Air Force Starts F-15EX Buying Process

The Air Force has launched the process of buying new F-15EX fighters with dual pre-solicitation notices from the Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The notices, dated Jan. 28, announce USAF’s intention to purchase F-15EX jets from Boeing and F110-129 engines from General Electric Aviation, with both companies as sole source suppliers.

The indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts are labeled as a “refresh to the F-15C/D fleet” as well as to “augment” the F-15C/D fleet with new airplanes. A contract is anticipated in May.

Although Pratt & Whitney also makes an engine that could power the F-15EX, its powerplant is not certified for the airframes the EX model is based on, which Boeing is building for Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Air Force’s desire to obtain speedy delivery of the jets rules out a test program for the Pratt & Whitney engine, which has not been evaluated with the digital, fly-by-wire F-15EX, an Air Force acquisition official explained. Each F-15EX requires two engines, and USAF will also buy spares, for a package of up to 480 of the powerplants. Some of those may power older F-15s.

The GE F110-129 powers more than half of Air Force F-16s and more than 80 percent of USAF’s F-15E strike aircraft.

This first year of the program, the Air Force plans to buy eight F-15EX fighters, although future plans call for as many as 144 aircraft. Congress approved only two F-15EXs in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, with the proviso that USAF can buy the other six after submitting a report on its acquisition strategy for the program. The eight aircraft, including initial engineering, hardware and software design, integration of subsytems and parts production, would run about $1.1 billion the first year.

The Air Force also plans to buy modernization kits for some of its existing F-15C/D airplanes, which would give them capability comparable to the F-15EX.

The new airplanes would have a substantially more powerful mission computer, new cockpit displays, a digital backbone, and the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS)—an electronic warfare and threat identification system.

The F-15EX purchase was an initiative of the Pentagon’s Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation shop, which said the Air Force could more rapidly refresh its fighter fleet by purchasing new examples of the F-15, even as it buys the stealthy F-35 fighter. Service leaders have said the F-35 remains their top priority, and will only buy the F-15EX if additional funds are provided that don’t require reducing the F-35 buy.