F-15 Eagle Upgrades
A mainstay in operations both domestic and abroad, upgrades to the F-15 (avionics, armament, airframe, and engines) are critical to maintaining combat viability (lethality, survivability, and supportability). Designed in the 1960s and built in the 1970s, the F-15A - D aircraft was in service for over twenty years. While the Eagle's aerodynamics and maneuverability were still on a par with newer aircraft, quantum leaps in integrated circuit technology made the original F-15 avionics suite obsolete. The objective of the Multi-Stage Improvement Program (MSIP) was to set the Eagle in step with today's vastly improved information processing systems. Some F-15C/D aircraft (tail numbers 84-001 and higher) came off the assembly line with MSIP in place. All F-15A/B/C/D aircraft produced before 84-001 received the MSIP retrofit at the F-15 depot. Improvements incorporated via MSIP vary between F-15A/B and F-15C/D aircraft; the C/D MSIP has been completed. However, all air-to-air Eagles gain improved radar, central computer, weapons and fire control, and threat warning systems.
The purpose of the F-15 Multi-stage Improvement Program (MSIP) was to provide maximum air superiority in a dense hostile environment in the late 1990s and beyond. All total, 427 Eagles received the new avionics upgrades. Along with later model production aircraft, these retrofitted aircraft would provide the Combat Air Forces (CAF) with a total MSIP fleet of 526 aircraft. The MSIP upgraded the capabilities of the F-15 aircraft to included a MIL-STD-1760 aircraft/weapons standard electrical interface bus to provide the digital technology needed to support new and modern weapon systems like AMRAAM. The upgrade also incorporated a MIL-STD-1553 digital command/response time division data bus that would enable onboard systems to communicate and to work with each other. A new central computer with significantly improved processing speed and memory capacity upgraded the F-15 from 70s to 90s technology, adding capacity needed to support new radar and other systems. The original Eagle had less computer capacity than a 1990s car.
Some of the work prefaced the addition of the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, adding space, power, and cooling that would allow the new avionics to run in the harsh environments in which the Eagle operates. The new programmable armament control set (PACS) with a multi-purpose color display (MPCD) for expanded weapons control, monitoring, and release capabilities featured a modern touch screen that allowed the pilot to talk to his weapons. A data transfer module (DTM) set provided pre-programmed information that customized the jet to fly the route the pilot had planned using mission planning computers.
An upgrade to the APG-63 Radar for multiple target detection, improved electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) characteristics, and non-cooperative target recognition capability enabled the pilot to identify and target enemy aircraft before he was detected or before the enemy could employ his weapons. An upgrade of the advanced medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), that carried up to eight missiles, represented an improvement that complimented the combat-proven AIM-7 Sparrow by giving the pilot capability to engage multiple targets to launch and leave, targeting and destroying enemy fighters before they could pose a threat. The upgraded Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and an enhanced internal countermeasures set (ICS) on F-15C/D models improved threat detection and self-protection radar jamming capability that allowed pilots to react to threat and to maneuver to break the lock of enemy missiles.
F-15 combat capabilities can be improved substantially with upgraded radars, jammers, and helmet mounted targeting systems. The most cost effective upgrade may be a new datalink which allows aircraft to share target information. Air Force testimony to the House Appropriations Defense Committee in 1999 described the so-called "Link 16" datalink as "the most significant increase in fighter avionics since the introduction of the on-board radar." Tests with this $200,000 per aircraft upgrade to the F-15 demonstrated a five-fold increase in air combat kill ratios.
The 830th Aircraft Sustainment Group of the 330th Aircraft Sustainment Wing at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center serves as the single focal point for cradle-to-grave sustainment management for the F-15 aircraft to sustain mission effectiveness throughout the system's life cycle. Responsible for all sustainment activities required to ensure F-15 aircraft availability is adequate for the weapon system to fulfill its assigned missions. Primary activities include engineering,worldwide logistics,weapon system readiness, and wartime sustainability support. Manages aircraft overhaul, modernization and modification programs, and unscheduled depot level maintenance repair for the F-15 aircraft to include foreign military sales.
Projected to remain in service past 2030, avionics modernization is key to long-term weapon system viability. This modernization is built on a foundation of technical studies (both internal to the Air Force and through outside contractors), forestalling obsolescence, exploiting proven technological advances, and leveraging new technology. Major avionics upgrades center around radar modernization (both hardware and software upgrades) and the exploitation of enhanced capability via wideband radome, precision timing, data delivery and processing technology, precision registration systems, cockpit Head Up Display (HUD) and instrumentation digitization and modernization, central computer processing power increases, digital mission event recording systems and an infrared (IR) based fire control system. Funds are also used, as required, to resolve Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortage (DMSMS) issues.
The proliferation of fourth generation enemy aircraft and sophisticated "double-digit" anti-aircraft missile systems pose a significant threat to F-15 survivability. A fully integrated electronic warfare suite holds the promise of providing survivability as well as expanded electronic attack capability. Nearly all improvements are linked to an aircraft operational flight program update schedule that works to integrate new capabilities with the airframe. These updates are a responsive way to increase the offensive and defensive capability and survivability of the F-15. Given the comprehensiveness of these changes, significant flight test will be required. Incorporation of corresponding spiral and/or phased technology/equipment improvements that include support equipment, mission planning systems, and training device upgrades will improve performance, supportability, and line replaceable unit (LRU) throughput.
