Key point: The Air Force must decide whether more cost-efficient, but less-survivable fighters are worth it.
The aviation world is abuzz with rumors that the U.S. Air Force is evaluating the purchase of a brand-new F-15X model of the legendary 45-year-old F-15 Eagle twin-engine fighter. Marcus Weisgerber first reported this possibility for Defense One, then expanded upon in an article by Tyler Rogoway at The Drive.
Were a contract to materialize, the F-15X could become the Air Force’s first new fighter that wasn’t a stealth jet since 2001—paralleling a recent decision by the U.S. Navy to procure Super Hornet jets to serve alongside its F-35C stealth fighters, rather than allowing the F-35 to replace them. But just how significant are the upgrades, and do they justify purchasing more of the Air Force’s oldest active fighter plane?
Replacing the F-15C/D:
The F-15X is specifically intended to replace a fleet of 235 F-15C and two-seat F-15D fighters deployed for air defense of the coastal United States, Japan and England. These air-superiority fighters are fast (Mach 2.5), maneuverable and boast long-range APG-63(V)3 radars. However, the F-15C/Ds date back to the mid-1980s and are quite likely to be retired early, as they would otherwise require expensive upgrades to remain airworthy.
Boeing proposes to manufacture new multi-role F-15Xs based on an advanced F-15QA Strike Eagle variant currently in production for Qatar. Because the factory line will remain open through 2022 and the technologies have all already been developed, Boeing could skip over the development phase and plans to offer the F-15X at a (presumably low) fixed cost—rare in an industry known for gigantic cost-overruns. The USAF, for its part, could inexpensively adopt a plane for which it already has existing infrastructure and familiarity.