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F-15EX: Headed for a Crash Landing (As in Being Canceled)?

Image Credit: Boeing.

Fifty years ago, the first F-15 variant debuted. Designed with “not a pound for air-to-ground,” the F-15 was a preeminent fourth-generation air-to-air fighter. While the original variants were specifically suited for an air superiority role, an F-15E “Strike Eagle,” capable of performing air-to-ground missions, was released in 1988. The E-variant was a capable air-to-air fighter, yet had a more diversified mission profile, which included the ability to conduct ground strikes. Today, a new variant, the F-15EX is “ready-now” according to Boeing.

Upgrading the Fighter

The F-15EX made its first flight in February 2021. A month later, the US Air Force accepted delivery of its first F-15EX – which marked the first USAF F-15 delivery in 17 years. The F-15EX was developed quietly, after the USAF inquired discreetly with Boeing about developing a new airframe with a few specific requirements: cheap to operate, cheap to acquire, low-risk, and non-disruptive to F-35 procurement. Boeing’s solution was an update to the classic F-15 airframe, then in its fourth decade of service – a somewhat bold decision given that the USAF had not procured any fourth-generation fighters since 2001. The result of Boeing’s efforts was the F-15EX.

Unlike the fifth-generation airframes that now dominate USAF procurement, the F-15EX does not have stealth capabilities. The plane has the same observability characteristics as previous F-15 variants, meaning Boeing’s new airframe will pop up on enemy radar. The F-15EX does have myriad improvements, however, as The War Zone reported when the program was first discovered: “Configuration is impressive as it includes a flat-panel glass cockpit, JHMCS II helmet mounted display (HMD), revised internal wing structure, fly-by-wire controls, APG-82 AESA radar,  activation of outer wing stations one and nine, advanced mission computer, low-profile heads-up display, updated radio and satellite communications, the highly advanced Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) electronic warfare and electronic surveillance suite, Legion Pod-mounted infrared search and track system (IRST) and the list goes on.” 

The F-15EX can be armed to the teeth. Featuring AMBER missile carrying racks, the plane can handle 22 air-to-air missiles for air superiority missions. For hybrid missions, the plane can handle eight air-to-air missiles along with either 28 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs) or seven 2,000-pound bombs.


F-15EX. Image Credit: Boeing.


F-15EX. Image Credit: Boeing.

Remarkably, the F-15EX has a 20,000-hour service life. By comparison, the new Block III F-18 Super Hornet has a 10,000-hour service life (which is a huge improvement over the Block II 6,000 hours). With such a lengthy service life, the F-15EX has the potential to be a USAF staple for several decades. Yet, the question is now suddenly whether the USAF wants the bird at all.

Reversing Orders?

Rumors are swirling that the USAF is weighing options to cancel the F-15EX. Critics, advocating that the F-15EX be canceled, are rating the plane as a too-expensive, outdated piece of equipment. Defense One’s John Venable argues that the F-15EX won’t be able to operate against modern surface-to-air weapons, which will limit the fighters to stateside defense, where the fighter’s 22 air-to-air missiles are an excessive overkill. 

Detractors seem to be making headway. The budget request for Fiscal Year 2023, sets aside funds for 80 EX-variants – a downturn from the originally planned 144. Initially, the plan was for the F-15EX to replace the entire F-15C/D fleet. But the current budget request would mean the last F-15EX delivery would occur next year. Nothing is certain yet. The Air Force is considering how to balance their force structure with respect to the stealthy, jack-of-all-trades, F-35, aging fourth-generation workhorses, and the updated F-15. Nothing has been decided yet. Stay tuned.   

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Science. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.



  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    May 18, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    Stealth is the only way to survive in a near peer war. The Russians have been unable to achieve air superiority in Ukraine, with it’s Soviet era air defenses.

    • Tb

      May 19, 2022 at 4:47 pm

      Russia is clearly not a near peer rival. They are finding shot down and crashed miss with commercially bought( by pilots most likely) GPS units taped unmoderated the cockpits because the Russian ones either are unreliable or just don’t work. Stationary aircraft defenses can be mitigated by antiradiation misses that hone in onnthe missile sites radar and take it out rendering it useless. Once the ground based radar is gone any plane can operate in theater. Also the vast vast majority of the world does not have and can not afford newer high end anti aircraft missile systems.