Through an on-going multistage improvement program the F-15 has received extensive upgrade involving the installation or modification of new and existing avionics equipment to enhance the tactical capabilities of the F-15. The head-up display projects on the windscreen all essential flight information gathered by the integrated avionics system. This display, visible in any light conditions, provides the pilot information needed to track and destroy an enemy aircraft without having to look down at cockpit instruments.
The Air Force continues to modernize the F-15C/D “Long-Term Fleet” with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, infrared search and track capabilities, and a more capable aircraft mission computer to boost the air superiority capabilities of this aircraft. The Air Force works hard to improve the F-15E’s ability to rapidly engage and destroy time- sensitive targets. This includes adding secure radios and data links for faster communications with ground units and forward controllers. In addition, the Air Force integrated the latest precision weapons to hit targets accurately and reduce collateral damage. Also, the Air Force added a helmet mounted cueing system that will reduce the F-15E’s time to engage a target by up to 80%. Finally, the Air Force added the state-of-the-art AESA radar system that advances capabilities to identify and engage targets as well as share information with other aircraft.
The F-15 cockpit remains relatively unchanged since its fielding in 1975. Since the initial fielding, additional capabilities have been added that have completely filled the available console space. Therefore there is no space to incorporate control for the 8.33 KHz channel spacing of the VHF radio required for operation in Europe or any future additional capabilities. This program was initiated with the intent to replace obsolete, unsupportable avionics control panels, and provide full control of the ARC-210 software controlled radio as well as modification and replacement of hardware and software to reduce aircrew workload and increase situational awareness. The program addresses the Navigation Control Indicator (NCI) and Integrated Communication Control Panel (ICCP) as well as the corresponding MIL-STD 1553 Data Bus needed for future growth. The program will address cockpit avionics and supporting subsystems that restrict capabilities and/or degrade aircrew effectiveness and/or safety. The end state shall address both sustainment and modernization needs with efficiency.
F-15E Radar Modernization Program (RMP), designated the APG-82(V)1, replaces the entire radar using existing technology from other DOD platforms. It solves parts obsolescence problems and provides improved reliability and performance (increased synthetic aperture radar (SAR) range and resolution), including air-to-air and air-to-ground modes. The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) program provides the F-15C/D and the F-15E aircraft with a flight data recorder and crash survivable memory unit to assist in mishap investigation boards, provide high fidelity fleet life management capability, and support the Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP). FDR is required to comply with Air Force Policy Directive (AFPD) 63-1 by providing crash survivable information to support mishap investigation and support the Aircraft Information Program (AIP).
F-15 2040C / F-15 SLEP
In 2015, Boeing unveiled an enhanced version of the F-15C designed to keep the model operationally relevant through to 2040. The F-15 2040C would be a menu offering of the F-15C program of record and proposed upgrades. An F-15 2040C would also extend the fighter’s production line in St. Louis, which with 84 F-15SAs destined for Saudi Arabia had firm orders through 2019.
Called 2040C, the upgrade package included conformal fuel tanks for extended-range flights and munitions racks designed to double the aircraft’s air-to-air missile payload from 8 to 16. The proposed weapons load increase would be accomplished by adding a Boeing-developed “quad pack” carriage system on two weapons stations. That’s also double the F-22 Raptor’s internal air-to-air loadout. The Talon HATE communications pod would allow transfering and receiving data to and from F-22s operating alongside Eagles in combat theaters on a secured high-speed link. Previously, the F-22 was unable to communicate in such a way with USAF F-15s and F-16 Fighting Falcons. The package also included Raytheon’s APG-63(V)3 AESA radar and a long-range infrared search-and-track sensor for a claimed “first sight, first shot, first kill” air-to-air capability.
The Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) is designed to equip the fourth-generation F-15 with the latest electronic warfare capabilities. A cockpit overhaul also comes along with the 2040C upgrade. Multifunction displays (MFDs) and gauges will be replaced entirely by a large area display (LAD) similar to the ones used on F-35 Lightning IIs.
The Press Briefing by Maj. Gen. Martin, Brig. Gen. Fienga and Deputy for Budget Gleason on the FY 2017 Air Force Budget Request on 09 February 2016, Fienga said " we would have to bolster our fourth-gen aircraft. So we do have some dollars for both F-16 and F-15 service life extension sort of modernization programs here. Now, this is an area we did have to take risk in in this budget, so we don't have robust programs... with the F-15, we do a couple of things. We put some structural dollars in there and we also have the F-15 EPAWS program as well. So that will make it viable in those environments against a higher-class adversary. "
Some USAF F-15Cs had more than 20,000h of flight time remaining on the airframes as of 2015, whereas other were in the low teens and would require new wings and vertical tails. The F-15 Program Office hosted an Industry Day on 13 October 2016 at Robins Air Force Base, GA, to solicit feedback from interested industry representatives regarding an initiative by the F-15 SPO to acquire wing replacement sets for 235 F-15C/D aircraft. The government owns the technical baseline for the wing and is interested in competing multiple vendor options, to include foreign contractors. The Design shall be based on the F-15E production wing. The replacement wing shall be capable of flying 14 years at current worst usage severity prior to first depot level inspection, with a minimum of 7 years flying time between recurring depot inspections afterwards. The design shall maintain the original mold line and existing fuselage interfaces. The design shall maintain compatibility with the original aerodynamic and structural properties. Wing re-design is required to show airworthiness compliance in accordance with MIL-HDBK-516 without additional full scale durability testing.
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