Long-Term Eagle Options

St. Louis Mindful of the Air Force’s tight tactical aircraft budget, Boeing is offering the service a more modest package of F-15 upgrades than it has previously. Gone are the headliner F-15 “Silent Eagle” proposals—first pitched seven years ago—which would have made the jet more stealthy, supplanted by a package that will instead make the Eagle a better partner for the F-22 and F-35, said Larry Burt, of Boeing’s Global Strike business sector. Speaking at a Boeing-sponsored briefing for reporters at its defense systems offices, Burt said the company is offering a program of upgrades that could be added when the aircraft come in for service life extension work, some of which is already under contract. Boeing is proposing changes that will keep the F-15C “combat relevant going into the 2030s and 2040s,” which is how long USAF now thinks it may have to keep the Eagle, Burt said. The changes center on improving the F-15’s radar, loadout—the number of air-to-air and other weapons it can carry—as well as increasing its range, adding an infrared search and track system, adding communications capability so the F-15 can talk to the F-35 and F-22, and an omnibus electronic warfare update. The F-15 could be upgraded with new “quad racks” that could double its dogfight missile payload to 16 or even 22 rounds, while range could be extended by adding conformal fuel tanks to the C model like those on the F-15E Strike Eagle version.

USAF’s mantra for the future fight is to “bring rails” with more shots, Burt said. The CFTs would free up a station on each wing for more missiles, and the CFTs themselves could carry racks. The IRST—which is not on the F-22 and is in a different form on the F-35—could passively detect adversary jets that will be increasingly stealthy over the next two decades, Burt said. “A lot of the Silent Eagle is here,” Burt said, but “we’ve right-sized the capability package,” said Dan Gillian, vice president of the F/A-18 and EA-18 programs. The Air National Guard is buying 11 CFT sets and has an option for 200 more, Burt said. The structural improvements Boeing has discussed with the Air Force that would extend the Eagles into the 2040s include new wings, longerons, and other load-bearing elements, and there is always “the possibility of some new-builds,” Burt said. Boeing has a standing offer to produce more F-15s for the Air Force, and the line will stay open at the rate of one per month through 2019 for Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Other operators include Israel, Japan, Korea, and Singapore.