The Air Force is examining ways to keep its fighter jet inventory up as it moves into the 2020s, the service’s number-two civilian said Friday. But it remains to be seen whether funding for a new and improved Boeing [BA]-made F-15 will appear in the next budget.
Air Force Undersecretary Matt Donovan declined to confirm whether the Air Force’s forthcoming FY ’20 presidential budget request would contain funds to procure the F-15X ahead of the document’s release, currently scheduled for Feb. 8. Bloomberg News first reported in December 2018 that the Pentagon plans to request $1.2 billion in the FY ’20 budget for 12 F-15X aircraft.
The news that Boeing was looking to sell new souped-up F-15s to the Air Force was first reported by Defense One in July 2018. The X version would be similar to the variant sold to Qatar in 2017, with upgraded technology to reflect the priorities for great power competition spelled out in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the outlet reported at the time.
The first F-15 entered service in 1972, and many of the Air Force’s current fleet has been in operation since the 1980s. The service last purchased new F-15s in 2001, when it procured five F-15E Strike Eagles.
But the service must figure out how to maintain its fighter fleet inventory, Donovan said in a Jan. 18 event at the Air Force Association in Arlington, Va. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by Lockheed Martin [LMT], suffered multiple delays and setbacks to its fielding since the original acquisition strategy was drawn up, and there is a significant gap between the amount of aircraft the Air Force expected to have at this point – 736 – versus the actual number of aircraft delivered to date – 174.
Donavan emphasized that the Air Force is “very happy” with the Joint Strike Fighters coming off the line now.
“But history being what it is and because we never quite got to the procurement ramp that we needed to, we’re in a bit of a pickle, and the pickle is we don’t have the capacity that we need,” he said.
The FY ’18 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision requiring the Air Force to maintain “a minimum total active inventory” of 1,970 fighter aircraft and 1,145 primary mission fighter aircraft. “If we don’t replace our airplanes that are getting ready to age out, then we’re going to bust that floor, and not at a good time as we come into the mid-20s,” Donovan said.
The Air Force is not planning to change the program of record for the F-35A, which currently stands at 1,763, Donovan added. But the service is continuously studying the optimum mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft for the fleet at different periods of time.