Is F-15EX on the brink of being cancelled?

F-15EX – Cancelled? – The F-15 Eagle was designed in the 1970s, without “a pound for air-to-ground,” meaning the plane was built strictly for air superiority. Accordingly, the original F-15 was excellent at engaging other airborne targets, or dogfighting – the jet was perhaps the preeminent fourth-generation air-to-air fighter – but lacked systems or capabilities to engage on the ground targets. In the 1980s, the F-15E variant was built to provide the F-15 platform with an air-to-ground option. The F-15E retained the original Eagle’s air-to-air abilities, while adding an air-to-ground mode, hence broadening the spectrum of mission profiles that the jet could conduct.
F-15EX: A Program In Peril?
Now, a new variant, known as the F-15EX is ready for production, according to Boeing. But how many will the Air Force actually order and is the program in trouble?
The F-15EX first flew in February 2021. In March of the same year, Boeing delivered the first F-15EX to the US Air Force. The delivery was significant, marking the first USAF in nearly two decades. The F-15EX had been developed surreptitiously after the USAF made a very discreet inquiry to Boeing about creating an airframe meeting certain requirements. Namely, the USAF wanted a new jet that was cheap to operate, cheap to acquire, low-risk, and that would not disrupt the procurement of the F-35. Boeing’s solution: an update to the F-15 Eagle. The decision could be considered counterintuitive; the USAF had not accepted delivery of a fourth-generation fighter since 2001.
Unlike every other fighter jet delivered to the USAF since 2001, the F-15EX is not stealth-equipped. Rather, the plane has the same high-visibility characteristics as the preceding F-15 variants. Stealth aside, the new F-15 does have a litany of improvements.
“Configuration is impressive as it includes a flat-panel glass cockpit, JHMCS II helmet-mounted (HMD), revised internal wing structure, fly-by-wire controls, APG-82 AESA radar, activation of outer wing stations one and nine, advanced mission computer, low-profile heads-up display, updated radio and satellite communications, the highly advanced Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) electronic warfare and electronic surveillance suite, Legion Pod-mounted infrared search and track system (IRST) and the list goes on,” the War Zone reported.
One of the most impressive updates to the F-15EX is the extended service life. Remarkably, the F-15EX is built to last for 20,000 hours of service. To put that number in perspective, the brand-new Block III F-18 Super Hornet has a 10,000-hour service life (and the Block II Super Hornet had just a 6,000-hour service life). Given the potentially generation-spanning service life, the F-15EX has the legs to remain active with the USAF for decades to come. That is if the USAF wants the new jet at all.
F-15EX Cancelled?
Suddenly, the USAF is understood to be on the verge of potentially cancelling their F-15EX procurement, scaling back their order. Critics are calling the jet too expensive and outdated. John Venable, a Heritage Foundation scholar speaking to outlet Defence One, believes modern surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems are too sophisticated for the non-stealth F-15EX, meaning the jet will be limited to stateside defence patrols. However, the F-15EX carries up to 22 air-to-air missiles at a time – complete overkill for domestic defence.
Other scholars agree. “The F-15EX is a waste of the Air Force’s money,” explained Harry J Kazianis, President and CEO of the Rogue States Project and a prominent defence expert, in an interview with 19FortyFive. “Why would we spend billions on a fighter that isn’t stealth like the F-35 and would get blown to bits by Russia and China in a war if we tried to enter their air space protected by defences like the S-400? That would be sending a U.S. Air Force pilot to his or her death.”
The budget request for Fiscal Year 2023 suggests that the F-15EX program may indeed be in trouble; funds were set aside for just 18 aircraft. The original plan to replace existing F-15C and D variants with the new EX seems to be on hold. The USAF is still determining where in their force structure, where between stealthy, versatile F-35s and aging, less expensive, fourth-generation workhorses, an updated F-15 would fit in.

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