The CF-188 Hornet has served the Canadian Forces for more than three decades as its primary (and only) frontline air defense fighter. As you can imagine, it’s getting fairly old and edges closer to the end of its feasible lifespan with each passing day. Thus, the Royal Canadian Air Force has been searching for a new fighter aircraft to take over the Hornet’s current air defense and aerial support roles. Note that the CF-188 was only supposed to serve until 2003. Eleven years after that date, Canada’s still shopping for its next fighter.
The Canadian government originally thought that they would find a suitable replacement for the Hornet in the American Joint Strike Fighter program (JSF for short), whose aim was to develop three unique aircraft from one common platform for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1997, the Canadian government thus invested in the opening stages of the JSF program, the result of which was the Lockheed Martin X-35. With Lockheed Martin securing the JSF contract, Canada decided on further investing and later purchasing the variant destined for the USAF, the F-35A Lightning II, which would come with an internal cannon, next-generation avionics and high-tech weapons systems. Years later, as the F-35A/B/Cs all near Initial Operating Capability for their respective branches, numerous complaints have surfaced on all three variants, a number of which really do have merit (while there are others that come as a result of distorted and overly-sensationalized journalism). These complaints caused the Canadian government to stumble in its approach to acquiring the F-35 as its replacement for the Hornet. Now with the Canadian Department of National Defense promising the US government to buy a set of F-35s within the next five years, cries rallying against supplanting the CF-188 with the F-35 made their way back into the public light.
“It’s too costly!”
“It doesn’t function as advertised!”
“Even the Wright Brothers with a revolver could shoot it down!”
“It malfunctions constantly!”
Similar complaints to the above keep showing up in my various newsfeeds. Likewise making an appearance was the U.S. Naval Institute’s sharing of the recently-released 2014 Next Generation Fighter Capability Annual Update, centered around replacing the Hornet with something more suitable. As I was reading through it, a thought came to mind: what if the DND brought the Eagle to Canada?
I’m not talking about the regular F-15C/D, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest fighter aircraft to have ever been built (in my humble opinion). I’m referring to an upgraded version of this venerable jet, the Silent Eagle, first introduced in 2009 by Boeing. Rather than spending exorbitant sums of money on a clean-sheet all-stealth design which wouldn’t be able to be exported (due to US law) nor would be able to compete with the F-35 for sales, Boeing instead took their (and by their, I mean McDonnell Douglas’s) most successful fighter, the F-15 Eagle, and adapt it to the changing times.
The Silent Eagle uses various methods learned from the X-32 (Boeing’s unsuccessful entry for the JSF program), and the relatively-recent F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to reduce its radar cross-section (RCS), limiting what opposing ground-based and aerial radars might display on their screens if they manage to pick up and track the SE. Like the F-35, it carries its weapons internally, further reducing RCS. However, the Silent Eagle’s stealth is limited in comparison to the F-35 and F-22; both of which are built completely around the concept of functioning as stealth fighter aircraft. The F-15SE is rather an adaptation of the existing and already-capable F-15, designed to keep it a relevant platform going into the future for at least the next fifteen to twenty years or so. It also comes with an AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar, and a BAE Systems-designed onboard electronic warfare suite, freeing up space on external hardpoints for more weaponry, should the need arise. It also comes with a glass touchscreen cockpit (similar to the F-35’s), increased fuel efficiency and a unit cost maxing out at approximately $100 million USD, including support and parts. All in all, given the current abilities of the F-15C/D as an extremely potent multirole fighter, and the F-15E as a highly-capable strike fighter, all with glistening and unrivaled combat records, added to the modifications Boeing proposes, you have a seriously awesome and highly-worthy jet in the F-15SE.
So far, the SE hasn’t exactly had a stellar showing on any of its export bids. The Israeli Air Force, though initially expressing interest in the aircraft, decided to pick up the F-35A Lightning II. The same went for the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, and the Republic of Korea Air Force (South Korea). When offered the Silent Eagle, the Saudis stated that they liked the aircraft but still wanted to go with the less-advanced and cheaper F-15SA. This doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on the F-15SE. It’s not a fifth-generation fighter, and it most definitely isn’t as stealthy as the F-35. That doesn’t mean that it’s wholly irrelevant and useless. For Canada’s purposes, the SE is near-perfect.
