As the Indian Air Force (IAF) looks to further bolster its aerial fleet after the successful acquisition of French Dassault Rafales, its proposed Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) 2.0 contract for the procurement of 114 additional fighters will look for suitors from the best fighters on the face of the planet.
With the newly procured Rafales providing a solid foundation for the IAF to look out for an equal or an even better fighter jet, two options loom around for India to bank on, which include additional Rafale jets from France or the new F-15EX.
Despite the addition of the 4.5 generation Rafales, IAF’s current strength stands at 31 squadrons against the sanctioned one of 42 squadrons and with the threats of neighbors – China and Pakistan lurking around each of its borders, here are a few reasons that IAF experts believe why India could opt for F-15EX over additional Rafale jets.
SIZE, FRAME, SPEED AND RANGE
The most advanced version of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter jet, the F-15EX uses the frame of the classic F-15 and bears a resemblance to the Su-30 MKI in terms of its size.
Due to its size, the F-15EX fulfills a variety of roles like air superiority, interceptor, deep penetration strikes against enemy infrastructure, strategic bombing, and ground attack.
F-15EX has a combat range of 1,100 miles as compared to the 670 miles range offered by the F-35s. Moreover, the F-15EX has a speed of Mach 2.5 as compared to F-35s speed of Mach 1.6 and can accommodate heavy radars.
The F-35 however, due to its smaller stature, cannot accommodate heavy radars and fuel as compared to F-15EX.
The F-35s are heavily loaded with stealth features and air-to-ground missions, which make it a less capable dogfighter than the F-15 EX in close quarters.
With Emerging threats from China and Pakistan, there is a need for an aircraft that can fly for longer hours, is heavily equipped with weapons systems, and is big enough to carry substantial fuel tanks, so that they do not have to return to the airbase for refueling.
F-15EX is just the fighter, with its predecessors already battle-tested in the middle-east and with their ability to strike deep into enemy terrority with the capability of carrying nuclear weapons makes them invincible. Even the US Air Force is looking to supplement their stealth F-35s jets with F-15EX for deep strike capabilities.
The F-15EX can carry twenty-two air-to-air missiles and other heavy weapons, including ASAT, JASSM-ER, GBU-28 Bunker Buster laser-guided bomb, hypersonic cruise missiles, and AGM-84H SLAM ER, which are far more than an F-35’s payload capacity.
The F-15EX’s massive weapon loadout makes it a beast in any “Beyond Visual Range” (BVR) fight and not only that, it carries more firepower than any other fighter jet currently deployed under the US Air Force.
A MULTIROLE FIGHTER
While an F-35 fighter is a proven valuable combat aircraft and serves as their most advanced jet in their inventory, the F-15EX serves a different role under the US Air Force. It can be used for enforcing no-fly zones, homeland defense, or delivering stand-off munitions in fights with no or limited air defenses.
F-15EX, being a heavy fighter is deployed for strategic effect due to their potent deterrent capability, as compared to their smaller cousin F-35, which has a much-restricted role. Therefore, it becomes easier for enemy aircraft or defense systems to engage against the smaller F-35s than be deployed against the more potent F-15EX.
Moreover, the F-35s’ combat role is further restricted due to its inability to carry more than eight missiles, while also not being able to carry heavy bombs to destroy strategic targets and enemy infrastructure.
The F-35 is an aircraft used for tactical operations and due to its limited role has less air supremacy than the F-15EX, which is an airspace dominance fighter. This means that the F-15EX can perform a variety of roles including cross border strikes, engaging in proximity fights with enemy fighter aircraft, destroying enemy ships while keeping the aircraft carriers at a safe distance.
SUITABILITY IN LADAKH REGION
With reports of the IAF deploying Su-30s, MKI, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 fighters and potentially the Rafales in the Ladakh region against the Chinese, the addition of the F-15EX could be a game-changer due to the fighter’s heavy engine capacities making it better suited to operability in high altitude regions.
It is predicted that there may come a time, when stealth drones carrying out the roles and functions of an F-35 fighter may end up replacing the jet. However, the possibility of that applying to a heavyweight fighter like the F-15EX is highly unlikely.
OPEN MISSION SYSTEMS ARCHITECTURE (OMS)
Developed by American aerospace juggernauts Boeing, the two-seat fighter overshadows its predecessor F-15s because of its Open Mission Systems (OMS) architecture.
According to Boeing, “The most significant difference between the F-15EX and legacy F-15s lies in its Open Mission Systems (OMS) architecture. The OMS architecture will enable the rapid insertion of the latest aircraft technologies.
WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?
Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, while praising the digital capabilities of the latest addition to the F-15 fighter family, says,
“The F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems, and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare, cotinually upgrading systems, and how they share data across the Joint Force, is critical for defeating advanced threats. F-15EX is designed to evolve from day one.”
According to a serving Group Captain in the Indian Air Force who did not wish to be named, there is a need for India to get its hands on fighters apart from the Rafales and F-15EX falls into it.
“India doesn’t need to go out for Rafales again because we already have three dozens of them, at least by the time all our delivered. We need to look for a different fighter, which offers something extra, something on the lines of an F-35, Su-57 or the new F-15 (F-15EX) jets. The main idea was to have a superior air fleet which was settled with the French deal, now it is about adding extra quality to the ranks while also taking care of the quantity required by our forces.”
A Defence Expert, Rohit Thakur, who also manages an Indian Defence Website has labeled India’s plan as a welcome call to the F-15EX, with the F-15EX reported to have already been running for the earlier Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract.
“IAF had already looked at the latest F-15 as an option for its air fleet and while it will also compete with the F-35s, India at the moment doesn’t need to have stealth jets and rather than paying heavily for one, the focus should be on getting a better 4.5 generation or fourth generation fighter than Rafale, which brings quality as well as builds numbers.”
F-35 fighters still remain the most in-demand fighters on the face of the planet due to their stealth technology, however, even the US Air Force has been extremely impressed with F-15EX jets and recently placed an order with Boeing with the aim of supporting the F-35s.
“The F-15EX is the most advanced version of the F-15 ever built, due in large part to its digital backbone, its unmatched range, price and best-in-class payload capacity make the F-15EX an attractive choice for the U.S. Air Force.” said Lori Schneider, Boeing F-15EX program manager.
The expert concluded by saying that Rafales are excellent fighters, however, it looks unlikely for now that India would acquire more of them. Besides the F-15EX, India would be especially keen to explore the Russian Su-35 or 57 jets unless Washington puts the F-35s on table.