      The issue with needed the ex variant is because O ama ended the F22 program after only 180 of a planned 750 purchase. It was to replace ALL f15 but the newer Strike Eagles who perform air to ground. If the F22 program was not cut all f-15 C and D models could be retired but we have nothing to replace them with. The f35 is NOT an air superiority fighter they can not make f22 because the molds were destroyed. And there is no replacement forbthe f22 yet. Thebokder f15’s are past their airframe hours already.

      • Belmontseal

        May 20, 2022 at 2:16 am

        You mean Dick Cheney, right? How about doing your research before posting fake news?

    • Bob

      May 20, 2022 at 6:28 pm

      This is typical of this party’s Admin. They under fund the militsry. The F35 snd gen 6 planes will open the air and the F15EX will provide the missles they can not carry. We need the mix because China will have more planes. I am a former Air Defense Officer

      • Ray

        June 15, 2022 at 3:02 am

        Bob you are right we need the f-15ex also the f-16 as well as the f-18 growlers

  2. Anthony

    May 19, 2022 at 6:12 am

    How in the hell is 22 A2A missiles overkill? To me it’s more like a warning to other nations, come up against these birds, who ALWAYS bring friends to the fight, has enough fire power to take our an entire air wing, especially paired with another EX. Or as many A2A as previous versions almost, while still able to carry SEVEN 2,000 pound JDAM’s, that’s a whole lot of whoop-azz on one platform.

    Or does it have the capability to pair with the F-35 and act as an airborne extention of the F-35’s weapons delivery system? I would be shocked if it didn’t have this capability.

    As for its RCS, so what. The story didn’t mention whether older F-15’s are being left at home, for purely defensive purposes. The answer is no, it’s still forward deployed and in the fight.

    Once air dominance is achieved, you send in any/all air assets that can add value to the fight. When you have an aircraft that has never lost a fight in the sky, you don’t bench it!

    The F-15 was a revolutionary jump in technology when it first hit the skies. Since then, the upgraded versions have continued to provide value in enemy skies. With new fly-by-wire capabilities, it’s now up to the latest and greatest in aircraft design, just short of stealth, but with serious lift capabilities. If my memory is correct, the F-15EX has more lift capabilities than the B-17 of WWII fame. That aircraft had over half a dozen crew members and usually missed it’s target by a mile. This new aircraft can destroy a target with one bomb! Collateral damage is far less than the bombers of yesteryear!

    You don’t just throw something away because it doesn’t match the pure stealth force that detractors only care about, that’s just stupid. Our aging F-15 fleet is about due for retirement, so if they go away, and we don’t buy the F-15EX, what will fill that gap?

    • bikerthai

      May 19, 2022 at 8:07 am

      The article forgot to mentioned the most important reason for the EX. Until they can reduce the size of hypersonic missiles, the EX will be the only fighter in the inventory able to carry them. The other frame being the B-52.

      Reducing the EX buy hints that they think they can reduce the hypersonic missile size some time in the future. But until then . . .

    • Ray

      June 15, 2022 at 3:08 am

      Thats right the aircraft that is undefeated in air to air it should be in the fight and the only one to knock out a satellite.

  3. Eagle Eye

    May 19, 2022 at 10:07 am

    The Air Force doesn’t know what it wants or how much their proposed wonder weapons will eventually cost. When Frank Kendall (SECAF) boldly proclaims the NGAD will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars per tail he lost me. I don’t believe the Air Force leadership has any idea what the future force should look like. There’s no consistency of thought or leadership at the highest levels.

  4. Bob

    May 19, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    People need to stop thinking of the EX as a fighter and more as a medium bomber. It may not be the asset at the point of the spear, but after SEAD missions it brings a huge punch to the tactical fight. If we’re going to retire the A10’s for being too slow and vulnerable what’s going to support ground ops? The 16/18’s are fine, but something to carry long-range precision strike packages at speed will be essential. Especially in any Pacific campaign.

