The Air Force’s Brand-New F-15EX Fighter Is About to Appear in its First Major Exercise



The U.S. Air Force is sending its new F-15EX fourth-plus generation fighter to participate in a large-scale exercise in and around Alaska next month.

The 53rd Wing out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, announced Thursday that the F-15EX, now known as the Eagle II, will conduct operational tests while flying in Exercise Northern Edge 21, a joint Indo-Pacific Command drill incorporating approximately 15,000 service members from each branch, multiple Navy ships and roughly 240 aircraft.

“The unique range assets in place at Northern Edge provide a different, unfamiliar, complex, and operationally realistic environment for the technology and the tactics we’re testing,” said Lt. Col. Mike Benitez, 53rd Wing director of staff, in a news release. The service’s first two F-15EX fighters belong to the 53rd as they undergo test and evaluation. The Boeing-made jets were delivered to the Air Force earlier this month.

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The wing will also test other equipment during the exercise, such as the Infrared Search and Track sensor pod on the F-15C model and communication node gateways on the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane, the release states.

In a discussion with the Air Force Association this week, Lt. Gen. David Krumm, Pacific Air Forces’ 11th Air Force commander, said the F-15EX will try out its Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System, an advanced electronic warfare technology designed to increase its threat assessment and survivability.

Exercise locations include Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Eielson Air Force Base and Allen Army Airfield, along with King Salmon, Cold Bay, Fairbanks International Airport, Ted Stevens International Airport and Juneau International Airport in Alaska; and Fairchild Air Force Base and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, according to another release.

Aircraft will fly within the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which encompasses more than 77,000 square miles of airspace. Pilots often practice aggressor training there — simulating friendly “blue air” against enemy fighters in advanced air-to-air training.

Ships and aircraft, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will operate in the Gulf of Alaska for the exercise, the release adds.

The Air Force is in the process of building up its fighter fleet at Eielson, including the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing version, to support missions in both the Pacific and Arctic. A total of 54 F-35s are scheduled to arrive at Eielson by December 2021.

Major units participating in the exercise include the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and Carrier Air Wing 11; the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, from Elmendorf-Richardson; 17th Field Artillery Brigade from Lewis-McChord; and the 3rd Expeditionary Air and Space Task Force.

“Typically, training happens within your units, within your services, but you never really get the volume or the complexity you would expect to see in a modern-day conflict,” said Lt. Col. Mike Boyer, Pacific Air Forces Northern Edge lead planner, in the release.

“Northern Edge allows the joint force to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in the big picture and allows our younger generation within the armed forces to experience what future conflict could feel like in the complexities associated with it,” he said.

The exercise will run from May 3 to 14.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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