The Air Force fiscal year 2020 budget could include new variants of Boeing’s [BA] F-15X fighter aircraft to replace aging F-15C Eagles, pending the final defense budget topline, the service’s top acquisition officer said Feb 1.

Speaking at an Air Force Association event on Capitol Hill, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, service military deputy for acquisition, said the fourth-generation fighter fleet is aging out and the Air Force needs to decide a path forward to either upgrade its F-15Cs through a service life extension program, or replace them.

Boeing’s F-15 Advanced Eagle, an upgraded version of the F-15E Strike Eagle. (Photo: Boeing)

“The path right now, if our budget stays the way that we have anticipated, is that we will buy some F-15s to replace those,” Bunch said. “That is what we have talked about … and that is a direction that we are going.”

Bunch noted that the ultimate decision on whether to procure new F-15X aircraft depends on “how the budget goes and if the dollars stay the way that we’ve got them aligned.” The release of the Defense Department’s presidential budget request was originally scheduled for Feb. 4, but is now widely considered to arrive at least several weeks later.

Defense One first reported in July 2018 that Boeing was pitching a new variant of its F-15E Strike Eagle to the Air Force. The company has recently sold upgraded variants of the aircraft to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Air Force Undersecretary Matt Donovan previously said the potential procurement of upgrades F-15s could help serve as a gapfiller as the Air Force continues to bring more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters online.

The combination of a premature cancellation of the F-22 Raptor line and a delay in deliveries of the F-35 compared to original estimates means the service is exploring options to keep its fighter fleet numbers up over the next decade, he said at a January AFA event in Arlington, Virginia (Defense Daily, Jan. 18).

Bunch emphasized that any potential F-15X buys would not affect the current procurement plan for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by Lockheed Martin [LMT].

“We are not backing away from the F-35 in any way, shape or form. … We are invested in the program,” he said. “We are buying throughout the years, we are doing the upgrades, we are doing what we need to be able to do to address that future threat.”