ST. LOUIS—Boeing [BA] is responding to a Request for Information from Israel for an upgraded F-15 aircraft based on the latest capabilities the company is delivering for other international customers and the U.S. Air Force, a company official said here on Monday.
The timeframe for a new Israeli F-15 fighter program is still to be determined, Prat Kumar, Boeing’s F-15 ice president and program manager, said at a media briefing.
“They are frankly forming a government,” he said. “We’ll know more after that.”
The F-15IA will be based on the F-15X but include different software and sensors based on Israel’s needs, Kumar said. The IA stands for Israel Advanced, he said.
The Israeli Air Force currently operates more than 80 F-15s, including the F-15E Strike Eagle.
Boeing this year will complete production of its last of 84 F-15 fighters for Saudi Arabia under a contract awarded in 2010. The F-15SA includes fly-by-wire controls for improved performance.
Early in 2020, Boeing will deliver the first F-15 for Qatar. The F-15QA aircraft will feature the fly-by-wire controls, a new Advanced Cockpit System that includes a large area touchscreen display, and additional weapons stations. Boeing is building 36 F-15QAs and there is congressional authorization for up to 72 aircraft.
Depending on the length of the continuing resolution currently funding the federal government, Kumar said Boeing expects a contract in March 2020 for the Air Force’s new version of the F-15, the F-15EX, which will include the upgrades introduced in the Saudi and Qatar programs as well as modernization efforts the Air Force has ongoing across its existing F-15E fleet.
The Air Force F-15E upgrade efforts include a new mission computer.
In addition to taking advantage of the various F-15 upgrades already made for the Air Force and international partners, the F-15EX will feature a fully integrated electronic warfare suite and active electronically scanned array radar.
For the F-15EX, Boeing is developing an operational flight program suite that integrates the various capabilities that have been introduced to the recent Air Force, Saudi and Qatar F-15 programs. This is the only new development item for the F-15, Lori Schneider, Boeing’s F-15EX program manager, said in the briefing.
She also said that the aircraft will feature “open mission systems,” which is an Air Force requirement, so as future technologies become available, they can easily be added back into the EX fleet. Fiber optic cabling will be installed in all of the EX aircraft to provide a high-speed backbone, Schneider said.
“I would just emphasize that EX is really a true integration program where we’re leveraging a hot production line from Qatar and then bringing in all the modernization elements that the Air Force has been investing in, so it keeps it as a really low risk program,” Schneider said.
From contract award to delivery of the first two F-15EX test aircraft will be within nine months, Kumar said. Boeing is “leaning in” with its own investments to work on the EX, he said, but cautioned that at some point with an extended continuing resolution it will begin to put pressure on the company and disrupt the schedule.
The House on Tuesday passed an extension of the continuing resolution until Dec. 20. Under a continuing resolution, the government is funded at prior year levels and no new programs can be started. The F-15EX is considered a new program.
The Air Force is seeking $1 billion for eight F-15EX in fiscal year 2020, which began on Oct. 1. The House and Senate appropriations panels have essentially agreed to fund all eight aircraft.
For the Qatar F-15 program, Boeing has transferred production of the wing and nose barrel to its St. Louis facilities from Korea-based manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries.
The “record” speed anticipated from contract award to flying the aircraft is due in large part to new digital engineering capabilities and advanced manufacturing techniques Boeing is increasingly adopting, Kumar said.
He said the F-15 wing has been “remastered” using “contemporary” mode-based engineering and advanced manufacturing to produce “very tight tolerances,” resulting in increased quality with a nearly “shimless” design and improved efficiencies. In Korea, the wing production takes more than 80 people and in St. Louis it only takes 20, Kumar said, adding that it is also now requires 50 percent less facility footprint.
Kumar also said that the advanced manufacturing techniques have “dramatically” lowered the number of manually-drilled holes in the F-15 wings, from more than 2,400 to under 100 now. He said various parts come to Boeing pre-drilled from suppliers with “precise tolerances” to allow “almost Lego-like assembly.” This means fewer jigs and fixtures to put the pieces into position.
“It self assembles itself,” he said. “A pretty big deal.”
The first wing fit was “perfect,” Kumar said.
Boeing plans to digitally model more and more of the new F-15s while continuing to increasingly use the advanced manufacturing techniques, Kumar said.
The nose barrel, which is part of the forward fuselage, is also benefiting from the advanced engineering and manufacturing capabilities. Kumar said the nose barrel also requires less space and fewer people to construct while quality has improved.
Next up in the engineering and manufacturing transformation is the forward fuselage, which will cut in for the F-15 EX production lot 1B, he said. After this, the advanced techniques will be applied to the aft-center fuselage and aft fuselage, he said.
“By the time we’re done with this journey, we’ll have a completely digital airframe, much more manufacturable, affordable, higher quality, and it enables us to insert technology much more rapidly in this jet because you don’t have to reengineer any of the bays as much as you needed to do before,” Kumar said.