More F-15EXs Planned for Air Force: There is good news for the F-15EX program.
The U.S. Air Force has proposed to buy more Eagle IIs. The branch plans to acquire 104 new fighters in FY24.
That is a jump from 84 in the previous budget. That is not as high as the 144 that the F-15EX program counted on originally, but still provides a shot in the arm to Boeing and will allow the Air Force National Guard to modernize its fleet of fighters.
Who Will Fly the F-15EX
The F-15EX will replace the F-15 C/D Eagles at Air National Guard units in California, Oregon, Louisiana, and Massachusetts. The F-15EX will provide homeland defense and will be able to quickly intercept any foreign aircraft wandering into U.S. air space. There are still 220 F-15 C/Ds in service throughout the Air Force. In the FY24 budget proposal, 67 older fighters will be retired.
Meanwhile, Congress could decide to order more F-15EXs and this would aid state’s Air Guard inventories and plus-up active duty numbers. The Air Force is also planning to extend the range of the Eagle IIs by investing $63.6 million for 12 conformal fuel tanks. This will aid pilots flying in an aerial battle with Chinese fighters should the F-15EX be deployed in the Indo-Pacific.
More Details on the Eagle II
The F-15EX is a Fourth Generation Plus airplane. The Eagle II has an Active Electronically Scanned Array radar. It has a large weapons payload and can function as a missile and bomb truck when needed. It is able to carry 13.6 tons of payload. The fighter can launch up to 12 air-to-air missiles. The Eagle II also has extended and improved radar capabilities. Onboard computers feature advanced processing speed. The F-15EX can also deploy hypersonic weapons.
However, critics have pointed out that the Eagle II is not stealthy, which is a worry since Russia is deploying the Su-57 and China is building more J-20 stealth fighters. So, it is not assured that the F-15EX could be successful against adversarial airplanes with stealth characteristics.
Attack After Enemy Air Defense Are Suppressed
Proponents of the F-15EX point out that the Boeing fighter can accomplish missions that fifth-generation fighters like the F-35A are not designed for. This means that the F-15EX could attack the enemy on Day Two or Three of an aerial battle in which the F-35’s first punch holes in enemy air defenses. The F-15EX would then bring its considerable armaments into the area of operations and blast away at adversarial airplanes or ground targets.
Unfortunately, China has numerous S-300-style missile defenders plus a number of systems equivalent to S-400 and S-500 advanced air defense systems, so it remains to be seen how it would perform against those anti-aircraft batteries. F-35s and U.S. bombers, such as the B-2 stealth bomber and the new B-21 would need to suppress the air defense capabilities before the F-15EX would be brought to the theater.
However, the F-15EX is fast, clocking in at Mach 2.5. It will have computer processing speed that outclasses enemy airplanes. It could outfly other Chinese and Russian fourth-generation fighters.
Air Force Can Existing Manufacturing Base
At first, I was skeptical of a new fighter that did not have stealth attributes, but as far as acquisition strategy for the defense industrial base, I like the benefits of the Eagle IIs.
The F-15EX will be able to take advantage of existing manufacturing lines and infrastructure. Spare parts will be available in great quantities. Plus, the F-15 C/D fighters must be replaced and the pilots of these airplanes will be able to handle the new F-15EX without considerable re-training. The F-15EX should also be easier to maintain.
On balance, the F-15EX should help the Air Force, especially its reserve component. Pilots are likely to love flying it compared to the older F-15. The Eagle II does have its critics, but the various attributes of the new airplane will outweigh the disadvantages. Its ability to fire hypersonic weapons means the F-15EX has the wherewithal to be valuable in aerial combat or ground strike mode. The Air Force should buy as many as possible.
Author Expertise and Experience
Serving as 19FortyFive’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.