v1.0.0 / 2 of 2 / 01 jul 03 / greg goebel / public domain
* The F-15 has flown with the US Air Force, as well as the air forces of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and (soon) South Korea. This chapter provides a short service history of the F-15 with its various users.
* The USAF built up F-15 squadrons through the 1980s, deploying them to Europe and across the Pacific, and building up air-defense squadrons in the continental US. The continental air-defense role was generally seen as a secondary function, and by 1990 the Eagle had been phased out in this role in favor of the more economical F-16 Air Defense Fighter (ADF) variant.
The Eagle didn't see combat under American colors until the Gulf War. Following Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, 48 Eagles were dispatched from Langley AFB in Virginia to Saudi Arabia immediately, arriving at Dharan after up to 17 hours in flight and up to eight inflight refuelings.
More F-15s arrived over the following months, and by the time of the beginning of the air war against Iraq on 17 January 1991, there were five F-15C air-combat squadrons, with a total of 96 machines, and two F-15E Strike Eagle squadrons, with a total of 48 shiny new machines, operating in the conflict from airbases in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
USAF F-15C/Ds flew some 2,200 sorties for a total of 7,700 hours in flight, scoring 33 kills for no air combat losses of their own, though one was lost in an accident. BVR combat had come of age, with Eagle crews scoring kills on enemies they never actually saw. None of the kills were performed with the cannon and most were performed with the AIM-7 Sparrow, though the fact that the Iraqi air force was reluctant to come to grips with Coalition air power was partly responsible for the lack of close-in combat. Eagle availability and turnaround time were reportedly outstanding.
Strike Eagles kept busy during the war, pounding bridges and aircraft shelters; "plinking" tanks; and hunting for Iraqi Scub tactical missiles, though with little success in this role. Most strikes were performed using radar as the primary sensor as the LANTIRN pods were only coming into service, and were available only in limited numbers and at the end of the conflict. The LANTIRN pods also proved to have some teething problems, not all that surprising for a new and complicated weapons system.
Also unsurprisingly, two Strike Eagles were shot down by ground fire. One Strike Eagle actually scored a kill on a Iraqi helicopter with a laser-guided bomb on 14 February 1991. The helicopter had been targeted while on the ground but took off after the launch of the LGB. The WSO, undeterred, kept the helicopter in the crosshairs of his LANTIRN pod until the bomb went home. At last notice, this was the only air-to-air kill of the Strike Eagle.
* After the Gulf War, the USAF began to cut down and restructure their F-15A/B/C/D force in light of changed requirements with the end of the Cold War and force reductions. The fleet fell from 342 to 252 by 1997, with many F-15A/Bs sent to the desert "boneyard" at Davis-Montham AFB in Arizona and cannibalized for spares. The USAF continued to build up the Strike Eagle force.
Despite the end of the Gulf War, America was by no means done with Saddam Hussein, though figuring out what to do about him would take time. The US set up "no fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq where no Iraqi aircraft could fly. The northern zone was set up to help protect the local Kurds from attacks and the southern zone was set up to provide a buffer between Iraq on the north and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on the south.
USAF F-15Cs patrolled these areas, though things did not always go smoothly. On 14 April 1994, two Eagles were on patrol in the northern no-fly zone and shot down two helicopters that were identified as Iraqi Mil Mi-24 Hind gunships. They turned out to be US Army UH-60 Black Hawk transport helicopters. All 26 on board the helicopters were killed.
Although this was an extraordinary cockup, in general the whole situation was unsatisfactory and was getting worse. Saddam Hussein resisted all attempts to keep him under control or "contained", and squabbles between US and British aircraft and Iraqi air-defense sites became more and more common. Strike Eagles were prominent participants in the retaliatory strikes that inevitably followed such confrontations. It was like pounding sand down a rathole. The strikes did nothing to resolve the troublesome situation.
* In the meantime, the US was reluctantly becoming involved in the messy series of conflicts in the Balkans that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In 1993, USAF Eagles began what would become a series of deployments to Aviano AB in Italy, which became the forward operating field for sorties over the Balkans. As with Iraq, the situation steadily escalated.
Strike Eagles conducted attacks against Serbian targets with LGBs and EOGBs in 1994 and 1995. In the spring of 1999, events reached a climax with the NATO air campaign against what was left of Yugoslavia over Serbian actions against Kosovo. Strike Eagles were heavily involved with attacks against Yugoslav forces, and F-15Cs scored four kills against MiG-29s. Captain Mike Shower and Lieutenant Colonel Cesar Rodriguez (who already had two kills against Iraqi aircraft to his name) each shot down a MiG-29 using the AMRAAM on 24 March 1999; and Captain Jeff Hwang shot down two more MiG-29s in a single engagement on 26 March, also using AMRAAM.
