The US Air Force’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron proved the F-15E Strike Eagle can carry five AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) during a munitions proof-of-concept called Project Strike Rodeo.
The test on May 11 validated loading five JASSM long-range missiles and laid the foundation for follow-on flight testing that would more than double the F-15E’s current JASSM-carrying capacity.
According to Lt. Col. Mike Benitez, 53rd Wing director of staff, the grass-roots initiative started in January 2021 during a WEPTAC working group. A team of expert tacticians were working through a specific scenario that relied on the ability to escort a bomber loaded with stand-off munitions to a release point in a highly-contested environment.
Some warfighters hypothesized that using a formation of fighters instead of a single bomber to employ the JASSM salvo could not only reduce the size and complexity of the strike package required to execute the mission, it would also distribute mission risk across the force.
Unfortunately, the maximum number of JASSMs any fighter can currently carry is two, meaning though the idea is feasible it wasn’t viable based on the number of fighters required, unless… a fighter could carry more JASSMs.
With this idea in mind, the F-15E Strike Eagle was the platform considered for taking on the task of carrying more JASSMs, and Project Strike Rodeo was born. Unfortunately, the munitions would not fit on the conformal fuel tank weapons stations of the F-15E, as JASSM was designed to be loaded directly from the base of their shipping containers, which is too large to fit under the F-15E without hitting the main landing gear.
A small Eglin-based team was formed comprising multiple units within the 53d Wing, 96 Test Wing, and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to find a solution. Using Squadron Innovation Funds, the team designed and manufactured a special loading tool and wrote new weapons loading procedures. Project Strike Rodeo then drew the interest of the F-15 System Program Office, which provided the funding to execute this load test.
“No one told us to do this,” said Benitez. “We saw the need and the opportunity, so we executed. This infectious attitude drove every unit or office we coordinated with. Everyone wanted to see if we could do it, and no one ever pushed back and asked for a requirement or a formal higher headquarters tasking.”
With the successful execution of this load test, Project Strike Rodeo went from idea to execution in five months.
“This is a squadron innovation effort with operational and strategic implications,” said Benitez. “Project Strike Rodeo is all about creating options for combatant commanders, which ultimately can be used to create multiple dilemmas for the adversary.”