Today, at the height of the Second Cold War, experts are again comparing the military power of the two main world powers – Russia and America, which, as before, oppose each other. Fortunately, even in Syria, not to mention the Arctic, Baltic and Black Sea, this is not a war in the usual sense. Battles are fought in the “corridors of power” and the headquarters of the participating countries, in scientific, design and production enterprises of military-industrial complexes, but the enemy’s troops and fleets are only conducting combat training at training ranges, and if the fighting is against third parties. However, who knows how events will develop further? This question concerns everyone, and therefore arouses such interest.
The media is painting for us this grand shadowboxing that is happening now. Based on those published data that seem to the author to be the most reliable, on the pages of S&T we will consider only one, but extremely important aspect of a conceivable battle.
In the virtual battles played out, the most important role is assigned to the ratio of air power, which can become a decisive factor in a possible collision of a global scale. If it goes according to the non-nuclear scenario, obviously strategic bombers will be relegated to the background, and the main role will be assumed by front-line aviation, or, as they say in the West, tactical.
No matter how much American strategists would like to reduce such a war to an expanded semblance of the operations that they are now waging in the Middle East, this will not succeed. Their maneuverable nature is possible, but a direct clash between combined-arms groups of comparable size and equipment cannot be avoided. And at its non-nuclear stage, the American B-52H and B-2A aircraft, as well as the Russian Tu-95MS / MSM and Tu-160, including the M and M2 modifications, will be able to operate only on rear targets uncovered even before the “H-hour” with large cruise missiles. range. There is not enough time to collect intelligence to attack the troops that have come into motion near the line of combat of contact (LBS), and their extremely dense air defense will not allow the use of short-range weapons by heavy bombers on the principle “I saw it myself, I destroyed it myself”.
Aircraft of the B-1V and Tu-22M3 types can be used in zones with weak air defense and over the sea, but even there they will not become the main, or at least the only, means of achieving victory. In general, their use in tactical operations of non-nuclear wars of great intensity raises doubts. The losses can be simply colossal, and the effect is negligible, which in this case limits the range of their possible tasks in comparison with those that they can perform against an enemy that does not have fighters and anti-aircraft missile systems – air defense systems.
The tasks of front-line aviation, on the contrary, are expanding, and the main thing is the conquest and constant retention of air supremacy, including the suppression of control and air defense networks with fire and electronic means, as well as the blocking of air bases. This will give freedom of further action – reconnaissance and shock operations. And their success is the main goal. At the front, this is the destruction of enemy forces in positions and the isolation of combat areas – here the targets will be reserves on the march and in places of concentration, as well as transport networks of all kinds with their nodal points, and primarily airfields and field landing sites.
Regardless of the ability of Russian naval ships to provide tangible resistance in such a conflict to the many times superior naval forces of NATO, actions in the near sea zone will also be of decisive importance. Strategic amphibious operations, along with an air offensive, are a traditional way of waging war for the United States; it is possible to defend itself only by decisive opposition to the landing itself, consolidation and advancement of the enemy, as well as its supply. If the landing is successful, it becomes a key issue.
Russia has traditionally strong coastal missile defense, however, submarines and aircraft remain the basis of the power of its fleet. But since the 1990s, when it was strengthened due to the transfer of some units of frontline aviation falling under the Treaty on the Limitation of Conventional Arms in Europe, its share has been gradually decreasing and, most importantly, long-range missile carriers have left the structure. The remaining tactical aircraft Su-24 and Su-30SM are relatively numerous, but long-range and front-line aviation will have to be used in coastal areas.
America and NATO have a powerful aircraft carrier fleet, but they also cannot do without tactical ground aviation in landing operations.
The number of Su-25 and A-10 attack aircraft has now significantly decreased. As before, in the Air Force of the Russian Federation, the main part of front-line aviation is made up of fighters intended mainly for air combat. These are the MiG-29, Su-27 of the first modifications, as well as the Su-33, in NATO they are opposed mainly by the European Mirage 2000 and Grippen, plus the American F-15C and F-22A. Upgraded and new fighters MiG-29SM, Su-27SM, Su-30SM and Su-35S on one side and F-16C, F / A-18E, F-35, Typhoon II, Mirage 2000D / N and Rafal “have reinforced air-to-surface weapons and appropriate sighting systems, but these alone may not be enough for the planned scale of operations.
Therefore, the most powerful tactical strike aircraft should play a crucial role in a global non-nuclear conflict. In the Russian Air Force today it is the Su-34, which we described in detail in NIT No. 12 in 2017 and 1-2 2018, and now we will briefly get acquainted with the history of the appearance of its main enemy – the American tactical attack aircraft F-15E ” Strike Eagle “. It was developed by McDonnell-Douglas (MDD) and is now the intellectual property of Boeing.
In Soviet aviation, tactical strike aircraft were usually referred to as front-line bombers, and in NATO – as fighter-bombers, which should have determined the difference in technical features and methods of use. But both the Soviet Yak-28 and Su-24, and the American F-105 and F-111A / D / E / F were “fighters” only by designation, they could not conduct an offensive air battle due to the peculiarities of weapons and sighting and navigation equipment, but they had large values of the range and payload.
