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The U.S. Air Force has formally named its latest fighter as the F-15EX Eagle II. Speaking at an official unveiling and naming ceremony on April 7, 2021, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, LGen Duke Richardson — the Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics — announced the new name for this latest variant of the F-15.
Richardson detailed how the USAF has been able to “aggressively work” with manufacturer Boeing to accelerate the traditional 39-month delivery timeline to just nine months from contract award for the first F-15EX. Boeing had been able to leverage long-lead items and add the F-15EX into the existing hot F-15QA production line to help speed up the build process for the initial pair of jets. The first flight of F-15EX-1 took place on Feb. 2, 2021, from Boeing’s facility at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. This first aircraft is now assigned to the 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin, having been delivered here from Boeing’s St. Louis plant in Missouri on March 11, 2021.
The F-15EX Eagle II is the latest variant of Boeing’s Advanced F-15, with the USAF having ordered an initial eight aircraft under a $1.2-billion deal that was announced in July 2020 as part of the U.S. Fiscal Year 2020 defense budget. The USAF is set to procure a minimum of 144 new F-15EX Eagles under an Indefinite-Delivery/Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contract worth up to $22.89 billion, with the first 80 jets planned over the next five years.
Richardson said acquisition of the Eagle II is designed to “minimize switchover costs” as the air force recapitalizes its F-15C/D Eagle fleet, which has an average age of 37 years. The Eagle II has been procured as a “predominantly off-the-line aircraft,” Richardson said, adding that it leverages existing F-15 infrastructure, and saves $3 billion over the Future Years Defense Program in doing so. Richardson also said that the F-15EX is “leveraging $5 billion in recent F-15 Foreign Military Sales and air force investments.”
The USAF has not purchased any new Eagles since the last F-15E Strike Eagle was built back in 2001. In recent years, fighter procurement has focused on fifth-generation stealthy platforms like the F-35A. The F-15EX Eagle II has broken that trend and will clearly have some impact on overall F-35A orders for the USAF.
The F-15EX is closely based on the 36 F-15QAs that Boeing is currently building for Qatar, which follow on from the F-15SA (Saudi Advanced). The SA was the first of a new-generation of two-seat Eagles, and the first to feature new flight control computers and a Digital Fly-By-Wire system, as well as digital avionics architecture, with 84 now delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).
The F-15QA added the new 11 x 19-inch Large Area Display in both cockpits, as well as structural enhancements that include the latest production techniques — and give these Eagles a 20,000-flight-hour service life. Like the F-15QA, the F-15EX features the new cockpit, and the Raytheon AN/APG-82(v)1 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which has also been retrofitted into USAF Strike Eagles. Unlike the Qatari aircraft, which feature a bespoke software suite, the F-15EX fields the Suite 9 Operational Flight Program, which aligns it with the latest F-15E Strike Eagle standard.
The first two Eagle IIs are both to fly from Eglin, and are being provided on a fast track to support ongoing USAF test work involving the new Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), which is centered at the Florida base. The F-15EX is fitted with EPAWSS, which is also an upgrade for the existing fleet of F-15E Strike Eagles. Like other Advanced F-15s, the first F-15EXs will be powered by General Electric F110-GE-129 engines due to the urgency of the program. However, Pratt & Whitney will submit a proposal for its F100-PW-229 engines as an alternative powerplant for a planned competition for later examples.
The second F-15EX will be assigned to the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, which is also at Eglin alongside the 40th FLTS — reflecting a seamless development and operational test effort for the new type, which is expected to deploy to Alaska in the coming months to take part in Exercise Northern Edge.
The F-15 Formal Training Unit at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, should receive its first new jets in 2023. The first operational F-15EX Eagle II unit is planned as the Air National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Wing, based in Portland, Oregon.