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Is the F-15EX On the Brink of Being Canceled?

F-15EX
F-15EX. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-15 EX – Canceled? – The F-15 Eagle was designed in the 1970s, without “a pound for air-to-ground,” meaning the plane was built strictly for air superiority. Accordingly, the original F-15 was excellent at engaging other airborne targets, or dogfighting – the jet was perhaps the preeminent fourth-generation air-to-air fighter – but lacked systems or capabilities to engage on the ground targets. In the 1980s, the F-15E variant was built to provide the F-15 platform with an air-to-ground option. The F-15E retained the original Eagle’s air-to-air abilities, while adding an air-to-ground mode, hence broadening the spectrum of mission profiles that the jet could conduct. 

F-15EX: A Program In Peril? 

Now, a new variant, known as the F-15EX is ready for production, according to Boeing. But how many will the Air Force actually order and is the program in trouble

The F-15EX first flew in February 2021. In March of the same year, Boeing delivered the first F-15EX to the US Air Force. The delivery was significant, marking the first USAF in nearly two decades. The F-15EX had been developed surreptitiously after the USAF made a very discreet inquiry to Boeing about creating an airframe meeting certain requirements. Namely, the USAF wanted a new jet that was cheap to operate, cheap to acquire, low-risk, and that would not disrupt the procurement of the F-35. Boeing’s solution: an update to the F-15 Eagle. The decision could be considered counterintuitive; the USAF had not accepted delivery of a fourth-generation fighter since 2001. 

Unlike every other fighter jet delivered to the USAF since 2001, the F-15EX is not stealth-equipped. Rather, the plane has the same high-visibility characteristics as the preceding F-15 variants. Stealth aside, the new F-15 does have a litany of improvements.

“Configuration is impressive as it includes a flat-panel glass cockpit, JHMCS II helmet-mounted (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 War Zone reported

One of the most impressive updates to the F-15EX is the extended service life. Remarkably, the F-15EX is built to last for 20,000 hours of service. To put that number in perspective, the brand-new Block III F-18 Super Hornet has a 10,000-hour service life (and the Block II Super Hornet had just a 6,000-hour service life). Given the potentially generation-spanning service life,  the F-15EX has the legs to remain active with the USAF for decades to come. That is if the USAF wants the new jet at all. 

F-15EX, RIP? 

Suddenly, the USAF is understood to be on the verge of potentially canceling their F-15EX procurement, scaling back their order. Critics are calling the jet too expensive and outdated. John Venable, a Heritage Foundation scholar speaking to outlet Defense One, believes modern surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems are too sophisticated for the non-stealth F-15EX, meaning the jet will be limited to stateside defense patrols. However, the F-15EX carries up to 22 air-to-air missiles at a time – complete overkill for domestic defense. 

Other scholars agree. “The F-15EX is a waste of the Air Force’s money,” explained Harry J. Kazianis, President and CEO of the Rogue States Project and a prominent defense expert, in an interview with 19FortyFive. “Why would we spend billions on a fighter that isn’t stealth like the F-35 and would get blown to bits by Russia and China in a war if we tried to enter their air space protected by defenses like the S-400? That would be sending a U.S. Air Force pilot to his or her death.”

The budget request for Fiscal Year 2023 suggests that the F-15EX program may indeed be in trouble; funds were set aside for just 18 aircraft. The original plan to replace existing F-15 C and D variants with the new EX seems to be on hold. The USAF is still determining where in their force structure, where between stealthy, versatile F-35s and aging, less expensive, fourth-generation workhorses, an updated F-15 would fit in.    

Harrison Kass the 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 holds degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and NYU.. He lives in Oregon and 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.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. pete

    June 20, 2022 at 6:51 pm

    the stealthy planes only carry 8k# of ordinance; the F-15 can carry 30k#–about twice a WW2 heavy bomber. AFter the F-35’s take out the sam sites, radar, etc, after all: they know you’re coming-send in the F-15’s to plaster everything else.

    • Doyle

      June 21, 2022 at 3:23 pm

      exactly, how hard a concept is that for people….

    • Zero

      June 21, 2022 at 7:07 pm

      I am a long-time fan of the F-15, in its day, it was the best air superiority fighter in the world–and when the strike eagle came along, it also created an excellent wartime reputation.

      But that was then, and this is now. At 88 million dollars per F-15EX which does not count add-on capabilities like sniper pods, IR etc. the F15EX is too expensive for the capability it brings to war fighting.

      The bottom line is that the F-15 stands out like a beacon on radar and IR for the enemy to see and shoot down. It does not matter how much ordnance an aircraft can carry if it is shot down in the first engagement.