* After that, events in the Balkans went relatively quiet, at least for the moment, but that didn't mean that peace was breaking out all over. Far from it. On 11 September 2001, Islamic terrorists hijacked airliners and flew them into the World Trade Towers in New York and a wing of the Pentagon, killing about 3,000 people.
The all but unanimous reaction of American citizens was of shock and rage. F-15s, along with F-16s, performed combat air patrols under OPERATION NOBLE EAGLE to protect American cities from similar attacks. The attacks were not repeated, which was highly fortunate since such a situation would have very likely forced USAF pilots to shoot down airliners loaded with innocent civilians.
More proactive actions were under consideration. The central hub of Islamic terrorist activities was Afghanistan, then under rule of the Taliban, an Islamic religious extremist group that provided safe haven to Saudi master terrorist Osama bin Laden. Osama had built up an extensive set of camps in Afghanistan that provided sophisticated training in terror tactics for Islamic extremists from around the world, as well a center where operations such as the "9-11" attacks, as they came to be known, could be planned. The terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, and by implication the loose organization it represented, became known as "al-Qaeda", Arabic for "the Base".
The US government demanded that the Afghan government hand over Osama. The Taliban leadership predictably refused. In late October 2001, the US military began an air campaign against Afghanistan in preparation for ground actions, with Strike Eagles playing a significant role in the attacks. The entire campaign was patriotically named OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM.
The initial waves of strikes against infrastructure seemed like overkill, since after years of civil war and internal decay Afghanistan didn't have much infrastructure left to bomb, but it was case of ensuring that the follow-on air effort, of precision attacks against Taliban concentrations, could be conducted with impunity. US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents paved the way for ground operations with assistance to anti-Taliban elements, as well as generous bribes to Taliban supporters to encourage them change sides. With local forces braced by US and British special operations teams, the Taliban was quickly put to flight.
Strike Eagles were able to hit them day and night. F-15Es also hit al-Qaeda cave hideouts with AGM-130 standoff missiles and other precision weapons. Mudhen crews became very skilled at using LGBs to nail vehicles moving down roads at high speed. A new "thermobaric" bomb that generated a concussive fireball that could penetrate deep into tunnel strongpoints was introduced late in the campaign.
* After Afghanistan, the US turned its sights on Saddam Hussein. Late in 2002 the Bush II Administration began to accuse the Iraqis of concealing a "weapons of mass destruction (WMD)" program, threatening invasion if such weapons were not immediately destroyed. The American agitation against Iraq led to sharp international controversy, with France leading a group of countries who were unpersuaded that Iraq was a threat, and unconvinced by US claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs and links to al-Qaeda.
In fact, it is likely that such claims were, if not necessarily mere pretexts, at least much less important than simple frustration over the evident failure of more than a decade's futile or even counterproductive efforts to "contain" Saddam Hussein. In any case, in the spring of 2003 the US invaded Iraq under OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. Strike Eagles were once more prominent participants, with the JDAM weapon being a preferred weapon. Once again, the Americans swept all resistance before them, and the US quickly found itself in charge of a country reduced to chaos. The situation in Iraq continues to evolve.
* Although the USAF has plans to adopt the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor as the service's first-line air-superiority fighter and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the service's primary strike asset, both these machines, particularly the F-22, are expensive and won't be into service for several years. The F-15 will probably remain an important Air Force asset up to 2020 and possibly beyond.
* There are four foreign F-15 users: Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and (in the near future) South Korea. It was evaluated by a range of other nations, including West Germany, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, and Iran, but though Iran in particular was enthusiastic about the type, none of these nations ever obtained the Eagle.
The Israelis have received Eagles under the "Peace Fox" series of programs. They are the only foreign operators of the F-15A/B variants. All Israeli F-15A/B aircraft were hand-me-downs:
The Israelis logically called the F-15A/B the "Baz", Hebrew for "Eagle".
* Following acquisition of the F-15A/Bs, the Israelis received 18 F-15Cs and 13 F-15Ds, all new-build aircraft. The last five F-15Ds, which were shipped in a later batch, are apparently Strike Eagle airframes finished to an F-15D-type configuration, since the F-15D was no longer in production when they were built.
Israeli F-15Cs are referred to by the name "Akef", Hebrew for "Buzzard". Israeli Eagles feature Israeli-designed countermeasures gear and carry Israeli-built munitions, such as the Rafael Python heatseeking AAM.
