Following an order by the United States Air Force for the first F-15EX heavyweight ‘4+ generation’ fighters, while are slated to replace the ageing F-15C Eagles in frontline service and partly compensate for the very limited availability of fifth generation F-22 Raptors designed for a similar role, the Boeing company which developed the aircraft has sought to market them to India under the MMRCA tender.
The aircraft will compete with the medium weight F-18E Block III Super Hornet, the lightweight F-21 derived from the F-16E Fighting Falcon and a range of foreign jets including three European designs and the Russian medium weight MiG-35 and heavyweight Su-35 ‘4++ generation’ fighters.
While the MMRCA initially stipulated that fighters should be of a light-medium weight, and at first restricted the competition exclusively to single engine aircraft, the Su-35 and F-15X stand out as the only two high end heavyweight aircraft in the competition. The aircraft both represent extensive modernisations of Cold War era designs – the Soviet Su-27 and American F-15C respectively which were both countries’ prime air superiority fighters during the conflict.
With the competition bringing both jets head to head, an assessment of how the two designs compare against one another has considerable implications for the future of both fighter programs as well as that of the Indian Air Force.
Both the F-15EX and the Su-35 are twin engine designs capable of operating at high altitudes, and both have the long ranges needed to penetrate enemy airspace and deliver a wide range of standoff munitions for both air to air and air to ground missions.
The F-15 does have the advantage of a higher speed however, able to reach Mach 2.5 where the Su-35 is restricted to speeds of around Mach 2.25.