Boeing sees significant potential to upgrade legacy F-15s with new sensors and avionics, as it also eyes international potential for the new F-15EX.

Various variants, from the single-seat F-15C to the two-seat F-15E, have been in service with both the US Air Force (USAF) and foreign allies for decades, and customers are realising that it is time to either upgrade their aircraft or replace them – potentially with the new F-15EX.

USAF Boeing F-15EX

Source: US Air Force

A US Air Force F-15EX

“Everybody that operates the F-15 right now and some new customers are excited about either new builds or a modernisation opportunity,” says Robert Novotny, executive director F-15 business development at Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

The updated aircraft features several improvements over the USAF’s legacy F-15s. These include the AN/APG-82(V)1 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and a large touchscreen display in both the forward and rear cockpit.

The USAF accepted the first F-15EX in 2021, and two aircraft have been conducting test and evaluation work pending the type’s service entry in 2024. A third F-15EX conducted its first flights in late October. Boeing and the USAF recetly finalised terms for the next three rounds of production, bringing total committments to 56. 

Novotny says that in an upgrade scenario, legacy F-15s offer ample power to support additional electronics, specifically the APG-82(V1), a new mission computer, a new cockpit, and possibly new electronic warfare equipment. Moreover, modern avionics and the new touchscreen display save weight compared with legacy equipment.

Boeing plans to promote the upgraded fighter at this week’s Dubai air show. The Middle Eastern market was key to the eventual development of the F-15EX, with Saudi Arabian and Qatari orders providing a crucial production bridge following the end of F-15E deliveries to the USAF. These two sales also saw signfiicant improvements to the venerable type, setting the stage for the F-15EX. 

Novotny, himself a former USAF F-15 pilot, says countries that have well-maintained F-15s with considerable lifetime remaining will look to the upgrade route. Countries that have used their F-15s extensively over the decades will look to new aircraft.

Cirium fleets data suggests that six international air forces operate the F-15, amounting to a total of 658 aircraft.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan is listed as operating 199 F-15s. It is embarking on an upgrade of about 70 F-15Js, which will see the installation of a new AESA radar and the ability to carry long-range strike weapons. South Korea also aims to upgrade its 59 F-15K Slam Eagles.

Elsewhere in the region, Singapore operates 40 F-15SGs, and Indonesia has a pending buy for 24 F-15EXs.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia operates 232 F-15s. Of these, 86 are relatively new F-15SAs with an average age of eight years. Riyadh’s 80 F-15C/D fighters, however, are likely in need of replacement, with an average age of 40.8 years. It also has 66 F-15Ss with an average age of 25.4 years.

The other operators in the region are Qatar, with 36 brand-new F-15QAs, and Israel, with 87 F-15s, the majority of which are older F-15A/Bs and C/Ds. Israel has reportedly issued a formal request for 25 F-15EXs.

Boeing has also pitched the F-15EX to Poland, which is in the process of phasing out older Soviet-era aircraft.

Novotney adds that the biggest discriminator that sets the F-15 apart is its payload and range.

“If you look around the globe, and you see somebody flying F-15s, chances are we’re having conversations about a whole new tail for them, or some kind of new kit,” adds Novotny.

“It comes down the manner in which their existing fleet has been operated.”