I was a little perplexed when I heard an American ask which fighter aircraft after F-14 Tomcat US had that its adversaries were really afraid of. Obviously the man wouldn’t have been too happy with how F-22 and F-35 have shaped up. Though I believe that America owes its supremacy in the skies not to virtuosity of any single aircraft but how different aircrafts operate in unison and hunt in close coordination with each other. F/A-18 though a decent strike aircraft does not enjoy any exceptional superiority over Rafale or Eurofighter Typhoon but together with F/A-18G Growler it makes a fearsome combo. F-35 communicating with the likes of F-16 and F-15 through Link 16 takes air-warfare to another level that lesser nations will yet take some time to pose any serious challenge to.
Now all US aircrafts including B-2 (and probably F-22 will also be, under ongoing mid-life upgrades) are being enabled for MADL (Multi-function Advance Data Link). MADL using Ku band provides needed throughput, latency, frequency-hopping and anti-jamming capability with phased Array Antenna Assemblies (AAAs) that send and receive tightly directed radio signals. While we may produce reams of literature on declining American airpower and emerging challenges in Russia, China and other places, there is no real immediate reason to declare USAF a spent force. It looks people outside US have better grasp of USAF capapibilities and future ventures.
Probably in response to dissenting notes that questioned American preparedness vis-a-vis its adversaries, Pentagon has chalked out few programmes to fill the air-superiority gap. While US Navy’s F/A-XX and US Air Force’s F-X programmes are in their infancy, for near future Boeing is considering to upgrade the world famous F-15 Eagle fighter jet into F-15X.
The F-15X is to be a fully modernized jet, with a flatscreen glass cockpit, Joint Helmet Mounting Cueing System II helmet targeting system, APG-82 active electronically scanned array radar, the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) (electronic warfare and electronic surveillance system), and Legion targeting pod.
F-15X is designed to supplement the F-22, F-35, or any future stealth jets.The aircraft would be able to carry 24 air to air missiles using Boeing’s new AMBER missile racks. It will supplement the firepower of stealth fighters such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Having closed weapons bays stealth fighters can carry only limited number of missiles. But they have an advantage that they can penetrate deep into enemy’s territory. F-15X would fly in tandem with stealthy airplanes such as the F-22 and F-35. While Stealth aircrafts will go undetected further into enemy airspace, F-15X will stay at a stand-off range. The F-15X upon receiving information about location of targets from (say) F-22 through MADL, wouldl fire long range BVR missiles targeting enemy aircrafts. Being equipped with 24 missiles it will be possible to engage multiple targets. The missiles can even be provided mid-course update by F-22 or F-35. Thus F-15X would act as a glorified missileer, launching missiles on cue from its stealthier cousins. A mix of stealthy and non-stealthy jets, working as a team, could prove a cost-effective way to grow the USAF’s fleet of modern combat aircraft.
In a mixed air-to-air and air-to-ground role, the F-15X could fly with eight air-to-air missiles and 28 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs), or up to seven 2,000-lb. bombs and eight air-to-air missiles. That’s a weapon load far greater that what earlier F-15s and existing stealth jets can carry, since they must fit their meager payloads inside internal weapons bays.
The F-15X is cheaper than F-35. The newest Eagle would cost about $27,000 per hour to fly which is well below the $45,000 an hour to fly the F-35A. F-15X will have a whopping 20,000-hour service life, enabling it to serve for decades. This USA will continue to sustain its supremacy in the air for many years to come.