Air Force's Reconfigured F-15E Strike Eagle Fighter Proves It Can Carry Extra Bombs

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F-15E Strike Eagle carrying six JDAMs.
The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron successfully flew an F-15E Strike Eagle carrying six JDAMs on a single side of the aircraft on Feb 22, 2021, showcasing a proof of concept for Agile Combat Employment, known as "ACE." (U.S. Air Force/1st Lt. Savanah Bray)

The U.S. Air Force just reconfigured the F-15E Strike Eagle to carry more Joint Direct Attack Munitions under its wings, proving the fighter can be used to transport a heavier payload and eliminating the need for a cargo plane.

The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, said Tuesday that the loadout was tested last month during a "proof of concept" trial, demonstrating the jet could carry 15 JDAMs, a large increase from its standard load of nine, officials said in a release.

"[The] Strike Eagle can now carry enough JDAMs for an active combat mission, land at a remote location, and reload itself and or another aircraft -- such as an [F-35 Joint Strike Fighter] or [F-22 Raptor] -- for additional combat sorties," Lt. Col. Jacob Lindaman, commander of the squadron, said in the release.

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The F-15E can carry nuclear or conventional munitions, including the 500-pound, 1,000-pound and 2,000-pound class smart bomb JDAMs. Like the F-15C and F-22, the F-15E can also fire AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.

In a photo accompanying the release, six 500-pound class JDAMs are fastened under one wing, with the three extra bombs carried on the top row once used to hold unguided munitions, according to 1st Lt Savanah Bray, spokeswoman for Eglin's 53rd Wing.

That means a maximum of 12 JDAMs can be carried under the wings. Another three munitions of a different weight class -- either 500-pound or 2,000-pound -- can be carried with one on the centerline underneath the jet, and one on each wing station, Bray said.

The service noted that not all 15 JDAMs can be used during a single mission. Some can be discharged, while the others remain on the jet until they're transferred over for another operation.

Increasing the F-15E's load capacity will lower requirements for supplemental manpower and transport aircraft to bring bombs to their desired location -- saving time, crew and resources needed to execute the weapon transfer, officials said.

"The additional carriage on the F-15E allows fully assembled JDAMs to be transported, reducing the requirement to just one [C-130 Hercules] and saving eliminating onsite bomb building," the release states.

The concept is in line with the service's Agile Combat Employment concept, an initiative to test quick-reaction forces operating from austere locations around the globe.

The service tested a similar practice with its MQ-9 Reaper drone last fall. With a software upgrade, the service in September was able to prove the hunter-killer drone could carry eight AGM-114 Hellfire missiles -- double its usual capacity.

Hellfire pylons that previously were reserved for 500-pound bombs, such as the GBU-38 JDAM, or for fuel tanks, can now carry the additional missiles courtesy of the upgrade, officials said at the time.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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