AFOTEC Detachment 6 participates in first F-15EX live-fire missile shots: Validates long-range firing capability and EPAWSS effectiveness

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cameron B. Greer, Detachment 6
  • Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center

Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 6 team members recently participated in two of the first developmental and operational test missile shots for the F-15EX Eagle II.

Engineers and analysts from the AFOTEC Detachment 6 F-15 division traveled to Eglin AFB and Tyndall AFB in Florida to draw takeaways from the AIM-120D and AIM-120C3 missile shots performed as part of the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP) conducted by Eglin’s 53rd Wing. These missile shots showed how the F-15 EX can be employed in theater and provided the context needed for Detachment 6 to verify its combat capability.

“One of the main takeaways from these live fire shots is that the jet can clearly function as a long-range, standoff weapons system,” said Capt. Max Denbin, the team’s lead test engineer. “The F-15EX can shoot from a significantly increased range – farther than any other fighter in the U.S. Air Force arsenal – and provides the unique capability of holding 12 AMRAAMs or other large ordinance.”

This long-range, standoff capability is a fundamental pillar of ensuring U.S. power projection on a global scale. “As adversaries continue to develop combat capability, the weapons systems with standoff capability, like the EX, are going to be critical in maintaining a tactical advantage,” said Denbin.

While the data gathered from the WSEP shots were useful, Detachment 6 analysts and engineers focused on more than just data collection. In the past two months, they have explored exactly how the F-15 EX performs as part of a force package with fifth-generation fighters.

“Analyzing data elements is always important,” said 1st Lt. Hagan Strader, lead analyst. “As an operational test organization, we’re focused on communicating exactly what pilots can expect from the EX when it’s time to fight. Even at the unclassified level, the new capabilities that the F-15 EX offers push it squarely into the future of combat,” said Strader. “This is a platform that can work with penetrating assets in a network-enabled battlespace with the potential to cause significant problems for our adversaries.”

WSEP and other dedicated F-15E and F-15EX missions have also generated key insights on the performance of the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS). EPAWSS provides both the F-15E and F-15EX with fully-integrated radar warning as well as advanced jamming and countermeasure employment capability in highly contested environments, according to EPAWSS manufacturer BAE Systems. BAE Systems also highlights that EPAWSS provides pilots and battle managers with “maximum situational awareness by collecting and processing electromagnetic energy, instantaneously creating a comprehensive, 360-degree picture of the battlespace.”

“Participating in WSEP events shows us exactly how useful EPAWSS is,” said Denbin. “We’ve already seen that the F-15EX can serve as a standoff asset, but EPAWSS proves that the jet can also get into the middle of a fight and cause massive issues for our adversaries.”

AFOTEC Detachment 6 analysts have also examined EPAWSS data generated from F-15E participation in several F-35 operational test missions.

“Whether in a more passive jamming role, or as a follow-on strike package, an F-15E or EX with EPAWSS causes detrimental impacts to opposing forces decision space,” said Strader. “This system gives aircrews many more options when fighting through contested airspace, and enables other stealth assets in a force package – like an F-22, F-35, or other futuristic penetrating assets – to more efficiently neutralize threats.”

“The Air Force is currently planning to acquire 80 F-15EX aircraft. AFOTEC Detachment 6 is responsible for delivering the operational truth about the F-15EX, and the F-15 test team aims to do so at the speed of relevance,” said Lt. Col. Ken Juhl, F-15 Test Director and AFOTEC Detachment 6 Deputy Commander. “This program is unique in that we’re not acquiring aircraft on decades-long time scales – we’re seeing this program evolve weekly.”

To stay ahead of this rapid development tempo, the team has released a series of Operational Impact Reports (OIRs) detailing precise findings from test events, which includes important implications for the fleet. “In an agile acquisitions program, results from testing have to match the speed at which the program is moving otherwise they quickly become obsolete,” said Juhl.

While OIRs are designed to inform stakeholders of results from AFOTEC Detachment 6 testing, they also provoke inputs from all organizations that play a role in the F-15EX program. “OIRs allow us to report results quickly so that all stakeholders in the acquisition process have plenty of time to address any concerns or changes that need to be made to the platform before the aircraft is fielded,” said Denbin.

“AFOTEC Detachment 6 is the premier testing organization for Air Force’s fighter aircraft. As such, the OIRs that the F-15 team produces directly impact the success and longevity of the F-15EX program,” said Strader. “Too often, weapons systems enter the operational test phase with known developmental deficiencies and OIRs are our way at preventing this from happening to the EX.”

“We have been very deliberately shifting our testing to more realistic environments designed around the potential need to fight tonight,” said Col. Dan Javorsek, AFOTEC Detachment 6 Commander.  “This will inevitably include the confusion created when all of our assets are synchronized together and used in novel ways instead of just being considered individually. The maturity of aircraft like the F-15E and EX helps America adaptively evolve real capability much faster than other efforts still in the development stages.

“Our adversaries are acutely aware of our contemporary acquisitions and development timelines,” said Javorsek. “Fortunately, we are demonstrating that in the software-defined, hardware-enabled twenty-first century that a new capability doesn’t have to be a brand new aircraft but rather can be the result of using our systems in new ways.

“AFOTEC Detachment 6 remains focused on what our aircraft and weapons, like the venerable AIM-120, can do, instead of what they were designed to do. In effect, this helps us exploit the latent capacity resident within our existing warfighting system,” said Javorsek.

Having confirmed the F-15EX long range, standoff capability as well as the effectiveness of EPAWSS in a heavily contested combat battlespace, the team is now shifting gears toward preparing for the second round of dedicated operational test missions for the aircraft.

“These missions will happen at Nellis AFB in fall 2022,” said Juhl. “AFOTEC Detachment 6 is confident these missions will continue to show exactly why EPAWSS and the EX are the kind of weapons systems we need to remain the most lethal Air Force in the world.”