check wing fittings to see if they are properly _heat treated_ titanium for the first half of the limited fleet you now have (a 1-2 billion dollar throwaway that SHOULD have been put towards expanding the line if they were serious about more Raptors), and you are looking at a lot of F-15A like issues availability and total remaining performance in the outyears.

I am a great fan of the F-22 but much will depend on how long Congress keeps trying to sustain the myth of an F-35 as a bulk 'for export' pork project as customer interest fades only to resurface in Europe where UCAV interest is very strong.

If LM don't do some serious reinvestment/reconfiguration (the Ft. Worth line will have to get something to keep the inhouse politics happy for and the For-Texas elements of Congress) of the Georgia facility, they will never be able to make enough Raptors, fast enough, to form even a basic 380 plane force in time to take the weight of other assets which SHOULD begin rapid retirement as soon as we are out of Iraq in 2008.

Such massive cuts in the force structure is in turn another key element of the service politic which needs 'attitudinal repair by deletion' as nobody will question retirement of forces for money reasons and it is ONLY when those forces (and the manned system voting block they represent) are gone that there will be enough softening in the Air Force bulwark to make UCAVs the only viable fast-fill solution when China or some other 'new threat' (conventional, not guerilla) is discovered.

Of course the people who will suffer most are those with the oldest and least capable assets to begin with as Guard/Rez hue-and-cry state politics will come into it as the CCIP upgrades halt immediately and we boneyard all .40 and older F-16s.

I would also make the original plan to make the 117 go away soonest happen quick since the 60 odd F-22 to replace them is only 2 years worth of 'supercruise = more sorties' production.

At the same time, I would seriously consider a complete teardown of the Albino fleet with the Mudhens going shortly thereafter.

Even with only the late .50s and perhaps a fill buy of .60s in service, there will still be more F-16s than are required for CONUS ADC deployment.

While the 'dedicated' F-22 bomber force can do Day 1 missioning for both the 117 and the 15E.

Even as the lack of any penetrating conventional mission force will basically outmode the OCA mission for the 15C.

Leaving only the presence-bomber as 'Week-2' force to take the load off the Raptors once there is effectively no one left to fight back and/or you are back to slugging it out in OOTW/SSC conditions.

Either the B-1B or the B-52 would go shortly after this.

ONLY by creating a massive 'capability gap' (which will be largely offset by the force multiplication effect of GBU-39) can we justify heavy commitment to the LRS, the F-22 and UCAV as a 'smaller' (500, not 2,500) replacement force.

Not simply as a function of panic. But due to the true downsizing of a force which has successfully evaded the knife from BUR onwards for far too long.

People have no clue how much of an airframe's value is inherent to the logistics/training tail that comes AFTER production is done. And how much MORE money it takes to start /saving/ some, as a function of closing down a given fleet inventory capability before you can invest in standing up the replacement.

It's time we learned.

Sweden is a good model for some of the drastic force cuts made to the Flygvapnet in the 90s when doing so was 'free' in the wake of the Cold War. As well as their continuing commitment to retain a small force of the best planes (100 odd Gripen C/D) by sacrificing even the best of the followon JAS-39A (note that these are NOT being shifted to replace the Viggen but will be _scrapped_ to leave budgetary room for the trination UCAV).

This kind of brutal pruning efficiency is what leaves openings for new growth to come up unshaded by the existing 'integrated' force structure (platform X must exist to support platform Y even if Mission Z is ridiculously outdated). Because there is literally no 'tradition' left as an inertia of human will in doing things the same old way as gave you a job yesterday.


Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Thursday, August 31, 2006 9:16:00 AM #
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