F-15EX Headed to Oregon, Florida as USAF Decides on Fighter Bases

Kingsley Field, Ore., will be the schoolhouse for the new F-15EX, the Air Force’s updated version of the Eagle fighter, the service announced Aug. 14. The Air Force also floated other potential Air National Guard operating locations that could adopt the F-15EX and F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.

Kingsley is where the Air Force conducts F-15C/D training today. The first finished F-15EXs will be delivered there in 2022, and Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., will host the first operational F-15EX unit beginning in 2023, USAF said.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will flight-test the jets starting in early 2021 as well. Eglin aircrews are getting training from Boeing and an F-15EX simulator this year. The initial phase of combined developmental and operational tests, which will check whether the software and hardware like cockpit controls work well together, should take about a year and a half.

“Airmen from the 96th Maintenance Group will undergo familiarization classroom academics and transfer to hands-on training upon the aircraft’s arrival here,” the Air Force said in a July 29 release. “These newly qualified technicians will become the trainers for the maintenance group.”

Other ANG bases now operating F-15C/Ds—Barnes Airport, Mass.; Fresno Yosemite Airport, Calif.; and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, La.,—will phase out the older jets for either F-15EXs or F-35As, the Air Force added. The service did not indicate when it will make those decisions. Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., could also receive the F-35A.

So far, the service hasn’t announced any Active-duty units that will receive the updated Eagles.

The Air Force will now begin on-site evaluations and environmental impact assessments at each location, looking at “operational requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, infrastructure and manpower, and costs before deciding which aircraft will replace the F-15C mission,” the service said.

Active-duty bases already hosting or planned to host the F-35A include Hill Air Force Base, Utah; RAF Lakenheath, U.K.; Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Already-announced Guard locations for the F-35 include Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt.; Dannelly Field, Ala., and Truax Field, Wis. One Air Force Reserve base, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, will host the F-35A as well.  

The F-15C/D fleet dates back to the 1980s and is “expected to run out of service life by the mid-2020s,” the Air Force said. USAF recently awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $23 billion to supply F-15EX fighters, which are modified versions of the F-15QA in production for Qatar.

The F-15EX is a two-seat fighter that advances the original Eagle design with fly-by-wire flight controls, a powerful new processor, an updated cockpit and a new electronic warfare suite, among other improvements. The Air Force has not decided if the jet will also replace the F-15E in the strike role.

The Air Force did not request the F-15EX, but former Defense Secretary James N. Mattis went along with a 2018 recommendation from the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office to buy the fourth-generation fighters as a near-term supplement to the fifth-generation F-35. Critics of the decision have argued that F-15EX money should be used to buy more F-35s, but the Air Force has said it can field the F-15EX faster than the F-35 because it requires less conversion training, less unique ground equipment, and reduced military construction.