The U.S. Air Force announced today that it officially accepted the first F-15EX from the Boeing Co. on March 10, 2021 at the company’s St. Louis facility.
The new fighter is a two-seat aircraft—though operable by a single pilot—with fly-by-wire flight controls, digital cockpit displays, and advanced avionics systems, to include the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System, an electronic warfare upgrade also being fielded on F-15E models.
The F-15EX is based on the F-15QA, which Boeing is building for Qatar. Boeing claims that the EX can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds, which gives it an edge over the F-35.
“This is a big moment for the Air Force,” said Col. Sean Dorey, F-15EX Program Manager with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, responsible for the acquisition, modernization, and sustainment of the aircraft. “With its large weapons capacity, digital backbone, and open architecture, the F-15EX will be a key element of our tactical fighter fleet and complement 5th-generation assets. In addition, it’s capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, giving it a niche role in future near-peer conflicts.”
The F-15EX replaces the oldest F-15C/Ds in the inventory. Eight were approved in the fiscal 2020 budget and 12 were requested for fiscal 2021. Over the five-year Future Years Defense Program, the Air Force expects to buy 76 of the aircraft, toward a possible ultimate buy of 144 airplanes.
The process to acquire the F-15EX aircraft started in February of 2019, when Gen. David Goldfein, then Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force signed the F-15EX Rapid Fielding Requirement Document to address readiness issues with an aging F-15 fleet. From there, the directorate’s F-15 Program Office developed the acquisition strategy, awarded the contract, conducted design and verification reviews, and worked with Boeing to manufacture and test the aircraft in record time.
Following its acceptance, the new aircraft will be flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. for testing. A second F-15EX will be delivered to Eglin by the end of April 2021.
The other six Lot 1 aircraft will be delivered to Eglin in Fiscal Year 2023 and will undergo operational testing.
To expedite the testing needed to declare the F-15EX ready for operations, the team will use previous testing data from F-15 foreign military sales variants and U.S.-only subsystems and Operational Flight Program software.
Aircraft in Lots 2 and 3 are on track for delivery in FY 2024 and FY 2025 to Kingsley Field and Portland Air National Guard Bases, both in Oregon.
Currently, the 173rd Wing at Kingsley Field serves as the F-15C/D training school and will assume the same role for the F-15EX. The 142nd Wing at Portland will be the first operational unit to fly the aircraft.
Last July, U.S. DoD said it made a $1.2 billion payment to Boeing for what will total out to $22.89 billion worth acquisition of F-15EX fighters in the coming years. In February of this year, the Air Force announced plans to buy 461 engines to power their F-15EXs.