Air Combat Command (ACC) recently declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] Legion infrared search and track (IRST) pod on F-15C fighters by Boeing [BA].
Legion is to permit air-to-air targeting using Raytheon Technologies‘ [RTX] AIM-120 missiles against hostile aircraft in radar-denied environments.
ACC said that the pod achieved IOC on the F-15C on Jan. 21 and that Legion “is projected to reach full operational capability later this year as the remaining contracted pods are delivered to tactical F-15C squadrons.”
Lockheed Martin has been developing the pod since 2015 and received a Boeing subcontract for Legion in 2017.
Boeing has said that equipment on current F-15Cs, such as fuel tanks, Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pods, and the Legion IRST pods in radar-denied environments are fully compatible with the new F-15EX, and, as a result, the Air Force can simply transfer those systems from F-15Cs to F-15EXs without having to buy new materiel (Defense Daily, Feb. 2, 2021). ACC said that the Legion pod is also compatible with the Lockheed Martin F-16.
Legion “is a sensor that uses the infrared spectrum to help pilots to track and engage enemy aircraft in environments, where traditional radar technology is denied,” ACC said. “The pod also provides a way of monitoring enemy aircraft from extended ranges that normally go undetected, boosting the effectiveness of the F-15C and its ability to dominate the battlespace.”
Todd Mathes, ACC’s F-15C program element monitor, said in an ACC statement that Legion is a “game changer.”
U.S. Air Force Maj. Daniel Hermanski, ACC’s F-15 requirements branch chief, said in the statement that “not only do we have the capability and technology to jam and counter radar, but our enemies do, too.”
Legion “is the next step for countering jamming technology and allowing our warfighters to fight and track the enemy in contested environments,” he said.
The Air Force has hoped to field the classified Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM) as early as this fiscal year. JATM is to defeat adversary electronic jamming and to have a longer range than the AIM-120D (Defense Daily, Nov. 24, 2021).
The Air Force and the Navy are to field JATM on the Lockheed Martin F-22, the Boeing F/A-18E/F, and the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter aircraft.
In 2019, the Air Force disclosed the JATM effort to counter the Chinese-made PL-15 air-to-air missile (Defense Daily, June 20, 2019). While the Air Force has divulged little about JATM and has said that its capabilities are classified, defense analysts have said that the missile will likely have a speed of Mach 4 to 5 and a range of 120 to 150 miles.
While the Air Force said last year that the first JATM flight test would occur this year, JATM flight testing appears to stretch back to Feb. 13, 2019 when the missile clocked 5.5 flying hours, according to “sortie recaps” posted on the federal government’s business notice web page.