A mix of Raptors and Eagles can be pretty deadly, even if outnumbered by enemy fighters.
More than 250 airmen and 9 F-15 Eagle jets from the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, deployed to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, for the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP).
Known also as “Combat Archer”, WSEP is an air-to-air exercise hosted by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group to improve air-to-air tactics and practice weapons systems employment: fighter pilots rarely get a chance to fire live missiles, WSEP exercises are almost always the first and only opportunity to use live air-to-air weapons and validate their shots.
“The WSEP does two things,” said Col. Jeffrey Rivers, Commander of the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron, Weapons Systems Evaluation Program in a U.S. Air Force release. “It feeds Combat Air Force’s (CAF) training and readiness. We get air crew experience for the first time subsequent to the events, sounds, sights, smells, and noise of a real missile coming off the jet in a realistic scenario they would find normally in training but now it is with real weapons and real targets to shoot at.”
Missiles used in Combat Archer tests usually don’t carry a warhead, replaced by telemetry packages. The AAM are shot over the Gulf of Mexico at various types of drone targets (including the MQM-107D Streaker and the unmanned aerial targets such as the QF-4 recently retired).
During WSEP, the Massachusetts ANG’s Eagle jets flew 212 sorties out of 221 sorties and successfully fired 14,661 bullets at WSEP, totaling 100 percent of the guns on the aircraft firing every time as well as 17 missiles obtaining a mission capable rate of 83%.
“Our deployment to Tyndall really had two different but complimentary themes,” said Col. William Bladen, 104th Fighter Wing, Operations Group Commander. “The WSEP portion focused on exercising and testing the kill chain from the missile build all the way through its destruction of a target. It takes several miracles for a missile to complete an intercept. […] The second piece of the deployment was large force exercises and 4-ship training which is the core fighting force in the Eagle. With several other fighter airframes on the Gulf Coast, we were able to put together daily outnumbered scenarios that we cannot produce up here at Barnes. The last day of the trip we flew 4 F-15s and 4 F-22s against 14 “red air” fighters. For our training, we allowed the red air to regenerate after being killed by a blue air fighter. The final results of that mission: Blue Air killed 41 enemy aircraft and lost just one. While pretty phenomenal, perfection is our goal so the debrief focused on how we could have had a 41-0 ratio.”
Pretty impressive, even though, as always, we don’t know anything about the ROE (Rules Of Engagement), the scenarios, the threat profile, the simulated loadout etc. In this case, we don’t even know the type of adversaries the Eagle/Raptor flight had to fight nor how America’s two premiere fighters cooperated to shoot down all the enemies in the simulated engagements.
Kill ratios attributed to both single types or combined forces always seem to suggest there were direct engagements WVR (Within Visual Range). However, BVR (Beyond Visual Range) aerial combat is probably more likely in future air wars where air dominance has not been clearly established. As proved by what we have witnessed in the Nevada desert during Red Flag 17-2.
During WSEP, mixing the deadly ability of the stealthy F-22s to gather, fuse, and distribute information to provide the Counter Air forces with vital situational awareness that could be exploited to engage highly sophisticated aerial threats, with the air superiority capabilities of the un-stealthy F-15s, equipped with powerful Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars proved to be pretty effective.
As said we don’t know anything about the assets that were defeated during the mock air combat at WSEP. “On the ramp at Tyndall Air Force Base alongside 104th Fighter Wing Eagles, were Canadian CF-18s, F-35s, F-16s, and F-22s,” says the U.S. Air Force release. Some of these might were probably part of the Red Air.
Top image: file photo of a U.S. Air Force F-22 and F-15, 104th Fighter Wing, flying together during Cope Taufan 14 exercise.
It would seem that having a mix force of highly capable 5th gen and upgraded 4th gen aircraft creates a very effective “hunter killer” combination. The tactics being evaluated, practiced, and implemented will be the real meat and potatoes… so to speak. What good is an F-35 or F-22 if you dont know how to use it in the broader scheme of things?