Canada, the second-largest country in the world, has a considerable land mass and coastal lines that need to be defended against possible threats, especially those emanating from its western neighbors across the Pacific Ocean. The range of the F-15SE would make it a highly suitable aircraft for the job. Not to mention, inhospitable climates and the remoteness of the Canadian north make recovering downed aircrew difficult, in the event of equipment malfunctions… especially engine failure. The highly-reliable twin Pratt & Whitney F-100-229s that come with the SE reduce the likelihood of losing aircraft in this manner, and further still, allow for the possibility to recover the aircraft itself with just one engine functioning. Also, I figured I’d throw in a reminder as to the amazing airworthiness of the Eagle… remember that time it flew with just one wing after a midair collision? Proven ruggedness, wouldn’t you say? Again, the F-15’s also an unmatched air-to-air fighter, able to fly a variety of other missions. What more could the RCAF ask for?
Well, there are downsides to the Silent Eagle. For one, it’s not a complete fifth-generation fighter. This means that in time, the SE will be unable to fly against more modern fifth-gen jets and win consistently, should situations ever escalate to that point. As the world moves towards entering the fifth generation of fighter aviation, it leaves 4th and 4.5th generation fighters behind as relics from the past, due to their reaching the end of their life cycles and being disadvantaged against modern jets. Therefore, buying the F-15SE could prove to be a poor investment for Canada, which should realistically consider paying lesser in the long run by buying the F-35, rather than buying the F-15SE, retiring it, and then eventually buying into the F-35 to replace it. Speaking of buying, the costs involved with the F-15SE are pretty large and burdensome when you consider the Canadian defense budget, which is generally not very expansive in size. The unit cost of the F-15SE, as well as the hourly flight costs could prove to be too much for the Canadian government to handle. Indeed, back when it first purchased the F/A-18 Hornet from McDonnell Douglas, the Department of National Defense felt that the F-15 would be too costly to operate in the long run, and decided on the cheaper Hornet instead.
For all the negativity surrounding the program, the F-35 is still a very capable aircraft that’ll prove itself over time. It’s also a plane that the RCAF has envisioned for the past 10 years or so as its next fighter, with little to no consideration of other aircraft as viable options. Therefore, it looks unlikely at the moment that the Canadian government would entertain dumping the F-35A in favor of the F-15SE. In the long run, it’s probably for the best. But it’s nice to theorize about what might be or what could have been on occasion, isn’t it?
20 thoughts on “CF-15SE “Silent Eagle””
That is so wrong to call the F-35 a very capable aircraft. Because it won’t prove itself over time. The F-35 JSF aircraft designs will not meet specification nor the operational requirements laid down in the JSF JORD (Joint Operational Requirements Document) by significant degrees, noting that these operational requirements and resulting specifications, themselves, were predicated on the capabilities of reference threats from an era past and subsequently subjected to the illogical and deeply flawed process known as CAIV (Cost As and Independent Variable).
The designs of all three JSF variants are presenting with critical single points of failure while even the most basic elements of aircraft design (e.g. weight, volume, aerodynamics, structures, thermal management, electrical power, etc.) will almost certainly end up in what Engineers call “Coffin Corner”.
In essence, the unethical Thana Marketing strategy used to sell the JSF, along with the acquisition malpractice of concurrency in not only development, production and testing but the actual designs of the JSF variants, themselves, have resulted in the JSF marketeers writing cheques that the aircraft designs and JSF Program cannot honour.
While I do appreciate your opinion, as civilians neither you nor I know nearly enough about the performance of the JSF aircraft or its capabilities, beyond what we hear reported in the media and what we hear from test pilots who participate in interviews and panels. In situations like those, I’d take the opinions of the pilots who fly and evaluate them over anybody elses, and currently, those opinions are glowing though down to earth. Critics once said the same of the F-4 Phantom II. It’s a worthless money pit of a venture, it won’t be able to prove itself over time, and it’s just not worth it. Similar circumstances, and even still, the Phantom became the undisputed 3rd generation king of the skies, did it not?
