The Defense Department plans to spend $1.2 billion for eight Boeing-developed F-15EX fighter jets over the next three years, the company and the Air Force announced Monday, a contract that will provide a much-needed boost to the embattled aerospace manufacturer at a time when the market for commercial aircraft remains in a state of turmoil.
The deal marks the first major purchase in a long-term, $23 billion program to update the Air Force’s aging fleet of fighter jets and provides a competitive option for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Under the terms of the deal, Boeing will build a new version of its F-15, an older fighter jet developed in the 1960s, with new automated flight controls and electronic warfare capabilities. The newer model, known as the F-15EX, will be designed to carry heavier weaponry than smaller, stealthier jets like the F-35.
“The F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems, and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare,” said Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.
A Boeing news release published Monday boasted that engineers would be able to adapt from older F-15 jets to the new F-15EX in a matter of days. Its larger payload capacity will allow it to carry hypersonic weapons, a major recent priority for the Defense Department.
“We listened to our customer every step of the way when developing this exciting jet,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager. “What we will soon deliver is a modern and robust aircraft that supports our nation’s defense by incorporating the latest systems, sensors and weapons.”
That division has been bolstered by a series of high-profile wins in recent years, including a $9.2 billion contract for Air Force training jets and an $805 million contract to develop aerial refueling drones.
The F-15EX program gives Boeing a stable source of short-term cash and a seat at the table in a lucrative Pentagon fighter jet business dominated by Lockheed Martin. The contract announced Tuesday carries a ceiling of $23 billion, and Pentagon planning documents call for purchases of roughly 12 per year.
But analysts caution that the long-term value of the program could hinge on political factors. If the defense budget were restricted by new leadership in Congress or the White House, the F-15EX might be at risk.
“There’s a very good chance that if the Trump administration ends, this program is going to end,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group.
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