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Silent Eagle: Boeing’s plan to make the F-15 a ‘stealth’ fighter


Again in 2009, Boeing’s Silent Eagle aimed to make the world’s most prolific air superiority fighter into one thing extra by injecting stealth into the F-15’s legendary DNA. The outcome might have been essentially the most broadly succesful F-15 the world had ever seen, delivered simply in time to compete with what would change into a international gross sales powerhouse, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The F-15SE Silent Eagle aimed to bridge the hole between fourth and fifth-generation fighters, incorporating components of the stealth and situational consciousness supplied by the world’s most superior tactical jets into an already legendary fighter airframe. With 58,000 kilos of thrust on faucet, inside weapons carriage capabilities, a diminished radar signature, superior avionics and the Strike Eagle’s multi-role pedigree, this fighter might have been essentially the most succesful 4th era platform on the planet by the point it was rolled onto the flight strains of potential consumers hailing from Canada to Japan and in all places in between.

silent eagle
Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle (Boeing)

However the world was altering by the 2010s, and the skies above it have been no exception. In an period of superior and stealthy fighters fusing knowledge on the fly and slipping previous enemy radar arrays like James Bond and his trusty Walther PPK… the Silent Eagle was extra like Robocop carrying a shotgun with a silencer. It was a mechanical powerhouse that would tiptoe by the sky and communicate in hushed tones. However beneath the skinny veneer of stealth, the F-15SE was nonetheless each bit the bruiser it began out as.

Designed to sq. off in opposition to the fighter equal to the boogeyman

The F-15’s journey to fruition began within the dogfights over Vietnam, however discovered renewed focus when the Soviet Union unveiled the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat on the Domodedovo airfield close to Moscow in 1967. This new fighter was clearly quick, with huge air intakes defining its frontal view and engine retailers you might have a picnic in on the again.

Russian MiG-25

Primarily based on their very own research of enormous wings on high-speed plane, the MiG-25’s design seemed extremely maneuverable to American engineers, and issues about its capabilities worsened only a few brief years later when Israeli radar operators picked up an uncommon Soviet fighter of their airspace touring at an astonishing Mach 3.2 at greater altitudes than any NATO fighter may handle.

The Air Pressure, eager to offset this obvious functionality hole, redoubled their efforts to discipline a brand new purpose-built air superiority fighter, and so they did so with the brand new Foxbat squarely of their crosshairs.

Two-seat MiG-25PU (WikiMedia Commons)

Inside simply 5 years, America’s new F-15 Eagle would enter service. It may fly at speeds in extra of Mach 2.5, due to a pair of highly effective Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 after-burning turbofans that really produce extra thrust than the plane’s drag and weight mix to, making the F-15 so highly effective that it might really speed up whereas flying straight up.

That top thrust-to-weight ratio coupled with a low weight-to-wing space additionally permits for a excessive diploma of maneuverability, making for what the Air Pressure hoped can be a superior mixture of traits when in comparison with the Soviet powerhouse MiG-25.

silent eagle

In fact, a number of years later, America would get their arms on one and are available to study that the MiG-25 wasn’t really all that succesful—or scary—in any respect. The F-15 had been invented to function a silver bullet in opposition to a monster Soviet fighter with seemingly no friends on the world’s stage. However with the Foxbat now understood to be a subpar competitor, America’s F-15 graduated from its perceived underdog standing to turning into essentially the most dominant air superiority fighter of its century.

In 1986, the following iteration Eagle, dubbed the F-15E, added new conformal gas tanks alongside the plane’s fuselage to hold an extra 750 gallons on either side, adorned with brief pylons that may carry exterior munitions with out the elevated drag created by standard weapons racks. Hardpoints for virtually each air-to-ground munition within the U.S. arsenal have been included, from the Eagle’s acquainted AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles to America’s newest variable-yield B61-12 nuclear bombs, making the brand new Strike Eagle a competitor for finest multi-role strike fighter of its century as properly. Actually, the F-15E would beat out the weird and intensely promising delta-winged F-16XL for a shot at service.

The F-16XL was a delta-wing F-16 with an astonishing 27 weapon exhausting factors.

To coincide with the elevated vary and payload capabilities, new avionics, together with improved radar and a Low Altitude Navigation and Concentrating on Infrared for Night time (LANTIRN) system for air-to-ground concentrating on helped flip the air superiority fighter right into a deep-strike interdiction platform that had no want for escort fighters. With a view to handle all of this, a second seat for a weapons officer was added with 4 screens displaying info from the radar, digital warfare or infrared sensors that can be utilized to trace or choose targets, monitor weapons, help in navigation, and extra.

