Friday, September 19, 2014

Fighter Jet Fight Club: Typhoon vs. Silent Eagle!



When the UK, Spain, Germany, and Italy got together to design the Eurofighter Typhoon, one wonders why they simply did not decide to procure the F-15 Eagle instead.  Instead, they decided to to go one better and develop a new medium-sized multirole fighter.  In theory, this had the benefit of both producing a fighter for the 21st century (hence the "Eurofighter 2000" moniker) as well as keeping the European aerospace industry up to date.

Did they succeed?  In a word...  Yes.  But not without difficulty.  The Typhoon program has been beset with cost overruns, maintenance issues, and dissent among the partner nations.  Much of this is due to simple timing.  With the Cold War ended, many questioned the need for a cutting edge fighter. In recent years, economic concerns have led to austerity measures.  Now, the Eurofighter partners are looking for foreign buyers to help breath new life into the Typhoon.

The F-15 had no such issues.  As the USAF's "golden child" it has received plenty of funding and upgrades over the years.  Plenty of foreign sales have resulted in the F-15 becoming the "big stick" of western airpower.  Its undefeated combat record speaks volumes, and when F-22 production was cut short, the mighty Eagle has continued its air-superiority role.

The Eagle's halcyon days are coming to an end, however.  The USAF sees the F-35 as its future, with the F-15 taking more of a supporting role.  Boeing would very much like to keep the Eagle flying, so it has come up with a "last hurrah" variant in an attempt to keep production going just a little longer.

Both of these aircraft have been overshadowed by newer "5th generation" fighters, but how do they compare with each other?

Once again, here are the rules.

Air-to-ground:  

Interdiction/Penetration:  The Typhoon was designed with an eye towards reducing its RCS.  This was done by using lots of non-metallic materials in its construction.  It also uses plenty of active countermeasures, like towed decoys and the like.  It is not a "stealthy" aircraft, but it does not light up enemy radar like a Christmas tree, either.

The Silent Eagle has been thoroughly "stealthified" by adding radar absorbent material, internal weapon carriage, and a few other tricks.  This only works from the front aspect however.  From the sides and from the back, the F-15SE is still rather unstealthy.  

Since ground radar is likely to first see an approaching aircraft from the front aspect, the F-15SE has an edge here.  Advantage:  F-15SE

Deep Strike:  When it comes to range, both fighters make out quite well.  Both have options of conformal fuel tanks or external drop tanks.  

The F-15SE is a bigger fighter, however, able to carry more fuel both internally and externally.  It also has the advantage of being one of the first fighters to utilize CFTs.  Its system has been well proven whereas the Typhoons is still in development.  Advantage:  F-15SE

Payload:  This category has almost always worked out in the Silent Eagle's favor, and today is no different.  The Silent Eagle, like the Strike Eagle it is based on, is big fighter-bomber in the same category as the FB-111 and others.  No surprise here.

The Typhoon does carry up to 16,500lbs worth of bombs, but that is only enough to beat out the smaller Gripen.  Against the 23,000lbs payload of the F-15SE, it is simply outclassed.  Advantage:  F-15SE

Close air support:  Let us be clear, neither of these aircraft would make for good close air support were it not for targeting pods.  Without them, these aircraft would be playing "best guess" from over 30,000ft with 500lb bombs.  Not exactly optimal when troops on the ground are "danger close".  

With the targeting pods, these aircraft have a much better chance of putting its ordinance where it needs to be.  But what about the ordinance itself?  With the addition of low-collateral damage Brimstone missiles, the Typhoon can take out targets effectively without the blast radius of bigger bombs or missile like the AGM-65 Maverick or even the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.

Sometimes, it is preferable to drop a bullet with the bad guy's name on it instead of a bomb inscribed "to whom it may concern".  Advantage:  Typhoon

Air to ground winner:  There really should not be much of a surprise here.  While the F-15 may have started out as a "not a pound for air-to-ground" fighter, it has evolved into a potent strike aircraft.  The Typhoon simply does not have the Silent Eagle's size advantage, nor RCS reduction measures.  Winner:  F-15 Silent Eagle

Air to air:

First look, first kill:  From the front, the Silent Eagle keeps a low profile with its missiles tucked away inside it conformal weapon bays.  It also happens to have a huge AESA radar tucked under that huge nosecone.  This low RCS profile drops with the angle of approach, as the F-15SE is still very much an F-15 when viewed from the sides.

The Typhoon keeps its BVR missiles external but they are not exactly hanging in the breeze.  They are stored conformally to reduce drag and radar cross section.  In its nosecone, the Typhoon mounts a CAPTOR-E AESA radar that is similar in size to the F-15SE's.  The CAPTOR-E has the extra benefit of a rotating mechanism that gives it a wider field of view, however.

The Typhoon likely has inferior RCS from the front.  It has a distinct advantage from the sides thanks to its swiveling radar, however.  This big advantage here more than makes up its disadvantage from the sides, giving it the nod here.  It is close, however.  Advantage:  Typhoon

Beyond visual range:  The F-15 has become a legend with its over 100-0 win/loss record in air to air combat.  Many of these victories were beyond visual range.  Keeping that in mind, we realize that the F-15SE truly is the one to beat here.