What really amazes me is how people are being encouraged to drink the Lockheed Martin’s Kool-Aid a.k.a. Believing in total to indifference to what is real. Who have never looked at the facts and tested the evidence.
I guarantee anyone the F-35 will never be an amazing air superiority/strike aircraft.
I know more about the F-35 that is very incapable of than anyone else don’t you think? I have nothing but very disappointed for the F-35 and its poor capabilities.
I make it very clear that if you put against newer aircraft from Russia and China, I guarantee you the F-35 will not survive the future conflicts up against the Su-30/Su-35S variants and MiG-29/35 aircraft in Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and Within Visual Range (WVR) engagements, let alone the PAK-FA, J-20 and J-31 aircraft.
For more information about why is the F-35 a wrong aircraft for the US and its close allies.
Thanks for the links! I like AusAirPower as a source, but keep in mind the fact that RT exhibits extreme bias towards the west. If you asked them to report on the Sukhoi T-50, they’d undoubtedly call it the world’s best fighter aircraft, though we know from many other mainstream defense reporting outlets that the program has been riddled with delays and technological missteps.
I think the real telling factor is that Boeing, while having full knowledge of the capabilities of what the F-15SE could offer the RCAF has not even offered it, instead entering the F/A-18 Super Hornet (presumably the Block 3).
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Great write-up! While the F-15SE most likely won’t come to reality, the F-15SA for Saudi Arabia took it’s Digital FBW and ‘touch’ cockpit design which is why four of them are being re-evaluated throughout the flight envelope at Boeing’s Palmdale and St. Louis locations. These new Eagles have been described by the engineers as much more capable than the USAF’s, though the later has no desire to upgrade the fleet due to having F-22’s (A horrible move, as Raptor numbers are limited). As of now it seems the main hope of keeping Eagle evolution going is a contract win for Qatar.
Canada will most likely buy the F-35 as too much industry and money has already been invested, though might it be possible a split buy could occur such as the scenario with Australia? At the very least, Growlers may be needed for Canada to field a full spectrum EA capability; something that will only grow in importance overtime. The problem for both MAC jets is the lack of time they have to secure sales and additional industry.
It’s a shame that the Silent Eagle won’t be adopted by the US any time soon. If nothing else they’d be a great replacement for the F-15s we have now to keep them relevant in a symmetric war between superpowers.
If nothing else they’d fill the gaps until all the F-35s we plan to crank out are made and all the kinks are worked out.
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You make a good point, but Boeing sees things differently. It doesn’t wish to market the F-15SE to the USAF as they intended on it being an export-only aircraft. Boeing wishes instead to compete for the 6th generation fighters that’ll be coming into the game within the next 15 years or so, and it’ll be a far more encompassing solution than the F-22 ever was! So stay tuned for that!
The requirements of the separate nations are different, but it is clear that in the case of Canada and my country, the Netherlands, the F35 is not up to the job. The Dutch air force will never be able to pay for or need an air force that performs the tasks the F35 is supposed to do (albeit it poorly). The Dutch army needs CAS airplanes and the F35 is not good at this. Range, speed, ruggedness, power to weight ratio and wingloading (all known specifics) of the F35 are not good enough for the vast airspace of Canada it will be supposed to protect. The situation in Korea is completely different from Canada and Holland. Korea will fight a symytrical war in a small airspace, whereas Canada has the second biggest in the world, whilst the Dutch will have to fight in assymetrical wars. The F15SE does all this really much better. As is the case in Canada the Dutch decision is highly political and sets no priority on what , in the case of the Dutch, the “boots on the ground” need. Some examples of bad planes due to political messing up: the Thunderchief (lead sled), that was shot out of the skies of Vietnam, the Mustang with its Allison engine AND the Phantom without the cannon (and which flight caracteristics were the reason for the development of arguably some of the best fighters, Eagle and Falcon). The fact that later the flawed design of the F4 was “corrected” does not mean that design flaws are to be permitted.
