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F-15SE Development Print E-mail
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Written by Sabc   
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An Eagle of a New Feather
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In the name of the jet 'SE' stands for Silent Eagle, suggesting that this bird can sneak near to its prey with a lower probability of detection than its previous versions. The birth of this new version F-15 was an unexpected however a logical decision.

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An Eagle of a New Feather

With the F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) project suffering delay after delay, Boeing decided to develop a contender for international markets requiring enhanced stealth and higher survivability than current fighters. Although Boeing gathered feedback from its international customers, no definite order or set of requirements were existing to build on. Instead they went ahead of their potential customers and created yet another modification of the proven F-15 airframe - the F-15SE Silent Eagle. "The F-15 Silent Eagle is designed to meet our international customers' anticipated need for cost-effective stealth technologies, as well as for large and diverse weapons payloads. The innovative Silent Eagle is a balanced, affordable approach designed to meet future survivability needs" said Mark Bass, F-15 Program vice president for Boeing.

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As another big advantage over the JSF, the Silent Eagle design is planned to remain "open" for modifications and enhancements by foreign (i.e. non-US) customers. The "closeness" of the JSF design (understandable though by US point of view) hindered foreign sales many times in the past.

Following the initial decision the development process had been started in September 2008 (initially the project was dubbed as "Project Monty"). The new product was unveiled at Boeing's F-15 plant in St.Louis on March 17, 2009. The unveiling event featured a re-built F-15E Strike Eagle jet, equipped with it's two most easily recognizable external features: the canted vertical stabilators (structurally not yet integrated) and the CWB's (Conformal Weapon Bays). It was mainly a marketing event at that time, however Boeing did not want to stop here. For more technical information about the Silent Eagle, click here.

In January 2010 RCS tests were conducted in Boeing's anechoic chamber in St.Louis where various coatings were evaluated and a final candidate has been selected and applied to the appripriate portions of the airframe. Note that the testing was done using Boeing's F-15E testbed airframe (leased from the USAF, serial number 86-0183) with vertical tails - RCS numbers for the canted tails can be generated numerically based on testing results. According to Boeing officials the testing produced the resired results, however no specific information was released regarding the coating type and the RCS numbers of the Silent Eagle.

After just half a year (during which Boeing made its intentions clear to continue funding the development process of the new variant), a flying version has been made. Boeing's testbed airframe has been equipped with a functioning CWB (on the left side) and was codenamed as F-15E1 "Silent Eagle" flight demonstrator. The F-15E1 made its maiden flight from Lambert St.Louis International Airport on July 8, 2010. The 80 minute flight was a preparation for the upcoming A/A weapon tests ( CWB doors were tested, CWB containing AIM-120 ITV's).

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The A/A weapon test itself was performed on July 14, 2010, during which F-15E1 86-0183 successfully launched an inert AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, thus demontsrating the Silent Eagle's ability to successfully employ A/A ordnance in its "stealth" flight profile.

Boeing F-15 Chief Test Pilot Dan Draeger was positive after the successful launch: "I've been flying F-15's for more than 20 years, but this flight was different from all others. This first launch of an AMRAAM from the F-15's internal weapons bay opens a new era for the F-15 and for strike fighter capability in the dominance of the F-15 Eagle. The F-15, CWB and missile performed exactly as we predicted. The Silent Eagle continues the F-15's role as the most versatile strike fighter aircraft ever built."

history_amraam_launch

No comment needed for this. Since then Boeing is continueing the program, seeking co-development and risk-sharing opportunities with a number of international aerospace companies. We haven't heard much about the success of these efforts, except that Boeing entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. ( KAI) for KAI to design, develop and manufacture the CWB's for the Silent Eagle.

We are looking forward hearing more about this exciting new F-15 version.

Potential Markets

The F-15SE Silent Eagle aims for markets where "older" versions of the F-15 are currently operating, such as Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and South Korea. Boeing officials are hoping to receive orders for as much as 190 aircraft, which will definitely keep the assembly lines open at St. Louis. According to Brad Jones, Boeing's program manager for future F-15 programs, the cost of one airframe (including spares, training and support for RCS reducing material) will be around 100 million USD, if built new. The first operational aircraft could be available for delivery for a foreign customer 3 years after the deal is signed.

