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Two articles tease a new F-15 fighter variant to bridge the huge gap between aging fourth-generation fighters and the too expensive, too few in number, stealthy F-22 and F-35. The first is cautious and notes the plane has not been pitched, as it might be, like the new run of F/A-18 Super Hornets. The second is a full-length sales pitch. This, in turn, was picked up and summarized on Popular Mechanics’ website. It makes sense, including dollars and cents, at first glance.
The basic problem the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps face is arithmetic. The stealthy aircraft, on which they bet, ended up too expensive to field in the numbers needed. The F-15 and F/A-18 fleets are aging. So how can the gap be filled? The Navy, after the none-too-subtle shove from the Commander-in-Chief, is buying a new set of updated Super Hornets. The Marines, apparently, will get low mileage Navy jets, to replace worn-out equipment. These will meet most missions, at a fraction of F-35 operating costs. But, what of the Air Force?
The Air Force brass has fought desperately to prevent consideration of updated F-15s with supercruise engines or semi-stealthy modifications. These would clutter the simple procurement picture being painted to Congress. But Congress and the last administration balked at the unit prices, development issues, and simple picture of all fighter requirements being met by two super-duper planes. This has put the Air Force, including the politically potent Air National Guard, at risk.
Fortunately, foreign sales have prompted continued production and refinement of the venerable F-15. So, now the idea of an updated F-15 with much larger ordinance capacity is being floated. It may be both a replacement for old Air Guard homeland air defense planes and a non-stealth platform for lots of missiles directed by forward stealthy jets. The new stealthy aircraft give up external weapons racks, so may need a way to deliver more than they carry.
The F-15 and F/A-18s create competitive pressure on F-35 prices and deliver value quickly in two other ways. First, the lack of new lengthy research and development requirements mean more real defense, sooner, for the taxpayers’ dollar. Instead of years of testing, without combat-ready aircraft on airfields, your dollar today goes into an assembly line. This gives us the second short-term benefit. Instead of money going mostly to researchers and CEOs, the taxpayers’ dollars go into skilled labor jobs, as workers are hired back, or newly hired, to build combat-ready aircraft. More planes for the same money, and more jobs, some might call that “winning.”
FARNBOROUGH, UK — Boeing is quietly pitching the U.S. Air Force a new F-15 fighter jet using the same business strategy that convinced the Trump administration to buy more Super Hornet warplanes for the Navy.
Dubbed the F-15X, the new variant of the venerable jet offers more modern flight controls, cockpit displays, and radar, according to military and industry sources with knowledge of the plan. The plane would also pack a lot of firepower, carrying more than two dozen air-to-air missiles, the most of any U.S. Air Force aircraft.
Although it has been framed as a Boeing solicitation to the USAF, the opposite is actually true—the USAF began the discussion over a year and a half ago. Since then, ongoing talks have been kept incredibly hush-hush, along with the details of the aircraft involved—until now.
According to sources familiar with the discussions, The War Zone has learned about the F-15X’s origins, its intended capabilities and features, and where it would fit inside the USAF’s tactical airpower ecosystem.
Ah, you can smell that sweet sales pitch cooking!
The F-15X came out of a quiet USAF inquiry to Boeing and Lockheed Martin about fielding an aircraft that could seamlessly plug into their existing air combat infrastructure as part of better-defined high-low capability mix strategy—one intended to specifically help counter the service’s shrinking force structure.
The airframe would have to be cost-effective both in terms of operation and acquisition, very low-risk, and most of all, it would need to be non-disruptive to the larger F-35 procurement initiative. If anything else, it had to be seen as complementary to the F-35, not as an alternative to it.
What follows is a lengthy pitch, establishing the need and showing how the F-15X Acme Eagle (well, I made that up) is just the ticket. Very cool photos and illustrations keep you scrolling. You’ll want one for yourself by the end. This pitch is in the military section of a gearhead webzine, but it was summarized on Popular Mechanics.
The F-15X will be packed with weaponry, more than any dedicated stealth fighter. The new jet will also have an astoundingly long lifespan, and be considerably cheaper to fly during than other fighters.
The War Zone has details on the F-15X, whose existence was revealed a week ago. For one thing, the F-15X does not carry more than two dozen air-to-air missiles as originally reported. It carries “just” 22 missiles thanks to Boeing’s new AMBER missile racks. Still, this level of armament would enable the F-15 to act as a missile carrier for stealth fighters such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, carrying many more missiles than either newer jet could.
So now the general reader is in the loop. Maybe he will post about it on social media. Maybe she will tell her member of Congress about this sensible idea, during the August recess. Apparently the House Republicans have a different calendar than us, since they left Washington last evening (July 26th), and won’t be back at their desks until after Labor Day!