The US Air Force’s chief of staff is not counting out retiring the F-15C/D fleet, but can’t make any solid plans for the aircraft until the service has funding in place.
The air force is examining the cost it would take to retire its fleet of Boeing F-15C/Ds and replace them with Lockheed Martin F-16s, but that’s not unlike the analysis the service executes across all its weapons systems, USAF chief Gen David Goldfein told reporters 12 April. The service has not drawn any conclusions on the cost benefit of retiring the Eagles, he adds.
“We’re looking at all options all the time because again, until we get a budget, it’s really hard to plan,” Goldfein says. “I haven’t made any decision on the F-15. I actually haven’t made any decision on any of the aircraft.”
The air force will keep the F-15C around until at least 2020 and the A-10 Warthog until 2021, Goldfein adds. To keep the Eagle flying past the 2020s would require a series of service life extension programmes including a center fuselage overhaul estimated at $40 million per unit, according to the service’s head of Air Combat Command. The F-15C’s possible retirement, which unfolded during a March Congressional hearing, is already shaping up to rival the A-10 retirement saga with parochial interests on Capitol Hill pitted against the harsh fiscal realities of keeping up the aging aircraft.
Earlier that day, the USAF’s deputy chief of staff for operations reiterated that plans to reiterated that plans to retire the F-15C/Ds were “predecisional,” but also emphasized the limits of future service life extensions on the Eagle.
“The F-15 has been a spectacular airplane, but the same F-15s I flew in 1991 are still flying today and when I last flew it, it had 7,100 hours on it and that was when I flew it in 2001,” Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland says. “We extended and keep extending it. So bottom line, to keep flying it, we had to extensive maintenance on it.”
Instead of another SLEP, Nowland would like to see the next generation of pilots flying a new aircraft. He compared the F-15 to an F-22, which he said performed better in an air-to-air role. Nowland’s comments about examining other options could nod to an F-22 restart, but both the air force and Lockheed Martin have not warmed up to those plans based on costs and the ongoing F-35 programme.
“The F-22, as much as it pains me to say, is a much better airplane than an F-15, for an air supremacy mission,” Nowland says. "So as we go through and look at options, they’re examining every option.”