the dutch had the chance the buy the A-10 why didn’t they because it’s a piece of crap that won’t survive in a modern conflict with actual threats instead of some poor country who accidentally used the word “OIL” around the USA the F-35 is the future nobody will stop that it has a amazing record in Red Flag a 20:1 kill ratio is amazing Red Flag is undoubtedly the best air exercise in NATO history and all of it’s iterations so you tell me non of us other then manufactures know what the plane can actually do so who are you to insult the intelligence of our scientists that have worked so hard to create the most advanced aircraft to date and how are you able to blame the generals involved with R/D these generals were all soldiers and lowly officers once they have the grunts best interest at heart there job is to give out frontline soldiers and sailors and airmen a fighting chance they would not waste it on an aircraft that you say is so bad
Advanced F-15E+ for Canada?
Another option Canada could also consider is the Advanced F-15E+ instead of the F-15SE to avoid too many complexities like Conformal Weapons Bays (CWB’s), Radar Absorbent Material (RAM) and 15 degree twin tail fins.
Equipped with the latest technological upgrades, the Advanced F-15 is the most capable, survivable and maintainable air superiority aircraft available today. It derives from the combat proven F-15 fighter family, which is the backbone of air forces around the world. Evolving from a proven production program, the Advanced F-15 is the low-risk and affordable multi-role fighter solution that delivers unmatched payload, performance and persistence.
> APG-82(V)1 AESA Radar: Most powerful, modern Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar for extended range and improved multi-target track and precision engagement capabilities.
> DEWS: Digital Electronic Warfare System (DEWS) provides outstanding precision threat warning and jamming capabilities.
Performance Technologies & Characteristics:
> Digital FBW: A Digital Fly-by-Wire Flight Control System improves aerodynamic efficiency and fighter performance while also supporting the integration of two additional missionized weapons stations.
Stations 1 & 9: The activation of outboard wing weapons pylon stations 1 and 9 brings increased payload capacity and weapons carriage flexibility.
Range: The F-15’s combat radius surpasses any of its contemporaries with an air-to-air mission radius of 900nm and an air-to-ground mission radius of 1,000nm, which is up to 70 percent farther than the competition. With its Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs), the F-15 has unmatched persistence to effectively support even the most robust maritime defence operation requirements.
> Targeting & Navigation Pods: Advanced targeting and navigation systems enhance target identification and tracking and precision standoff weapons guidance while providing unsurpassed all-weather and night-attack capabilities.
> FLIR & IRST: The latest Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) and Infrared Search and Track (IRST) technologies provide enhanced passive detection and tracking of airborne targets.
> Advanced Cockpit System: A state-of-the-art, missionised Advanced Cockpit System with 11-inch x 19-inch (27.9 x 48.2 cm) colour touch screen Large Area Display and next-generation Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) in both the forward and aft crew stations provide increased situational awareness day and night, along with enhanced air-to-air and self-defence capabilities.
> Link-16 Fighter Data Link: Connects the operator to the networked battlefield and coalition forces, allowing the benefit of offboard system capabilities.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet production line needs to be shut down right now which can’t meet Canada’s future requirements.
The fundamental problems with the Super Hornet (SH) stem from the fact that this machine has seriously Degraded Operational Gradients (FT term for which the shorthand is DOG!). Little doubt the SH has some impressive systems e.g. APG-79 AESA, etc. and can provide the pilot with equally impressive Situational Awareness (SA). However, in a dog of an aircraft, all that impressive SA is going to do is tell SH pilots how and when they are going to die. QED.
As far as stealth, what real good is it when the F/A-18E/F and the F-35 aircraft has such short combat radius? Short legs, means more tanker support and tankers are easy NON-STEALTH Su-27/30 and MiG-29/35 targets for mission specific bad guy fighters to take out. Guess what? Take out the tankers and the F/A-18E/F’s or the F-35’s can’t make it to the fight or stay in the fight at all.
