The Air Force’s new F-15EX fourth-plus generation fighter has been named the Eagle II in a salute to its predecessor, the F-15 Eagle, officials said during an unveiling ceremony Wednesday.
The announcement was made by Lt. Gen. Mike Loh, Air National Guard director; Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; and Leanne Caret, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where the first F-15EX is undergoing test and evaluation.
“The arrival of these aircraft is very timely,” Loh said during the ceremony. “We must ensure that we have the most capable combat aircraft defending our shores during this time of great power competition.”
Air Force fighters including the F-15, F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-22 Raptor often are tasked with addressing airspace violations and intercepting aircraft approaching U.S. airspace.
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The F-15EX is the service’s first fourth-generation fighter program in more than 20 years.
The Boeing-made fighter completed its maiden flight at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Missouri, in February.
Following the successful flight, the Air Force accepted the first F-15EX at Eglin March 10; the second is expected to arrive this month. The remaining six aircraft should be delivered in fiscal 2023, according to the service.
Last year, the Air Force awarded Boeing an estimated $1.2 billion contract to build the multirole F-15EX fighter, using the same design as the F-15, but incorporating modernized electronics and technology.
The contract covers eight jets, including initial design; development, test and certification; spare parts and support equipment; training and technical data; and delivery and sustainment costs.
According to Boeing, the F-15EX will be able to “launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds.” The company has said the fighter will be equipped with improved avionics and radars and can carry more than two dozen air-to-air missiles. By comparison, F-15s can carry a mixed load of four AIM-9 Sidewinder and four AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or eight AMRAAMs.
Equipped with “the world’s fastest mission computer,” the F-15EX will also feature the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System, or EPAWSS, which will heighten its threat assessment abilities and survivability with advanced electronic warfare technology, Boeing said in its release.
The first eight F-15EX aircraft will be based at Eglin because of the testing wing at the base. Following operational tests at Eglin, the first plane will be operated by the Air National Guard, Loh said.
The service has said the aircraft’s most significant upgrade will be its open mission systems architecture, allowing software to be upgraded and installed more easily.
Officials voiced concerns in 2017 about the aging F-15.
“We are already having serious problems with that airframe, with metal fatigue within the longerons on the side of the aircraft,” then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said during a May 2019 forum.
Richardson on Wednesday said that 75% of the older F-15 C/D fleet is flying “well beyond” its service life.The service has more than 230 C and D models in its inventory, with an average lifespan of 35 years.
The Air Force expects to keep a mix of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft through the 2030s, officials have said.
In 2019, senior defense officials with the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office said they opted to pursue the F-15EX because the aircraft would help keep a diverse and “robust industrial base” while providing “a higher-capacity” combination alongside the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Air Force intends to build an inventory of at least 144 F-15EX aircraft over the next decade, but the contract with Boeing gives the Air Force the option to purchase up to 200.
The service is developing a “TacAir study,” which will determine the right mix of aircraft for the future inventory and assess how future fighter concepts will fit into the current mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown said in February this could include bringing on another new fighter jet to replace the 40-year-old F-16.
— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.
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