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Why The F-15E Strike Eagle Is Unique

Due to their unrivaled 104:0 kill ratio in combat, the F-15E line of fighter jets hardly requires an introduction.

I bombed the heck out of Goldwater Range; they called me Strike Eagle, Strike Eagle. The song is about the F-15E Strike Eagle, which replaced the F-4 Phantom that Lt. Col. USAF, Ret. Jonas piloted over Southeast Asia’s jungles. Dick Jonas is a professional musician who used to be a combat fighter pilot. Thus it becomes abundantly evident why “the fighter pilot’s minstrel” sings about the Strike Eagle with such affection when one looks at the history of the F-15E.

Military aviation history enthusiasts probably don’t need an introduction to the F-15 Eagle line of fighter jets. They have a perfect 104:0 kill ratio during more than 40 years of service, with no loss in air-to-air combat.

On December 11, 1986, the E-series version, which had been in development for 14 years, had its first flight.

In particular, the Strike Eagle was designed to be a warplane that would truly excel in both the air superiority and ground attack roles, a dual that the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark had earlier been intended to fulfill but didn’t quite make it through. (Although to be fair, the Aardvark did well during Operation Eldorado Canyon when the U.S. bombed Libya in April 1986.) The F-111 would be taken out of service and replaced by the F-15E in 1996.

The Strike Eagle also features a weapons system officer (WSO), fondly referred to in USAF slang as a “Whizzo” or “GIB (Guy/Gal In Back),” making the F-15E a two-seater, which is the most noticeable distinction between it and preceding aircraft.

For many reasons, including the operation of the APG-70 radar system, which, as my 1945 coworker Brent M. Eastwood notes, “has a dual duty also, the Whizzo is a vital addition. While the weapons system officer can watch for air targets, the pilot can use the system to engage ground targets. The crew can switch roles depending on whether there are new air-to-air threats or other ground targets. The weapons system officer also has a fantastic job because there is a lot of action in the rear seat, says Brent. You can look at four different screens. They manage navigation, threats, radar, electronic warfare, enemy aircraft surveillance, and weapons status.

Regarding the aircraft’s dual purpose, this warbird has a payload capability of up to 15 JDAMs and a maximum weight of 23,000 pounds (3,628 kilograms) of bombs—direct attack weapons used in concert.

The bomb load capacity of the storied B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, and B-29 Superfortress was 17,600 pounds (7,800 kilograms), 8,000 pounds (3,600 kilograms), and 20,000 pounds (9,100 kilograms), respectively. According to Wartime criteria, all these planes were classified as “heavy” bombers.

The F-15E got its “baptism by fire” in Operation Desert Storm. On the first night of that conflict, 24 F-15Es assaulted five permanent Scud positions in western Iraq. Before the ground war phase of the Kuwait liberation struggle, F-15Es attacked heavily fortified targets across Iraq, focusing on SCUD missile facilities and tank plinking missions against Iraqi vehicles in Kuwait.

Twenty-eight Iraqi Air Force (IAF) was aircraft shot down by F-15Es using ground-based GBU-12 and CBU-87 missiles.

Curiously, the F-15E’s first air-to-air fatality would not be caused by the aircraft’s internal 20-mm gun or AAMs.

But a GBU-10 laser-guided bomb

For example, on February 14, 1991, Captain Tim Bennett and Captain Dan Bakke of an F-15E crew saw an Iraqi Mi-24 Hind helicopter that may have threatened a nearby U.S. Special Forces group.

I discussed the plan of attack with Dan. After he landed, we decided to deploy a GBU-10 on the lead helicopter, which would be destroyed in the blast. If he retreated before the bomb, his abandoned soldiers would still perish. It would also cause other helicopters to flee, allowing the team to escape. With a sudden flash, I noticed pieces flying in all directions. When the bomb hit the chopper, it was nearly destroyed.

Three further unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would be downed by Strike Eagles in air-to-air combat over Syria in 2017 and 2021. Throughout its service history, the F-15E has excelled in the bombing role, from Operations Deliberate Force and Allied Force over the Balkans to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (which is credited with destroying 60% of the Iraqi Medina Republican Guard’s entire force) to Operation Inherent Resolve. For the Strike Eagle, the highest-value target was the November 2015 death of Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi, the head of ISIS in Libya.

For the same reason, I began this piece with a lyric from a Dick Jonas song, and I’ll close it with the same line: “Strike Eagle, Strike Eagle, you know what I mean/I’ll still be flying in 2019/Yeah, I’ll still be flying in 2019.”

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