In the late 1980s, the F-15E was developed to supplement—and eventually replace the F-111 fighter bomber as a penetrating, high speed tactical strike aircraft designed to strike deep behind enemy lines in a NATO/Warsaw Pact war in Europe. The E model added conformal fuel tanks to increase range with a heavy bomb payload, the APG-63 radar, and a LANTRIN forward-looking infrared and laser targeting pod. With the retirement of the F-111, the F-15E “Strike Eagle” is now the USAF’s main tactical fighter bomber.
The USAF bought its last F-15 in 2001, but foreign sales have kept Boeing’s production line humming since. The company has twice in recent years tried to again attract the interest of the Air Force, first with the semi-stealthy Silent Eagle in 2010. In 2016, Boeing again introduced a new F-15, Eagle 2040C. Eagle 2040C is designed to carry up to sixteen AIM-120D AMRAAM radar-guided missiles, more than four times the original number. The Talon HATE datalink would allow the upgraded design to network with the F-22 Raptor. One concept of operation would have the stealthy—but relatively short on firepower—F-22 flying among enemy aircraft, passing on targeting information to a Eagle 2040C acting as a flying missile battery.
Today, the USAF still employs around 177 upgraded F-15C and two-seater D models, and approximately 224 F-15E Strike Eagles. F-15s are deployed in forward bases in both Europe and Asia, most notably at RAF Lakenheath in the UK and Kadena Air Force base on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Japanese F-15Js also operate from Okinawa, and were allegedly involved in an aerial encounter in June 2016 involving Chinese Su-30 Flanker fighters. F-15Es are currently deployed at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, where they are participating in the air war against Islamic State.