The FY23 National Defense Authorization Act has fully funded the F-15EX Eagle II program. The Biden administration’s budget proposal included a request for $2.6 billion to buy 24 F-15EX aircraft. They will be the first of a total intended acquisition of 80 F-15EXs, and the aircraft will replace the older F-15C/D Eagles.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the FY23 NDAA, and it will soon go to the full Senate for approval.
F-15EX: New But Continuous
Many F-15C/Ds are 35 years old with over 8,300 flight hours, and the oldest was made in 1979. The Air Force said in 2020 that the F-15C/Ds “are beyond their service life and have serious structural risks, wire chafing issues, and obsolete parts.”
The FY22 NDAA allowed for the retirement of 48 F-15C/Ds. Meanwhile, the F-15EX program is trying to chug along – the Air Force originally wanted 144 F-15EXs. Last fiscal year, the FY22 NDAA allocated $1.32 billion for 12 F-15EX Eagle IIs.
The F-15EX is not stealthy, but it could nevertheless fly in contested airspace, carrying long-range standoff missiles and teaming with F-35s and F-22s. Alternatively, the Air Force could decide to hold back the F-15EX and wait until the Americans have achieved air superiority by day three or day four of an air war.
The F-15EX would also lend continuity to the F-15C/Ds and the F-15E Strike Eagles by carrying on similar training, maintenance, and tactical procedures.
House and Senate appropriators approved the Honeywell Advanced Display Core Processor II for the F-15EX. This will enable the F-15EX’s mission computer “to process 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput,” Boeing has said.
The fourth generation-plus F-15EX is expected to have a flying life of 20,000 hours – twice that of the F-15C/D. It is a multi-role fighter with fly-by-wire controls. The F-15EX has a bigger weapons payload, exceeding Eagles and Strike Eagles by 28%.
The F-15EX will also have a new radar, and it can be built on existing manufacturing lines.
The F-15EX could carry hypersonic weapons someday. Electronic warfare capabilities are improved with the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, and pilots will have better situational awareness for quick decisionmaking. The Open Mission System architecture will enable easier mission upgrades. Since the F-15EX shares support equipment and spare parts with the earlier F-15s, it will save on maintenance time and costs.
Eighty Would Be Enough for Three Squadrons
If the Air Force finally receives 80 F-15EXs, it could replace the F-15C/D’s with three squadrons of Eagle IIs, either in the active-duty component or the Air National Guard. Next year, the Oregon Air National Guard base will receive the first F-15EXs. These will be focused on homeland defense.
F-15C Eagles are leaving the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. The Eagles had been part of a permanent presence in Okinawa of two squadrons.
F-22s are expected to replace the Eagles, but F-15EXs could also be part of a new rotating force on the island someday.
This upgrade could help protect Japan against incursions by Chinese fighters.
The Air Force is aiming for a “divest to invest” acquisition strategy by replacing Eagles with Eagle IIs. In other words, discontinuing F-15C/D fighters frees up money that can be redirected to the F-15EX program.
We will see if Congress increases its request by the next fiscal year to reach the 80 planned Eagle IIs.
Lawmakers might decide the F-15EX is not the correct choice for offensive operations, and that its best use is to defend the homeland while flying with the Air National Guard.
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Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.
December 12, 2022 at 4:41 pm
America could have had dozens of UAV’s for the price of one F-15EX. Which would have more Combat Power: 80 F-15EX Eagles or 3,000 UAVs like the XQ-58 Valkyrie? The only purpose of combat aircraft is to haul smart weapons to the battlefield. That task is most efficiently performed by cheap, long range, attritable, unmanned aircraft which can aggressively be sent into contested air space.
December 12, 2022 at 10:02 pm
The big things about the F-15EX are systems oriented. The ALQ-250 EPAWSS offers passive triangulation and wormhole generator capabilities similar to the ASQ-239 and APG-81, along with Missile Approach Warning like the ALQ-37, which allows for pro-active defense with MSDM, AIM-9X Blk.III and advanced Expendables.
The big APG-82 can image ground and air targets farther than the APG-81. The JATM is likely an 8″/600lb class weapon which means it cannot be carried, in density, in the F-35 bays. But the F-15EX CFTs have no problem.
The F-15EX can carry X4 AGM-88 or AGM-88G without losing gas or primary strike ordnance. The F-35 can only carry 2 AARGM-ER if it sacrifices all other strike ordnance.
The F-15EX is a superior ALCM carrier with potentially six AGM-158 per aircraft vs. 4 for the Penguin, without a 24hr downtime to reconvert from no-LO back to stealth.
The F-15EX is a superior OBAS platform, with the ability to carry a minimum X16 GBU-53 and the ATP-SE enhanced Sniper which has more modes and better optics than the AAQ-40 EOTS.
The F-15EX can carry Legion Blk.II with a dual band MWIR/LWIR sensor. And a 10″ aperture that provides genuine BVR weapons-track capability which the EOTS is simply not configured to do.
Everyone downplays the F-15EX because they are afraid that it will effect the F-35 sales. But that bus has left the stop on that commercial greed argument as Tiered partners around the globe either wait for U.S. sales to drop prices, markedly. Or have already harvested all the Gen-5 technology base and now look to apply it to their own FCAS or Tempest followons.
Britain, which is supposedly on-contract to purchase 138 of the B-model is likely never going to have more than 20 of them as she begins to look for reasons to shed the White Elephant QEII class in the wake of massive economic contraction as failed jingoism that will result from a Ukrainian loss of this war.
Add to this the likely technology compromise from the Japanese, British and USN losses of jets and the Chinese harvesting of the F-35 industrial base and you have a jet which is kinematically inferior to the competition, cannot carry enough weapons to pole compensate and is increasingly, commercially, a complete flop because to pay for the ‘low’ of a ‘hi/low mix’ you sabotaged the ‘hi’.
And now the ‘low’ isn’t able to take over the absent force structure as top-cover kinematics of the absent ‘hi’ and the cost variable is non-incentivized to try because nobody (Germany, 240 million dollar export cost) wants to pay for what LM is asking and LM feels no impetus to continue to implement production cost savings on a collapsing market.
Or to improve the abysmal readiness rates of the glut of early airframes now extant in the inventory.
The USAF moving onto the NGAD/PCA apace is a certain signal of flagging confidence in the F-35 as a platform and this is likely to be proven out as a function of radius, speed and payload, offering direct competition to the Europen Gen-6 in the strike side of the multirole equation.
Meanwhile, everyone sees the efficacy of longrange drones and missiles. Suggesting that the F-15EX’s role may be as a manned targeter via UCAV networks for effects it doesn’t carry. Something the single seat F-35 is also ill-equipped to do because MADL doesn’t have the bandpipe and the jet doesn’t have the mass video memory or AI to do constant filtering.
If the Russo-Iranian model becomes the new norm, for cost and training reasons, the F-15EX could easily be the swinghitter (ASA+ISR+BMC2) as less of a legacy throwback platform than a transitional placeholder while the true, unmanned, revolution happens.
When it does (because nobody is buying U.S. treasuries and the petrodollar is losing hegemony as a means to offload debt via exchange rates), manned strike will become impo$$ible to train for and the defensive weapons which defeat the drone/missile threat will be so lethal (hunting weapons and lasers) that any manned presence over the battlefield will be suicidal.
And the ‘designed for OBAS’ F-35 will be a truly dead duck as a residual ASA system.