The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, loaded the F-15E Strike Eagle with five AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile), more than twice the ammunition typically carried by warplanes. (Master Sgt. Tristan McIntire/53rd Wing US Air Force)
With twice the number of cruise missiles normally carried on the F-15E Strike Eagle, could the aircraft be transformed into a bomber? That’s exactly what the U.S. Air Force is currently considering and testing.
The U.S. Air Force is considering doubling up on the F-15E with air-to-air missiles and heavy-lift long-range cruise missiles, allowing it to operate as a bomber, enabling the F-15E to escort itself through disputed airspace and deliver devastating missile strikes against enemy targets.
On May 11, the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, loaded the F-15E Strike Eagle with five AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile), more than twice the ammunition typically carried by warplanes.
The unusually heavy load is part of a munitions PoC (proof of concept) called Project Strike Rodeo, the 53rd Air Force Wing explained in a statement.
A bomber’s mission is accomplished by a small group of F-15E Strike Eagles
The Project Strike Rodeo program is an idea that came up during the Weapons and Tactics Conference in January, when tacticians were looking for a scenario in which fighters would have to escort bombers carrying munitions and drop them into airspace where conflict is intense.
The 53rd Wing said some suggested that instead of having a group of fighters escort a bomber, those fighters could be reloaded with JASSMs and have the fighters perform the bomber mission. Doing so, the wing explained, would theoretically “reduce the size and complexity of the strike program” and “distribute mission risk across the force.
The idea is essentially that fighters can escort themselves as part of a small formation of aircraft, and if one of them is lost in combat, the mission can continue.
U.S. Air Force fighters can currently carry up to two JASSMs, so after it was determined that the F-15E Strike Eagle would be used as a test platform for the Strike Rodeo program, a team at Eglin Air Force Base began looking at ways to load more JASSMs on the fighters. the F-15E Strike Eagle made the idea possible.
Airmen at the base came up with a special loading tool, as well as new loading procedures, that allowed the testing to proceed properly, and then the F-15 Systems Program Office funded the load testing.
“No one told us to do this,” said Lt. Col. Mike Benitez, chief of staff for the 53rd Wing. “We saw the need and the opportunity, so we implemented it.”
He continued, “It was a squadron innovation that made operational and strategic sense.” “The Strike Rodeo program is entirely about creating options for the combatant commander that are ultimately used to create multiple problems for the adversary.”
Turning F-15E Strike Eagles into “Bomb Warriors”
The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron also participated in another proof-of-concept test in late February that included loading the F-15E Strike Eagle with 15 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) missiles, six more than the current maximum load.
The concept, known as Agile Combat Employment (ACE), seeks to use the fighter as a “bomb truck” that transports munitions into theater to reload or arm other aircraft. The Agile Combat Employment (ACE) is an attempt to use fighter jets as a “bomb truck” to deliver munitions to theater of operations to reload or arm other aircraft.
After two months of load testing at Eglin Air Force Base, the Air Force deployed six F-15E Strike Eagles, each with 12 JDAMs and four small-diameter bombs, in a “bomb truck” configuration in an operational environment.
The base’s future plans are to load the F-15Es as bombers for flight testing under Project Strike Rodeo.
The F-15E Strike Eagle is a third-generation fighter aircraft based on the F-15 Hawk, a U.S. Air Force all-weather strike fighter aircraft designed to strike ground targets deep behind enemy lines and to conduct deep strikes against high-value enemy targets, as well as air support missions and air-land coordination capabilities.
The F-15E is a two-seat supersonic fighter-bomber with a primary mission of ground attack, both ground attack and air superiority combat capabilities, also known as a dual-mission fighter.