Monday, July 6, 2020

F-15E Eagle fighters undergoing critical electronic warfare testing

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The U.S. Air Force has reported that its F-15E Eagle fighter aircraft fleet is currently undergoing critical electronic warfare testing at the Benefield Anechoic Facility (BAF) on Edwards Air Force Base, California.  A testing phase began recently and is currently under way.

This F-15E is outfitted with the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System (EPAWSS). The EPAWSS is an integrated digital avionics system designed to protect the F-15E Eagle against enemy air defense systems, said Jon Danner, F-15 Division Test Manager at Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

“The Air Force is modernizing its F-15 fleet with the EPAWSS, which is capable of detecting, identifying, denying, degrading, disrupting, and defeating modern and emerging threat systems in contested environments,” Danner said.

The testing is a collaborative effort among the F-15 System Program Office (SPO) at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, the 96th Test Wing’s 46th Test Squadron at Eglin AFB in Florida, the 412th Test Wing’s 412th Electronic Warfare Group’s 772nd Test Squadron at Edwards and contractors, Boeing and BAE Systems.

Danner explained that the current electronic warfare self-protection suite on the F-15E Eagle uses 1970’s analog technology designed for combat operations in environments defended by 1980s-era radar-based ground and air threats.

Today’s emerging threat environment is much more diverse, complex and adaptive. Additionally, the aging technology is becoming more difficult and expensive to support, Danner added.

The EPAWSS takes advantages of today’s computing, receiver and transmitter technologies to provide a quicker, smarter response to the threats and better actionable information to the pilot, said Ed Sabat, Project Development Lead and Civilian Director of Operations, 772nd Test Squadron.

The first of multiple test phases at the BAF was completed in April 2019. The ongoing tests are required to collect the data to establish the integration of the EPAWSS radar and missile warning capabilities and the electronic counter measures ECM onto the F-15E platform, added Sabat.

“Additionally, tests must establish and provide verification of the interoperability and RF (radio frequency) compatibility among the EPAWSS, the AN/APG-82 radar and various existing avionics at the installed system level on the aircraft, as it would fly versus in a system lab,” Sabat said. The systems must coexist, communicate and operate without interfering with each other.

An F-15E Eagle is suspended from the ceiling at the Benefield Anechoic Facility
An F-15E Eagle is suspended from the ceiling at the Benefield Anechoic Facility. Photo by Ethan “Evac” Wagner

The EPAWSS is designed to provide indication, type and position of ground-based RF threats as well as bearing of airborne threats with the situational awareness needed to avoid, engage or negate the threat. The EPAWSS defends against RF and IR threat systems detecting or acquiring accurate targeting information prior to threat engagement thus complicating and/or negating an enemy threat targeting solution. The system counters threats through its suite of components with electro optical and RF techniques.

The BAF plays an integral part in testing the DoD fleet’s EW capabilities. The BAF at Edwards is the largest known RF anechoic chamber and allows aircraft’s avionics and EW systems to operate as they would in flight.

“It allows a secure environment where today’s complex modern systems can be tested with the air vehicle in essentially a well instrumented ‘laboratory’ in which you can ‘fly’ the weapons system while collecting the required data with optimal real time feedback,” Sabat said.

The test capabilities available at the BAF allow the system engineers and the test engineers to take this significant step in the DoD test process prior to flight test. It is a cost-effective ground test phase where a large amount of data is gathered whereas it would be either not possible or cost-prohibitive in flight.

Additionally for the SPO and engineers going into flight test, there are less unknowns resulting in higher flight test productivity. The BAF testing complements flight test to provide better-tested weapons systems to the Warfighter.

The BAF’s capabilities include a suite of simulators and emulators to provide such signal types as EW, CNI, data links, radar, and radar returns. This is provided along with extensive RF collection and monitoring systems along with the customers’ various lab tools that can be hosted at the BAF, Sabat explained.

Following this current iteration of the EPAWSS testing, further tests are planned until the system will be fielded to the fleet of F-15’s for the warfighter.

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Executive Editor

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