      For years now I have been reading the ignorant comments of posters who know nothing of the F-35 or of modern air warfare. In one Red Flag after another–F-15s and F-16s have been shot down with impunity–with greater than 20-1 kills. Critics never keep up with the latest developments in the F-35–very often complaining about issues that have long ago been fixed. The whole can’t dog-fight drivel is a case in point. Current F0-35s have expanded their flight envelopes since then, and had their flight laws expanded–making the F-35 a very competent and nimble dog-fighter–and with the AIM-9x and the Gen III helmet, the F-35 can down an opponent following behind them. No dog fight necessary.

      Please Google the number of dogfights which have occurred in the past 40 years–you will see that missiles, not guns take the lion’s share of all air-to-air engagements.

      The problem is that most commenters are fixated upon the speed and kinematic performance of combat jets without understanding that these are outdated metrics. Yes, a combat jet still needs to be fast and nimble, but other factors introduced with the F-35 have revolutionized air combat.

      F-35s will go into battle with 4 ship configurations. These aircraft will be networked to each other through stealthy communications call MADL. They will not only see what everyone else in their four ship can see, but also what external sources piped in from satellites and ground and sea based sensors.

      The key in air combat is first shot, first kill–statistical evaluations spell this out clearly. The F-35 pilot can see all the necessary information through a fusion of all the data available in his helmet. His onboard computers can recognize every aircraft, tank, truck, or IFV in the world.

      In combination with the F-22, the F-35 if unbeatable by any aircraft or SAM system in the world–and multiple realistic war games in Red Flag, Northern Edge and elsewhere have proven this over the past 5 years.

      The F-35 has DAS which gives the pilot a 360 view of the world, and with SARS radar, the F-35 pilot can see a tank from 50 miles away.

      The F-35 today is not the F-35 of 6 years ago, or even one year ago. Every year capabilities are added, and the new Block 4 improvements are now being ready for implementation. I have left out so many capabilities, like the advanced radar which can perform EW tasks similar to a Growler. All these features come with the aircraft out of the box.

      Every pilot, with legacy 4th generation experience, when asked which aircraft they would choose to go to battle with always chooses the F-35–and there is a good reason for that–they want to survive the battle.

      • Docdef

        June 22, 2022 at 7:36 pm

        Call in the jammers and make the comms blind,it’s cheap and easy. Once you actually put bombs on the 35 it looks like a 4th gen, plus you add low frequency radar it stands out like the pig in flight it is

  2. Barry Klinedinst

    June 21, 2022 at 3:44 am

    Buy the new eagle. The f35 will be long gone and the f15 will still be in service. They need to get the next gen plane in service asap. The f35 was a bad idea. Dog fighting is not over. You can’t design one plane to fly for all branches of service. Use stealth to kick the door down and let the eagles go to work. The silent eagle was a great idea. Add vectored thrust to that beast and that would be a winner. The F35 is a lame duck

  3. bikerthai

    June 21, 2022 at 8:40 am

    All these articles fail to mention the one reason why the AF is buying the FX and only on small quantity.

    They need a platform (other than the B-52) to carry the first generation of hypersonic missiles.

    Hopefully the second generation will be small enough to fit in to an F-35.

  4. Darren Robertson

    June 21, 2022 at 9:38 am

    Yet archaic Mig-29’s and SU-27’s successfully operate in the face of Russian air defenses and Air Force daily in the Ukraine. Why do these “experts” not mention the “EX’s” superior bandwidth and radar advantage over the budget stealth of the F-35? Or that other then head on; the F-35 is not “stealthy”?

  5. Matt Schilling

    June 21, 2022 at 10:54 am

    The F-15 flies higher, faster and farther than the F-35. It will always carry a wider array of weapons than the F-35 and will carry some weapons the F-35 will never carry. It will always be the go-to test bed for new weapons.

    It seems arrogant, vindictive people are perpetrating a hateful crusade against an excellent platform, the key point of which is, the F-15EX isn’t perfect. Of course, they can only do that on a part-time basis, since they have to spend so much time defending the thoroughly imperfect F-35.

    • Edmund

      June 21, 2022 at 1:54 pm

      Your first sentence alone is why the F-15EX is an excellent complement to all else. Add that the F-35 can use the F-15EX as a slave, to fire weapons at what it targets. The F-15EX with the latest AMRAAM provides a the penetrating F-35 with the option of making the F-15 the target to shoot and scoot and the F-35 can then keep penetrating after unleashing 22 air-air missiles of whatever else in the area. Until the Boeing Wingman (or similar) drones are available for that function, that provides a huge flexibility of mission planning on attacks and defense.

      And how is having 22 missiles overkill for home defense? The very nature of having that many makes attacking the homeland more problematic for the attacker. Isn’t getting the enemy to refrain from attacking at all the best defense?

