The original F-15 Eagle was designed in the 1970s as a fourth-generation air superiority fighter.
While the aircraft went on to become perhaps the world’s best fourth-generation dogfighter, it was an example of Cold War-era overspending in which indulgently expensive weapons systems served single purposes. That trend went out of fashion after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In the F-15’s case, the jet lacked the capacity to perform air-to-ground missions, which became exceedingly important as America’s foreign policy mission changed from great power competition to regime change in the third world.
The U.S. began engaging against countries where airspace was less likely to be contested — countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia. This reduced the need for air superiority missions and instead placed a renewed emphasis on air-to-ground capabilities (dropping bombs).
So in the 1980s, a new F-15 variant was unveiled. The E variant offered air-to-ground capabilities, broadening the F-15’s spectrum of mission profiles.
Now, the latest evolution of the F-15 – the F-15EX –is in production, suggesting an enduring reliance on the venerable platform. But questions remain about the Air Force’s need for the updated fourth-generation jet. One important question: Can Boeing get the job done?
Last August, the Air Force announced that the F-15 EX had finished “a key test and evaluation phase with the successful launch of air-to-air and air-to-ground standoff munitions.” Specifically, the F-15EX launched Joint Direct Attack Munitions, Small Diameter Bombs, and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.
“The date collected from the test could pave the way for a decision on full-rate production for the newest version of the Boeing-made fourth-generation fighter,” Defense News reported. The Air Force and the Pentagon will now analyze the data and make an informed decision about the F-15EX’s future.
Boeing is expecting to deliver the Air Force’s next F-15EX before the end of November. The delivery will mark the third F-15EX produced for the Air Force, coming nearly one year behind schedule. The fourth F-15EX should be delivered shortly.
“Rob Novotny, Boeing’s director of F-15 business development, said in a Thursday interview with Defense News that production for the fourth F-15EX is complete, and its delivery will follow shortly after the third,” Defense News reported. “But Novotny also acknowledged Boeing’s F-15EX production has not been as quick as the company wanted, and that the Air Force has expressed its displeasure with the pace and production problems.”
According to Novotny: “We missed our mark…the government knows when they thought they were going to get them and how hard we’re working to get it to them, and they know that we’ve been late. Those conversations are never fun.”
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.