U.S. Air National Guard Chief Warns More F-15EX Heavyweight Fighters Are Needed to Replace Ageing Fleet

Commander of the U.S. Air National Guard Lieutenant General Michael Loh has joined other senior officers in calling for increased acquisitions of F-15EX heavyweight fighters, which were first ordered in 2018 and have since entered service at a slow rate. “Some people are still looking at this as a 1970s-technology aircraft. It is not,” he said, highlighting the fighter’s fifth generation level avionics including its open mission system architecture, Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System electronic warfare suite and the AN/APG-82 AESA radar. He conceded, however, that efforts to highlight why F-15EX acquisitions were important had not been optimally pursued, and raised the possibility of a larger scale of F-35 acquisitions serving as an alternative. The F-15 Eagle fist flew over 50 years ago in 1972, and first joined the U.S. Air Force in 1975 as what was at the time its prime air superiority fighter. The fighter is the oldest in the world still in production today. 

80 F-15EX fighters are planned to enter service, although these will only be sufficient to replace three of the eight squadrons currently formed by ageing F-15C/D Eagles. The age of these older airframes has resulted in very high operational costs while their combat performances remain limited. The new F-15EX aircraft, which cost approximately $80 million each, largely pay for themselves in savings on operational cost as they are not only much newer but also have airframe designs and use materials which are technologically several decades ahead. The F-15EX is the only heavyweight fighter currently in production in the Western world, and was ordered largely due to the failure of the F-22 Raptor program to provide a viable successor to the F-15, which it was otherwise expected to replace in production and phase out of service entirely. The Air Force is expected to begin retiring F-22s in 2023, despite the airframes having served for only a fraction of their lifetimes, due to their excessively high operational costs and wide range of performance issues. This is being done while continuing to purchase more F-15EXs, which have far more better avionics and availability rates as well as higher speeds, ranges and weapons payloads.