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Dubai 2007: Temporary problems leave Eagle’s bright prospects undimmed

Although the F-15’s planned appearance at Dubai was disrupted by an accident and fleet-wide grounding, Boeing remains confident that the aircraft has a rosy future. “The F-15 is a terrific platform, and we have only satisfied customers, all of whom come back for more airplanes,” says Steve Winkler, drector of F-15 International Programs. We will continue in production well into the next decade. The Eagle will remain a vibrant part of the USAF for decades to come, with a robust road map for upgrades and capability expansion.”

All existing Eagle operators plan to keep their F-15 aircraft in service for many years to come, and all are actively pursuing upgrade and modernisation programmes to ensure that their F-15s remain viable, relevant and supportable, Winkler adds. The USAF itself plans to keep a ‘Golden Fleet’ of around 178 F-15C/D fighter Eagles until around 2025, complementing the F-22A Raptor, while its 224 F-15E fighter-bombers will remain in service for even longer.

The F-15 is also still being marketed and sold to new customers, and Boeing now offer a new version of the Eagle. The original F-15E was a multi-role platform, with robust air-to-air capabilities, but it was optimised for the bomber role. Boeing’s latest F-15 variants are more genuinely versatile and role-flexible, bringing together the latest features and capabilities of the air-to-ground optimised F-15E as well as those of the USAF’s fighter F-15Cs.

Though it resembles a USAF Strike Eagle externally, the F-15K Slam Eagle developed for Korea is viewed by Boeing as being the first of a new generation of F-15 variants, combining the latest developments from the fighter F-15 and Strike Eagle variants in a single airframe for the first time.

The Slam Eagle’s bombing capability is based on a much-modernised and improved version of the Strike Eagle airframe, with a 15-station smart weapon capability. The USAF F-15E has just nine ‘smart stations’. F-15K has six smart weapons stations on each CFT instead of only three on F-15E, as well as the centreline and underwing hardpoints. The redesigned cockpits have seven 6in by 6in Kaiser Electronics AMLCDs.

The new aircraft also has the same air to air capability as the most heavily upgraded USAF F-15Cs, with the JHMCS helmet sight and AIM-9X missiles. The aircraft uses the AN/APG-63(V)1 radar, originally designed as a reliability and maintainability upgrade for USAF Eagles, incorporating all of the AN/APG-70's air-to-air and air-to-ground modes while adding new capabilities for ground moving target indication and tracking, sea surface search/track, and enhanced high-resolution ground mapping. The F-15K is also fitted with a Lockheed Martin TIGER Eyes sensor suite, including the AN/AAS-42 infra-red search and track system.

The first 134 F-15Es were powered by the same 24,000lb Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 turbofans as fighter F-15 variants, but from the 135th aircraft, F-15Es were powered by 29,100lb F100-PW-229 IPEs (Increased Performance Engines). The Korean aircraft are powered by the more powerful General Electric F110-GE-129A engine, which incorporates the core of the successful CFM56 commercial engine, and 3D aero technology as well as refinements to the combustor and high-pressure turbine.

As a result the F110-GE-129A promises to deliver a 25% reduction in cost per flying hour, with a significant reduction in maintenance and inspections. The engine also restores the Eagle’s performance even while carrying its maximum air-to-ground weapons load of 23,500lb.

The F110-engined F-15K also forms the basis of the F-15SG ordered by Singapore in December 2005, although the Singaporean version also incorporates an AESA AN/APG-63(V)3 radar.

The Korean and Singaporean orders will keep the F-15 production line running until 2012, and Boeing hopes to find further orders. A version of the F-15E has been proposed to satisfy Japan's F-X requirement, with an official request for proposals expected to be released in early 2008. Boeing says its submission, provisionally known as the F-15FX, is well placed in Japan, promising to be able to fulfil Japanese aspirations for local manufacture, and with an open architecture avionics system that will allow the integration of indigenous equipment.

Some features of the F-15K/F-15SG/F-15FX are also being offered as upgrades to existing Eagles. In the Middle East, the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has bought Eurofighter Typhoons to replace its ageing F-15C fighters, but plans to retain its 70 surviving F-15S Strike Eagles, and is upgrading these aircraft for continued service.

Most surprisingly, the RSAF has selected General Electric Company's F110 fighter engine to re-engine at least some of the aircraft, marking the first time that an F-15 operator has switched engine models. The agreement signed in September will see the procurement of 65 F110-GE-129C engines and a logistic support package, at a cost of more than $300 million.

It remains to be seen whether all 70 aircraft will be re-engined, in which case 155 engines would be required, or whether the RSAF will also undertake what has been described as a “massive recovery/re-sustainment plan of the current engines”. This involved purchasing 20 Pratt &Whitney F100-PW-229 engines to restore and refurbish the Royal Saudi Air Force inventory of Pratt & Whitney engines, together with new support equipment and engine improvement programme services.

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