Yesterday, my friend and colleague Greg Waldron, our defense reporter for Asia, reported that Boeing has integrated a new version of the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) onto its F-15SE Silent Eagle demonstrator aircraft. The new helmet is called the JHMCS II/h--and it is designed to be lighter and better balanced.
Boeing's Silent Eagle demonstrator-Boeing photo
"Both pilots who flew with the JHMCS II/h system immediately noticed that the helmet was more balanced and the smaller, lighter interface cable was less restrictive," says Greg Hardy, Boeing JHMCS program manager.
It took Boeing less than three months to integrate the helmet onto the aircraft.
The F-15E Strike Eagle is arguably the best multi-role fighter in the US Air Force's inventory. The Silent Eagle improves upon that by adding an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar--specifically the Raytheon APG-63 (v) 3. It also has a decoupled cockpit design--modeled on the US Navy's Block II Super Hornet--that would allow the pilot and weapons systems officer to simultaneously conduct air-to-air and air-to-surface missions at their respective stations. It will also have a new large area display similar to what is currently installed in the Lockheed Martin F-35. Boeing also says that the aircraft will have a degree of frontal sector stealth--it has airframe modifications and conformal weapons bays which can be added or removed as needed to accomplish that (but if the CFTs on the F-15E are any indication, it'll be kind of a pain in the posterior for the maintainers).
South Korea is probably the last chance for Boeing to sell the F-15SE while going head to head with the F-35, says Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. "That's going to be intriguing to watch."
While Boeing has kept the USAF in the loop on developments on its international F-15E derivatives, the service hasn't committed to fielding any of those modifications just yet. But the USAF is making progress on adding a new Raytheon APG-82 AESA radar to its fleet of Strike Eagles. Since the aircraft will remain in service till at least 2025, it is likely there will a host of upgrades coming at some point.
Incidentally, a clean--with no conformal tanks mounted-- F-15E powered by twin Pratt and Whitney F100 PW-229 engines is a stellar performer according to USAF and Boeing pilots who have flown in that configuration. One Boeing pilot says that with the 29, 100lbs 229 motors, the clean jet climbs like a rocket--potentially giving even the F-22 Raptor a run for its money. It will also easily cruise supersonically. "It's a monster," another pilot says.
But the USAF (or other air forces flying Strike Eagle derivatives) does not normally fly the F-15E in a clean configuration--it's a pain for the maintainers to constantly load and unload the CFTs. One also losses a good 10,000lbs in gas and a number of weapons stations when the CFTs are not loaded.
Given that the USAF's front line fighter force in 10 years is going to consist of only 185 Lockheed Martin F-22s and about 400 or so F-35As along with a fairly large number of aging F-16s and F-15s, it could be argued that the service should have considered buying some modernized fourth-generation machines--like the Block 60 F-16s or advanced F-15s derivatives--during the 1990s. But money was tight then as it is now.
The Navy seems to have done very well with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, however. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.