US is adding more F-15E/F-15EX’s teeth through enhanced EPAWSS

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U.S. F-15E and brand-new F-15EX fighter jets are set to receive a significant upgrade. They will be equipped with a crucial electronic warfare countermeasure system, enhancing their effectiveness against opponents. The completion of a critical milestone – the testing of the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System [EPAWSS] – marks an important advancement for the U.S. Air Force and defense manufacturer BAE Systems. This high-tech equipment will equip the fighter jets with jamming and EW protection until they are retired. 

Photo by USAF, Matthew Plew

In a recent announcement, BAE Systems confirmed that the USAF had completed the first operational and testing reviews of the system on April 2nd. This milestone effectively recognizes the transformative capabilities of EPAWSS. Amy Nesbitt, who heads the EPAWSS program at BAE Systems, highlighted the system’s upgradability and capacity for rapid incorporation. “Our focus is on using agile software development to offer regular improvements to fielded EW systems. This empowers our clients to tackle future electromagnetic threats head-on,” said Nesbitt. 

Latest EPAWSS

Photo credit: Military Today

The latest EPAWSS boasts comprehensive electronic warfare capabilities, including radar warning, geolocation, situational awareness, and self-defense. In addition, its protection by modern integrated air defense systems enables more freedom of movement and infiltration into battle zones. This upgrade could significantly enhance the fighter jets’ capabilities, particularly if faced with a heavily shielded opponent such as China in a close-to-peer battle. 

“EPAWSS represents a significant technological leap forward, enhancing the lethality and combat capabilities of the F-15E and F-15EX in contested, degraded environments against advanced threats,” remarked Major Bryant Baum, EPAWSS test director for the Air Force Operational Test & Evaluation Center. Major Baum added that EPAWSS has set a new standard in electronic warfare among jet pilots, with over a decade committed to its development. 

U.S. Air Force budget documents for fiscal 2025 suggest that the procurement for the system will conclude in 2029, after an investment of $1.8 billion. According to the Air Force’s Selected Acquisition Reports, the Initial operational capability, or “Required Assets Available,” is expected within a year. Over the coming months, the system will begin its distribution to operational units.

Photo by Jerry McGrath

Maximizing F-15s’ potential

The Enhanced Pilot Awareness Weapon Survivability System [EPAWSS] represents an advanced level of electronic warfare technology, becoming an invaluable tool for pilots to keep themselves and their allies safe. This system doesn’t only monitor and jam adversary air defense systems, but it also deceives enemy Electronic Warfare [EW] units. 

EPAWSS encompasses radar warning, situational awareness, geolocation, and self-protection. It’s adept at detecting and defeating threats originating from the air or the ground in the increasingly intricate and electronically challenged arenas of modern warfare. 

Photo credit: USAF

EPAWSS employs the latest advancements in computing, receiver, and transmitter technology to provide pilots with refined information for superior decision-making. As proclaimed by Boeing, this technology initiates a crucial enhancement in the F-15’s survivability capabilities. 

Old F-15s against modern radars

For F-15s not due for retirement soon, EPAWSS guarantees they can contend with contemporary radars by improving both detectability and protection, thereby enhancing survivability beyond the outdated Tactical Electronic Warfare System presently installed in the aircraft. As stated by a senior US Air Force official, EPAWSS outfits the F-15 to remain functional for many more years, extending its operation beyond Homeland Defense and low-threat environments. 

Photo by Samuel King Jr.

The operational testing of EPAWSS began in July 2023, displaying its “cognitive” electronic warfare abilities at the Northern Edge 2023 exercise. Boeing reported successful outcomes, with real-time testing done on two new F-15EX Eagle II jets and the initial low-rate production started in July 2022. “Cognitive” EW involves the use of artificial intelligence or machine learning to scrutinize signals from threat radars and other transmitters and discern the best method for jamming or deceiving them. 

NE23 exercise

The NE23 exercise evaluated the EPAWSS’s ability to rapidly respond to unidentified electromagnetic threats. It examined the system’s capacity to process sensor data in flight, create complex algorithms, and alter waveforms instantly. 

Photo credit: Boeing

The F-15E was originally designed in the 1980s for long-range, high-speed interception missions without requiring an escort or electronic warfare aircraft. Nowadays, the battlefield scenario has changed drastically due to the rapid evolution of anti-access/Area Denial systems employing electronic warfare systems. Updating the F-15E with EPAWSS not only elevates its combat capabilities in a modern battle arena but also prolongs its service life. While fifth-generation aircraft like the F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs utilize stealth technologies to significantly minimize their radar signatures, the F-15E fighters are noticeably more vulnerable to attacks in their absence. 

Future role against China

The refurbished F-15s play an essential role in any potential confrontation with China. Despite the stealth advantages of the F-35, the F-15’s speed, long-range capability, and larger payload capacity make it invaluable. In an emergency, the Eagle’s exceptional thrust and maneuverability could become critical features. 

Photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins

Emphasizing its strategic importance, the US Air Force has requested $824 million for the 2025 annual budget to finalize the purchase and installation of EPAWSS on 99 F-15E Strike Eagles that are destined to remain in service. 

The Air Force intends to replace the soon-to-retire 100 F-15Es with 94 new F-15EXs, although the documents do not clarify how many will be equipped with EPAWSS annually. Ultimately, this system is a crucial element in the efforts to maintain the Strike Eagle’s operational readiness until at least 2040.

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