It will be really big mistake for Canada not to look at an F-15 for its air force. This of course is in the absence of a foreign country availability of an F-22 variant. The Advanced F-15E+ whether outfitted for strike or air superiority would have the best range, best manoeuvrability, best payload, and best air superiority for the large expanses of the Canadian geography. In addition to being a full depot airframe with a very long lifespan, it has significant room for upgrades and access to a large ecosystem of variants and upgrades with the other countries flying the plane. The Israeli’s have also shown that defensive jamming suites can be added to the F-15. In addition, Northrop Grumman now offers the Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS). The Saudi Arabia’s new F-15SA variant will have a full FBW system. Conformal Fuel Tank developments like the Korean CWB, etc, etc.
BTW the F-35 have their own tanker adapters as well as if the the KC-10 and the KC-135 are taken out the then the F-35 are already dead AWACS, KC, EW, will all have escorts
Please stop considering just F/A-18 Super Hornets. What is so special about the Super Hornet?
Moreover, there is one overriding consideration – whether the F-35A JSF or F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is actually cheaper than the F-15 or other aircraft is irrelevant; the F-35 and the F/A-18E/F are not capable of doing the job in the nearer and wider regions awash with advanced Russian/Chinese fighters and thus cannot guarantee regional air superiority.
The fundamental point must be that no matter how many F-35’s or F/A-18E/F’s are procured, if the aircraft cannot guarantee control of the regional battlespace at a time and place of their choosing, then what utility does it have for the Canada’s nation defence? Can the F-35 or F/A-18E/F assert dominance over Sukhoi Su-27 & Su-30 variants? The very clear answer is no.
Remember the F/A-18E/F has no sting in its tail. It is a “Stingless Super Dog”.
For those who claim the F/A-18 can fulfil both roles into this uncertain future and then I simply say, think again! The F/A-18 fleet cannot currently meet its peacetime fighter availability requirements and further costly structural and enhancement programs will diminish this availability even further. If the Super Hornet is the only intended solution then I say please think again.
If Canada wants a true long-range air superiority/multi-role fighter the F-15SE, F-15SG or F-15SA+ is the best choice, and is still in production. This would maintain some commonality with the US, albeit US F-15s are older models.
The F-15SA production line is “hot” and adding more to the production line will drive production costs down making that platform even cheaper.
That includes Boeing offering MBDA Meteor capability to F-15 platforms.
Why Canada should not consider the Super Hornet as an alternative to the boondoggle F-35?
There was a damning report of the Super Hornet in areas of critical operational requirements, while praising it for its improved aircraft carrier capabilities when compared to the original F/A-18A-D “Classic” Hornet – something not high on the list of essential criteria.
Three sentences on page eight of the report say it all: “The consequences of low specific excess power in comparison to the threat are poor climb rates, poor sustained turn capability, and a low maximum speed. Of greatest tactical significance is the lower maximum speed of the F/A-18E/F since this precludes the ability to avoid or disengage from aerial combat. In this regard, the F/A-18E/F is only marginally inferior to the F/A-18C/D, whose specific excess power is also considerably inferior to that of the primary threat, the MiG-29.”
The F/A-18E/F has a similar performance deficiencies to the F-35 which the aircraft has a short range and does not have the performance envelope of a true air superiority fighter. It is acknowledged in the report the Super Hornet is no match to the Sukhoi Su-27/30 Flanker family by most regional nations in all key performance parameters, aerodynamic, bigger weapons payload, radar / sensor performance by widely available fighters which are proliferating across the regions.
The F/A-18E/F is also acknowledged in the report as being no match for even the older and newer MiG-29 family. Space precludes quoting the report’s comments on the multitude of other areas where the Super Hornet is inferior to the 1970s-designed and 1980s-built original F/A-18 aircraft. Admittedly the Block II Super Hornet has a new APG-79 AESA radar and some electronic components not in the version Coyle gave evidence on, but the fundamental airframe and performance remain unaltered: it is heavier, slower, larger and uglier (its radar signature did not measure up to expectations) than the Classic Hornet.