  6. thelaine

    June 21, 2022 at 11:07 am

    Totally agree, bikerthai. It could be, however, that they want that F15 money for the NGAD.

  7. Doyle

    June 21, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    Everyone is still buying gen4 aircraft so why not the best in breed? An analogy would be that prior to the current war was the Russian army feared for its Armata tank or the masses of T-72/T-90s it had? If a hot war starts tomorrow gen4 airframes will be used heavily. Let stealth pave the way and let the get4 do what it does best, the heavy lifting afterwards.

  8. Charles Phillips

    June 21, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    We always need to prepare for the next war but it is a good idea to see what kind of aircraft we have used in every conflict since the Korean War. We need long range aircraft that can bomb ground targets. We have always had air superiority and have never needed stealth. Now there are some situations when we would need stealth – but there are few. Stealth aircraft are expensive and so we buy a lot fewer of them as well.

    We should buy a mix of F-15EXs and F-35s and hope that we don’t need the F-35. But we WILL need and WILL use the F-15EX.

  9. Paul Sery

    June 21, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    It tempts fate to rely solely on the F35, especially given its continued problems.

  10. EVA-04

    June 21, 2022 at 9:35 pm

    We would not have had to buy the F-15EX had we not cancelled the F-22.

    But I doubt that 1945 will put blame where blame is due.

  11. Dan B

    June 22, 2022 at 9:53 am

    Comparing the lifespan of the Block 3 Super Hornet and the Eagle II is like comparing an apple and a apricot. The Super Hornet operates from the harshest conditions available to a fighter. Salt spray, being sling shotted off the carrier and them slamming down on the deck and being pulled to a halt violently. If you built the Super Hornet to last 20k hours, it would be too heavy to get off the deck. A better comparison would have been to the new F-16V Viper.

    Let’s keep in mind that in order to remain stealthy the F-35 can only carry 4 weapons. That doesn’t take long to use up and then the pilot either goes home or needs to become a spotter for others. Who do you think that spotter is going to be? Legacy Eagles are going to start zeroing out in airframe hours so there won’t be anyone back there flying. The AF is going to need some new airframes carrying the new AIM-260 to fire long range shots guided by the F-35.

    • TrustbutVerify

      June 22, 2022 at 5:43 pm

      You know what you do when you go Winchester? You fly back and reload…something you can do in an F-35 that the enemy never saw or shot at but which is very hard to do if your plane got shot down.

      So a flight of 10 F-35s have 40 AMRAAMs or AIM-260 missiles and down 40 enemy aircraft – more than are on one of China’s carriers. Then they load up on LRASM-ERs, with no anti-air (or missiles because they still can’t be seen on radar) they polish off the surface ships.

      Once you do your SEAD, the F-35 can also fly in Beast Mode where it can carry a full load of weapons on external pylons for ground strike with other “slick” F-35s still flying cover.

  12. John Nichols

    June 22, 2022 at 9:55 am

    It will give the pilot a better chance than the current F15 series which are not bad to begin with. Payload is a major requirement, use stealth with small payload to eliminate defensive positions and pound with the heavy hitters. We don’t have fast hitters in the current scheme. Gone are the A4, A7, Phantom, etc all capable aircraft. A Phantom while not as agile as the modern jets packed a whole lot of punch. Firepower to follow the initial defensive sensor kill, eliminate the remaining structure there by significantly slowing repair time for the defense.

    • Lior Nedivi

      June 27, 2022 at 6:46 am

      There are so many points that were overlooked in ghis article. Here are some:
      1. The F-15EX can carry a load much biger than the F-35.
      2. It can carry havy standoff weapins with range of hundreds of KMs and by this avoid any air defence.
      3. It is ment ti work togather with stealth fighters. They will destroy enemy air defence and open a corridor for the heavy bombers to do the rsal damage.
      4. All F-15Es could be upgraded to the F-15EX level as it is allmost the same frame.
      I know that yhe Israeli air force would love to have some of them.

  13. B6542

    June 22, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    Where’s John Boyd when we need him !

  14. Fenderowner

    June 22, 2022 at 6:36 pm

    Rolling over in his grave, B6542.

  15. MD Anthony

    June 22, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    If it will protect America…Biden will cancel it

    Why is no one waking up to the unavoidable and fatal consequences to America being created by Biden?

  16. Just passing through

    June 23, 2022 at 7:01 am

    It’s only a matter of time before an F-22 Raptor is recovered from a crash or Chinese spies, working for American universities or companies are handed all our technology used in 5th generation fighters and trillions of dollars of research will be down the drain. The US has too many traitors and woke generals and politicians who have been taught to hate America to keep military secrets.

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