Trials of the F-15 in the air-to-ground role began during 1982 when McDonnel Douglas modified the second TF-15A two-seater as the Strike Eagle as a private venture. The Strike Eagle was seen as a possible replacement for the F-111, and emerged as the winner of an evaluation over its rival, the General Dynamics F-16XL, for the USAF's Enhanced Tactical Fighter programme.
The first production F-15E made its maiden flight on 11 December 1986, the Strike Eagle name not being adopted. With the new avionics and equipment for the mud-moving role, the F-15E is very much a second-generation Eagle.
The weapons system operator (WSO) in the rear cockpit employs four multi-purpose CRT terminals for radar, weapon selection and monitoring of enemy tracking systems. The WSO also operates the F-15E's primary systems: the APG-70 synthetic aperture radar and the AAQ-13 navigation/AAQ-14 targeting pods of the Lockheed Martin LANTIRN nav/attack system. The navigation pod incorporates its own terrain-following radar, which can be linked to the aircraft's flight.
The F-15E was initially powered by the F100-PW-220 turbofan, but the improved F100-PW-229 was installed in all aircraft delivered from August 1991, and also retrofitted in earlier aircraft. The first operational F-15Es were delivered to the 4th TFW, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina in 1989. The type made its combat debut during Operation Desert Storm, and proved outstanding in this and subsequent combat actions.
The USAF procured 209 F-15Es, all of which had been delivered by July 1994, with small attrition-replacement orders continuing into 2001. Exports have been made to Saudi Arabia, which took delivery of 72 F-15S aircraft between 1995 and 2000. These have downgraded avionics and downgraded LANTIRN pods, and also lack fuselage-mounted conformal fuel tanks. Israel took delivery of 25 examples of a similar variant, designated F-15I Ra'am (Thunder), between 1998 and 1999.