JUST IN: Commander Wants New F-15EX Jet Fighter for Indo-Pacific Ops
U.S. aircraft deployed to the Indo-Pacific need upgrades and a boost in numbers if the Air Force is to embrace new doctrine that calls for more agility, the Pacific Air Forces commander said March 14.
Acquiring the F-15EX fighter jet, low-cost unmanned platforms and newer early warning systems will better position the joint force for Indo-Pacific conflict, Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach said during a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event.
The first doctrine on agile combat employment, also known as ACE, was released in December last year. It calls for the Air Force to move assets quickly and enhance communications in contested environments during joint operations, according to the strategy document released by the service.
While every Air Force exercise in the region now incorporates the new doctrine, new capabilities and platforms are needed to address challenges like logistics, stealth and information dominance, Wilsbach said.
It is time to replace the aging F-15C aircraft with the new F-15EX Eagle II, which offers range and weapons flexibility, he said.
The Air Force intends to acquire 144 of the Boeing-built F-15EX aircraft to replace the F-15C/D models.
If conformal fuel tanks are added, the airplane can stay airborne without a tanker for as long as four hours. It would also able to carry heavy hypersonic weapons that a stealth aircraft couldn’t transport, Wilsbach said.
“What we intend to use it for there, if we're so fortunate to get that replacement, is air superiority and some long-range weapons capabilities that you can conduct on the F-15EX,” he said.
The jet’s weapons flexibility, such as carrying a AGM-158 JASSM, are key to the Pacific Air Forces strategy for the aircraft, he said.
“Hopefully, as we unveil the details of future budgets, you will be able to see some of that,” he said.
Further, unmanned platforms that are inexpensive and attritable will help make the Air Force more agile in the Indo-Pacific, Wilsbach said. Building mass around China’s borders using unmanned platforms would stress the nation’s anti-access area denial capabilities in a great power competition, he said.
The uncrewed vehicles could carry out various missions such as supplying jammers and sensors or being a decoy, he said. “The manned-unmanned teaming is really the wave of the future, especially if you can have mass with unmanned teaming,” he added.
While the Air Force hasn’t shared what percentage of its fleet should be unmanned, a half-and-half split would not be enough unmanned platforms for the force, he said. “For every manned platform that you have, I would like to have multiple unmanned platforms that can do a variety of different missions for that manned platform,” he said.
Unmanned platforms could also help out for logistics, which military leaders have said would be a significant problem in the vast Pacific.
The Indo-Pacific needs more airlift platforms that don’t need to be speedy or carry much weight, he said. Acquiring a lot of unmanned vehicles that are just large enough to carry an engine is one option, he said.
Additionally, Wilsbach is advocating for the acquisition of Boeing’s E-7 Wedgetail. A Boeing executive told Breaking Defense last year that the company expected an order from the Air Force in 2022.
The requirement for replacing Boeing’s E-3 Sentry is not “totally unfunded,” he said. Issues with maintenance reliability necessitate the systems’ replacement.
“We have four of them at PACAF, and oftentimes all four of them are not able to fly because of maintenance issues,” he said.
The sensors on the E-3 are not up to date, he said. The systems are unable to detect stealthy platforms such as China’s J-20 fighter. "It just can't see those platforms far enough out to be able to provide an advantage to the shooters."
Topics: Air Power