DCS World F-15E Strike Eagle: What We Know so Far and Our Thoughts
The Strike Eagle by Razbam Simulations is fast approaching to our DCS World hangars, so why don't we take a step back and analyze what we know about it, its capabilities and what we will be able to do at launch judging from publicly available information.
Both Aaron Mendoza and Santiago Cuberos will each give their thoughts on certain aspects of the module and talk about what interests them the most, or, which aspects they think that people need to know before they take a step into the Mudhen's cockpit. “THE NEW HORNET” Anyone that has been around Digital Combat Simulator long enough knows exactly what this phrase means. For years, the Eagle Dynamics F/A-18C Hornet Lot 20 was and arguably still is the most prolific module in the simulator. There are many reasons for this. From a development standpoint, the Hornet had the benefit of receiving much development attention throughout the years - even when compared to its highly advanced counterpart, the Eagle Dynamics F-16C Viper. The Hornet was arguably a more “complete” aircraft for the longest time. Capability wise, the Hornet can simply carry multiple weapons for every situation imaginable while still retaining respectable aircraft performance. Furthermore, as one of the most modern aircraft available in the simulator, its systems and sensors are easier to learn, highly capable and represent a capability baseline for every fourth and fifth generation aircraft that came after it. In the simulator, this resulted in what seemed like every aspiring DCS newcomer to purchase the Hornet, then primarily stick to that aircraft for years to come. In the experience of many others in multiplayer servers, the newly minted Hornet enthusiasts caused just as much trouble for their allies as they did their enemies. As such, the F/A-18C gained this unofficial status. Not every new module that comes to DCS World is guaranteed to see an explosion of use like the Hornet did - certainly there are no highly popular public servers packed full of players constantly flying MB-339s and Mirage F1s. The RAZBAM F-15E Strike Eagle is the first 4th generation multirole aircraft released for Digital Combat Simulator in quite some time. The last one was back in 2019 with the Deka Ironworks JF-17 Thunder, which has capabilities on the same level as the F-16C and F/A-18C. The Strike Eagle is perfectly positioned to fall into the same easy to access, easy to deploy and single choice preference, which is highly likely to see an explosion of sustained users over years to come. Which naturally comes with a population of users willing to learn the aircraft from top to bottom, and others more interested in learning the bare-bones basics for quick action (and potential trouble making). EARLY ACCESS PATIENCE While the “Year of the Strike Eagle” social media campaign has been on point, presenting the F-15E’s release as a major milestone for the public’s perception of Digital Combat Simulator, the public’s perception may also be a little muddled by the hype. That’s not to say that Razbam Simulations has been disingenuous, but the sheer excitement over the release of this module should be paired with the reality of the Early Access module experience. The day this module reaches its most potent Second CTU, which represents a circa 2015 F-15E, is most likely many months if not years away. This holds true not only for the development timelines of the F-16C and F/A-18C, as we mentioned earlier, but also for other aircraft developed by Razbam and other module development teams. The fact is that creating high fidelity and study level simulated aircraft takes a lot of time and refinement before they can truly be considered complete. The F-15E Strike Eagle that will be available at launch is a Suite4E+ representative of a mid-2000s version of the aircraft. A list of features has been posted by our buddies over in the Stormbirds blog, but the systems and weapons available make it more of a Desert Storm era aircraft; to put it simply. It will primarily be carrying its internal cannon, laser guided munitions, infrared short-range missiles, semi-active radar guided missiles and active radar homing missiles. No GPS guided weapons, air-to-ground missiles or stand-off munitions have been announced for release as of the time of this writing. While its powerful air-to-ground radar functionality will be available, only the first of the three announced targeting pods, the AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN will accompany its release. The more capable AN/AAQ-28 Litening II and AN/AAQ-33 Sniper XR targeting pods won’t be released until much later. Keeping in mind the role and capabilities of the Strike Eagle at launch is important. Its initial early access form is that of a deep strike / air interdiction attacker with powerful air-to-ground radar that primarily relies on laser guided munitions for precision