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New wings on Qatar F-15s pave upgrade path for USAF

A Qatari order for the F-15 Advanced Eagle will introduce a new structural upgrade for the wing that could be offered as a service life extension option for the US Air Force’s F-15Cs and for the fleets of other international customers, a top Boeing manager says.

The government of Qatar awarded Boeing a $6.2 billion contract for 36 F-15QA (Qatari Advanced) fighters in late December that extends the St. Louis-based production line through the end of 2022.

The F-15QA introduces a number of previously-announced features, including an advanced cockpit system with a large format display, says Steve Parker, Boeing’s vice-president of F-15 programmes.

In an interview with FlightGlobal on 22 February, Parker also confirmed the F-15QA also will be delivered with a redesigned wing that strengthens the internal structure without changing the aerodynamics,. The redesign was made possible by using advanced new manufacturing techniques developed within Boeing in the last few years, he adds.

As the F-15QA enters development, Boeing sees opportunities to replace the wings on existing F-15Cs, if the USAF decides to keep the twin-engined fighter in service for more than two more decades.

Over the past two years, the USAF has discussed options for keeping a subset of the F-15C fleet in service through the mid- to late-2030s. Those aircraft would require a longeron replacement with a $1 million cost per shipset, Parker says. Some Air Force officials also are discussing options to keep the F-15Cs in service even longer, which could require a wing replacement, Parker says.

The additional life extension is currently “not required, but it my be something they want to do”” Parker says. “We’re just giving them some options.”

Other customers, including the Japan Air Self-Defence Force, also may consider structural upgrades to keep their F-15s in service beyond planned retirement dates, Parker says.

Boeing showed off other possible upgrades for the 45-year-old F-15 fleet in a virtual reality display set up inside the exhibit hall of the Air Warfare Symposium on 22-23 February. The digital imagery included a concept for a “conformal technology pod”. It would replace the conformal fuel tank with a pod that can carry advanced sensors, such as a side-looking synthetic aperture radar. Boeing also showed images of an F-15 adorned with the “Amber” multiple ejector rack, allowing the fighter to carry up to 22 air-to-air missiles.

Those proposed new upgrades come after a multi-year revitalisation of F-15 capabilities, including a new mission computer, electronic-scan radar, a new electronic warfare suite, fly-by-wire flight controls, newly-activated weapon stations and the more powerful GE Aviation F110-GE-129 engines.

“We’re just taking the F-15 through a metamorphosis,” Parker says.

Moreover, plans to win new orders for the F-15. Qatar ordered 36, but is approved by the US Congress to order up to 72, Parker says. Boeing also is delivering a requested classified briefing about the F-15 to the German air force, as one of several candidates to replace the Germany’s fleet of Panavia Tornados, Parker says.

“It’s not dead by a long shot,” he adds. “It’s got a bright future ahead.”

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