Although the F-111 was named the most effective American aircraft of the Vietnam war, and the United States did not recognize a single loss of them from enemy fighters, they failed to gain air superiority over the DRV, which extremely limited the actions of the same F-111. Considered obsolete light fighters MiG-17, MiG-19 and MiG-21 of the Air Force of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam shot down more powerful and equipped American F-105, F-4, F-8 and others, as soon as the air battle moved to short distances. And such “invulnerable” aircraft as the F-111 were skillfully “driven” into areas with strong missile air defense, which shot them down.
According to American data, the ratio of losses in air battles over North Vietnam reached four to one in the worst periods of the war for them in favor of the DRV Air Force, and according to independent experts – eight to ten to one.
The US Air Force command never agreed with such an assessment, but the losses they admitted had literally the effect of a bomb. The design of a new fighter was urgently started under the slogan “Not a pound of weight for strike weapons!” The American aviation was in need of an airplane that would surpass Soviet opponents in air combat, and it was in this vein that the promising tactical fighter FX was created. But on the way to this goal, she herself changed.
The development of the F-X project began in 1965, the experienced YF-15A took off for the first time on July 27, 1972, two years later, on November 4, 1974, the first combat training TF-15A / F-15B was commissioned into the 555th training tactical fighter squadron of the US Air Force, and in January 1976 began deliveries of single combat F-15A to combat units.
The operation of this large and powerful aircraft showed that its strike capabilities and range of action could be increased, as it seemed then, without significantly impairing maneuverability, only slightly sacrificing speed. The conformal CFT tanks created for him could not withstand the air pressure at high Mach numbers, and without them the range with bombs was insufficient. The F-15C made for them made its first flight on February 26, 1979, and in 1985 its deliveries to the US Air Force began. Its modernization under the MSIP programs continued, first of all, along the way, which pushed the growth in cost and reduction in the number of combat units of aircraft – to improve the ability to work “on the ground” to the detriment of air combat.
In the late 1970s. on its own initiative and at its own expense, MDD has developed a two-seat shock modification of the F-15. It was supposed to supply such aircraft to the US Air Force and for export. Overseas marketing was of paramount importance and the advertising name “Strike Eagle” was introduced for this modification – Strike Eagle can be translated as “striking” or “striking eagle”, but also “impressive”.
For the F-15C aircraft, FAST Packs (Fuel And Sensor Tactical Packs) conformal containers were being developed. Elongated streamlined modular structures adjoined the sides of the fuselage and could, depending on the task, accommodate fuel, additional equipment and rocket boosters. But this turned out to be expensive and inconvenient, the tanks themselves had to be reduced and strengthened, they blocked all four launchers of medium-range air-to-air missiles, but 12 new weapons suspension points appeared on the simplified and not intended for avionics conformal CFT tanks.
At the same time, the US Air Force undertook research projects DRF (Dual Role Fighter) and ETF (Enhanced Tactical Fighter) to determine the possible appearance of a two-seat attack aircraft and an air defense interceptor. Both the firm and the Air Force were going to replace or supplement the aging F-111D / E / F tactical attack aircraft and completely replace the F-106 and F-4 interceptors.
For such an aircraft, it was planned to use the results of tests of flying laboratories NF-15B “Agile Eagle” with the front horizontal tail and flat nozzles of engines with a controlled thrust vector, as well as the F-15B-20-MC “Eagle Firefly” with a combined automated flight and weapon control system, which optimized the trajectory when attacking the target, making adjustments to the pilot’s commands in accordance with the tactical situation and the flight mode. But along with the advantages, these programs also showed technical problems, moreover, they were too expensive, therefore they chose the simplest way of conversion into a shock combat training F-15D.
Competitors from General Dynamics (GD) for the same purpose, “remake” their F-16 Fighting Falcon. The new F-16XL turned into a spectacular “integral tailless” and looked much cooler than the “square” “Strike Needle”, but it took more weapons and did not require such alteration of the factory equipment to start mass production.
Its engine compartments were adapted for promising turbofan engines with increased take-off thrust – by 2969 kg each. To accommodate additional equipment, the capacity of the internal fuel tanks was reduced by 193 liters.
The airframe, control systems and landing gear were reinforced for a maximum take-off weight of 36,741 kg, the total weight of the suspended weapons was increased from 5610 to 10637 kg. It included additional types of free-fall and guided bombs and cassettes, as well as weapons that the previous modifications did not have – B61 atomic bombs and AGM-65D guided air-to-surface missiles. In addition to the AIM-7F / M Sparrow medium-range air-to-air missiles, the AIM-120A AMRAAM appeared – they still had a shorter range, but the active radar seeker did not require constant target illumination of the carrier’s onboard radar and, in the future, allowed a salvo launch against several targets … The new missiles were lighter, and they could be taken not four, but eight – with the abandonment of the short-range weapons AIM-9, the total number of them on board did not change.