The necessity for a stealth F-15

U.S. Air Pressure F-22 (heart) with a South Korean F-15 Slam Eagle (proper) and a U.S. Air Pressure F-16 (left) (Air Pressure picture)

As dominant because the F-15 platform might have been within the skies over the Chilly Warfare, the Twenty first century introduced a brand new slew of challenges for America’s workhorse air superiority fighter. By 2005, stealth had discovered its means into the fighter realm with the F-15’s meant substitute, Lockheed Martin’s unimaginable new F-22 Raptor.

However with simply 186 F-22s in the end constructed, the F-15 quickly discovered itself serving as America’s main air superiority fighter as soon as once more, whereas the F-15E was proving invaluable throughout conflicts within the Center East. Nevertheless it wasn’t all excellent news for Boeing and its Eagle. The F-22 might have been canceled, however the F-15E’s floor assault capabilities have been now dealing with a brand new stealthy menace on the fighter gross sales market within the type of the brand new and attack-oriented F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Boeing had competed and misplaced for the Joint Strike Fighter contract with their X-32, leaving their hopes for profitable fighter contracts resting squarely on the F-15’s quickly growing old shoulders.

Boeing’s prototype X-32 with Lockheed Martin’s prototype X-35 (DoD picture)

Then, in 2008, Boeing’s Director for F-15 Improvement Packages, Brad Jones, met with a Korean normal who gave him an concept he believed may renew curiosity within the growing old fighter warhorse.

“This [program] began after we have been at a convention in Korea in 2008. A Korean normal mainly stated, ‘We’ve got to have stealth however can we stay with the tradeoffs?’” Jones recounted in 2011.

“We listened. Stealth may be very costly to keep up. These guys will fly these airplanes for 30-plus years and expertise will [bypass] stealth. Radar cross part is simply within the X-band. We’re now transferring into multi-spectral areas.”

Jones may see the writing on the wall. If Boeing wished to proceed promoting its Chilly Warfare powerhouse to the U.S. and its allies, it was time to offer it a critical injection of Twenty first-century expertise that will make it a viable competitor for nations who have been uncertain about going all-in on an costly new stealth fighter.

The delivery of the F-15SE Silent Eagle

silent eagle
Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle (Boeing)

Boeing acknowledged instantly that that they had no hope of constructing the F-15 actually stealth. In any case, we’re speaking about an plane stated to hold a 25 sq. meter radar cross-section. That’s greater than twice that of the B-1B Lancer heavy payload bomber and at the least 25 instances larger than an F/A-18 Tremendous Hornet. So to be able to make their Silent Eagle idea work, Boeing needed to do two issues: convey the F-15’s radar return down dramatically, and persuade potential consumers that stealth wasn’t the one essential issue to think about when shopping for new fighters.

In March of 2009, Boeing unveiled their new fighter, or extra appropriately, the latest iteration of the F-15E and subsequent F-15SA. Their New two-seat F-15SE Silent Eagle constructed upon the modifications made for the Strike Eagle and its more moderen Saudi Arabian export sibling, this time emphasizing a discount within the fighter’s radar return alongside one other spherical of avionics and system updates and upgrades.

silent eagle

The outcome was an F-15 that seemed fairly a bit like a stripped-down outdated one, however with some essential modifications. Most notably, the 750-gallon conformal gas tanks have been faraway from the fighter’s fuselage and changed with new conformal weapons bays (CWBs) that have been very related in exterior design to the gas tanks they changed. This allowed the Silent Eagle to hold its firepower internally like Fifth era fighters, eliminating the radar return created by exterior munitions whereas sustaining an analogous aerodynamic profile to the Strike Eagle that had already confirmed itself in service.

silent eagle

“It’s the quickest fighter on the market,” Jones stated. “It goes farther, it carries extra, it fights at 50,000 toes, it shoots missiles at Mach 1.5 to 1.8. It’s an air superiority, multi-role, air to floor plane we are able to ship in 2015. It’s prepared to make use of, in service proper now.”

