Not too long ago, the Boeing F-15’s days looked numbered.
First flown in 1972 - back when the Vietnam War was still raging and President Nixon remained in office - the “Eagle” had lately seemed too old, too last-century, to compete for sales against modern counterparts, notably the Lockheed Martin F-35.
Faced with a dwindling backlog, Boeing warned on several occasions that its assembly line for the type was in danger of being wound down after completing production for international customers Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
But the former McDonnell Douglas fighter now appears set for an unlikely comeback, with the US Air Force (USAF) seeking to acquire 80 examples of an advanced variant called the EX.
The proposal to acquire new-build examples represents an admission by the air force that the F-35A cannot do all that is required at a price-point it can afford, pointing to a per-hour operating cost of around $35,000.
That does not mean that the F-35A is a bad aircraft, as the service itself recognises. But while the F-15EX’s expected $80 million price tag is not so far below the Lightning II’s production target, it will also offer significant savings in spare parts and maintenance, and will cut the time needed to convert pilots from operating the departing F-15C.
Besides, the F-15EX will also be able to carry weapons that the stealthy Lightning II cannot accommodate within its internal weapons bays, notably a future breed of hypersonic missiles.
As well as providing the USAF with much-needed additional mass, its F-15 revival could help to secure additional exports from customers unable - for reasons of price or politics - to acquire the F-35.
It turns out that the aircraft for the modern conflict might just be one developed almost half a century ago.
Source: Flight International