* In November 1993, the Israeli government decided to acquire acquire 25 new-built "F-15I" derivatives of the F-15E for the long-range strike role, with the official order placed on 12 May 1994. Initial flight of the first F-15I was on 12 September 1997, leading to initial deliveries in January 1998. All 25 machines were delivered by the end of 1999. There may be follow-on orders.
The Israeli Air Force calls the F-15I the "Ra'am", Hebrew for "Thunder". The variant is essentially a late-production F-15E with F100-PW-229 engines. It features a AN/APG-70I radar, a slightly detuned version of the AN/APG-70; an Elbit SPS-2100 Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS); an Israeli-built GPS-INS navigation system and central processor; a videotape recording system to store HUD and other display imagery; and an Elbit "Display And Sight Helmet (DASH)" helmet-mounted sight system, mainly for support of the Python 4 off-boresight heatseeking AAM. The Israelies obtained the LANTIRN targeting pod system. The F-15Is are painted in a three-tone camouflage scheme, with gray underneath and banded sand, blue, and brown on top.
* The Israelis had not provided much in the way of upgrades for their F-15A/B/C/D machines up to the arrival of the F-15I, though some sources claim that the F-15A/Bs were modified to carry Dash-1 CFTs, making them the only operational F-15A/Bs to do so. There was a plan to perform an MSIP-class upgrade but it was cancelled. Apparently the upgrade plan was axed at almost the last moment, since many sources claim that it was actually performed.
In any case, following the arrival of the F-15I, the Israelis began an improvement effort for their older F-15s under the "Baz Meshopar (Improved Eagle)" program. This featured elements of the F-15I, such as the modernized cockpit, GPS-INS navigation system, and DASH helmet. The first rebuilt Baz Meshopar was rolled out in November 1998.
* The Israelis were the first to put their Eagles into combat, claiming five kills against Syrian MiG-21s on 27 June 1979 in what sounds like a completely unequal contest. Israeli Eagles then flew "top cover" for F-16 Vipers during the raid on the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor on 7 June 1981, and racked up dozens of kills during the Israeli Air Force's "turkey shoot" against the Syrians over Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in 1982.
* Saudi Arabia has received a good number of F-15s under the "Peace Sun" series of export programs. The first deliveries provided 46 F-15Cs and 16 F-15Ds, for a total of 62 aircraft; the US Congress had specified that the Saudis should have no more than 60 Eagles, but two F-15As were lost in accidents and replacements were provided. A further batch of 12 attrition aircraft was ordered in 1991, consisting of nine F-15Cs and three F-15Ds.
The limits went out the window during the Gulf War, and 24 F-15C/Ds were transferred from the USAF in Europe to build up Saudi warfighting capabilities. Some sensitive countermeasures gear was removed from these aircraft before delivery.
* In 1991, after the Gulf War, the Saudis began shopping for new weapons, and MDD tried to sell them a single-seat version of the Strike Eagle designated the "F-15F", which Congress shot down; then a two-seat tuned-down version of the Strike Eagle designated the "F-15H", which Congress also shot down; and then another proposal along the same lines, originally designated the "F-15XP". This one did fly, Congress giving their blessing on 10 May 1993, with the type becoming the "F-15S".
The Saudis received 72 F-15S Eagles from 1995 into 2000. Some sources claim that some of these machines were intended for the air superiority role, but other sources contradict this, pointing out that the Saudis have plenty of older F-15s for this task.
The F-15S features a slightly simplified "AN/APG-70S" radar that deletes terrain-mapping mode and has a downgraded self-defense suite. The Saudis did obtain 48 sets of a simplified version of the LANTIRN pod system, featuring the AN/AAQ-19 Sharpshooter targeting pod and the AN/AAQ-20 Pathfinder navigation pod.
Some sources claim these aircraft were initially delivered with Dash-1-style CFTs, meaning that offensive stores had to be carried on the centerline and wing pylons, usually with multiple-ejector racks, but the Saudis later received the full Dash-4 CFTs with their stores attachments.
There was some fuss in the US Congress over the sale of the F-15S to Saudi Arabia, which helped lead to the later sale of the F-15I to Israel as a counterbalance.
* Saudi F-15s have scored a number of kills. Two Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) F-15Cs shot down two Iranian F-4Es during a border confrontation on 5 June 1984. This is one of the few times, possibly the only time, one McDonnell Douglas fighter shot down another. Two kills were scored by a Saudi F-15C pilot, Captain Ayehid Salah al-Shamarni, against Iraqi Mirage F1 fighters during the Gulf War.
* The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) is the biggest foreign user of the F-15, and Japan is the only license-builder of the type. Japan was interested in the Eagle early on, with JASDF pilots evaluating the F-15A/B at Edwards Air Force Base in 1975.