These conformal weapons bays have been rated to hold AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, JDAM satellite-guided bombs, and Small Diameter Bombs, amongst others. One essential inclusion, as reported by the now-legendary aviation reporter Steve Trimble all the best way again in 2012, was the Raytheon AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM) generally leveraged by Wild Weasel plane looking for enemy radar programs, making the Silent Eagle a viable and even potent possibility for SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) operations.

silent eagle

The Silent Eagle’s CWBs may very well be eliminated and changed with commonplace Strike Eagle conformal gas tanks when the mission known as for much less stealth and extra hate, buying and selling 4 further weapons stations and 1,500 gallons of added gas for the Silent Eagle’s discretion.

Exterior missiles and gas drop tanks have been faraway from the wings to additional cut back the jet’s radar return. A BAE digital digital warfare suite (DEWS) suite was added to complement the plane’s stealth with jamming capabilities, alongside the Energetic Electronically Scanned Array radar, and an infrared search and monitor (IRST) sensor for each air-to-air and air-to-ground operations.

silent eagle

The IRST would permit the F-15SE to hunt for enemy fighters with out utilizing lively radar that will alert them of its presence. The Strike Eagle additionally has this functionality, however the sensor is housed inside one of many wing-mounted pods that will be eradicated within the F-15SE, making the addition of the sensor inside the fuselage a needed change. The Silent Eagle would additionally leverage new fly-by-wire controls funded initially by Saudi Arabia for his or her F-15SA.

Two exterior weapons stations allowed for an extra 4 air-to-air missiles when the F-15SE wasn’t anxious about being sneaky.

silent eagle

At 63.6 toes lengthy, the Silent Eagle measured barely shorter than its Strike Eagle predecessor, at 63.8 toes, with an similar wingspan of 42.8 toes. It will be powered by both two Normal Electrical F110-GE-129 turbofan engines offering 29,000lbs of thrust or two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines offering the identical. Based on some sources, the Silent Eagle can be barely slower than the Strike Eagle, topping out at practically Mach 2.15, as in comparison with the Strike Eagle’s Mach 2.5 or higher, with the identical fee of climb at 50,000 toes per minute and the identical 60,000-foot service ceiling. Some Boeing supplies, nonetheless, declare the Silent Eagle may additionally exceed Mach 2.5.

silent eagle
JHMCS – Day and Night time Capabilities

The Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, or JHCMS, additionally added to the Strike Eagle in 2010, would permit the pilot to intention the plane’s weapons just by trying at a goal whereas offering very important info instantly in his or her discipline of view, and an 11in x 19in Giant Space Show (LAD) system was included for each the pilot and weapons officer for improved situational consciousness.

A 15-degree change in vertical tail positioning could make a world of distinction

The opposite most notable structural distinction between the Strike Eagle and Silent Eagle was within the tail. The F-15’s twin vertical tails performed a giant position within the plane’s giant radar return, so the Silent Eagle’s tails have been canted 15 levels outward, thus lowering their radar signature whereas offering a slight enhance to raise. That added raise, Boeing claimed, gave their new semi-stealth fighter an extra 75 to 100 miles of vary, offsetting a little bit of what was misplaced when swapping out the conformal gas tanks.

To raised perceive how a 15-degree change within the vertical tails of an F-15SE may have an considerable impact on its radar cross-section, let’s look to Alan Brown, who was Lockheed’s first chief engineer for the F-117 Nighthawk. Right here’s an unimaginable 1-minute video the place he explains how small modifications to angle can lead to large reductions in an plane’s radar return. In case you aren’t in a position to watch the video, I’ll embrace the pertinent quote beneath.

“Very merely, if I’m taking a look at a flat floor at proper angles to the radar, if one thing like this have been one sq. meter it might have a radar return of a thousand sq. meters,” Brown explains holding up a sq..

“If I transfer it again nearly eight levels, not very a lot, it drops from a thousand sq. meters to one sq. meter. And if I transfer it right down to a really shallow angle, like about 20 levels to horizontal, it’s now right down to one ten millionth of what it was when it was up there.”

In fact, plane aren’t stationary objects and radar cross-sections differ primarily based on the angle you observe them from. By canting the vertical tails by 15 levels, the F-15SE may additionally financial institution to the identical angle with out presenting a radar-alerting perpendicular floor to close by arrays.

Whereas the canted vertical tails and inside weapons storage capabilities each had considerable results on the fighter’s radar return, the inclusion of radar-absorbent supplies (RAM) in its paint would assist press it additional towards the low observable facet of the spectrum. Radar arrays work by projecting electromagnetic power into the sky and studying what’s bounced again at it.

“RAM works on the precept of the plane absorbing the electromagnetic wave power to attenuate the depth of the mirrored sign,” wrote Adrian Mouritz within the tutorial textbook “Introduction to Aerospace Supplies.”

