Key point: This is far from the first time that manufacturers of new jet fighter designs have opposed pursuing upgrades of older models already in service.
In 2018 reports emerged that the Pentagon would seek to procure a dozen upgraded F-15X fighters to replace an aging fleet of F-15C air superiority fighters. Rightly or wrongly, advocates of the F-35 stealth fighter fear the F-15X might impact F-35 procurement, even though the F-35 wasn’t meant to replace the F-15C. This is far from the first time that manufacturers of new jet fighter designs have opposed pursuing upgrades of older models already in service.
The F-4 Phantom was a beast of a two-seat jet fighter that could fly over twice the speed of sound and carry a heavier bomb load than a four-engine B-17 bomber from World War II. The advanced radar-equipped jet entered service with the Air Force, Navy and Marines in the 1960s designed to engage enemy fighters at beyond visual range with air-to-air missiles.
However, designs flaws and circumstances both initially conspired against the Phantom in its first major combat test in the Vietnam War. It turned out early air-to-air missiles remained highly unreliable and the rules of engagement required U.S. pilots make visual contact before firing. Furthermore, the Phantom was less maneuverable than opposing MiGs and U.S. pilots weren’t trained to fight within visual range. As if that weren’t enough, the Phantom also lacked a gun!