attacks. It will not easily fulfill the role of anti-ship, destruction or suppression of enemy air defenses or stand-off engagements without support from other aircraft within the simulator that have systems, hardware and munitions purpose built for these roles. The air-to-air capabilities of the F-15C Eagle are present, but certain additions like its conformal fuel tanks do affect its performance to a degree in basic fighter maneuvers. Furthermore, while the Strike Eagle can carry an impressive amount of air-to-ground ordnance, expecting a bomb laden F-15E to perform maneuvers expected from an F-15C during air combat is rather unreasonable. Despite the sheer power of the Strike Eagle’s power plants and its high maximum payload weight, considerations for maneuverability and speed in combat shouldn’t be forgone for the sake of carrying enough bombs to make a B-17 blush. MUDHEN, VIPER AND HORNET: THE 4TH GEN TRIO Another very compelling aspect that the Mudhen has is its partial system similarity with all the current 4th Gen American aircraft in the sim. Imagine this: it is launch day, and you want to get your brand new F-15E in the air, and a sudden realization fills your mind: everything feels familiar. That is not by coincidence, as you should already have noticed certain similarities between the F-15E and, say, the Hornet. The stick layout is similar, as well as some panels that should also look familiar. That is to be expected, since both aircraft were manufactured by the same company. Are they different enough to make it impossible to move from one to the other without training from scratch? Sure, they are, but at the same time there is an inherent familiarity between these aircraft that will aid you a lot in terms of learning its systems.
If you have learned and mastered the Viper, the Hornet or even the Harrier, then you will have an easier time learning the Mudhen. The HUD is also pretty much a western standard design, with some aspects unique to the aircraft, specially when it comes down to weapon employment symbology and unique systems that the Mudhen has such as its NAVFLIR. The systems are not the same, if they were, it wouldn't be a Mudhen; but they utilize the same building blocks that people can easily recognize and learn. You have your UFC, you have your MFDs with a regular amount of buttons, unlike with the JF-17. All of those basic skills and flows will transfer better to the F-15E than they would to earlier generation western aircraft or even eastern fighters. This familiarity is what will make the F-15E many people's favorite aircraft to fly in DCS. No more need to relearn how to read gauges or retrain yourself on how to instinctively read your HUD or some other systems at a glance. A 4TH GENERATION TRAINING WORKHORSE: MULTICREW Have you ever been in a situation in which your friend has now just gotten into DCS, and they have no clue what they are doing? In a situation like that, it would be useful to have a way to get them familiarized with the systems of a 4th generation fighter without having to get them knees deep into flight mechanics and training.
In such a case, I think that the Mudhen will bring something that no other aircraft has brought to the table just yet: joint training on a modern western fighter. If used like this, then the F-15E will not only be an asset for offensive operations, but also for groups that wish to have an extremely advanced trainer for those that need to train on system management and individual system operations. This would make it much easier for those who wish to instruct someone on how certain basic systems work or even on how to best employ certain weapons, as you have complete control over the training circumstances and the aircraft. Your trainee will have fewer variables to manage, leading to more attention being put into learning the systems and, if the multicrew implementation allows, even train as a Weapons System Officer (WSO) to play with their friends and have a great time in the Strike Eagle.
Speaking of multicrew, we now know that the implementation will not be complete by the time we get our hands on the module. This is a bit of a disappointment, but one that I very much expected. We will be able to do all the basics, but I cannot wait until we have a fledged out system in which we will be able to do everything I described before to take full advantage of the wonders of the Strike Eagle. We cannot wait to get our hands on the Strike Eagle as, well, it is one of the most anticipated modules in DCS World's history. It has been in the works for over half a decade now, but it seems like there is not much time left until we have our hands on this module. Expect our first impressions article shortly after the release! About the writers:
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza & Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Co-founders of Skyward Flight Media and long time aviation aficionados