Four F-15s and four F-22s against fourteen “Red Air” fighters, and a kill ratio of 41:1 was generated? Well it’s safe to assume that F-35s weren’t part of the Red Air package because that kind of a kill ratio would never have been put on the boards. That leaves us with CF-18s and F-16s as the adversary. That’s a pretty potent team – as potent as anything the Russians or Chinese could put in the air. Therefore I submit my firm and without doubt 100% accurate conclusion …
Had the adversary been MiGs, Sukhois, Shenyang or Chengdu fighters the kill ratio in favor of the F-22s and F-15s would have been at least as high – likely significantly higher. After all, F-15s alone in actual combat have a win:lose ratio of 104:0. The Eagle has destroyed the best Russian fighters made. Would it surprise anyone if F-22 and F-15 together killed over 104 Russian or Chinese fighters against 0 loses should they engage in actual combat tomorrow? Not me!
U.S. fighters would wipe the skies clean, Russians or Chinese aerial forces would be bloodied to the point that complete control of the skies would belong to the USAF. You can count on it! And therein lay the best conclusions one can extrapolate from these very challenging, extremely realistic air combat exercises – especially when combined with F-15’s real-world combat performance. At least that’s my conclusion. I dare anyone to challenge it.
Do Red Air fighters have AESA radars?
41 to 1? You are right to question the Rules of Engagement. Numbers that extreme raise suspicion, particularly with a new president and new budgets at play.
I also wonder how true to life those numbers would be in a extended war. The first day of encounter can go badly for one side, but it can quickly change tactics, creating its own ROE. In WWII, the Sherman tank was no match for the heavier German tanks, but we adapted, calling in air strikes when our tanks were outmatched.
Even in a war that seems dominated by endless stupidity, as was the trench warfare of WWI, the generals eventually learned. The Brits and French began to advance when they quit attempting a great breakthrough. They blasted the daylights out of the first line of German trenches, moved in quickly to take just that line, then held it. They’d realized that, given all the factors of a WWI battlefield, advancing more than a short distance in a blasted landscape was impossible.
And what are the Russians and the Chinese planning as their counter to our stealth and these data links? No tactic exists without a counter and I can think of several. What I can do, they can certainly do.
Don’t forget that war has its quirks. Before WWII, the Germans sent a Zeppelin loaded with radio gear cruising just off the coast of SE England. It heard nothing and concluded that the Brits had no radar defense system—that those large towers were just for navigation. Not so. The Germans were listening from 30 MHz on up. The British Chain Home operated at about 26 MHz.
Having broken Enigma, the Brits established radio listening posts with huge antennas pointed toward Eastern Europe to intercept German tactical communications in Eastern Europe. Any German intelligence officer would have understood that the British would not have gone to that much trouble to copy communications they could not decode. That did not happen because from the air those antennas, wire rhombics hundreds of feet long and mounted on poles that placed the antenna over 100-feet high, looked like ordinary power lines.
There’s another problem with this 41-to-1 ratio. It can induce excessive confidence. Not hearing that radar, the Germans had trouble understanding why the British seemed able to fill the sky with fighters just as their bombers approached. Not seeing those Rhombics, the German military concluded their tactical communications were secure.
While we play these war games in the Gulf, what are we not seeing? That is what bothers me.
–Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace
With limited numbers of F-22’s, this is the type of exercise and information sharing technology with the F-15C that will allow the USA to gain and control air superiority in contested air space (China & Russia come to mind). The Eagle is still a great aircraft and the on-going installation of the AN/APG-63(V)3 AESA radar and other upgrades will make it that much more capable in the hands of an experienced Eagle driver. And while newer jets such as the SU-35 maybe able to out “dog fight” an older F-15C, most analyst predict visual air to air combat is probably a thing of the past. The networking of data between aircraft and allowing capable 4th generation fighters to review this information and be successful in contested air space will be the key in future conflicts.