There is no need to build a brand new aircaft however: a retrofit kit (including the two CWB equipped fuel tanks, DEWS and radar absorbent coatings - for more details, see F-15SE Differences) will be made available, which can be added to any existing Strike Eagle jet.

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However potent the Silent Eagle is (or will be), it seems Boeing has to fight an uphill battle against the F-35 JSF, which won a strong dedication from the USAF and the US government (mostly on the basis of the enormous amount of money poured so far into the project). To see it for yourself, we give you a short overview of the potential markets and the chances of the F-15SE:

Israel: Israel is currently using a highly advanced version of the F-15: the F-15I Raam (Thunder). They were agressively pursuing the F-35, however delivery was originally told to be expected around 2016, which was too much for them, not mentioning the price tag which well exceeds 100 million USD, the estimated price of the F-15SE. Boeing's willingness to integrate foreign developed systems into the Silent Eagle design also made the jet desireable for the Israelis, especially after that they were denied by US officials to add Israeli made EW systems into the F-35 JSF. The Silent Eagle could have nicely "filled the gap" with deliveries starting in 2012 and utilizing the existing F-15I maintenance infrastructure (the JSF would need its own new maintenance infrastructure to be built).

One major weakness of the Silent Eagle was that it did not offer stealth against ground based radars, which might be a crucial factor if Russia sells advanced missile defense systems to Iran or Syria. Another factor was that if the F-15SE is to be sold to Saudi Arabia (see below) then this will present a new situation which may force Israel to further improve its existing fleet of F-15 class fighters to maintain the balance of power in the Middle-East.

As a result of all these, Israel seriously considered purchasing the Silent Eagle - Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested US military weapon and platform sales previously authorized by ex-president George W. Bush in 2007 and 2008 (but which were frozen by current US president Barack Obama) to be allowed again but was rejected by Obama on July 6, 2010, after a 1,5 hour long one-on-one session which was later officially described as "tough and unpleasant". It seemed that the US government badly wanted Israel to purchase the JSF instead as its first international customer, hence they were unwilling to export F-15SE technology to the Middle-East country.

The US government, military leaders and Lockheed Martin together finally made the breakthrough in October 2010: Israel signed a 2,75 billion USD contract for purchasing 20 F-35's with an option for 75 more. Details of the agreement are not known to us (especially interesting detail would be the opening of the JSF's technology platform for Israeli developments). The F-35's were planned to be arriving to Israel in 2016, but this was later modified to late 2018. This modification resulted in Israeli considerations of upgrading their existing F-15 fleets plus purchasing some more used F-15's from the US to fill the time gap. It looks like the Silent Eagle lost its chances in Israel for now.

Japan: Japan is currently looking for new F-15 class fighters to refresh its aging fleet. A request for proposal is expected to be issued in 2011 for Japan's new F-X program. Contenders will be the Lockheed Martin's F-35 JSF, EADS's Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Unfortunately the the F-15SE Silent Eagle has been elmininated from the contest.

Quatar: As it was published in January 2011, Quatar is also planning purchasing modern fighter jets, mainly to counter the massive Saudi Arabian arms purchases. The exact details of the program are not known, most probably we are talking about 24-36 airframes with the 'usual' contenders: F-35, F/A-18, F-15, Typhoon and Rafale.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is currently going for arms procurements big time. Having positive experiences with their already operating F-15S fleet, the F-15 Eagle is high on their list. There are talks about upgrading their 70 airframe F-15S fleet, plus purchasing 84 new F-15SA aircraft. The planned F-15SA will have one system in common with the Silent Eagle: the DEWS (manufactured by BAE Systems).

Singapore: The most capable operational F-15 platform ever belongs to Singapore - the F-15SG. We have not heard too much news from this front but Boeing definitely have their plans for this market as well.

