USAF advances F-15 fleet upgrade
Breakthrough in self-protection programme to allow updated aircraft to operate alongside F/A-22 Raptor until 2025
A long-awaited self-protection upgrade for the US Air Force’s Boeing F-15 fleet appears to be a done deal, with a new-start development programme for a wideband digital radar warning receiver (RWR) planned to move forward in 2008.
Upgrading the F-15’s analogue threat receiver – BAE Systems’ ALR-56C – has become a top acquisition priority after years of indecision. The latest digital RWR technology not only passively scans for threat emissions, but can also locate the source of hostile radar with weapons-aiming precision. That may give the F-15 a limited electronic-attack role, a capability once reserved for dedicated electronic-warfare (EW) aircraft such as the retired General Dynamics EF-111 Raven and the current Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler. It would also help to level the EW capabilities of the F-15 and the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F/A-22 Raptor, which are expected to operate together until 2025.
The upgrade process is starting with an extended technology survey to allow the USAF to analyse the readiness of the market, but officials are hopeful. “We think the [digital RWR] technology is close to being ready,” says the USAF F-15 programme office. US Special Operations Command is fitting Raytheon ALR-69(V)9 digital RWRs on its Lockheed MC-130s and a Northrop system is also understood to be part of its EW suite for the United Arab Emirates’ Lockheed F-16 Block 60 fighters.
Five companies have agreed to participate in the technology survey, which will wrap up in late fiscal year 2006 or early FY07. Participants are likely to include the four top US-based EW contractors – BAE, ITT, Northrop and Raytheon. The fifth is likely to come from a group that has previously declared interest in being a potential prime contractor, including Curtiss-Wright, EDO, Lockheed and Saab. Laboratory trials of each of the five systems are scheduled to start in the fourth quarter, with the goal of displaying a technical readiness to enter system development and demonstration in fiscal year 2008.
The active-duty USAF has assumed leadership of the upgrade programme, which supersedes a previous effort led by the Air National Guard. The objective now is to integrate digital RWRs on all 179 F-15C/Ds and 225 F-15Es that the USAF intends to keep in its inventory through 2025. The development and demonstration phase is expected to yield a core capability that the USAF says will improve on the performance of the F-15’s existing RWR and also provide better supportability.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE/WASHINGTON DC
It seems as if this had Super Hornet in the title it would get more action....