Engine Contract Shows F-15EX is Here to Stay: Critics of the F-15EX have pointed out that money spent on the 4th-generation, non-stealth fighter, should be re-programmed and invested into the F-22 and F-35 instead. But this likely isn’t possible as the F-15EX program has already awarded a contract for new engines to General Electric. It seems like it is going to be difficult to stop the production of the F-15EX as it is blasting ahead with its current acquisition schedule.
New Engine Contract Shows the F-15EX Will Continue Production
The F-15EX looks like it is here to stay judging by its latest contract for new engines with General Electric Aviation. GE is going to be the sole producer of the F110 engine for the entire F-15EX production run. It’s a $1.6 billion contract for initially producing 29 of the engines. But the Air Force may receive up to 329 total propulsion systems through seven option lots in the future. The Air Force is familiar with the F110 engine as it has been the sole provider for other advanced F-15s over the past ten years. GE claims the F110 has better performance, improved fuel economy, and a new cooling design.
The F-15EX Has Its Critics
Opponents of the F-15EX say it is not a good idea to build a fighter that does not have stealth characteristics due to the proliferation of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system that is expected to be deployed by American adversaries such as Russia, and Iran. Non-stealth fighters like the F-15EX would be vulnerable to the S-400 interceptors. The money could be better spent, the thinking goes, by using these resources to buy more stealth F-35s or even plowing funds into the Next Generation Air Dominance program, the name of the 6th generation fighter expected to enter service in the 2030s.
Why the F-15EX is Worth Buying
The F-15EX is an interesting upgrade on the base F-15. It has a fly-by-wire system that allows a computer to control it instead of the pilot. Another feature is the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWS) with advanced radio frequency electronic countermeasures. This should enable the F-15EX to handle and survive anti-aircraft systems like the aforementioned S-400, according to the manufacturer BAE Systems.
It looks like it is too late to stop the production of the F-15EX and the best option is to forge ahead with more construction and optimize the acquisition program, so it does not engage in delays or cost overruns. Critics of the F-15EX should have sounded the alarm earlier before Congress funded the airplane if they wanted to re-direct money to other airplanes like the F-22 and F-35.
The question is survivability. Can the F-15EX live to fight in a contested environment with hostile surface-to-air missile systems and advanced enemy fighter-interceptors? The Air Force has already received two of them and it will be up to the pilots to run robust testing programs and evaluate whether the F-15EX is as good as advertised.