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F-15C/D Eagle Upgrades Are ‘A Moving Target’

The U.S. Air Force won’t be putting any more F-15 Eagles out to pasture.

This report covers the F-15C/D fighters used primarily in the air-to-air role and provides an update on the current fleet. The Air Force also operates 224 dual-mission F-15E Strike Eagles that are outside the scope of this narrative.

The service is now seeking to upgrade as many of its currently serving F-15C/D Eagles as possible with Raytheon AN/APG-63 (V)3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars. Because of funding, it’s a slow process. The exact number of Eagles to receive the new radar is “a moving target,” said an official, because of long-term funding uncertainties.

“The fielded APG-63(V)3 air-to-air capabilities put the F-15C/D in a class by itself and ensure that the Air Force and Air National Guard F-15C/D fleets remain capable, maintainable and affordable,” said Todd Burns, F-15C AESA program manager for Boeing in a company press release.

The new radar, known in shorthand as the (V)3, has been operational at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and with the Florida Air National Guard since spring 2010. One Air Force goal is to have all 58 Eagles on Okinawa fitted with (V)3 by the end of 2014, subject to budgeting decisions.

The 123rd Fighter Squadron of the Oregon Air National Guard, known as the “Redhawks,” now has the (V)3 on some of its 18 F-15Cs at Portland. “The F-15C is a formidable air-to-air weapons platform,” said Lt. Col. Rick “Ammo” Morris, the 123rd squadron commander. “With the new radar, it’s a particularly capable aircraft.”

“The fielded APG-63(V)3 air-to-air capabilities put the F-15C/D in a class by itself and ensure that the Air Force and Air National Guard F-15C/D fleets remain capable, maintainable and affordable,” said Todd Burns, F-15C AESA program manager for Boeing in a company press release. When four aircraft were delivered to Florida guardsmen, added Burns, the delivery demonstrated “Boeing’s commitment to ensuring the F-15 remains a world-class multi-role fighter.”

The AESA radar deploys a very agile beam that provides nearly instantaneous track updates and enhanced multi-target tracking capability.

 

Eagle Fleet Changes

The past few years have been painful for Air Force tactical aviation. In the Combat Air Forces Restructuring Initiative, known in shorthand as “CAF Redux,” the service sent 252 legacy fighters to the boneyard between 2009 and 2011, including 112 F-15C single-seaters and F-15D two-seat fighters. CAF Redux was an economy move involving hardware that was not matched by a corresponding drawdown in personnel or by the closure of any installations. A significant part of the fighter force today is committed to homeland defense, flying the Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) mission, formerly known as Air Sovereignty Alert.

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Two F-15C Eagles of the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Oregon Air National Guard, on a flight from Portland in April 2012. Photo courtesy of Jim Haseltine

While the retirements were taking place, officials used the term “Golden Eagles” to refer to F-15C/Ds that would be retained and “Silver Eagles” to distinguish those being shelved. Today, airmen use the term “Golden” to refer to those retrofitted with the (V)3 radar and “Silver” for aircraft that would still require upgrades before the end of their useful life, but were not part of the long-term fleet. Daryl W. Mayer of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) said, ” The terms ‘Golden’ and ‘Silver’ are no longer in use,” and “were never formal [names of] programs,” but that message seems not to have reached everyone in the field.

One-time hopes for an Eagle fleet equipped entirely with (V)3 radars are being held at bay by the sluggish pace at which funds are becoming available. For the foreseeable future, the Air Force will have Eagles with all four versions of the APG-63 radar. Boeing says it expects contracts in fiscal year 2013 to upgrade 27 Air Force and 18 Air National Guard Eagles with the (V)3 radar.

Production of the original APG-63, which is also called the (V)0 today, ended  in 1986, with more than 1,000 units installed on F-15s used by the United States, Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Most F-15 radars in the U.S. fleet were later upgraded to (V)1 status. The term (V)2 refers to a “beta” AESA unit fitted on just 18 F-15Cs before the (V)3 came along. Planemaker Boeing is currently conducting tests to determine if the service life of the F-15C/D can be extended from 9,000 flying hours to 18,000.

The Air Force entered “CAF Redux” intending to reduce its F-15C/D Eagle fleet from 499 aircraft to 178, with all in the latter group being equipped with the (V)3 radar. Now, said AFMC official Mayer, “The drawdown … was stopped,” leaving 249 Eagles in service. Said Mayer: “All 249 jets are now part of the F-15C/D long-term fleet. The Air Force has no plans to reduce this number.” The total includes 214 F-15Cs and 35 F-15Ds.

One-time hopes for an Eagle fleet equipped entirely with (V)3 radars are being held at bay by the sluggish pace at which funds are becoming available. For the foreseeable future, the Air Force will have Eagles with all four versions of the APG-63 radar. Boeing says it expects contracts in fiscal year 2013 to upgrade 27 Air Force and 18 Air National Guard Eagles with the (V)3 radar.

Other ongoing F-15C/D upgrade efforts include a new flight data recorder and modifications to the missile warning system.

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-77098">

    It’s about time the C and D models get an upgrade on their radar, but the one factor I believe is missing is performance – the C models need to replace their P&W -220 engines with the more powerful -229 that provides a combined 10,000 lbs more thrust. They need to equip these engines with supercruise and thrust vectoring. We’re talking about keeping the C models at least until 2025, well then, the Air Force will have to do what it takes to keep
    them survivable, namely against the newest Sukhoi Su-35 and Mig 35, the budget notwithstanding. Where do we get the funds to complete such a program? Simple…stop sending billions of Amerian taxpayer dollars to people in the Middle East who hate us. If we want to have THE DOMINANT AIR FORCE, then some things have to be sacrificed. Why should we give money to people who call us “infidels” and who want to destroy America?
    I believe if the F-15C were given these upgrades, they would still remain a dominant threat to enemy air forces. But ONLY if we choose to do what is right for this country. God bless America!