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The Air Force first began flying the F-15 Eagle about 40 years ago, and with delays to the fifth-generation fleet and a continued need for fighters in the air, the service plans to keep the aircraft in service for years to come.
The Air Force plans several upgrades: F-15C and F-15E Strike Eagles are both set to receive new radars, radios and helmets, along with structural integrity tests aimed at almost doubling the service life of the aircraft.
The F-15 fleet, with an average age of more than 28 years, saw a mission-capable rate of about 69 percent in fiscal 2012, the lowest of all fighters other than the F-22, according to Air Force statistics. Planned upgrades for the Eagles include a new active electronically scanned array radar for 150 of the 214 C models, beyond-line-of-sight and secure line-of-sight radio updates on 177 C models through fiscal 2016, and sniper advanced targeting pod integration on 177 C models.
The targeting pod is already in use in several airframes, including the F-16, A-10, B-1B and the Strike Eagle variant. The new technology will help the aging Eagles keep up and communicate with the Air Force's newer fighters, Air Combat Command spokesman 1st Lt. Sarah Godfrey said.
"The capability links fourth-generation fighters with fifth-generation fighters by improving tactical data link-sharing technology," she said.
The upgrades are expected to keep the variants flying through at least 2035, and the service may extend the long-term status to all 249 Cs and Ds based on future needs, according to congressional testimony earlier this year from Maj. Gen. James Holmes, the assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, and Maj. Gen. John Posner, the director of global power programs.
The Strike Eagles are the newest of the F-15 fleet, with an average age of 20 years and a mission-capable rate of 76 percent. All 219 of these jets are set to receive the new AESA radar upgrades beginning in 2013, along with the latest military GPS capability. First-seat pilots are also set to receive a new helmet, beginning in fiscal 2013, which will help them spot targets earlier, according to the testimony.
Both models, 396 total, will undergo full-scale fatigue testing to identify weak points in the jets. The testing will last until 2015.
The testing on the F-15E will also determine the need for a service-life extension program, Holmes and Posner said in their March testimony.