Boeing believes there are several upgrades that can be applied to Tokyo's fleet of F-15J air superiority fighters, which could both extend the type’s service life and greatly enhance its capabilities.

Jim Armington, Boeing’s defence head in Japan, says the airframer has shared ideas about possible F-15 upgrades with Tokyo, but declines to comment on specifics.

“The JASDF [Japan Air Self-Defence Force] is looking at missions, and the F-15 has a lot of potential,” he says.

Armington does, however, confirm that there are many hours left on Tokyo’s airframes, and that with the technology available today, its F-15J fleet could “leapfrog” technologies now present in the market.

“There are a lot of options,” says Armington, a former F-15 pilot. “These include AESA [active electronically scanned array] radars, a new mission computer, a new electronic warfare suite, conformal fuel tanks, and additional missiles.”

A model on display at Boeing’s stand at the Japan Aerospace show depicts an F-15 loaded with 16 Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles: double the load now available.

Armington says the cost of upgrading legacy jets would be considerably less than obtaining new aircraft.

In 2015, Boeing unveiled an enhanced version of the F-15C designed to keep the model operationally relevant through to 2040. Called 2040C, the upgrade package included “quad-pack” munitions racks designed to double the aircraft’s air-to-air missile payload to 16 and conformal fuel tanks for extended-range flights. The package also included Raytheon’s APG-63(V)3 AESA radar and a long-range infrared search-and-track sensor for a claimed “first sight, first shot, first kill” air-to-air capability.

Will Lane, of Boeing’s F-15 sales and marketing team, says new-build F-15 aircraft can accommodate extra missiles on an additional outboard hardpoint. For legacy fighters, including those operated by Japan, fitting an outboard hardpoint would be difficult and expensive, so a better option is to double the number of missiles carried under the fuselage, to eight.

“For legacy jets, we can increase the missile load to 16, but for new jets we can offer 20,” says Lane.

The air-to-air mission is a high priority for Japan. In a hypothetical conflict with its main regional rival, China, it would need to contend with waves of cruise missiles in addition to China’s growing air force.