AIR FORCE NEWS
BREAKING: Boeing Lands F-15EX Mega Deal Worth Up to $23 Billion
The Air Force has awarded Boeing a nearly $1.2 billion contract for the first lot of F-15EX fighter jets, the service announced July 13. The new mega deal between the Pentagon and the aerospace giant includes an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract that could be worth up to $23 billion, according to Boeing.
The first lot includes eight planes. The aircraft is already under construction at the company’s St. Louis production facility. Delivery of the first two is scheduled for the second quarter of fiscal year 2021. The remaining six are slated to be delivered in fiscal year 2023, according to the Air Force.
The service plans to purchase 76 F-15EXs over the future years defense program, and as many as 144 over the life of the program.
The new variant of the jet, which will replace aging F-15C/Ds, will provide enhanced capabilities over legacy systems, which have led some observers to call it a “4-5-gen” aircraft to indicate that it is more advanced than fourth-generation platforms currently in the fleet but not in the same class as stealth fighters such as the F-35 joint strike fighter or F-22 Raptor.
The Air Force touted the open mission systems architecture — which is supposed to enable the rapid insertion of new technologies to keep the aircraft viable for decades to come — as the most significant differentiator between the new version and legacy variants.
“The F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare,” Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper said in a press release. “Continually upgrading systems, and how they share data across the Joint Force, is critical for defeating advanced threats. F-15EX is designed to evolve from day one.”
The program will serve as a pathfinder for the Pentagon’s DevSecOps initiative, which is aimed at developing more secure and agile software, according to Boeing.
“F-15EX brings together benefits of digital engineering, open mission systems and agile software development to keep it affordable and upgradable for decades to come,” Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager, said in a press release. “This means we can rapidly test and field new capabilities on F-15EX keeping our warfighters ahead of threats.”
Other features of the two-seater fighter include fly-by-wire flight controls, a new electronic warfare system and advanced cockpit systems.
Boeing touted its large weapons payload capacity, stating the jet will be able to launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds. Hypersonics are a top research-and-development priority for the Pentagon. The weapons are expected to travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, be highly maneuverable and capable of overwhelming enemy air-and-missile defense systems.
However, some observers in the national security community have criticized the Air Force’s decision to buy the F-15EX, arguing that the service should instead purchase more Lockheed Martin-built F-35s that many believe would be more survivable against advanced adversaries such as China or Russia.
Air Force officials and Boeing executives have said the F-15EX should be viewed as a complement to — not a substitute for — the joint strike fighter. The service has defended the initiative as a cost-effective way to replace aging aircraft and bolster its inventory. While the per unit procurement cost of the F-35A has come down significantly in recent years making it more competitive with fourth-generation aircraft, defense officials are still concerned about the sustainment costs of the fifth-gen fighter.
The F-15EX will require minimal transitional training or infrastructure changes for units currently operating legacy F-15s, ensuring continuation of mission, according to the Air Force.
“The F-15EX is the most affordable and immediate way to refresh the capacity and update the capabilities provided by our aging F-15C/D fleets,” Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, said in the release. “When delivered, we expect bases currently operating the F-15 to transition to the new EX platform in a matter of months versus years.”