The Air Force says it’s asking for every fighter aircraft U.S. suppliers can possibly deliver in 2024, but House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers is already looking beyond. His markup of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act would authorize the purchase of six F-15EX fighters in 2025.
Rogers’ markup now goes to the full committee, which will consider amendments June 21. It adds $92 million in advance procurement for the additional F-15EXs. It also adds $100 million in advance procurement to accelerate purchases of new E-7 Wedgetail aircraft.
The Wedgetail funding was included in the Air Force’s unfunded priorities list; the UPL actually called for $633.4 million, saying it would allow contractors to procure long-lead equipment necessary to build the first two E-7s. The Air Force has said it hopes to have the first E-7 prototype by 2027, but lawmakers and officials have pushed for a faster timeline to replace the service’s aging E-3 AWACS aircraft.
In contrast, the Air Force’s budget documents indicated it planned to buy 24 F-15EXs in 2025, the same number it is requesting in the 2024 budget. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall had previously said the service would stop buying the updated fourth-generation fighter after 2024.
Thirty F-15EXs in 2025, as Rogers’ markup proposes, would be the program’s largest single-year buy. It could also push the Air Force past its goal of 72 new fighters per year; USAF’s future-years defense plan calls for 48 F-35s in 2025, a figure officials say is all the builder can provide.
For now, however, the Air Force still has just two F-15EXs in its possession. The Government Accountability Office noted in its annual Pentagon weapons assessment released earlier this month that while six were slated to arrive in December 2022, they were delayed due to “supplier quality problems related to a critical component in the forward fuselage assembly that ensures safety of flight.”
The GAO report said a design flaw in Boeing’s tooling “caused inaccurately drilled holes for the windscreen installation on the third through sixth aircraft.” The report, based on data from January, projected revised delivery dates between May and July 2023. The Air Force has not disclosed any deliveries. Delays beyond July threaten the timeline for initial operational capability, the report said.
Rogers’ markup of the draft NDAA made several other adjustments to aircraft procurement funding, mostly “technical realignments” that change the source of funds. One surprise: The proposed bill includes $100 million in procurement funds to restore the F-16 Integrated Viper EW Suite (IVEWS), which the Air Force had moved to kill in its budget proposal. Aviation Week reported in March that the Air Force was more interested in other modernization efforts.
Rogers also wants to add an additional $20 million for C-130 firefighting systems.