The modernized APG-63 locator acquired the ability to detect ground and sea targets, as well as mapping, but optics became the main tool here. LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red system for Night), a low-altitude infrared navigation and targeting system for Night, consists of two containers suspended on new nodes under the air intakes.
The AN / AAQ-13 station weighing 205 kg provides receiving and displaying on the indicator against the background of the windshield (ILS) a thermal image of the terrain in front of the aircraft from a fixed camera of the FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) infrared system with a resolution sufficient for piloting. In the same container, there is a terrain-following radar, which provides automatic flight at a height of 61 m above the tops of hills and along straight valleys below their upper points with the same distance from the bottom and slopes. The AN / AAQ-14 container weighing 240 kg also provides a thermal image of the target and terrain on the HUD, but allows its automatic capture and illumination by the aircraft’s laser rangefinder-designator (LDC). It automatically transmits this data to the seeker of AGM-65 missiles and guided bombs, which in this case can be guided without operator participation. Using containers AN / AAQ-13 and AN / AAQ-14, the crew could, in any weather and at night, reach the target at extremely low altitude, find it and hit it with high-precision weapons (HTO) with television, infrared or semi-active laser homing. But in the case of using “laser” bombs, the target must remain in front of the aircraft, for which, when attacking from a low altitude, he must make a “hill” and dive onto it. The Pave Tack container, the cameras and laser of which turned back and forth as in the Soviet Kaira system of the Su-24M and MiG-27K aircraft, allowed not to do this and “not to be exposed” to air defense fire, but it was heavy and unreliable. But in the case of using “laser” bombs, the target must remain in front of the aircraft, for which, when attacking from a low altitude, he must make a “hill” and dive onto it. The Pave Tack container, the cameras and laser of which turned back and forth, as in the Soviet Kaira system of the Su-24M and MiG-27K planes, allowed not to do this and “not to be exposed” to air defense fire, but it was heavy and unreliable. But in the case of using “laser” bombs, the target must remain in front of the aircraft, for which, when attacking from a low altitude, he must make a “hill” and dive onto it. The Pave Tack container, the cameras and laser of which turned back and forth, as in the Soviet Kaira system of the Su-24M and MiG-27K planes, allowed not to do this and “not to be exposed” to air defense fire, but it was heavy and unreliable.
For such an attack, one pilot was enough, but the customer considered it necessary to have a Weapon System Officer on board, who can not only replace the pilot in a long flight, but also control high-precision weapons with a range exceeding the line of sight. Like the instructor on the training F-15D, on the new aircraft he was located in the rear cockpit. The cockpit equipment has become new, and it is based on a wide-angle HUD and multifunctional displays (MFD) – three for the pilot and four for the operator, while all monochrome and with cathode ray tubes.
In the early 1980s. the ETF program was abandoned, and finances were transferred to DRF – the projects of the MDD and GD firms were designated F-15E and F-16E. The requirements agreed by the Air Force and contractors included a clause on the possibility of converting a serial aircraft into a DRF modification, which was impossible with the F-16E, which “lost” its horizontal tail and acquired a completely new wing. “Strike Eagle” promised a greater range with better weapons and, despite the high cost of production and operation, February 24, 1984 was declared the winner of the competition.
It was put into mass production at the MDD plant in St. Louis in Missouri in the southeastern United States – the full name of the enterprise in the US Department of Defense at the time was Air Force Plant 84 (McDonnell), and the abbreviated name was McAIR. The serial “Strike Eagle” became a little worse in some ways (the F110-PW-229 engines were not ready, they had to abandon containers with the “looking back” Pave Tack medical center and an additional cannon, and the main ammunition was reduced from 940 to 512 shells. received a new AN / APG-70 locator, which was interfaced with the LANTIRN system when solving navigation and ground target detection problems.
The lead F-15E was flown on December 11, 1986. Although the advanced tests of its new systems and weapons were carried out since 1980 on converted machines of the first modifications, it was not yet ready for combat service. For example, guided bombs GBU-15, when dropped from a horizontal flight from underwing pylons, could not go down, but “lag” behind the aircraft, touching the pylon, the trailing edge of the wing and the stabilizer. It was necessary to modify the separation devices and software (software) of the automatic ammunition control system.
In 1988, the first F-15E was transferred to the 461st training squadron of tactical fighters, and the 336th combatant began to operate the Strike Eagle in 1989. In October 1990, the first aircraft reached initial combat readiness, and in August 1991, go – full of the entire park. But until the APG-70 radar and LANTIRN optics were paired, the LDC did not work in it, and of all the strike weapons, the crews used only guns and free-fall bombs – however, better than any other US Air Force aircraft.
Approximately 12 years have passed since the development of the F-15E Strike Eagle multipurpose tactical fighter with enhanced strike capabilities. Despite all the problems, a powerful, versatile and, most importantly, a combat complex with significant potential for further improvement was created, which now forms the basis of the strike power of tactical aviation not only of the United States but also of some of America’s Asian allies – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and South Korea.