GEAR & TECH

The F-15 is taking a page out of the Su-27 book (for once)

The F-15 Eagle rightfully boasts of one of the most successful runs in air-to-air combat of all time. In fact, the F-15 Eagle is undefeated when the air-to-air combat has been for real, with over 100 kills. But believe it or not, it has lacked something — something that its arch-rival, the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, has had from day one.


According to a release from Lockheed Martin, the Air Force has announced Lockheed's Legion Pod has been selected for use on the F-15C Eagles the service has on hand, starting in 2018. This pod will give the Eagle an infra-red search and track system, or IRST.

A pair of Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker aircraft. (DOD photo)

When the F-15 was designed, it was given an awesome radar. That radar helped the Eagle guide AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided missiles. But the Su-27 not only had a radar for its AA-10 "Alamo" and AA-12 "Adder" missiles, it also had an IRST, which gave it a technological edge in air-to-air combat.

Radar, while it has long range, is a system that can itself be detected. When a radar "paints" a combat aircraft, the crew will find out because most combat aircraft have what is known as a radar warning receiver, or RWR. In essence, when the radar locks on to the target, the RWR screams bloody murder, telling the pilot, "Hey, someone's trying to blow you out of the sky. DO SOMETHING!"

The Legion pod mounted on a F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighter. (Lockheed Martin Fort Worth Texas Photo by Alexander H Groves)

IRSTs get around this by tracking on the heat from an aircraft. It works a lot like a forward-looking infrared, but it specializes in the air-to-air arena as opposed to the air-to-ground arena. Furthermore, it can feed data to an infra-red guided missile, like the AIM-9 Sidewinder or AA-11 Archer. Those cannot be picked up by a RWR, and thus, they give a pilot much less warning when targeted.

Lockheed notes that 130 Legion pods will be purchased. The first of the pods is expected to be delivered in 2018.