Dunford: New F-15 Buy for Air Force Fills F-35 Capacity and Capability Shortfall

F-15C Eagles fly in formation over the East China Sea on Dec. 11, 2018, during a routine training exercise out of Kadena AB, Japan. Air Force photo by A1C Matthew Seefeldt.

The Pentagon’s decision to add new F-15EXs to its budget request for the Air Force, a move not requested by the service itself, was based on a lack of capability and capacity of the current fleet and the presumptive cheaper cost of the Eagles, the military’s top uniformed officer told lawmakers on Thursday.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget request includes about $1 billion for eight F-15EX “advanced Eagles,” a decision that stemmed from former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee the “framework” of the decision came from a study of the future needs of the military’s tactical aircraft fleet, which showed the Air Force had a shortage in its number of aircraft and the amount of ordnance those aircraft could carry.

“Then they had the F-15C, which was aging out in the 2027-2028 period,” he said “So, within the next five or 10 years the best solution was to go to the F-15, called the EX, platform to backfill the F-15. Eventually we’ll get to an all F-35 program, but from both a cost perspective and a capability perspective, this particular mix of aircraft for the near term was determined to be the right mix of aircraft.”

The F-15EX initially would only be “slightly” cheaper to buy than a new F-35, it will be more than 50 percent cheaper than the Joint Strike Fighter to operate over its life. Additionally, it has “twice as many hours” in terms of how long it lasts.

The Air Force’s five-year Future Years Defense Plan calls for buying 80 of the F-15EXs, though the ultimate buy could be as many as 144. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said before the budget was released the F-15s were inserted into the budget by entities outside the Air Force, and the service instead preferred to buy more F-35s.

“The primary aircraft of the future for the Air Force is the F-35, and they’re not walking back off that program,” Dunford said.