Air Force’s New F-15 Self-Defense System Nears Flight Tests

The Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), which is intended to improve the ability of U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets to detect and counter air and ground threats, is on track to begin flight tests in the fourth quarter of this year, according to EPAWSS prime contractor Boeing [BA].

Developmental testing will occur through the second quarter of 2020 and be followed by an independent operational test and evaluation phase that will last about a year, Boeing said in written responses to questions. Tests will take place at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. 

Boeing's F-15. Photo: Boeing.

Boeing's F-15. Photo: Boeing.

If the program is fully funded, the Air Force will start fielding EPAWSS on the F-15E Strike Eagle in September 2022 and the F-15C Eagle in September 2023, Boeing said. A total of more than 400 F-15s -- 217 F-15Es and 196 F-15Cs – could get the upgrade.

Although the Air Force has so far requested EPAWSS procurement funding only for the F-15E, the fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill recently passed by the House would add $67 million to begin buying EPAWSS kits for the F-15C as well. The F-15E is designed to perform both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, while the F-15C focuses on gaining and maintaining air superiority. 

The all-digital EPAWSS will enhance the F-15’s ability to detect and identify air and ground threats, use countermeasures and jam enemy radar. It will replace the F-15’s original self-defense system, the 1970s-era Tactical Electronic Warfare System (TEWS), whose analog technology has limited capability against modern threats. TEWS is also becoming more difficult and expensive to maintain.

“The proliferation of fourth-generation enemy aircraft, sophisticated ‘double-digit’ anti-aircraft missile systems and other enemy systems pose a significant threat to F-15 survivability,” the Air Force wrote in its FY 2019 budget request. EPAWSS “will replace the F-15's functionally obsolete self-defense … TEWS to enhance weapon system situational awareness and survivability against enemy threats.”

Under the program, which is expected to cost more than $4 billion, Boeing will integrate EPAWSS onto the F-15 and modify the jet to support the system. Subcontractor BAE Systems is developing EPAWSS hardware and software.

The Air Force says that EPAWSS will allow the Boeing-built F-15 to operate in contested environments through 2040. The service tapped Boeing as the EPAWSS prime contractor in 2015, and the program completed a critical design review in 2017.

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