As part of Project Strike Rodeo, an F-15E Strike Eagle was loaded with five AGM-158 JASSMs.
The U.S. Air Force continues to work on expanding the F-15E Strike Eagle‘s already impressive capabilities. The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron completed a munitions PoC (proof-of-concept) called Project Strike Rodeo, May 11, 2021, that validated loading five AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) on the aircraft. The test paves the way for follow-on flight testing that would more than double the F-15E’s current JASSM-carrying capacity.
The way this idea was born and developed into something real is particularly interesting.
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. Here are some details, excerpted from an official USAF release:
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.
The AGM-158s, both the baseline variant with a range in excess of 200 NM and the -ER version, with a standoff distance of over 500 NM, are GPS-guided radar-evading cruise missiles with 2,250-lbs penetrator/blast fragmentation warhead. The JASSM cruise missile employs precision routing and guidance in adverse weather, day or night, using an infrared seeker in addition to the anti-jam GPS to find and destroy high-value, well-defended targets.
Earlier this year, the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, loaded six inert GBU-38 JDAMs on a single side of an F-15E, in a PoC whose aim was to increase the carrying capacity of the Strike Eagle from 9 to 15 JDAMs, so it can act as a “bomb truck” and move fully assembled bombs that can be used at remote location to rearm the F-15E itself or other aircraft.
And two months later, on Apr. 25, 2021, six F-15Es of the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from RAF Lakenheath relocated to Al Dhafra Air Base (United Arab Emirates) for the first time in the new “Bomb Truck” configuration (each carrying 12 JDAMs and 4 SDBs).