RAM is used on fashionable stealth fighters to attenuate the radar return created by the aspects of their designs that couldn’t be adjusted to deflect radar waves—issues like ramjet inlets, the fighter’s nostril, and the main edges of its wings. Nevertheless it’s essential to keep in mind that these fighters have been additionally designed from the bottom as much as deflect electromagnetic power, in contrast to fourth-generation fighters just like the F-15, so the good thing about utilizing RAM will not be as pronounced.

Simply how a lot stealth are you able to cram into an F-15?

silent eagle
F-15SE Silent Eagle (Boeing)

Radar cross sections are extensively debated on-line, and as might as come as little shock to you, nationwide governments aren’t typically within the behavior of stepping in to make clear relating to their operational fighters. So, we should always take every part about this stealth dialog with a grain of salt, as is at all times the case when talking hypothetically about cutting-edge and labeled applied sciences.

The F-15 isn’t the one 4th-generation American fighter to get the stealth therapy. Beginning in 2012, American F-16s tasked with SEAD missions, or Wild Weasels—as they’re typically recognized, started receiving the Fifth era of radar absorbing “Have Glass” therapies. In impact, these F-16s obtained the radar-absorbent materials therapy one may discover on a Fifth-generation fighter, and in reality, the paint was utilized utilizing the exact same CASPER (Pc-Aided Spray Paint Expelling Robotic) the Air Pressure makes use of to use radar-absorbent paint to the F-22.

Delaying radar detection is of specific import for Wild Weasel F-16s, as these fighters are tasked with looking for and interesting surface-to-air missile batteries in enemy airspace.

A U.S. Air Pressure F-16 from the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air Nationwide Guard with a brand new, darker single colour “Have Glass” paint scheme on the ramp on the Iowa Air Nationwide Guard in Sioux Metropolis, Iowa. (U.S. Air Nationwide Guard picture by Senior Grasp Sgt. Vincent De Groot)

The primary era of Have Glass therapies have been utilized to the cockpit canopies of F-16s not in contrast to making use of a gold tint to sun shades—and imagine it or not—have been estimated to cut back the F-16’s radar return by as a lot as 15%. At this time, the (sarcastically named) Fifth-generation therapy, which incorporates using RAM paint all through a lot of the plane, has been estimated to drop the F-16’s radar return by a whopping 76%. In different phrases, using RAM was in a position to shrink the Viper on radar screens from 5 sq. meters to a comparably tiny 1.2.

In fact, the F-16 began out with a a lot smaller radar cross-section than the F-15—at 5 m² and 25 m² respectively—but when we have been to use this identical arithmetic to the Silent Eagle, we’re now speaking about an F-15 with a radar cross-section of simply 6 m² earlier than making issues for the canted tail sections and inside weapons carriage capabilities. In fact, this can be a gross generalization, however with fashionable RAM rated to soak up 70-80% of inbound electromagnetic power, it’s starting to sound just like the F-15SE actually had an opportunity at being the sneakiest Eagle this world will ever see.

silent eagle

This stage of discount nonetheless doesn’t come anyplace close to matching the stealth supplied by platforms just like the F-22 or F-35, which boast estimated radar cross-sections of 0.0001-0.0002m² (the dimensions of a marble) to 0.0015m² (the dimensions of a golf ball) respectively. Some Boeing officers have been quoted as saying that the Silent Eagle would have the identical radar cross-section from head-on as an F-35, however Lockheed Martin officers and different protection specialists dismissed that comparability as unrealistic, and certainly, a yr later, Boeing eased up on their stealth claims, saying solely that that they had achieved their low-observable targets.

“The Silent Eagle philosophy is that stealth isn’t the end-all. It’s one aspect of survivability. We didn’t wish to put a lot cash into stealth after which have expertise blow by it,” Jones defined.

“We wished to keep up the identical capabilities that the plane already had. Taking all of that into consideration, we got here up with the Silent Eagle.”

A B-2A Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing leads a delta formation consisting of two F-15C Eagles assigned to the forty eighth Fighter Wing and two Royal Air Pressure F-35B Lightnings as they conduct aerial operations over the North Sea. (U.S. Air Pressure picture)

This discount does delay detection of those plane as they strategy, giving them time to seek out and interact their targets earlier than they are often shot down. And the smaller an plane’s radar profile, the extra it might profit from pleasant digital warfare belongings within the space interfering with enemy radar programs.

