Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Boeing unveiled the prototype of a new variant of the F-15 Strike Eagle that will incorporate stealthy coatings and structure here on Mar. 17.
Company officials hope the new aircraft will garner up to 190 orders, extending the F-15 line beyond the current backlog of 38 aircraft for South Korea and Singapore. Since the company lost the Joint Strike Fighter contest to Lockheed Martin, the future of its St. Louis manufacturing facility has been uncertain. Continued F-15 sales, as well as additional orders for F/A-18E/Fs and EA-18Gs, are the only work in the foreseeable future for the plant.
Major design changes in the new "Silent Eagle" version include internal bays within the existing conformal fuel tanks that can carry a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. Each tank will be configured to hold two air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-9 and AIM-120 or a combination of the two.For the air-to-ground mission, 1,000- and 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions can be carried or four 250-pound Small Diameter Bombs per tank. Weapons loadout can also be split between the AIM-120 and JDAM for a multirole mission.The Silent Eagle configuration includes 15-degree outward-canted V-tails - a shift away from the characteristic vertical fins of the F-15 that reduces the radar cross-section.
The Mach 2.5 speed of the Strike Eagle is maintained, but the cost is about 180-200 nautical miles of range capability because of the reduce fuel in the conformal tanks, says Brad Jones, program manger for F-15 future programs.
The new design includes a digital electronic warfare system (DEWS), made by BAE Systems, that can operate simultaneously with the aircraft's Raytheon active electronically scanned array radar.
Stealth coatings, though not yet applied to Boeing's prototype, could be added at a later time. Boeing says the coatings could contibute to an equivalent amount of front-aspect stealth as that offered by Lockheed's F-35. This includes reducing radar returns from sharp edges on the aircraft, including antennae.
Stealthiness for the F-15 was explored about a decade ago for the U.S. Air Force as an alternative to the Lockheed-led F-22, but was never pursued. "The internal carriage is what is new. The stealth is not," Jones says, adding "We are not really after the F-22 market or the F-35 market" with this new design.
The level of stealthiness exportable on the F-15 is up to the U.S. government to decide, Jones says. Though USAF officials have been given courtesy briefings on the Silent Eagle, talks on stealth exportability have not yet occurred.
A radar blocker for engine inlets, already fitted in F/A-18E/Fs, could be added depending on how much radar cross-section reduction is required by the customer and allowed by the government.
Jones estimates the cost of a Silent Eagle will be about $100 million per aircraft, including spares, if built new. A retrofit kit including the conformal fuel tanks, DEWS and coatings could be added to existing Strike Eagles, he says.
The target market includes South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Jones says. The first likely customer is South Korea, which is looking for two new fighters, including its F-X Phase III program, which calls for 60 aircraft in the F-15 class.
South Korea's Agency for Defense Development is also pushing for a KFX program, which calls for about 120 domestically developed stealth fighters. Jones says coproduction of stealth materials would be subject to U.S. government review and a tough case to sell.
Japan and Saudi Arabia are also looking for new F-15-class fighters. And if the Silent Eagle were sold to the Saudis, Israel likely would want a chance to buy the aircraft too to maintain balance of power in the Middle East.
Boeing's willingness to integrate indigenous systems, such as electronic warfare suites, onto the Silent Eagle is an option that could be of interest to these customers - especially Israel. Israeli industry was recently rebuffed by U.S. officials unwilling to add foreign EW systems under the F-35 development program.
The weapons-carrying fuel tanks, which are affixed to the aircraft with two bolts, and can be removed within about 2.5 hours. Reinstalling the original fuel tanks restores the F-15 to its nonstealthy configuration, which is capable of hauling more and larger weapons, including anti-ship missiles.
The Silent Eagle prototype is based on F-15E1, the program's flight test aircraft. To date, it has been outfitted with the conformal tanks and the canted tails, which are for demonstration only and not structurally integrated. The actual canted tails would be added later if a customer requested them. Stealth coatings and engine intake blockers have not been added.
More photos are available at the Ares defense technology blog, and in a series of photos in our Defense Showcase gallery, starting here.
In a rare breach of official American adherence to Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity, the U.S. military is terming Israel "a nuclear power" on a par with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, all of which have declared their nuclear weapon status, and ahead of "nuclear threshold powers" Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and the "emerging" Iran.
The reference to Israel as a nuclear power is contained in a document published late last year by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), the Norfolk, Virginia-based headquarters in charge of preparing American forces for their military missions worldwide, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. JFCOM's chief, U.S. Marine Corps Four-Star General James Mattis, also heads NATO's Allied Command Transformation.
Israel's nuclear program is rarely, if ever, explicitly mentioned in public, unclassified U.S. official documents. Classified assessments are usually published only years later, in response to Freedom of Information requests, in former officials' recollections or as part of historical research. It is virtually unheard of for a senior military commander, while in office, to refer to Israel's nuclear status.
In December 2006, during his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates referred to Israel as one of the powers seen by Iran as surrounding it with nuclear weapons. But once in office, Gates refused to repeat this allusion to Israel, noting that when he used it he was "a private citizen."
JFCOM's "Joint Operating Environment" (JOE) document, with a forward by Mattis and drafted by a team of officers and civilians he selected, was signed in mid-November 2008 and posted on the Pentagon's Web site. It has generated protests by the governments of Mexico - whose potential collapse is depicted as a grave threat to U.S. national security - and South Korea, which resented the reference to North Korea as a nuclear power. Following the Korean controversy, JFCOM issued a clarification, noting that this reference does not reflect U.S. government policy, which has vowed never to accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
Regarding Israel, the JOE document warns of the danger of nuclear exchanges between countries in and around Asia. It notes that India and Pakistan have nuclear arsenals and delivery systems, that North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon and has enough fissile material to produce more nuclear weapons, and that Iran is "driving forward aggressively" toward its nuclear goals, unchecked by the international community's "confused reaction." This could serve as a proliferation incentive for other countries, the document warns.
"In effect," the document continues, "there is a growing arc of nuclear powers running from Israel in the west through an emerging Iran to Pakistan, India and on to China, North Korea and Russia in the east. Unfortunately, that nuclear arc coincides with areas of considerable instability [which] are of enormous interest to the United States."
General Mattis, a tough, thinking marine with several friends in the Israel Defense Forces, including a former military college classmate (retired Major-General Shai Avital, a former commanding officer of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit), conferred with Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi in NATO's Brussels headquarters last November, within days of signing the JOE document.
Mattis condemned the U.S. Air Force's "Effects Based Operations" approach to warfare, as employed by the IDF in the Second Lebanon War of 2006, citing lessons learned reported by IDF officers "in a very blunt way," as he recalled in a Washington speech last month. He praised the courage shown by Israeli soldiers, but noted that being brave is not enough to stop a rocket-propelled grenade.
Asteroid in close pass was smaller than thought: "On March 2, an asteroid whizzed past the Earth at a distance of just 41,000 miles -- a near miss by cosmic standards (most communications satellites orbit at a distance of about 22,300 miles from Earth). Headlines around the world proclaimed that Earth had dodged a bullet, and many mentioned that if the space rock had hit our planet ....
(Via digg.com: Stories / Popular.)