  5. William

    May 19, 2022 at 4:12 pm

    Detractors are most likely have favorable relationship with Lockheed Martin who produces the F-35.
    Yes, the air force is under pressure to cut cost, develop the next air Superiority fighter, field the B-21 raider, and oh-yeah figure out what to do with the A-10 Warthog while they try to kill the plane off by lack of maintenance.
    The F-15EX does not fight alone. Like any other aircraft in the sky.
    It is a capable passive and active air frame that can support ground troops and fend off attackers. Not all threats will be a modern military. So why send stealth aircraft to fight against Islamic revolutionary in a us supported nation?
    You wouldn’t. You would send the F-15.
    The airframe capabilities enhance the abilities of the F-22 and F-35.
    Stealth is great. It allows us to increase survivability in contested skies. However, once the skies are calmed. It will need a dedicated workhorse to control the ground and support troops deploy in the front lines. Something stealth is not essential.
    If you say suppress enemy air defense…we don’t control the skies then.
    I think the F-15 EX is a great platform that will serve as a great platform along side it’s sisters.

    • Ray

      June 15, 2022 at 3:13 am

      The a-10 was desided as close support and a tank buster you keep the a-10 because of its durabilty.

  6. Chris P.

    May 19, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    I have a suggestion. Do your research. The F-15EX does not have the same radar cross section as the original F-15. I would go into more detail but then I would be doing the research you should have done in the first place. I won’t even get into to the cost analysis you’ve blatantly did not go into. Or performance, range, payload, upgrades, speed, ease of implementation into existing infrastructure. I imagine the author has a financial stake in LM or is a lobbyist? Journalism is objective and this sir is not.

  7. Montelius Chapin

    May 20, 2022 at 7:01 pm

    I find it interesting that a airframe that can carry 22 A2À missiles and recieved targeting data from a stealth airframe much closer to the fight is being considered for cancelation. The USAF needs airframes for the mission. A superweapon on the wrong side of the world does nothing having something actually near the issue is far more useful. I like the EX program… I don’t feel like it is quite what should have happened but it’s far better than in 15 years having the vestiges of the falcon and eagle wings half afraid to respond to anything because of airframe fatigue. Having the F-35 pretending to do combat air patrol….. It’s not the right tool for that. It’s a decent enough multi-purpose combat plane but it doesn’t seem to really have an air superiority dynamic so much as a artillery spotter dynamic. It’s flight hour cost is also out of this world.

    • Ray

      June 15, 2022 at 3:18 am

      I agree the f-15ex would be very nice for air stikes and the f-35 cost to much to maintain the aircraft

  8. bb3

    May 24, 2022 at 5:06 am

    I don’t know why the USAF and all the experts fail to discuss the fact that in 10 years – when the EX and all other non-stealth planes will supposedly be obsolete – most 1st day SEAD/DEAD missions will involve lots of UCAVs and most air defense missions in contested space will involve loyal wingman – that will be identifying & targeting radars/ SAM sites and enemy fighter/ bomber formations and relaying that info via data links back & forth with the manned fighters that will carry more weapons, etc. The dual cockpit F-15EX planes w/ wizzos seem like the perfect complement to the more forward deployed and more lightly armed UCAVs & F35s that can keep silent with their radars etc. while obtaining targeting info from the UCAVs & loyal wingman that are being controlled by the 2nd operator in the dual seat EXs – some of which can/ will be configured as faster & more heavily armed USAF Growler-like electronic attack platforms. The EXs will also be able to target high value targets with long range cruise missiles as well as being able to pick off any enemy fighters that happen to escape the more forward deployed UCAVs, loyal wingmen & F35s.

    • Ray

      June 15, 2022 at 3:22 am

      I agree with that that can be used to knock out radar and sam units.

  9. James T Matters

    April 17, 2023 at 2:08 pm

    I have been told by my Congressman’s office that the F15EX was chosen over the F16 XL because it was cheaper to build and maintain. Since when is a twin engined aircraft less expensive that a single engined one?
    Inquiring minds need to know why this is so…

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