A USAF F-15C Eagle has achieved the longest known air-to-air missile shot ever.
While its most advanced variant, the F-15EX (recently officially named the “Eagle II”) was being delivered to the U.S. Air Force getting a lot of media attention, the “legacy” Eagle achieved yet another record: according to an official USAF statement, in March 2021, an F-15C fired an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) at a BQM-167 subscale drone, resulting in the longest known air-to-air missile shot ever.
The kill from the furthest distance ever recorded was achieved by the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron in partnership with the 83d Fighter Weapons Squadron during a test out of Tyndall AFB, Florida, during WSEP (Weapons Systems Evaluation Program) East.
Known also as “Combat Archer”, the 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 events are almost always the first (and sometimes only) opportunity to use live air-to-air weapons and validate their shots.
Missiles used in Combat Archer tests usually don’t carry a warhead, replaced by telemetry packages, and are shot over the Eglin-Gulf Test and Training Range at various types of drone targets.
The latest WSEP iteration saw the 53d Weapons Evaluation Group host air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons system evaluations at Tyndall and Hill Air Force Bases, respectfully, from March 8-19, 2021.
A previous release from USAF stated that the dynamic event at Tyndall, WSEP East, involved F-16 instructor pilots, to include 16 first time shooters, from Holloman Air Force Base, NM, as well as F-16 student pilots who flew in the sorties as a learning opportunity. Additionally, Navy F/A-18s, and Marine Corps F/A-18s and F-35Bs participated the event to include firing AIM-9 and AIM-120 missiles. The WSEP also conducted the first employment of the F-35B gun pod in aerial gunnery.
“The 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron developed various profiles, to include high-G “Combat Free” mission sets, against full- and sub-scale drones from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron to provide scenarios to accomplish the various necessary objectives. In total, the combined units flew 295 sorties, firing 37 missiles and conducting 27 aerial gunnery missions.”
But, interestingly, there was another shooter involved in WSEP East: the F-15C Eagle that set the record for the longest air-to-air shot. Neither the AIM-120 variant, nor the distance were disclosed. The AIM-120D is believed to have a range in excess of 160 km whereas previous variants C5+ have ranges in excess of 100 km. By comparison, the almost legendary AIM-54 Phoenix of the F-14 had, on paper, a maximum range of over 190 km; if the one of the F-15C is the longest air-to-air kill, it means that not even during a live firing exercise the Phoenix shot down any target at further distance.
“This test effort supported requests from the CAF for “long range kill chain” capabilities,” said Maj. Aaron Osborne, 28th TES. “Key partnerships within the 53rd Wing enabled the expansion of capabilities on a currently fielded weapons system, resulting in warfighters gaining enhanced weapons employment envelopes.”
By partnering with WSEP and the 83d FWS, the 28th TES was able to accomplish this big impact test at a relatively low cost, showcasing innovation and directly supporting the 2018 NDS’s calls for increased lethality and affordability.
According to the U.S. Air Force, the test also exercised existing long-range weapons testing infrastructure and laid the ground work for modernizing range capabilities in support of future long-range weapons testing
The longest air-to-air missile shot ever adds to the list of records held by the iconic F-15 including the whopping 104 to zero kill ratio in combat you can find on most official and unofficial Eagle bibliography.