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Why Boeing’s F-15EX Could Be One Dangerous Fighter

F-15EX
Two Boeing F-15EX fighters armed with air-to-air missiles. Image Credit: Boeing.

Boeing’s F-15EX, the most updated F-15 variant, took to the skies for the first time yesterday with all flight systems performing as expected during a 90-minute test flight. A video of the F-15EX’s takeoff flight — flying nearly vertical just after takeoff — can be seen above, and is worth the watch.

You can read more about the F-15’s long and storied history here. By any metric you wish to employ, there is no questioning that the F-15 is one historic fighter jet. 

F-15EX: An Update of a Classic Design 

In Boeing’s official announcement of the flight, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager Prat Kumar said that the flight “proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet,” noting the F-15EX’s “advanced battle management systems, sensors and weapons due to the jet’s digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture.” According to Boeing, the F-15EX’s ADCP-II computer is the “world’s fastest mission computer.”

As part of the United States’ National Defense Strategy, the U.S. Air Force is obligated to purchase 72 combat jets per year, and Boeing believes that their F-15EX is just the platform for the job. Earlier last summer, The Air Force awarded Boeing an eight-airframe contract, which Boeing believes may increase in the future to 144 aircraft or two year’s worth of new jets as per the National Defense Strategy. Those airframes will replace the older F-15Cs and F-15Ds currently in service with the Air Force.

The Air Force selected the F-15EX partly due to the rapidity with which the platform could be built and due to cost-effectiveness. The United States’ premier fighter, the F-22, had its production infrastructure taken offline in 2009, tying the Air Force’s hands. Their only other advanced fighter option was the F-35 — a program noted for a high price tag and production delays, and ultimately prompting their F-15EX acquisition decision.

Admittedly, the F-15 platform — even the advanced F-15EX — would struggle to survive on a modern battlefield against today’s air defenses, the Air Force sees the F-15EX as a viable platform however for “homeland and airbase defense, in maintaining no-fly zones where air defenses are limited or nonexistent, and in delivering standoff munitions.”

F-15 EX: What Happens Next? 

There is still a mission for what is essentially a fighter designed and built in the pre-stealth era. The Air Force envisions the F-15EX as a sort of weapon truck, able to carry large munitions that the F-35 cannot. The F-35 can carry less than 6,000 pounds of munitions internally, whereas the F-15EX can carry almost 30,000 pounds of munitions on its external pylons. On battlefields with modern air defenses, the F-35 could stealthily collect targeting data and relay it to an F-15EX, which could then utilize advanced low-observable or hypersonic munitions to eliminate enemy targets.

It seems there is still a mission for the F-15 airframe afterall.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. GB52

    February 4, 2021 at 7:22 am

    Well, this jet will be neither low cost nor cost effective in terms of its combat capabilities against a peer adversary.

  2. max

    February 4, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    “F-35 can carry less than 6,000 pounds of munitions internally, whereas the F-15EX can carry almost 30,000 pounds of munitions on its external pylons”

    Why compare the external carriage of one aircraft, to the internal carriage of another? You also should have contrasted the weight capacity by pylon.

  3. max

    February 4, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    …. “F-35 can carry less than 6,000 pounds of munitions internally, whereas the F-15EX can carry…” [nothing internally.]

    OR

    The f-35 can carry 18000k lbs (i think?) … “whereas the F-15EX can carry almost 30,000 pounds of munitions on its external pylons”

  4. ngatimozart

    February 6, 2021 at 9:45 pm

    The idea of a F-35 / F15EX combo is quite good because it would be quite devastating. A F-35 operating as the target designator for a flight of F15EX would significantly hurt to an enemy. What would have to be sorted is the date transfer between the two different platforms so something like the USN’s CEC is required. Link 16 is good, but CEC is far better.

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