NORTHCOM Stresses Importance of F-15EX Buy for Homeland Defense

The Air Force’s planned purchase of the F-15EX to replace aging fighters is needed to maintain the homeland defense mission as aging F-15Cs continue to see reliability issues, the head of U.S. Northern Command told lawmakers.

USAF Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of NORTHCOM and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 11 that newer F-15EXs will bring on new capability for the mission, such as improved range, the ability to carry more missiles, and improved radar capabilities.

“That one aircraft can actually have much more of an effect, relatively for example, for the cruise missiles you’re trying to defend against,” O’Shaughnessy said.

The importance of that long range could be seen in the March 9 intercept of two Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft north of Alaska. The intercepting aircraft, F-22s and Canadian CF-18s, used tanker support to intercept the target. The aircraft flew 750 miles from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to reach the Tu-142s.

An aircraft with a longer range could, for example, reach a standoff bomber before it launch cruise missiles in a potential attack, he said.

“It really gives us flexibility, gives us an incredible increase in capability,” O’Shaughnessy said.

The Air Force’s fiscal 2021 budget request includes $1.6 billion to buy 12 F-15EXs, following the $1.1 billion for eight of the aircraft enacted in the 2020 budget. O’Shaughnessy said delaying the buy would mean maintaining the current fleet for F-15Cs longer and lead to more reliability issues.

“Our maintainers are phenomenal and keep them in operational status, but we are putting a stress on the system and so I would just continue to advocate for the soonest replacement,” he said.