Once F-22 and F-35 cleared the sky, you need something like a flying “bombs and missiles truck” that can flatten the surface of the Earth in a conventional and thermonuclear war by simply pushing a button,– you’re talking about F-15EX.
The US Air Force ordered eight new F-15 Eagle fighter jet and intend to buy 72 of them, initiating its first 4.5 generation fighter program in more than 20 years.
In a presolicitation notice recently posted on the government’s acquisition and awards website, beta.sam.gov, the service announced it will sole-source two contracts, one for the F-15EX and the other for its F110 engines.
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center “intends to award a sole source indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contract to The Boeing Company for a refresh to the F-15C/D fleet and augment the F-15E fleet,” one solicitation reads. The Defense Department expects a response from Boeing by February 7.
The center also intends to award another ID/IQ contract to General Electric Aviation “to provide F110 propulsion systems to meet the F-15EX weapons system requirement,” according to the second notice, which has the same response due date.
Bridging The Gap
The F-15EX incorporates many of the design upgrades that have slipped into versions of the aircraft exported to American allies like Saudi Arabia… including a single-panel cockpit with touch screen operability.
The F-15EX would have properly bridged the gap between the F-35 and F-22 by adding stealth materials and internal weapon bays but these features would push the per-plane cost beyond what the U.S. Congress could authorize for an airframe that is still foundationally 45+ years old – even if the planes themselves were brand spanking new from the factory
F-15EX Compared With F-35
Boeing has said the fighter will be equipped with better avionics and radars and could carry more than two dozen air-to-air missiles.
In December, Congress signed off on the plan, but with a caveat: The Air Force requested $1.05 billion for eight aircraft, but lawmakers are limiting the buy to just two at first, according to the fiscal 2020 defense appropriations bill.
The Air Force expects to keep a well-rounded mix of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft through the 2030s, including the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-15 Eagle/Strike Eagle, officials have said.
The service has estimated it needs to buy 72 new aircraft per year to replace those old planes; officials just didn’t expect to do so with the F-15EX.
“Our budget proposal that we initially submitted did not include additional fourth-generation aircraft,” Wilson said February 28, 2019, adding that supplemental decisions must support the “overall presidential budget.”
Senior defense officials with the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office told reporters that they arrived at the Boeing-made F-15EX decision because the aircraft would help keep a “robust industrial base” and provide “a higher-capacity” combination alongside Lockheed Martin’s F-35.
“Maintaining a diverse industrial base is in the best interest of the Department of Defense. The more diversity, the more competition … and the better prices we have,” the official said.
Modern Avionics and AESA
The F-15EX is based on the same design, but the airframe is stronger, using modern materials and with tweaks to the design. With the TALON HATE pod, it benefits from an IRST, and it also gains the ability to data link with F-22s as well as F-35s, meaning it can pass data to them, and receive data in turn, massively improving the pilot or crew’s battlespace awareness – especially with the new AESA radar in place.
With FAST fuel packs in place, it has better range, and with the enhanced missile racks and 2 extra weapon stations, it can carry almost 24 AIM-120s or other missiles, such as antiradar missiles. This means that it can either act as a missile ‘truck’ for stealthy platforms like the F-22 and F-35, who can identify targets without revealing themselves, or if they have already used all their own weapons.
Alternatively – at the moment F-22s stand alert for possible enemy intrusions, alongside F-16s. The F-22s (and F-35s) are expensive to maintain and fly, and there are only a limited number of F-22 airframes available. The 5th gen airframes are really needed in hostile or contested airspace, so to pull alerts and defend their own airspace, in their own radar coverage, and F-15 makes much more sense – the Russians are still primarily using evolutions of their own 4th Gen airframes themselves, and while the Chinese aircraft is Russian origin, there are doubts about their performance, and they are hampered by poor engines.
The F-15EX is more than capable of handling itself, and functioning as part of an integrated air arm to allow them to get the best bang for their buck out of all their airframes and is flying about with a ‘missile truck’ sign between its afterburners!
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