Eagle F-15EX with mysterious oversized missile becomes an aerial sniper

F-15EX Hawks participate in Exercise Northern Edge 21 in Alaska, May 14, 2021.

The F-15EX Advanced Eagle, a new variant of Boeing’s more powerful Eagle fighter built for the Air Force, is the U.S. Air Force’s future aerial sniper. For the first time, the Air Force flight department revealed plans to equip the F-15EX Eagle II with “very large” “air-to-air” missiles to counter the Chinese Communist missile threat.

The F-15EX is well known for its ability to carry very large weapons, and the F-15EX takes the F-15’s already impressive load capacity even further, with 12 air-to-air hardpoints or 15 air-to-ground hardpoints and an unmatched load of 29,500 pounds (13.275 tons). It can carry a full range of air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-sea strike weapons.

In the U.S. Air Force’s FY 2022 budget submission highlights, an unnamed “Very Large Air-to-Air” weapon is mentioned that would be able to be carried by the F-15EX. To date, the largest air-to-air weapon used by the F-15EX is the standard AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

Forbes News said in a May 21 article that the “super-sized” missile could be the AIM-260 ultra-long-range air-to-air missile, which the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin began developing in 2017 under a highly classified program. 120 missile and is currently the longest-flying air-to-air missile in the U.S. military.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is holding the Northern Edge21 military exercise in Alaska from May 3 to 14, 2021. The Air Force’s new F-15EX fighter jet is participating in the exercise.

AIM-260 missile range still classified

The plan is for the F-15EX to launch AIM-260 missiles to outperform long-range missiles launched by Chinese communist warplanes. According to reports, the Communist Chinese Thunderbolt-12 (PL-12) air-to-air missile has a range of up to 60 miles. The latest AIM-120 missile has a range of 90 miles.

But another version of the Perak-12 with a ramjet, the Perak-21 (PL-21), has an even longer range and, if true, could pose a threat to U.S. warplanes.

The key to extending the range of any air-to-air missile is its propulsion. Replacing a conventional solid-fuel rocket engine with an aspirated ramjet would help, and another approach would be to add a wider rocket. Lockheed has adopted the latter approach with the AIM-260.

The range of the AIM-260 is still secret, but there are clues. Aviation journalist Stephen Trimble recalled two years ago seeing a chart showing the Air Force’s plans to expand the range of missile testing at Eglin Air Force Base, Va. Trimble said, “The range circle of the AIM-260 missile is about twice the range circle of the AIM-120 AMRAAM (AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile).”

The Air Force tested this extension in March, “the longest known test launch of an air-to-air missile to date.”

If the AIM-120 has a range of 90 miles, then the AIM-260 can travel at least 180 miles.

F-15EX and F-22 mission cooperation

Because the AIM-260 missile has a wide enough range, the Air Force plans to equip the missile on the F-15EX, and the flight department also intends to carry a huge supersonic air-to-ground missile on the F-15EX.

The Air Force’s vision for the F-15EX is for it to fly in a safe position behind the F-22 stealth fighter, destroy enemy electronics with high-output radar jammers and launch oversized munitions for surprise attacks on targets hundreds of miles away. The stealth fighter can provide targets for these long-range missiles via a data link.

The Air Force purchased the first two F-15EXs in 2020, and the two-seat fighters participated in the Northern Edge21 exercise in Alaska in early May to test their Eagle Passive Active Warning Survival System. The two fighters participated in the Northern Edge21 exercise in Alaska in early May to test their Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System.

The U.S. Air Force expects to buy 144 F-15EXs by 2030 at $90 million each. The new Eagle will eventually replace the older F-15Cs in service.

Testing of the new missile is underway

It is reported that, in addition to the F-15EX, this new long-range air-to-air missile may also be installed in the weapons bay of the B-21 stealth bomber. Previously, U.S. Air Force Major General Scott L. Pleus talked about the possibility of the B-21 performing air-to-air operations, saying that the B-21 could operate in conjunction with other fighters and use its stealth advantage for self-defense.