The USAF is Shelling Out $4 Billion to Keep Its F-15s Viable Till 2040

F-15E Strike Eagles from Mountain Home Air Force Base assigned to the 366th Fighter Wing arrive at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, Aug. 2, 2015. The 366th FW operated in Boise for more than three weeks while the runway at Mountain Home was being repaired. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John T. Winn/Released)

The F-15 Eagle is arguably one of the greatest fighter jets ever built. It’s fast, it’s maneuverable and it packs a hell of a punch. Just ask the Israeli Air Force, who’ve used it to great effect in a variety of roles, especially having never lost a single airframe in air-to-air combat (the Eagle has a perfect air combat record). However, the Eagle’s age is showing. Well, to be fair, it was designed around the same time Pink Floyd was in the process of recording their Dark Side of the Moon album… in case you’re unwilling to do the math, that’s over 40 years ago. And it looks like the United States Air Force wants to eke out another thirty-ish years from their F-15C/D/E airframes.

Though the Eagle is still an extremely powerful fighter, even today, the USAF envisioned replacing it with an even more powerful air superiority fighter before it got too old, and the rest of the world (namely the Soviet Union/Russia and China) caught up with the aircraft and built something equivalent of their own. Thus, the F-22 Raptor was born and the US cemented its place as a full generation ahead of the world. And then politics and cost-cutting happened. Though the Raptor was originally supposed to be a fleet-wide replacement for the Eagle, the US Department of Defense scaled back purchases to 195 airframes totally, eight of which were only built for test and evaluation purposes. This is considerably less than the figure quoted by former AF secretary F. Whitten Peters of around 341 Raptors, which itself was drastically cut down from the original purchase quantity of 750. Since the Air Force today fields less than 190 combat-ready Raptors, the Eagles are now stuck in service for the foreseeable future… at least until the Air Force’s 6th-generation fighter makes its own appearance around 2025-2030.

According to the Peggy Hollinger of the Financial Times, BAE Systems will replace the AN/ALQ-135 Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite with the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), as part of the multibillion-dollar deal, which will see Boeing function as the primary contractor. EPAWSS will upgrade and add to the aircraft’s onboard sensors, improving threat detection and countermeasure deployment on hundreds of F-15Cs and F-15E Strike Eagles across the Air Force., referencing a released Air Force budgetary document, stated that EPAWSS will include “an ability to detect and circumvent detection from infrared-based sensors”. A number of combat coded Eagles have already been upgraded with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar systems, and the ability to field the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). Additional upgrades will include a cockpit modernization with new multifunction displays.

An F-15E Strike Eagle, from the 336th Fighter Squadron also known as the “Rocketeers,” Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, maneuvers into position to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, March 29.

An F-15E Strike Eagle, from the 336th Fighter Squadron also known as the “Rocketeers,” Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, maneuvers into position to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, March 29.

About Ian D'Costa (258 Articles)
Ian is the managing editor of TACAIRNET. You can find his work on Military Times, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, Real Clear Defense, and more.

2 Comments on The USAF is Shelling Out $4 Billion to Keep Its F-15s Viable Till 2040

  1. Another Guest (from Australia) // November 13, 2015 at 22:04 // Reply

    WOW I’m so glad the USAF is Shelling Out $4 Billion to Keep Its F-15s Viable until 2040 or beyond. The F-15s are truly one of my favourite warfighters of all time and they are the most beautiful aircraft ever designed and produced.

    The new Raytheon AN/APG-63(V)3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar will provide long-range detection, multi-target tracking, the ability to work combat identification while continuing to sanitise the airspace, even in an environment where there may be jamming present.

    Last year the USAF began an in-service evaluation of the F-15C with the Legion Pod, a multi-function sensor system produced by Lockheed Martin that incorporates the company’s IRST21 infrared search and tracking system, plus networking capability.

    This small pod, housed in a 16in-diameter (406mm) structure and weighing 250lb (113kg) is an outgrowth of the AN/AAS-42 IRST system used on the F-14D Tomcat in US Navy service and on non-US variants of the Strike Eagle.

    It is is now being flown on US Navy Super Hornets.

    On the Tomcat, the sensor was mounted beside the television camera system protruding beneath the nose of the aircraft. Lockheed Martin says the pod “significantly enhances multiple target resolution compared to radar, providing greater discrimination of threat formations at longer ranges. Moreover, “data from the IR sensor is fused with other on-board sensor data to provide maximum situational awareness to the warfighter”.

    Pentagon officials could not say how many Legion Pods are in use today.

    The Legion Pod has been seen on Eagles operated by the 493rd Fighter Squadron at Lakenheath, the only sole F-15C/F-15D squadron in Europe. In response to Russian activity in Ukraine, in March the 493rd FS deployed to Siauliai Air base in Lithuania, a relatively new ally among the 28 countries in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).

    The two-seat F-15D Eagles in the Lithuanian deployment were carrying the Legion Pod. Said one observer: “Instead of sending the first pods to Air national Guard units as originally planned, they did a ‘current needs’ switch and gave them to the [493rd] Eagles to see how the pods worked in near-combat situations, such as the Russian Su-27/30 Flankers, MiG-31 Foxhounds and Tu-22M3 Backfire-Cs. And they were on the two-seaters [F-15Ds] to make sure someone had his eyes on a screen and someone else was watching the sky”.

    The Eagle Passive Active Warning & Survivability System (EPAWSS) is certainly the most important element which will provide the pilots with the best possible protection available against these modern SAM [surface-to-air missile, Russian & Chinese fighter threats is a rapidly evolving and proliferating challenge. So that they can fly, fight and return home safely.

    The USAF should in fact use some of its precious money to restart production of a 21st century Eagle, a multi-role aircraft developed from Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle and a new single seater F-15R Advanced Eagle, which would be the superior and more strategic option to a failed F-35A Lightning II acquisition program.

    But with regards to an two-seat F-15SE and single-seat F-15R option… this would arguably be the superior no-brainer alternative to F-35A.


    Superior APG-82 AESA radar range. Superior long range/endurance. Superior manoeuvrability with 3D thrust vectoring nozzles with supercruising engines. Superior dedicated IRST and passive cueing ability. Superior ability to plug and play in the near-term, including sensors, sat comms and weapons. Superior ability to integrate EPAWSS systems, as well as recon systems. Generally speaking — more aggregate situational awareness at least in the medium-term. And superior deterrence/capability value per diverse stand-off munitions flexibility in the medium term.

    With top-of-the-line data link, AESA radar, upgraded engines, EPAWSS and weapons, these two new aircraft building on F-15C/F-15D experience would be a world-beater.


  2. Good comments, but we haven’ had to “tool up” for the Cold War recently. It would make more sense to modernize and re-create the P-51 or P-47, since we don’t currently have a threat that requires an F-15/22/35 kind of an aircraft to blow up a lot of camels and the odd ISIS tank. About the only fighter type aircraft that we need in the current USAF/USN inventory is the A-10 – ugly, but REALLY effective, and relatively cheap to operate.


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