AIR WARFARE SYMPOSIUM NEWS: Air Combat Chief Touts Potential Cost Benefits of Buying F-15X

By Mandy Mayfield
F-15E Strike Eagle

Defense Department

ORLANDO, Fla. — Purchasing the F-15X could be the “affordable answer” to meeting the Air Force’s goal of acquiring 72 new fighter jets per year, Air Combat Command Commander Gen. Mike Holmes told reporters Feb. 28.

Bloomberg News recently reported that the president's fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Pentagon will include funding for a more advanced version of the Boeing-built F-15 fourth-generation aircraft, known as the F-15X. The fiscal blueprint is expected to be released in mid-March.

Holmes' made his comments about the potential cost benefits of buying a souped-up F-15 model came during the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. They were made shortly after other service leaders suggested that they were not gung-ho about the idea of purchasing more fourth-generation aircraft, and that a decision to do so might be forced upon them by the office of the secretary of defense.

“Our [2020] budget proposal that we originally submitted [to the office of the secretary of defense] did not include fourth-generation aircraft,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters during a roundtable discussion at the symposium.

The service has been hoping to ramp up purchases of the Lockheed Martin-built fifth-generation F-35 joint strike fighter, which is expected to be the centerpiece of the future fleet. The aircraft could potentially compete for funding with a new F-15 variant.

When asked during the roundtable if the service wants to purchase the F-15X, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein replied: “We want to buy new aircraft.”

Some observers have suggested that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who previously served as a Boeing executive, might be biased in favor of his former employer when it comes to procurement decisions. Shanahan has pushed back against such suggestions, calling them "just noise."

"I'm more than capable of doing the work and making the right kinds of decisions," he told reporters in January. "I am biased towards performance. I am biased towards giving the taxpayer their money's worth."

Boeing has not publicly disclosed the price tag of the F-15X, and Holmes declined to say how much it would cost to procure. The F-35A currently comes in at around $89 million per plane, and program officials are aiming to drive that number down to $85 million this year.

However, procurement cost is not the only thing to consider with regard to purchasing the F-15X over the F-35, Holmes noted.

“There’s the cost to operate the airplane over time,” he said. “Does it require new military construction? Does it require extensive retraining of the people, and then how long does it take?” Those are all costs that should be factored into the decision, he added.

“We’re pretty confident to say that we can go cheaper getting 72 airplanes with a mix of fifth- and fourth-gen than ... if we did all fifth-gen,” Holmes said. The F-15X would require less maintenance and “very little aircrew changes," he said. However, the service still needs to purchase enough fifth-generation fighters to “stay ahead with our adversaries," he noted.

Wilson said Lockheed Martin “has not driven down the sustainment cost as much as we want" for the F-35. The company said it is working with the Air Force to address the issue.

“We have a shared goal of reducing sustainment costs to $25,000 per flying hour by 2025, which is equal to or less than fourth-generation aircraft,” a Lockheed spokesperson told National Defense. “We are taking aggressive action investing and partnering to achieve that goal,” he added.

Additional reporting by Connie Lee

Topics: Air Force News

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