USA got the best fourth generation fighter?

Second birth

Few winged aircraft have generated more buzz among aviation enthusiasts in recent years than the new American F-15EX. Based on the F-15QA Advanced Eagle that Boeing developed for Qatar, the F-15EX is the most advanced version of the F-15. Until recently, EX seemed like just a bold initiative of Boeing, but on February 2, the plane made its first flight. After that, the corporation showed many photos and videos of the new car, in which we could see the aircraft in the camouflage of the American Air Force: it must be said, the fighter was very easy to confuse with the old combat training F-15D, which has essentially an almost identical light gray color. Also, from a distance, the vehicle is difficult to distinguish from the shock F-15E, which, however, has a darker camouflage.

In a broad sense, the new aircraft combines the capabilities of these two aircraft at a qualitatively new level. It acts both as an “advanced” fighter capable of carrying a variety of air-to-air missiles, and as one of the most powerful tactical strike aircraft of our time.

The first F-15EX fighter was received by the US Air Force on March 10: the plane was delivered to Eglin Air Force Base (Florida) from the Boeing plant in St. Louis. Soon, the military will begin flight tests of the vehicle. The second aircraft of the Air Force should be received around April, the rest of the aircraft of the first batch will be delivered by 2023 fiscal year. Small volumes should not be embarrassing: obviously, this is only the beginning (otherwise, the idea itself would not, in fact, make any sense). The US military budget for fiscal 2021 has funds for the purchase of the next batch of 12 F-15EX, and in the next four fiscal years they plan to buy 72 more such machines. In general, the American Air Force expects to eventually receive about 200 of these machines.

The figure, by the way, is quite remarkable. Approximately as many as of 2019 were at the disposal of the US Air Force mentioned your F-15E Strike Eagle, although specifically now the F-15EX is seen, first of all, as a replacement for the older F-15C / D.

Noteworthy is the assessment of the aircraft by Colonel Sean Dory, the head of the F-15EX program of the United States Air Force. He stated the following:

“With its large armament, digital highway and open architecture, the F-15EX will become a key element of our tactical fighter fleet and complement the fifth generation. In addition, he is capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, which gives him a niche role in future conflicts of equal rivals. “

A flattering assessment for a machine that until recently was considered by many to be frankly superfluous for the US Air Force, which has traditionally relied on the purchase of fifth generation fighters.

“Eagle” with character

What are the advantages of the new car over other representatives of the fourth generation? The main advantages of the aircraft are as follows:

– Powerful radar with an active phased antenna array (AFAR) Raytheon AN / APG-82;
– Advanced electronic warfare system Eagle Passive / Active Warning and Survivability System;
– A modern digital cockpit equipped with large displays (on earlier F-15s relatively small displays were installed, which caused complaints from the pilots);
– Extremely high carrying capacity;
– A wide range of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.

Traditionally, it is the last two points that are of the greatest interest. The plane is called “the most heavily armed fighter“. The combat load of the F-15EX is 13 tons. For comparison, the most advanced Russian fourth-generation fighter, the Su-35S, has this figure of 8 tons. The Eurofighter Typhoon, claiming the title of the best European fighter, has a combat load even less – 7.5 tons.

The total number of air-to-air missiles carried by the F-15EX can reach 22 units. This is more than any fourth generation fighter or any fifth generation fighter (including external hardpoints) can take. If we talk about air-to-surface weapons, the vehicle can take up to 28 Small Diameter Bombs. Their 100 kilogram weight should not be misleading: we could well see what small and ultra-small aircraft weapons can do in a war during the last year’s conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

If this does not seem enough, then, as noted above, the aircraft will be able to carry “hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds“. It can be placed on the central suspension. It is unclear which hypersonic weapons the Air Force is considering for integration with the F-15EX: there are a number of possible options, including several hypersonic cruise missiles. As noted by The Drive, no matter what weapons the F-15EX will carry in the future, the chosen role of the platform for hypersonic systems emphasizes that these aircraft will not only replace the old F-15s, but will give the Air Force units equipped with them fundamentally new opportunities.

This is the place for old people

So is the F-15EX the best fourth generation fighter? Obviously, the answer to this question lies beyond a simple comparison of load, radar capabilities, or combat radius. And even beyond the stealth factor of the aircraft, although this is undoubtedly a very important indicator even for fourth-generation vehicles, in which this feature was not initially put at the forefront by the designers.

There are too many complex questions that cannot be answered “here and now”. This also applies to weapons, and the concept of use, and, of course, the professionalism of the pilots. One thing is for sure: the new F-15 is one of the five, and possibly the three most powerful fighters of the fourth generation, second only to the fifth generation. Mainly, of course, in terms of stealth.

It should be noted that the consideration of the aircraft as a full-fledged alternative to the fifth generation has no basis. The F-15EX will complement the F-35, not replace them as some have suggested. It will act as a kind of “flying arsenal”. As you know, the disadvantage of the F-35 is in part that it can only take four AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles into the internal compartments, while the strengthening of the air-force potential of Russia and China suggests that this maybe not enough. Among the plans of the Americans is to strengthen the weapons of the F-35 by increasing the missiles carried inside to six. However, when exactly combat vehicles will receive such an opportunity is unknown. In this sense, the appearance of the F-15EX is quite justified (in addition to the fact that the plane is seen as a platform for strike weapons).

A similar “dualism of generations”, incidentally, can be traced in the American Navy. We will remind, last year made the first flight of the F / A-18 Block III Super Hornet, which can be called the most advanced carrier-based fighter of the fourth generation. And that will serve alongside the seemingly much more advanced F-35C for years to come.

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