The Typhoon seems up to the task however.  Not only does is mount a slightly better radar, but it mounts the MBDA Meteor, aka the "next big thing" in BVR missiles.  The Typhoon does not have the same Mach 2.5 top speed as the Eagle, but does have a faster climb rate and a the ability to supercruise.  Top speed is a nice gauge of fighter performance, but it really is academic as achieving that speed wastes fuel.  While the Typhoon can engage at Mach 1.5, the Eagle would be spending most of its time subsonic with several "sprints" breaking the sound barrier.

With a slightly better radar, better missiles, and a higher "real world" speed, the Typhoon wins this one.  Advantage:  Typhoon

Within visual range:  After fighters like the F-4 provided disappointing BVR performance over Vietnam, fighters like the F-15 went "back to basics" with a renewed emphasis on WVR combat.  The F-15 is highly maneuverable with a fantastic power to weight ratio.  The Silent Eagle adds HMDs and an IRST to make high-off-boresight (HOBS) missile targeting a snap.

The Typhoon has a similar HMD and IRST set up.  On top of that it is an absolute demon in close-combat with a higher thrust-to-weight ratio, lower wing loading, and a control canard setup that allows for near-instantaneous changes in pitch.  The Typhoon happens to be smaller as well.

The F-15SE is no slouch in WVR combat, but the Typhoon simply better.  Advantage:  Typhoon

Dogfight:  The F-15SE is bigger, tougher, and carries a lot more ammo for its 20mm vulcan cannon.

The Typhoon is smaller, more agile, and carries a bigger gun (27mm) with less ammo.

I am not exactly sure how these two would fare against each other.  What I do know is that such a confrontation would be epic.  Advantage:  Tie

Air to air winner:  The F-15 started out as a strictly "not a pound for air-to-ground" air-superiority fighter.  Through the years, it has evolved into a very respectable bomber.  In doing so, its air-to-air prowess has become less of a priority.  While fighters like the Su-35 have gotten thrust vectoring and other features to improve performance, the F-15 has to make do little more than an AESA radar upgrade.

The Typhoon has kept its focus on air-superiority with strike capability secondary.  Thrust vectoring is being studied for it, but some believe it is not even needed given its already impressive performance.  Add impressive missiles like the Meteor to the mix and you have a true world-beater.  Need more proof?  Two words:  "Raptor Salad".  Winner:  Typhoon

Versatility/Logistics:

Versatility.  If you are looking for a carrier-capable fighter, look elsewhere.  Do you need STOVL capability?  Move along.  Do you need a dedicated EW platform?  Nothing to see here.  These fighters are capable of air-to-air combat and air-to ground combat.  That is it.  

The Silent Eagle does have its limited "stealth" configuration, and it does have a slightly better selection of ECM pods like the AN/ALQ-131(V).  The Typhoon has more options when it comes to weapons, however, capable of carrying the IRIS-T, ASRAAM, and other non-American ordinance.

Neither of these aircraft really knock it out of the park.  Advantage:  Tie

Logistics:  The F-15 is found in use all over the world, as well as the largest standing air force, the USAF.  Its cost and complexity keep it from being a ubiquitous as the F-16 however.  Thankfully, avoids "hangar queen" status like the F-22, but it really is only usable by large air forces with big budgets.  Adding "stealth" to the equation likely results in more maintenance headaches.  

The Typhoon is a little easier to live with, but not much.  It is the preeminent fighter for most of Europe, but parts shortages and high operating cost have been worrisome.  It does require a shorter runway than the F-15SE, and it does use less fuel.  

Again, neither of these aircraft stand out enough to declare a winner.  Advantage:  Tie

Versatility/Logistics winner:  Both fighters can perform air-superiority and strike roles, but that is about it.  They also have a few challenges when it comes to operations.  While this will not concern militaries with lots of resources, it would likely be a challenge for those with smaller ambitions.  Winner:  Tie



Final Result:

Air-to-ground:  Typhoon = 1  -  Silent Eagle = 3
Air-to-air:  Typhoon = 4  -  Silent Eagle = 1
Versatility/Logistics:  Typhoon = 2  -  Silent Eagle = 2

Final Score:  Typhoon = 7  -  Silent Eagle = 6

Both of these aircraft are very good at what they do.  Out of the aircraft competing in Fighter Jet Fight Club, the Silent Eagle is possibly the best strike platform.  The Typhoon is likely the best air-superiority platform.  Neither of them really stand out in versatility and logistics however.  

Therein lays the cold, hard reality of aircraft design.  While newer technologies have allowed for designs that perform a myriad of roles, compromises still need to be made.  There is no "perfect" multirole fighter.  Sooner or later concerns about weight and cost come into play, and there is often no repealing the laws of physics or economics.  

The Typhoon gets the nod hear because it is a better fighter to the F-15SE's better bomber.  Both are damn good, however.  There really is no "loser" here...  On the condition that a force can afford to operate and support these expensive fighters.

Only one more FJFC to go...  Let me know what you think!

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