Singapore eyes Korean F-15 Progress

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As the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s pilots wait impatiently to get their hands on the country’s newly ordered F-15SGs, the Republic of Korea Air Force is already making good progress towards getting the similar F-15K Slam Eagle into operational service.

Four RoKAF pilots and four weapons systems officers converted to the Strike Eagle in the USA, undergoing six months of language classes at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas in June 2004 before moving on to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC for eight months of transition and instructor training on the F-15E. This was followed by a final three week course learning the differences between the US standard F-15E Strike Eagle and the F-15K, from which they graduated in September 2005, ready to ferry the first aircraft to Korea.

The first Slam Eagle flew on 3 March 2005, and four F-15Ks were delivered to Korea last year, with eight more scheduled to follow during 2006.

The first pair of F-15Ks were delivered in time to participate in the Seoul International Air Show (held between 18-23 October), and two more arrived in Korea in early December. The F-15K formally made its first flight in RoKAF service on 12 December 2005, when the type entered service with the 11th Fighter Wing at Taegu.

Operations are scheduled to begin in January 2007, and all 40 aircraft are expected to be delivered by August 2008, although under Korea’s ‘Defense Reform 2020’ programme the RoKAF hopes to acquire a further 40 F-15Ks.

The F-15K is a derivative of the USAF’s F-15E Strike Eagle, which first flew 20 years ago, and which made its combat debut in Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf War in 1991. A two-seat, multi-role version of the F-15 Eagle fighter, the F-15E was optimised for the air-to-ground role, and 227 were delivered to the USAF. The Strike Eagle was also exported to Israel (25 as the F-15I Ra’am) and Saudi Arabia (72, as the F-15S).

The F-15K was selected to meet Korea’s Next Generation Fighter Program requirement in 2002 after evaluation of the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Sukhoi Su-35 and the Dassault Rafale (the other finalist). Korea’s first look at the F-15E came in October 2000, when RoKAF aircrew flew 16 evaluation flights with the USAF’s 90th Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska using three F-15Es leased back by Boeing. The $4.6 Bn Korean order came at a convenient time for Boeing, whose F-15 production line would otherwise have shut down in 2004. KAI is producing wings and forward fuselages for 32 of the 40 Republic of Korea Air Force F-15Ks. The first components were handed over in Sachon, South Korea on April 20, 2005.

While USAF F-15Es are powered by Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines, Korea selected the General Electric F110-GE-129 to power its F-15Ks. Korean F-16s use P&W F100 engines, but the ROKAF deliberately avoided ‘commonality’, reportedly to avoid being at the mercy of a single supplier. The first ten F110-GE-29 engines have been built by GE in the USA, but the remaining 78 are being assembled in Korea by Samsung.

Though based on an elderly airframe, the F-15K is a thoroughly modern fighter, with a new avionics system based on Honeywell’s Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCP, which replaces the original central computer and display processor, and which was developed using commercial data processing technologies.

Instead of the usual APG-70 radar, the Slam Eagle is fitted with a Raytheon AN/APG-63(V)1 radar, which incorporates all of the tried and trusted air-to-air and air-to-ground modes of the older APG-70, but with added capabilities for tracking ground and sea surface moving targets, and for enhanced high-resolution ground mapping. The new radar is claimed to offer a ten-fold improvement in reliability and maintainability.

In keeping with the ‘First Look, First Kill’ philosophy, Korean F-15Ks are equipped with the latest generation helmet mounted sight – the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). The lightweight JHMCS is a helmet mounted display that allows the pilot (or WSO) to aim weapons, or to cue radar and sensors simply by looking at a target and pressing a switch, removing the need to turn the aircraft to point directly at the target. Targeting information and data, such as airspeed and altitude, are projected onto the pilot's visor so they are in view at all times.

The aircraft is equipped with AN/APX-113 IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) equipment and a MIDS tactical datalink. The aircraft is also fitted with a new electronic warfare suite comprising a BAE Systems ALR-56C(V)1 radar warning receiver and ALE-47 chaff/flare dispenser system and a Northrop Grumman ALQ-135M radar jammer. This represents a more capable defensive aids fit than is currently fitted to frontline USAF F-15Es. The F-15Ks also have a Lockheed Martin Tiger Eyes sensor suite. This consists of a targeting pod containing a mid-wave staring array FLIR, laser and CCD TV, and a navigation pod with terrain following radar and a mid-wave staring array FLIR. The system also includes a long-range IRST (Infrared Search and Track) – a first on the F-15.

The aircraft will be armed with Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and Boeing SLAM-ER stand-off land attack missiles

The F-15SG for Singapore is similar to Korea’s Slam Eagle, but features Raytheon’s top-of-the-range AN/APG-63(V)3 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, whereas the Korean aircraft have n AN/APG-63(V)1 radar with a mechanically scanned antenna. The first RSAF deliveries are scheduled for 2008.

Singapore’s requirement is for just 12 F-15SGs, though the RSAF also has options on eight further aircraft, and there is a chance of a second order. There is some chance of an order for some 144 further F-15Es for the US Air Force, whose Chief of Staff Michael Moseley confirmed that the Air Force may consider more F-15Es if its F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programmes face further reductions.