Why the F-15EX deserves funding in the age of stealth and 6th-gen fighters

In an era when stealth F-35s and the 6th-generation Next Generation Air Dominance [NGAD] fighter program are at the forefront of U.S. military aviation strategy, the Boeing F-15EX Eagle II might appear to some as a relic of the past. Indeed, many defense experts don’t see why the Air Force should fund such a fighter platform.

Why the F-15EX deserves funding in the age of stealth and 6th-gen fighters
Photo credit: USAF

But that line of thinking does not hold water. Upon closer examination, clear evidence shows that the F-15EX is not only relevant but also essential for maintaining the U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) superiority and operational flexibility in an age of great power competition and rising threats from China, Russia, Iran, and many other nations around the world.

This aircraft, a modern iteration of the venerable F-15 platform, integrates advanced technologies that make it a valuable asset. Here’s why the F-15EX Eagle II deserves continued funding from the U.S. Department of Defense:

Boeing finalized delivery of two F-15EXs to the US Air Force
Photo credit: Boeing

F-15: Proven reliability and performance in combat

The F-15 platform has a long and distinguished history of reliability and combat performance. Since its introduction in the 1970s, the F-15 has amassed an unparalleled combat record with over 100 aerial victories and no losses in air-to-air combat.

This proven track record underscores the platform’s robustness and effectiveness in a variety of combat scenarios. The F-15EX Eagle II builds on this legacy with significant upgrades. It incorporates advanced avionics, radar, and electronic warfare systems that enhance its combat capabilities. These enhancements ensure that the F-15EX can perform effectively even in modern, contested environments.

In the US, they called the F-15EX 'a giant mistake of the USAF'
Photo by Jerry McGrath

Cost-effectiveness and efficient upgrades

One of the most compelling arguments for funding the F-15EX is its cost-effectiveness. Developing new aircraft from scratch, such as the upcoming sixth-generation fighters like the much-discussed NGAD, involves substantial research and development costs, lengthy testing phases, and significant financial investment. In contrast, the F-15EX leverages the existing F-15 production line and infrastructure, resulting in lower procurement costs.

While the F-15EX is no low-cost fighter plane- coming in as much as $97 Million per airframe– maintenance and operational costs of the F-15EX are expected to be lower due to the established supply chains and the USAF’s familiarity with the F-15 platform. This familiarity reduces training requirements for pilots and maintenance crews, further decreasing overall costs.

Sukhoi failure in Asia - to be replaced by two dozen F-15EXs
Photo by Samuel King Jr.

Remember: The F-15EX is not competition to F-35s of F-22s

While fifth-generation stealth fighters like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II offer unmatched stealth capabilities and advanced sensors, they are not the solution for every combat scenario. The F-15EX, with its larger payload capacity and greater range, complements these stealth fighters by providing capabilities that they lack. Indeed, if these warplanes were to all work together in various combat scenarios, the U.S. Air Force would be well served.

The F-15EX can carry a wide variety of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground munitions, and future hypersonic weapons. Its ability to carry up to 29,500 pounds of munitions allows it to undertake missions that require heavy firepower, sustained presence, and high sortie rates—missions that might be inefficient or impractical for stealth fighters.

Why the F-15EX deserves funding in the age of stealth and 6th-gen fighters
Photo credit: Getty Images

Enhanced survivability and adaptability

Modern combat environments demand aircraft that can adapt to rapidly changing threats. The F-15EX is equipped with advanced survivability systems, including the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System [EPAWSS]. This system provides the F-15EX with electronic warfare capabilities, enabling it to detect, evade, and counter threats effectively.

Additionally, the F-15EX features an open mission systems architecture, allowing for rapid integration of new technologies and systems at a likely low cost. This adaptability ensures that the F-15EX can evolve in response to emerging threats, maintaining its relevance on the modern battlefield.

While the upfront cost of the F-15EX is surely not cheap, again, this fighter proves it can save money over the long-term and is a worthwhile investment.

Strategic flexibility and force multiplier

The F-15EX provides strategic flexibility that is crucial for the U.S. Air Force. Its high payload capacity and range make it suitable for a variety of missions, from air superiority and ground attack to electronic warfare and reconnaissance. This versatility allows the F-15EX to serve as a force multiplier, enhancing the effectiveness of other assets in the USAF’s arsenal.

In joint and coalition operations, the F-15EX can operate alongside both stealth and non-stealth aircraft, providing support and enhancing overall mission success. Its ability to integrate seamlessly into existing and future combat scenarios makes it a valuable asset for maintaining air dominance.

Addressing immediate needs and readiness

The USAF faces immediate challenges in maintaining its readiness and combat capability. Aging aircraft fleets, including the F-15C/D models, require replacement to ensure that the USAF remains prepared for current and future conflicts. The procurement of the F-15EX addresses this need by providing a modern, capable aircraft that can be fielded quickly.

F-15EX 'missile truck' can shoot down 6 fighters in one flight
Photo credit: USAF

Unlike the NGAD program, which is still in development and may take years to reach operational status, the F-15EX can be deployed in the near term. This timely introduction helps bridge the gap between current capabilities and future advancements, ensuring that the USAF remains combat-ready.

Deterrence and strategic messaging

The deployment of the F-15EX also serves a strategic purpose by signaling U.S. military commitment and capability to potential adversaries. The presence of a robust and versatile fighter like the F-15EX demonstrates the USAF’s readiness to respond to threats and maintain air superiority. This deterrent effect is crucial for preventing conflicts and maintaining stability in key regions.

Boeing finalized delivery of two F-15EXs to the US Air Force
Photo credit: Boeing

The F-15EX Eagle II is the future of the USAF

While the focus on stealth technology and sixth-generation fighters is essential for future air combat, the F-15EX Eagle II plays a critical and complementary role in the USAF’s strategy. Simply put: Coming soon NGAD fighters – costing as much as $300 million per plane – and stealth aircraft might not always be the right airframe for the mission. That’s where the F-15EX comes into play.

Its proven reliability, cost-effectiveness, advanced capabilities, and strategic flexibility make it a deserving candidate for continued funding. The F-15EX not only addresses immediate needs but also enhances the overall combat effectiveness and readiness of the U.S. Air Force.

First operational USAF F-15EX Eagle II enters service in 2023
Photo credit: Boeing

By investing in the F-15EX, the U.S. Department of Defense ensures that it has a versatile and capable platform that can meet the diverse challenges of modern warfare. The F-15EX Eagle II, far from being a relic of the past, is a testament to the enduring value of innovation and adaptability in military aviation.

As the U.S. Air Force prepares for the future, the F-15EX stands ready to play a vital role in maintaining air superiority and protecting national interests.

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