Japan's location off the Asian mainland puts the country close to potentially hostile nations that could perform fast intrusions into Japanese airspace with little notice, and the F-15's outstanding climb rate and high speed clearly showed it would be able to react very quickly to intercept intruders. The evaluation led to a decision to adopt the Eagle as Japan's first-line air-defense fighter, with a contract awarded to Mitsubishi in 1978 for license construction of the "F-15J/DJ" Eagle.
The F-15J/DJ is effectively an early production F-15C/D with some Japanese technology. The AN/ALQ-135 jammer is replaced by a Japanese J/ALQ-8 jammer, while the AN/ALR-56 RWR is replaced by a J/APR-4 jammer, and the aircraft is fitted with a datalink to connect it to the Japanese ground-controlled intercept network.
The JASDF acquired 203 single-seat F-15Js and 20 tandem-seat F-15DJs. The first two F-15Js were delivered from MDD, the first flying at Saint Louis on 4 June 1980. All the other F-15Js were built by Mitsubishi. The first 12 F-15DJs were built by MDD, with the remaining eight assembled by Mitsubishi from knockdown kits provided by MDD. Most of the content of the Mitsubishi-built F-15Js is built in Japan, with the engines manufactured by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries under license from Pratt & Whitney. under the designation of "F100-IHI-100".
It is not believed that JASDF Eagles have ever fired a shot in anger, though the Japanese tend to be discreet about military confrontations. They have, however, performed many intercepts of Soviet-Russian, North Korean, and Chinese aircraft.
In the 1990s, the JASDF decided to conduct a midlife upgrade for their Eagle fleet, with the installation of a new ejection seat; uprated F100-IHI-220E engines; improved radar and countermeasures; and carriage of the Japanese-built AAM-3 and AAM-4 missiles. The AAM-3 is an improved Sidewinder follow-on and has distinctive "barbed" forward fins. The AAM-4 is the Japanese answer to the AIM-120 AMRAAM and at last notice was still in development.
* South Korea is the latest nation to select the Eagle. In early 2002, the country decided to obtain the "F-15K" derivative of the F-15E from Boeing to fulfill the country's requirement for an "F-X" heavy fighter, which was devised partially as a response to the Chinese acquisition of advanced Sukhoi Su-30 fighters.
40 F-15Ks are being procured, along with spares and weapons, as part of a $4.6 billion USD deal. The buy will keep the F-15 production line, which was expected to shut down in 2004, open to 2008, and may provide an opening to further deals with other nations.
The South Korean F-15Ks will be unique in being powered by General Electric engines. They will be fitted with General Electric F110-GE-129 turbofans. 88 engines will be provided as part of the deal, with the first ten built by GE in the US and the rest assembled in Korea by Samsung.
The F-15Ks will be fitted with the latest technology, including the latest self-defense suite, a digital data link, and the AN/APG-63(V)1 AESA radar. Korean pilots will use the US JHMCS helmet-mounted sight system to target smart weapons. The F-15K will carry a modernized LANTIRN pod system known as "Tiger Eyes", as well as stores such as the AMRAAM, AIM-9X, JDAM, JSOW, Harpoon, HARM, and the AGM-130 or AGM-142.
The F-15 won the award in a final round of elimination with the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Sukhoi Su-35 having been eliminated in the first round of the competition. The French team promoting the Rafale claimed that the award to the US aircraft was "politically motivated", an accusation strongly denied by Boeing officials. F-15K deliveries will begin in 2005, with about one aircraft a month being delivered.
* Here's a summary production list of all F-15s built:
F-15A 373 initial USAF single seaters (including 18 "YF-15As")
F-15B 59 initial USAF tandem seaters (including 2 TF-15As)
F-15C 408 improved USAF single seaters
F-15D 62 improved USAF tandem seaters
F-15C 18 new-build F-15Cs for Israel
F-15D 13 new-build F-15Ds for Israel
F-15C 55 new-build F-15Cs for Saudi Arabia
F-15D 19 new-build F-15Ds for Saudi Arabia
F-15J 203 F-15Cs for JASDF, most manufactured by Mitsubishi
F-15DJ 20 F-15Ds for JASDF, most manufactured by Mitsubishi
1,230 TOTAL EAGLE PRODUCTION
F-15E 236 USAF Strike Eagles
F-15S 72 F-15Es for Saudi Arabia
F-15I 25 F-15Es for Israel
F-15K 40 F-15Es with GE engines for Korea, now on order
373 TOTAL STRIKE EAGLE PRODUCTION
1,603 TOTAL F-15 PRODUCTION
* Sources include:
* Revision history:
v1.0.0 / 01 jul 03 / gvg