The new super-charged F-15EX is the obvious solution to the Air Force’s plane shortages

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The health and composition of the United States Air Force’s fighter aircraft fleet is critical to securing America’s air superiority, maintaining our military readiness and a diverse and capable industrial base. With defense appropriations season is upon us, the future composition and diversity of the USAF fighter fleet is heated, in the defense sector, at the Pentagon, and in Congress. The Trump Administration, Department of Defense, and the USAF wants to supplement America’s existing, limited F-35 fleet with a modernized, super-charged F-15EX. 

 Lockheed Martin, maker of the beleaguered, but essentially too big to fail F35, has reacted intensely to this proposal. They launched an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign to fight the F-15EX plans and protect their F-35 – a cash cow for the company that is valued at $406 billion in taxpayer dollars. Their main argument, that the F-15EX is expensive and outdated, does not comport with the legacy of an affordable fighter aircraft that has never been shot down. 

 The reality is the USAF needs these fighters. Today’s fleet is sadly not ready. We need a diverse, cost-friendly fighter fleet that can work with existing infrastructure, pilot capacity, and ground-support. And just as an effective infantry unit brings a host of different tactics and capabilities to defeat the enemy, our fighter fleet needs aircraft that can complement the important capabilities of the F-35.

 The F-15EX is the answer to addressing the diversity, capability, and readiness gap and it does so in a way that is taxpayer friendly! 

 This modernized, supercharged fighter can be immediately fused into the USAF’s existing infrastructure. Pilots and service crews are already trained on the platform and won’t need to perform costly upgrades or renovations to existing service infrastructure. That’s a critical benefit to deploy while ground crews are still discovering and adapting to the F-35’s support needs.

 Once the F-35 begins arriving in substantial numbers at Air Force bases, ground crews and existing maintenance infrastructure will need robust service and training upgrades to accommodate the stealth fighter. Thanks to legacy investments and continued development, the F-15EX need few changes to existing ground support equipment or pilot training. The USAF can deploy the F-15EX with relatively low transition costs. 

 Nor can the Air Force afford to overlook the F-15’s overwhelming capabilities – after all, this is a fighter that’s never lost. The upgraded features on the EX are said to include a flat-panel glass cockpit, helmet mounted display, fly-by-wire controls, advanced mission computer, updated radio and satellite communications, and the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS). 

 The F-15EX will fly faster, higher, and farther than any other aircraft in its class. The enormous payload capacity will be able to carry up to 22 air-to-air missiles on a single incursion – nearly 30,000 pounds of ordnance. On top of that, the F-15EX’s more fuel efficient engines increase range while driving flight hour costs down to $27,000, a significant advantage over the F-35X, which has a flight hour cost of $44,000.

 It’s difficult to grasp the ongoing, fiery debate over adding the F-15EX to the USAF fighter fleet in order to complement the stealth F-35. The USAF leadership and even the CEO of Lockheed Martin have all acknowledged publicly that the F-15EX is the perfect fighter to bridge the capability and diversity gap in our existing fleet while not competing with the F-35.

 Former Secretary of Defense Mattis knew this when he directed American aerospace leaders to develop an aircraft that would complement, not undermine, the stealth F-35 in order to find a low-risk, cost effective solution to stem the shrinking USAF fleet.

 With growing threats from state actors in Russia and China, it is critical that the USAF needs more than the 174 F-35s it has. The most capable and affordable option to complement the stealth F-35s is a super-charged F-15EX that can immediately enter service. 

 The USAF won’t succeed by deploying only one fighter. America’s air superiority depends on deploying the right mix of fighters, with a diverse range of armaments and different stealth capabilities. I hope the Appropriators in Congress and PR machines on K Street realize what’s in the best interest of America’s future. Our national security depends upon it! 

(George  Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom — a public  policy think tank devoted to promoting  a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and  constitutionally limited government.)

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