Evidently the underwing aero-acoustic environment and resulting vibrations are so violent that some weapons are being damaged in transit to the target on a single flight – dumb bombs are fine in that environment but not long-range missiles containing sophisticated and relatively delicate components. To me there is nothing super about this Hornet; perhaps “Stingless Super Dog” is a better descriptor because the sting in its tail is certainly not there.
I know there’s a bunch of them that know the Super Hornet is a dog. They’ve told me, they’ve told acquaintances of mine, colleagues of mine and friends of mine that they are terribly concerned about it. But it was the decision taken by the lobbyists and bureaucrats at very short notice for whatever reasons and foisted on them….”
I’m curious, do you get your information from AusAirPower?
Here is another report from Aviation Week.
-Bill Sweetman, Just How Super is the F/A-18E/F?, Interavia Business & Technology, 1st April 2000-
-The Navy and Boeing have intensified a propaganda campaign. Unfortunately, the campaign is likely to damage their credibility in the long term, because it focuses on a few basic statements which don’t mean anything like as much as the casual reader is meant to think.
For example: “The airplane meets all its key performance parameters.”
This is true. In 1998 — as it became clear that the Super Hornet was slower, and less agile at transonic speeds than the F/A-18C/D — the Navy issued an “administrative clarification” which declared that speed, acceleration and sustained turn rate were not, and had never been, Key Performance Parameters (KPP) for the Super Hornet. Apparently, some misguided people thought that those were important attributes for a fighter.-
-Bill Sweetman, Watch Your Six Maverick, Interavia Business & Technology, 1st February 2000-
-The Navy’s operational evaluation (OPEVAL) of the Super Hornet ended in November, and the report is expected late in February. It will probably find the Super Hornet to be operationally effective and suitable, because the impact of any other recommendation would be devastating, but the Navy will have to do some deft manoeuvring to avoid charges that the report is a whitewash.-
-Bill Sweetman, Super Hornet gathers speed, but critics keep pressure on, Interavia Business & Technology, 1st March 1999-
-The Pentagon has conceded that the MiG-29 and Su-27 can out-accelerate, out-turn and out-range all variants of the F/A-18 in most operating regimes, and that the F/A-18E/F in turn cannot stay up with the older F/A-18C/D through much of the envelope.
Navy data from early 1996 (published in a Government Accountability Office report) showed that the new aircraft was expected to have a lower thrust-to-weight ratio than the late-production (Lot XIX) F/A-18C/D with the General Electric F404-GE-402 engine. Its maximum speed in a typical air-to-air configuration would be Mach 1.6, versus Mach 1.8 for the smaller aircraft. In the heart of the air-combat envelope, between 15,000 and 20,000 feet and at transonic speed, the Lot XIX aircraft would hold a specific excess power (Ps) of 300 ft/sec out to Mach 1.2, while its larger descendant could not hold the same Ps above Mach 1.0.-
Again, for those who claim the F/A-18 can fulfil both roles into this uncertain future and then I simply say, think again! The F/A-18 fleet cannot currently meet its peacetime fighter availability requirements and further costly structural and enhancement programs will diminish this availability even further. If the Super Hornet is the only intended solution then I say “please think again”.
Well, the F/A-18E/F may well be easier to sell and has a commonality with the CF-18A/B “Classic” Hornets. But the problem with the Super Hornet aircraft it is severely handicapped by its worst lower combat thrust/weight ratio, poor acceleration, a hybrid wing planform and short range. It certainly cannot be regarded to be “multirole” in the classical sense of the term, as it lacks the performance to be credible in air superiority and air defence roles, and it lacks the survivability to be credible in strike roles against well defended targets etc.
It is time for Canada to GET OUT of the “Hornet country”.
Hello Ian D’Costa,
I get the information from the defence industry, some from AusAirPower and some from former fighter pilots/other personnel’s about the inadequacies of the F-35 and Super Hornet.
well you tell me the PAK-FA is the biggest contender yet and the F-35 will have more numbers and the PAK-FA is still under development of actually useable engines the f-15 plat form is great but the f-18 is a better dogfighter in the turnfight realm the wing config allows for better AOE and better degrees per second than most aircraft