Sunday, April 26, 2009

Plan B in the Air

Given that we won't have many more F-22s, why don't we buy more F-15s, which have been updated, to back up the F-22s?

Armed with our latest AMRAAMs, flown by our excellent pilots, and plugged into our entire air superiority system (air power is not just planes and pilots, but the whole supporting structure of intelligence, planning, recon, ground crews, command and control, etc.), these updated Eagles would be formidable air superiority fighters in their own right:

Boeing recently unveiled its newest 5th generation fighter the, F-15SE (Silent Eagle) which could well be a F-35 killer on the export market. The aircraft is essentially an F-15 with improved radar and avionics and a modified airframe to add stealth (resistance to radar detection). Conformal fuel tanks mounted underneath the airframe create two internal weapons bays. Each bay has two stores hard points; an upper swing out weapons rack and a lower trapeze with separate doors. The trapeze can carry a 1000 pound JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile). The upper swing out weapon rack can be fitted with a rail to mount an AMRAAM or smaller AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. It also can be fitted with a 500 pound bomb. All four hard points can carry two SDBs (Small Diameter Bomb) each.

Apart from the internal weapons bays, the major retrofit to the airframe is the two tail fins canted 15 degrees outwards to eliminate nose ballast and the trim, reducing the radar cross section towards the sides. The aircraft’s frontal radar signature has been further softened out by using radar absorbent coatings to the airframe, particularly to the leading edges. Boeing claims the end-result is an aircraft that can match the frontal-aspect stealth profile of any fifth generation fighter in configurations cleared by the US government for export release. ...

Another key feature of the F-15SE is its electronic warfare system. Boeing has selected the BAE Systems digital electronic warfare system (DEWS), which includes a digital radar warning receiver, digital jamming transmitter, integrated countermeasures dispenser and an interference cancellation system. This enables the aircraft to continue to jam enemy radars even as its own radar and radar warning receiver (RWR) continues to function. The main sensor for the aircraft will be the Raytheon APG-63(V)3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

This plane can't be a strike fighter in a high-threat environment since its stealth features aren't good enough to hide from ground radars, but that's why we have the F-35.

The F-15 was once the "high" part of a high-low mix of fighter aircraft (the F-16 was the "low" part) so we could have quality and quantity. Why couldn't the F-15SE be the low part in a new high-low mix?

The Air Force has long argued we need more Raptors for our air superiorty needs. There won't be more Raptors. Unless our air superiority needs simply vanished, I'd think we should look for ways to meet those needs. The F-15SE seems like a reasonable Plan B. Which is what I thought nearly seven years ago (scroll down to the July 31, 2002 post). The new Eagle model makes my original argument more relevant.