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F-15EX: The Air Force’s Big Mistake If a War with China Breaks Out?

Boeing F-15EX
Boeing F-15EX. Image: Boeing artist rendition.

A new F-15 has arrived: The first two of the flying branch’s 144 brand new F-15EXs were delivered this year. The total sale, a windfall to Boeing, has a sticker price of $23 billion.

Capabilities Abound

One of the big selling points of the F-15EX platform is its ease of use. Since the Air Force already has the largest F-15 fleet in the world, transitioning to the newer F-15EX would be a breeze.

According to Boeing, the manufacturer, the “F-15EX requires no logistics chains, training squadrons, infrastructure modification, program offices or even weapons integration. Units converting to F-15EX can transition within weeks or months, not years, of receiving new aircraft. These benefits, combined with the lowest cost per flight in its class, make F-15EX the total life cycle solution to meet U.S. Air Force capacity requirements.” Units in transition would include not just pilots, but mechanics and ground support personnel as well.

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,” but that’s not the only feature worth noting. “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.”

Dr. Will Roper, the so-call Tsar of Air Force Acquisition, Technology and Logistics praised the F-15EX’s digital capabilities in particular, saying “the F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems, and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare,” stressing the platform’s future flexibility. “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 other area in which the new F-15EXs could prove their worth are in replacing the Air Force’s older F-15Cs. Originally designed in the 1970s, the Cs are now subject to speed and G-loading resections to prevent damage to their airframes, a severe capability hinderance.


Despite the aforementioned capabilities, the F-15EX is not without its critics. According to some estimates, the F-15EX won’t be survivable on battlefields against peer or near-peer rivals as soon as 2028. However, this may be an acceptable limitation. Though its front-line fighter days are probably over, the new F-15EX could be used for enforcing no-fly zones, homeland defense, or delivering stand-off munitions in fights with no or limited air defenses.


Herein lies the real reason the Air Force is going big on the revamped, but decidedly old platform: with 144 F-15EXs in the sky, 144 other more capable jets would be freed up for duty stations elsewhere. Partly due to the F-22’s premature production end, and difficulties in acquiring F-35 parts thanks to Turkey being booted from the F-35 program, higher-end planes have been pulling lower-end duty. Not anymore.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. 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.



  1. Allan Desmond

    October 1, 2021 at 11:34 am

    This makes no sense, of course its survivable an great addition, we know who what where we are fighting within the next 10 years “if not sooner”..

  2. Donald Link

    October 28, 2021 at 1:18 pm

    Two matters to consider. In 1942, the Japanese Zero was superior to the US front line fighter, the P40 War Hawk. US pilots soon learned how tactics could neutralize temporary technical advantage. Today, it the the munitions a plane carries that gives the edge. The mainland Chinese learned that fact first hand fifty years ago when American supplied Sidewinders were used by Taiwan flying inferior aircraft and scored a 4 to 1 kill advantage.

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