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US Air Force testing F-15E electronic warfare upgrade in anechoic chamber

F-15E Eagle
An F-15E Eagle is suspended from the ceiling at the Benefield Anechoic Facility during its first phase of testing of the Eagle passive/active warning and survivability system. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force is upgrading its F-15E Eagle fleet with a new electronic warfare protection system that is currently undergoing testing at the Benefield Anechoic Facility (BAF) on Edwards Air Force Base, California.

This F-15E fighters are being outfitted with the eagle passive/active warning and survivability system (EPAWSS), an integrated digital avionics system designed to protect the F-15E Eagle against enemy air defense systems.

“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,” said Jon Danner, F-15 Division Test Manager at Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

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.

Eagle passive/active warning and survivability system

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.

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 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 Benefield Anechoic Facility plays an integral part in testing the DoD fleet’s EW capabilities. The facility 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.

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.