In different phrases, the F-15SE Silent Eagle couldn’t have come near matching Fifth-generation stealth, however it might have supplied a huge enchancment over current F-15 airframes on the observability entrance.

A stealth F-15 isn’t any match for the F-35 (relating to discovering consumers)

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Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle deploying AIM-120 from conformal weapons bay (Boeing)

In November of 2010, Boeing signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Korea Aerospace Industries for continued improvement on the F-15SE’s conformal weapons bays (CWBs). That very same month, Boeing confirmed the world that their Silent Eagle wasn’t only a paper aircraft, efficiently launching an inert AIM-120 from their prototype flight demonstrator’s left CWB.

By 2012, the Silent Eagle was able to enter into South Korea’s F-X III competitors with some stiff competitors: the Eurofighter Hurricane and Lockheed Martin’s F-35. The Hurricane was additionally a 4th era fighter, however in contrast to the Nineteen Sixties period design of the F-15, the Hurricane was developed in the identical period because the F-22. Whereas not a stealth fighter per se, the Hurricane carries a reported radar cross-section of simply .5 sq. meters—lower than half that of the Have Glass F-16s and certain at the least ten instances higher than Boeing’s stealth injected Silent Eagle.

A RAF Eurofighter Hurricane (U.S. Air Pressure picture by Grasp Sgt. John Barton)

However it might be the F-35, with its state-of-the-art avionics, sensor fusion capabilities, and virtually microscopic radar return that will win out in the long run. Boeing supplied up the Silent Eagle at round $100 million per plane, however South Korea in the end selected to shell out as a lot as $176.5 million per F-35 to acquire 40 actually stealth jets. The F-15SE and Eurofighter Hurricane might have been wonderful 4th-generation choices, however amongst fighters in manufacturing in 2014 when the deal was signed, the F-35 was virtually in a category of its personal.

And that will quickly change into a development. Between 2009 and 2014, Boeing would go on to market their F-15SE Silent Eagle to Israel, Canada, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Since then, all of these nations have both signed on to purchase F-35s or are nonetheless amid negotiations to take action.

(U.S. Air Pressure picture)

Israel might have been the closest to bringing the fighter to fruition once they requested for a squadron of Silent Eagles as a protection reassurance after the West entered into the now-defunct nuclear treaty with Iran that aimed to finish the nation’s nuclear weapons applications. However finally, like every nation earlier than, Israel additionally moved on from the stealth-infused F-15, opting as an alternative to order extra F-35s. The Silent Eagle effort successfully died at that time in 2015, however in fact, that wasn’t the tip of this story.

In July of 2020, the U.S. Air Pressure signed a $1.2 billion take care of Boeing to kick begin manufacturing of but one other iteration of the F-15 within the F-15EX Eagle II. This new fighter leverages most of the updates and upgrades initially slated for the Silent Eagle, together with fly-by-wire capabilities, AN/APG-82 lively electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system, digital warfare suite, and up to date glass cockpit.

The Eagle II doesn’t have canted tails, however might until leverage some radar-return-reducing components. Final summer time, Fight Plane reporter Rob Coppinger requested Boeing officers if we may count on to see using RAM on the F-15EX, and the response wasn’t no. As an alternative, they merely stated the reply is “prone to be labeled.”

Boeing artist rendering of the F-15EX

The F-15EX will even quickly boast the brand new AN/ALQ-250 Eagle Passive/Energetic Warning and Survivability System (EPAWWS) from BAE programs, granting not solely an enormous enhance in situational consciousness however in offensive detection-jamming and spoofing capabilities. The system makes use of “Multi-spectral, RF countermeasures” in addition to non-interference jamming capabilities to trick enemy radar into lacking the decidedly giant RCS of the Eagle II, making it not as stealthy because the Silent Eagle may have been, however simply the stealthiest F-15 ever to make it into service.

At this time, with fighter applications just like the Air Pressure’s Subsequent Technology Air Dominance, the U.Ok.’s Tempest, and Europe’s Future Fight Air System within the works, it appears so much much less probably that we’ll ever see a stealth F-15 discover its means into manufacturing. It simply makes extra sense to spend money on the subsequent era of fighters quite than the final one. However the truth that a number of slight modifications may have made the legendary F-15 a viable competitor for years to return speaks volumes about simply how unimaginable this airframe actually is within the first place.

The F-15 might have been the twentieth century champ, however it seems prefer it’s nonetheless obtained some years left in it in spite of everything.

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