The new fifth-generation Silent Eagle has finally cleared export restrictions meaning it may soon be the new face of South Korea’s aerial fleet. That’s good news for an unsteady place.
The original F-15 Eagle entered service in 1976 and has become one of the most successful air combat platforms in the modern era. McDonnell Douglas designed the twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter for a single purpose: blowing other aircraft out of the sky. This jet is all air superiority fighter, notching more than 100 aerial combat victories and zero losses in more than 30 years of service. The F-15 is so successful that the DoD expects to continue their service until at least 2025. The F-15 line has also become a top export model with sales to Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other ally nations.
The newest F-15 model, the fifth-gen F-15SE Silent Eagle, only builds upon the line’s success. Not to be confused with the F-15E Strike Eagle, which has been in service since 1989, the F-15SE measures 20m long, 6m tall with a 13m wingspan. Its twin Pratt & Whitney F 100-PW-229 turbo engines produce a combined 39,000Nm, enough to enable a top speed of mach 2.5, a combat radius of 800nmi, and can climb to its 18,000m service ceiling in just over a minute. That’s a rate of climb of 15,000 vertical metres per minute –equivalent to travelling straight up at 870km/h.
This incredible performance capability is thanks to a number of design and avionics innovations that have reduced the aircraft’s weight, improved its fuel efficiency, and greatly increased its combat radius over previous iterations. For example, the F-15SE’s vertical tail fins are canted at 15-degree angles to produce lift and increase the plane’s range by 100nmi. State of the art fly-by-wire controls also improve the F-15SE’s handling and performance.
What’s more, the conformal fuel tanks (CFT) — these are tanks that run along the belly of the jet, just under the wing mounts and hold fuel reserves — have been replaced with conformal weapons bays (CWB). By sacrificing a bit of its fuel reserves (a cost lessened by its improved fuel efficiency) the F-15SE can use the conformal section for internal weapons storage. This not only greatly reduces the jet’s radar cross section, it increases the armament it can carry by four missiles (typically AIM-120 and AIM-9) as well.
In addition, the Silent Eagle is coated with radar-absorbing paint to further reduce its radar signature. Interestingly, the F-15SE’s stealth ability is designed in a way so that the plane disappears from radar when its headed right at you. Head on, it has the same radar signature as an F-35 Lightning II. And, given its dog fighting role, the Silent Eagle is optimised for electronic warfare against X-band radar (the frequency most used in air to air combat) form BAE systems and its own active-scan AESA radar. And to further improve the pilot’s combat capability, the new Silent Eagles will include the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, an American version of the Eurofighter Typhoon’s X-ray helmet. Combined with an advanced autonomous target tracking pod and IR capabilities, the F-15SE is nearly unstopable in any weather or lighting conditions.
Boeing first unveiled the F-15 Silent Eagle for international sale in 2009. At just $US100 million per plane, the F-15SE offers top flight performance at significant cost savings over other jets like the F-35. However, the Silent Eagle requires an export licence similar to that of the Lightning II and that was not easy to obtain. It took Boeing nearly a year to acquire the needed paperwork just to ship the radar cross-section treatments and electronic warfare suite to South Korea. And as of this month, the Republic of South Korea has announced that it is seriously considering dropping 8.3 trillion won (US$7.2 billion) on 60 of these aircraft.[Defence Update – Wiki 1, 2 – AI Online – Air Force Technology]