South Korea: South Korea expressed interest in the Silent Eagle at the end of 2009. Boeing doesn't take chances trying to sell the Silent Eagle to South Korea. Here are the milestones of a well-planned compaign:

  • Boeing applied for governmental permission to market the jet internationally (this would include the release of sensitive details). After a 2 month review period, the license was finally granted on July 8, 2010 - the very same day the jet made its maiden flight. If was a DSP-5 unclassified license (for exporting unclassified items), but it was soon followed by a DSP-85 classified license (to export classified items, such as RAM treatments and DEWS) in August, 2010.
  • For manufacturing CWB's Boeing entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with KAI on Nov 3, 2010. Among other co-operations, KAI currently builds the wings and forward fuselage for the F-15K Slam Eagle, the ROKAF version of the F-15.
  • ROKAF officials were briefed on the stealth capabilities of the Silent Eagle during a closed door session in December, 2010. Needless to say that these figures will play a key role in the future success (or failure) of the jet in South Korea.

Based on this license and the successful flight and A/A weapon employment demonstrations, the F-15 Silent Eagle will most probably be a contender in South Korea's third phase F-X fighter jet acquisition program aimed to purchase fifth generation strike aircraft. According to South Korean officials, the third phase of the F-X program will be launched in 2012 and due to the ever increasing North Korean threat, actual purchases are planned as soon as possible with a date of delivery as early as 2015. Boeing hopes to start with good chances since it was their jet (the F-15K Slam Eagle) which won the first two phases of the program. Seoul is expected to release a request for proposals for the F-X III requirement not later than Q2 2012. A contract award for up to 62 aircraft is expected in October 2012. Boeing is likely to face competition from the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35.

As a preparation for the F-X III program, Boeing plans to launch a new series of ground, windtunnel and flight tests on several key features of the F-15 Silent Eagle. Windtunnel tests will start by March or April 2012 on a scale model of the F-15SE with conformal weapons bays, said Howard Berry, Boeing vice-president for sales. Flight testing will begin late in the fourth quarter of 2012 or early next year of an "advanced international F-15", Berry said. The new-build test aircraft will feature the cockpit systems, digital electronic warfare system and sensors unveiled with the Silent Eagle concept in March 2009. The forthcoming tests are aimed at preparing the Silent Eagle to be ready to enter service in 2016 for South Korea.

South Korea is also pushing for the KFX program, which calls for about 120 domestically produced fifth generation, long range, stealth fighter aircraft (a project well suited for the Silent Eagle) by 2020. However this would require selling of stealth technology (not just stealth products) to a foreign customer, which means much higher US governmental hurdles to pass.

United States: The F-15's biggest customer (the USAF and the ANG) is currently not on the list of Boeing's targeted markets. At least not officially. Because of the retrofit package, the USAF can significantly improve its existing F-15E Strike Eagle fleet with relative ease. The ANG may have to retire its older F-16's and F-15's sooner than the JSF will be available - in this case they might want to consider the Silent Eagle as an interim solution.

Boeing already gave "courtesy" briefings to USAF officials but were quick to point out, that it was for informational purposes only and they are not wanting to interfere with USAF's F-22 and F-35 programs (especially not since the USAF has firmly declared that it did not want to invest in any new fighter other than the F-35). You can bet however, that in case any of these (especially the JSF program) runs into significant troubles, the newly born Strike Eagle variant will be there to get a share of its own.

Videos

A marketing video by Boeing to advertise the F-15SE Silent Eagle's main features (nice animations and music):


Video by Boeing capturing the AMRAAM missile test launch on July 14, 2010 (including cockpit voices):

Photos

Sources

Forum Discussion

You can discuss this article in the Strike Eagle Forum with the latest posts appearing here below as well. Clicking on the 'Discuss' button takes you to the SEF, while clicking on the 'Quick Post' text enables you to make a post here right away.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 28 January 2012
 


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F-15SE Development
May 06 2012 09:21:59
I really love this Bird!!! It will be sad if she will not see any service:(
#646

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