USAF may convert some F-15Cs to radar jammers

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The US Air National Guard may convert some Boeing F-15C Eagles into electronic warfare platforms, possibly adding an entirely new role for the classic air superiority fighter.

Adding a jamming pod on the F-15C's currently empty centreline weapon station becomes possible after a subset of the fleet is upgraded with the Raytheon APG-63(V)3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, says Maj Todd Giggy, chief of weapons and tactics for the 159th Fighter Squadron.

"We're actively looking right now at an electronic warfare capability," Giggy says.

The first AESA-equipped F-15C (below) rolled out for the 159th Sqn on 12 April at Jacksonville, Florida, the first of three ANG bases to receive 48 "Golden Eagles".

 
© Boeing

USAF officials eventually hope to upgrade with AESA all 176 F-15Cs planned to remain in-service through 2030, but only the first 48 aircraft are funded.

As a replacement for the APG-70 mechanically scanned array, the AESA boosts the range and detection capability for the F-15.

Ramon Estrada, Raytheon's director of F-15 growth programmes, declined to answer whether the APG-63(V)3 can detect Russia's stealthy new PAK-FA prototype fighter, which Sukhoi designates as the T-50.

But Estrada confirmed the AESA is designed to detect targets with small radar cross sections. "I don't know the specifics with the T-50," Estrada says, "but I will tell you that this -(V)3 radar is very capable of detecting low-RCS platforms".

The array also improves the F-15's ability to track radar signals, which could prove useful in the jamming role.

Giggy, however, emphasized that an F-15C equipped with a jamming pod would not become a rival to the US Navy Boeing EA-18G Growler. "I want to dispel the idea that we're looking at an F-15G," Giggy says.

The EA-18G comes with a wide-spectrum and relatively longer-range jamming system, which includes an ALQ-218 receiver system and ALQ-99 jamming pods.

The F-15C would instead have a more limited jamming pod optimized for short-range threats, Giggy says.

The ANG discussions about an electronic warfare role for the F-15C comes after the USAF has twice abandoned attempts to convert the B-52 into a standoff jamming platform.

USAF officials have instead decided to focus on the stand-in jamming role, employing the Raytheon miniature air-launched decoy-jammer (MALD-J), upgrades to the EC-130 Compass Call fleet and, possibly, upgraded F-15Cs.

The USAF has lacked a dedicated platform for jamming radars since 1997, when the EF-111 Raven fleet was retired without a replacement. In 2002, the USAF unveiled an airborne electronic attack system of systems plan, which included the B-52 stand-off jammer, MALD-J and the Boeing X-45C. Only the MALD-J programme survived budget cuts, however.

Meanwhile, the US Navy is replacing Grumman EA-6B Prowlers with the EA-18G fleet.