The US Air Force looks to be moving towards a purchase of new F-15X Eagles from Boeing. F-15Cs that are attached to three active-duty units could be replaced with the new F-15X, enabling the older Eagles to cascade down to the Air National Guard. This will, in turn, enable the ANG to retire its two-seat F-15Ds that retain original AN/APG-63(v)0 radars.
The USAF is facing a conundrum of whether to embark on expensive upgrades that are needed for its existing F-15Cs, or purchase new aircraft. Last week Lt Gen Arnold Bunch, the USAF’s top acquisition officer, said that the USAF will seek to add new Eagles in the FY202 defense budget in order to replace the oldest F-15C/Ds still in service.
This is linked to meeting the new National Defense Strategy, with increased F-35 purchase rates unable to meet the USAF’s time-critical demand for expansion. Senior USAF officials want to tap into the Advanced F-15 that has been developed for Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The F-15X will likely be offered as single-seat and two-seat versions of these variants, and possibly available in relatively short order from Boeing.
It marks a significant shift in posture for the USAF, which previously said it would only purchase new fifth-generation fighter aircraft. However, keeping the F-15 line active in St Louis means the US doesn’t become overly reliant on Lockheed Martin. In addition, F-15X is likely to be sold as a spend-to-save — a new Eagle runs out at around the $100m mark according to previous delivery costs, however the new USAF F-15X is likely to run out cheaper. Officials have made no secret that the suite of upgrades required to keep old Eagles credible is almost prohibitively expensive. New weapons racks, new wings, upgraded cockpit and a new electronic warfare self-protection system to mention a few.
Even throwing a huge upgrade package at the F-15C would still see the aircraft falling short of the capabilities of the Advanced F-15, which features a Digital Flight Control System. This is critical in that it opens up wing stations 1 and 9, enabling expanded weapons carriage — a significant factor for the USAF as it seeks to up-arm it’s Eagles to act as ‘weapons trucks’ to complement its stealthy fifth-gen fighters.