F-15EX Eagle II
The U.S. Air Force announced in July 2020 an overall Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract with a ceiling value of nearly $23 billion for F-15EX. Future plans call for as many as 144 aircraft. In support of the National Defense Strategy, the United States Air Force must purchase 72 combat aircraft per year. One way to preserve this fighter capacity while advancing the Air Force’s capability is to acquire Boeing’s cost-effective F-15EX. The new airplanes are very similar to the export versions now being built for Qatar.
In December 2019, US Congress enacted the 2020 National Defence Authorisation Act, giving the USAF $1.1bn to acquire the first eight F-15EX aircraft; the new requested budget increased this funding to $1.6bn for a further 12 fighters. Under the NDAA, however, the USAF has been limited to buying two F-15EX initially before funding is made available for the next six, making a total of eight aircraft. The further acquisition and purchase of a full fleet of F-15EX will be on condition of the USAF delivering a report on the program.
The Department of the Air Force awarded a nearly $1.2 billion contract on 13July 2020 for its first lot of eight F-15EX fighter aircraft. The contract, awarded to Boeing, provides for the design, development, integration, manufacturing, test, verification, certification, delivery, sustainment and modification of F-15EX aircraft, including spares, support equipment, training materials, technical data and technical support. The F-15EX will replace the oldest F-15C/Ds in the service’s inventory. Eight F-15EX aircraft were approved in the fiscal year 2020 budget and 12 were requested in the FY21 budget. The Air Force plans to purchase a total of 76 F-15EX aircraft over the five-year Future Years Defense Program.
“The F-15EX is the most affordable and immediate way to refresh the capacity and update the capabilities provided by our aging F-15C/D fleets,” said Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command. “The F-15EX is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line.” The F-15EX is a two-seat fighter with U.S.-only capabilities. It features a deep magazine that can carry a load of advanced weapons. The platform also requires minimal transitional training or additional manpower and little to no infrastructure changes, ensuring the continuation of the mission. “When delivered, we expect bases currently operating the F-15 to transition to the new EX platform in a matter of months versus years,” Holmes said.
The most significant difference between the F-15EX and legacy F-15s lies in its Open Mission Systems (OMS) architecture. The OMS architecture will enable the rapid insertion of the latest aircraft technologies. The F-15EX will also have fly-by-wire flight controls, a new electronic warfare system, advanced cockpit systems, and the latest mission systems and software capabilities available for legacy F-15s. “The F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems, and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “Continually upgrading systems, and how they share data across the Joint Force, is critical for defeating advanced threats. F-15EX is designed to evolve from day one.”
The first eight F-15EX aircraft will be fielded at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to support testing efforts. The delivery of the first two aircraft is scheduled for the second quarter of FY21. The remaining six aircraft are scheduled to deliver in FY23. The Air Force is using the Strategic Basing Process to determine the fielding locations for subsequent aircraft lots.
“The F-15EX is the most advanced version of the F-15 ever built, due in large part to its digital backbone,” said Lori Schneider, Boeing F-15EX program manager. “Its unmatched range, price and best-in-class payload capacity make the F-15EX an attractive choice for the U.S. Air Force.”
The F-15EX carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class, and can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds. To further support the digital airframe and advance rapid technology insertion, the F-15 program serves as a pathfinder for the Department of Defense’s DevSecOps initiative, aimed at developing secure, flexible and agile software. Additionally, open mission systems architecture ensures its viability for decades.
“F-15EX brings together benefits of digital engineering, open mission systems and agile software development to keep it affordable and upgradable for decades to come,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager. “This means we can rapidly test and field new capabilities on F-15EX keeping our warfighters ahead of threats.”
Pilots and mechanics currently operating the F-15 anticipate transitioning to the F-15EX in a matter of days as opposed to years. “We listened to our customer every step of the way when developing this exciting jet,” said Kumar. “What we will soon deliver is a modern and robust aircraft that supports our nation’s defense by incorporating the latest systems, sensors and weapons.”
In March 2021, the Air Force accepted the first F-15EX, the first new fourth-generation fighter in 20 years. The Air Force hoped to acquire 144 of the jets over the next decade and has an option to buy up to 200. Although the F-15EX's per-unit cost of $87.7 million is slightly more than the F-35's $77.9 million, the F-15EX's operating cost of $27,000 an hour is expected to be lower than that of the F-35, which Lockheed Martin says is $36,000. The F-35's per-hour cost has come down in recent years, and Lockheed says it could be reduced to $25,000 by 2025.
"It's an expensive way of getting shot down, and the Air Force is wholly ill-equipped to field this aircraft from multiple standpoints," Doug Birkey, the executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Power Studies, told Insider. "The problem is, if they are not good enough to do the job, survive, and keep rolling, what did you buy?" Birkey said. "You bought an expensive target."
The first two F-15EX Super Eagle fighters flew to Alaska in May 2021 for the Northern Edge 21 wargame — with mixed results. During the joint multi-service exercise, the two planes flew 33 sorties. The F-15EX "shot down some adversaries and was shot down itself," according to Air Force magazine. Lt. Col. John O'Rear of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron told Air Force the F-15EX "tallied some kills," but also took some losses. Although O’Rear couldn’t speak to the incidents where the F-15EXs were shot down, “in this kind of environment, most of your blue ‘deaths’ are probably going to be outside of visual range, just because of the threat we’re replicating,” he said. Visual range dogfights are “not something that happens a whole bunch.”
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|