The first flight of the experienced F-15QA, April 2020 Photo by Boeing
In the United States, full-scale tests of the promising F-15QA fighter, intended for the Qatar Air Force, continue. In the foreseeable future, this car will be brought to mass production, as a result of which the Qatari Air Force will become the owners of perhaps the most advanced version of the F-15.
The international cooperation
Preliminary agreements on the supply of modernized McDonnell Douglas / Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft were reached in 2016. In November of the same year, the US authorities approved a deal for the supply of 72 aircraft, spare parts and weapons, as well as personnel training. The estimated cost of such an agreement was to exceed $ 21 billion.
The contract for the construction and supply of equipment appeared in June 2017. In accordance with it, in the coming years, the American side was supposed to create and test a special modification of the original F-15, and then establish its production. The document provides for the supply of 36 fighters with a total value of $ 12 billion.
The United States and Qatar have agreed to create a new modification of the fighter called the F-15QA (Qatar Advanced). The basis for this project was the previous modification of the F-15SA for Saudi Arabia. It was proposed to remake it using the latest developments of the Boeing company and taking into account the wishes of the new customer.
Design work and construction of experimental equipment did not take much time. By the beginning of 2020, the first experienced F-15QA was built and launched for testing. The first flight of this machine took place on April 14. By now, the construction of two more fighters has been completed, they are also involved in the tests.
Red carpet prototype meeting. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of Qatar
Reportedly, two prototype aircraft are now being tested at the Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. In a few weeks, it is planned to conduct a number of different tests that are impossible on other sites. In particular, flight performance at low altitudes is checked, systems for work on ground targets are tested, etc.
During the current tests, the total flight time of the three experienced F-15QA has already exceeded 100 hours. The aircraft have to go through several more stages of verification, after which they will be handed over to the customer. It is expected that the Qatar Air Force will receive this equipment as early as next year. Then a full-scale series will be launched, which will ensure the fulfillment of the existing contract within several years.
The F-15QA project envisages updating the design and instrumentation of the basic F-15E / SA, taking into account the wishes of the customer and the latest achievements of science and technology. Such innovations simplify and reduce the cost of assembly and maintenance, as well as increase the flight, combat and operational qualities of the aircraft.
First of all, the airframe production processes have been redesigned. The nose and wing for the F-15QA are made using Boeing’s Full-Size Determinant Assembly (FSDA) technology. Within the framework of FSDA, the number of units supplied for final assembly has been reduced, and the process of joining parts itself has been reduced, accelerated and simplified. In addition, some modifications have been made to the design of the units, which increase their resource.
The first F-15EX for the US Air Force is under construction. Photo by US Air Force
As a development of the F-15SA project, the Qatar Air Force fighter receives a similar digital fly-by-wire control system in all channels. It is built on the basis of two computers, each of which has two control loops. Provides a fourfold redundancy of wiring to the actuators. This EDSU architecture provides high flight performance combined with a sharp increase in reliability.
The F-15QA receives an updated sighting and navigation system based on the Raytheon AN / APG-82 (v) 1 airborne radar with an active phased antenna array. The data processing before being issued to the pilot and navigator-operator is carried out by the ADCP II (Advanced Display Core Processor II) computer. The Operational Flight Program operating system of the latest “production” version of Suite 8 is used.
The fighter is equipped with a double “glass cockpit”. The main means of displaying all the necessary information is a large-format liquid crystal touch screen. On the sides of it are smaller screens. The old windshield indicator has been replaced by a new smaller profile HRCCP (HUD Radio Communications Control Panel) with an integrated radio control panel. Pilots can still use American-made helmet-mounted target designation systems.
Due to the preservation of the main components of the airframe and the power plant, the performance characteristics of the new F-15QA remain at the level of the basic F-15E / SA fighter. The complex of weapons remains the same. Qatar Air Force fighters will be able to use all missiles and bombs compatible with the F-15E.
The design appearance of the F-15EX. Boeing graphics
In the recent past, the F-15QA fighter was called the latest and most advanced version of the F-15E. Now this honorary title has passed to the next development. A new aircraft for the US Air Force is being created on the basis of the “Qatari” fighter. Previously, the F-15X single-seat aircraft project was proposed, but the customer chose the F-15EX two-seat modification, more similar to the F-15QA.
In terms of airframe design and general equipment features, the F-15EX is minimally different from the F-15QA. At the same time, the computing complex will receive the software of the next version of OFP Suite 9, and the survivability will be increased due to the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS). It is planned to introduce promising hypersonic air-to-ground missiles and other new types of weapons into the ammunition load.
On July 13, 2020, the Pentagon officially ordered the first batch of eight F-15EX fighters, costing approx. $ 1.9 billion. By that time, the first aircraft was already being assembled at the Boeing plant in St. Louis. Q2 FY2021 the first two aircraft are to be handed over to the Air Force for testing. The remaining fighters will be handed over only in 2023.
In total, the US Air Force wants to purchase 144 F-15EX aircraft by 2030. Approx. $ 22.9 billion. Annually they will order and pay for the construction of 12 vehicles.
Externally, the F-15EX and F-15QA differ minimally. Boeing graphics
The appearance of an order for the F-15EX is directly related to the state of the air fleet of the Air Force and the National Guard, as well as to characteristic problems of recent times. Cash F-15C / D are running out of resources and need to be replaced. The number of modern F-22s, initially considered as replacements for the F-15, turned out to be insufficient, and the production of new F-35s does not cover all the needs of the Pentagon. In this regard, a “temporary measure” was adopted in the form of another project for the modernization of the F-15E – with the production of completely new machines.
The development of the F-15 family of fighters continues with interesting new results. On the basis of a very successful platform, new modifications with increased combat and operational characteristics are being developed. At the same time, the next versions of the fighter are created not only for the main customer, the US Air Force, but also for friendly foreign countries.
Several factors are at the heart of the F-15’s success. First of all, it is necessary to note the high potential of the F-15E aircraft as a platform for further renewal and improvement. It initially had good characteristics, and the replacement of certain components ensures further development with obtaining high results. In addition, the problems of newer projects in the form of rising costs and declining production rates have become an important factor.
The Saudi, Qatar and US Air Forces have already ordered more than 230 F-15SA / QA / EX fighters. In the foreseeable future, full-scale production will begin, and by the end of the decade, all this equipment will be delivered to parts. Thus, the claimed technical excellence of the new aircraft is gradually turning into commercial success. However, it is too early to talk about the achievement of all the set goals.