Weapon Systems

Self-defense ground strikes showcase capabilities of versatile F-15E Strike Eagle


The dual-role F-15E Strike Eagle expands on the mission of legacy F-15 fighter models by incorporating both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

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A US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle flies a combat patrol mission within CENTCOM's area of responsibility (AOR) February 18, 2023. Fighter aircraft routinely conduct patrols within the CENTCOM AOR to ensure combat airpower dominance, deter adversaries and ensure regional security and stability. [US Air Force]
A US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle flies a combat patrol mission within CENTCOM's area of responsibility (AOR) February 18, 2023. Fighter aircraft routinely conduct patrols within the CENTCOM AOR to ensure combat airpower dominance, deter adversaries and ensure regional security and stability. [US Air Force]

Recent strikes carried out by the US Air Force's F-15E Strike Eagle on targets in Syria demonstrate the fighter's crucial role in interdiction missions that enhance security and stability.

The Strike Eagle is a versatile dual-role fighter with the capacity to "fight its way to a target over long ranges, destroy enemy ground positions and fight its way out," according to the US Air Force.

An updated model of the Air Force's legacy F-15 family of fighter jets, the F-15E Strike Eagle is capable of carrying out not only air-to-air missions but also long-range air-to-ground missions, including strikes against enemy ground targets.

With advanced avionics, superior maneuverability and acceleration, and the capacity to fly at low altitudes, day or night and in all weather, the F-15E is designed to conduct bombing missions without a fighter escort.

The F-15E in recent months has carried out self-defense strikes against key enemy ground targets in the wake of attacks by Iran-backed groups against US personnel in Iraq and Syria, according to the US Department of Defense.

In November, two F-15E Strike Eagles successfully carried out a precision strike against a weapon storage facility in eastern Syria used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups.

The facility housed "weapons that we believe are likely used in many of the strikes that have taken place against our forces," a senior military official told reporters November 8.

"The United States is fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities," US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin said in a statement the same day.

"We urge against any escalation."

True multi-role capability

The F-15E Strike Eagle's deep strike mission is a departure from the missions of the earlier F-15 models, which were assigned air-to-air roles.

Several US partner nations including Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Singapore and Qatar have selected export versions of the F-15E.

The fighter boasts faster acceleration than previous models do, according to the US Air Force, and can also be equipped with most weapons in the Air Force inventory for air-to-ground missions in addition to air-to-air missiles.

The latest variant of the Strike Eagle, the F-15EX Eagle II, boasts enhanced payload, range and speed, with a maximum speed of Mach 2.5.

The F-15E is operated by two crew members, a pilot in the front and a weapons systems officer who sits in the rear cockpit.

The weapons system officer (WSO) or "wizzo" is one of the most important additions to the F-15E model, according to the Air Force. This officer is responsible for monitoring information from the fighter's radar, electronic warfare or infrared sensors and displaying them on four screens, looking out for possible threats, selecting ground targets and using an electronic "moving map" to navigate.

The weapons system officer can designate ground targets during bombing missions while the pilot simultaneously engages air-to-air targets.

"Wizzos are important because two skulls are better than one," said Lt. Col. Eric "Dorf" Ostendorf, who has flown in F-15 Strike Eagles, in a video posted to the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Facebook page.

"Having two crew members allows you to divide up all those complicated tasks that are required by modern fighter tactics."

The weapons system officer is also capable of "backseat driving" the fighter, as both seats have a fully functioning control stick and throttle -- unlike earlier US Air Force two-seat aircraft like the F-14 Tomcat or F-4 Phantom.

Two-seat fighters such as the F-15E have also long provided opportunities for pilot training.

Weapons systems officers receive flight training, though not to the extent or technical precision as pilots, Ostendorf said.

"The formal training for WSOs is focused on sensor operation and integration, weapons management, electronic countermeasures, destruction of enemy air defenses, dynamic targeting and weapons utilization to name a few," Ostendorf told Task and Purpose. "WSOs do get some stick and throttle instruction but nothing like pilots."


The F-15E Strike Eagle is also equipped with Link 16, a tactical military data network employed by the United States, NATO and other allies to communicate relevant air and missile threat data to defense systems.

This feature allows authorized partner nations that select the F-15E Strike Eagle to rapidly integrate with allies' information networks.

For example, Qatar's version of the fighter, the F-15QA, is equipped with Link 16.

USAF Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot, then the commander of the 9th Air Force, called the 2021 rollout of the F-15QA "momentous" in terms of both capability and the "enhanced partnership" among nations it represents, according to a Boeing statement in August 2021. Guillot is now the deputy commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM).

"The relationship the United States shares with Qatar is critical to the stability and security of the [CENTCOM] area of responsibility, and we are grateful for our coalition partner's continued focus on building interoperability and combined readiness," Guillot said.

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