Here Is Our First Look At One Of Boeing's New F-15EX Eagle Fighter Jets For The Air Force

Air Force just awarded Boeing a contract worth nearly $23 billion related to these aircraft, which includes the purchase of the first lot.

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The Air Force has released the first picture of one of its new Boeing F-15EX Eagle fighter jets now under construction. This coincides with the service awarding the Chicago-headquartered plane maker a contract worth nearly $23 billion for work on these jets, $1.2 billion of which will go to the delivery of the first lot of eight aircraft

The Air Force announced the deal on July 13, 2020. Additional information about the contract was also included in the Pentagon's daily contracting notice

The full contracting announcement from the Pentagon is as follows:

"The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, has been awarded a $22,890,000,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (FA8634-20-D-2704).  The first delivery order has been awarded as an undefinitized contract action with a total not-to-exceed value, including options, of $1,192,215,413.  It is a cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-plus-incentive-fee, fixed-price-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price effort for the F-15EX system.  This delivery order (FA8634-20-F-0022) provides for design, development, integration, manufacturing, test, verification, certification, delivery, sustainment and modification of F-15EX aircraft, as well as spares, support equipment, training materials, technical data and technical support.  Work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri; and at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and is expected to be completed Dec. 31, 2023.  This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition.  Fiscal 2020 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $248,224,746; and fiscal 2020 aircraft procurement funds in the amount of $53,000,000 are being obligated at the time of award.  Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, is the contracting activity."

Congress approved funding for a total of eight F-15EX's in the Fiscal Year 2020 defense budget. The aircraft that is seen in the picture that the Air Force has now released shows that it carries the serial number 20-0001, indicating that it is the very first aircraft that the service has purchased in this current fiscal cycle. A second example is also under construction, according to Boeing.

The Air Force has requested money to buy an additional 12 aircraft in the 2021 Fiscal Year and hopes to purchase a total of 76 F-15EXs over the five-year Future Years Defense Program. The service's full F-15EX fleet could eventually comprise 144 jets.

The Pentagon's contracting notice notably makes no specific mention about the procurement of engines for any of these aircraft. On June 30, the Air Force awarded a separate contract to General Electric for an unspecified number of F110-GE-129 engines to power at least some of the initial batch of F-15EXs, citing an "unusual and compelling urgency." 

The Air Force had planned to power all of its F-15EXs with F110-GE-129s, but is now preparing to hold an open competition to select an engine type after it became apparent that Pratt & Whitney would protest any sole-source award to General Electric. Pratt & Whitney is expected to submit its F100-PW-229 engine as an alternative. You can read more about the issues surrounding the selection of the F-15EX's engines in this recent War Zone piece.

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An artist's conception of a pair of F-15EXs.

“The F-15EX is the most affordable and immediate way to refresh the capacity and update the capabilities provided by our aging F-15C/D fleets,” General Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, also said. “The F-15EX is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line.”

"When delivered, we expect bases currently operating the F-15 to transition to the new EX platform in a matter of months versus years," he added.

"Pilots and mechanics currently operating the F-15 anticipate transitioning to the F-15EX in a matter of days as opposed to years," Boeing said in its press release.

The first eight F-15EX aircraft will be based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and they will initially support testing efforts. The delivery of the first two aircraft is scheduled for the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2021, which begins on Jan. 1, 2021. The remaining six aircraft are scheduled to arrive in the 2023 Fiscal Year. The Air Force is using the Strategic Basing Process to determine the fielding locations for subsequent aircraft lots.

"We are capable of delivering two jets by the end of 2020 assuming a timely contract award," Prat Kumar, Boeing’s Vice President and Program Manager for F-15, had said in December. While the 2020 Fiscal Year defense budget had given the Air Force the funding that it had sought for the first F-15EXs, the subsequent Appropriations Act that Congress passed stipulated that the service could only procure two F-15EX prototypes plus long-lead items associated with the remaining six fighters until a report detailing its acquisition, test and evaluation, logistics, and post-production fielding strategies – along with cost and schedule estimates – had been submitted to the House and Senate defense committees.

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"The F-15EX is the most advanced version of the F-15 ever built, due in large part to its digital backbone," Lori Schneider, Boeing's F-15EX Program Manager said in a statement regarding the new contract award. “Its unmatched range, price, and best-in-class payload capacity make the F-15EX an attractive choice for the U.S. Air Force.”

A key difference between the F-15EXs and the older F-15C/Ds they are slated to replace lies in the former's Open Mission Systems (OMS) architecture. The OMS architecture will enable the rapid insertion of the latest aircraft technologies. The F-15EX will also have fly-by-wire flight controls, a new electronic warfare system, advanced cockpit systems, and the latest mission systems and software capabilities available for legacy F-15s. You can read more about the F-15EX and its capabilities in these past War Zone pieces.

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US Air Forces F-15C Eagles.

 “The F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems, and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare,” Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics said. “Continually upgrading systems, and how they share data across the Joint Force, is critical for defeating advanced threats. F-15EX is designed to evolve from day one.”

In addition to simply being a replacement for the Air Force's existing F-15C/Ds, the F-15EX will also be able to act as a weapon truck and be able to carry the kind of large hypersonic weapons that are in development, but that will not fit inside a fifth-generation fighter weapons bay. This is something Boeing specifically highlighted in its press release regarding the new Air Force contract. "The F-15EX carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class and can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds," the statement said.

With the heavy emphasis on its OMS architecture, the Pentagon is also using the F-15EX as a "pathfinder" program for its "DevSecOps Initiative, aimed at developing secure, flexible and agile software," Boeing said.

All told, the F-15EXs, the first two of which Boeing is building now, promise to bring new and impressive capabilities to the Air Force in the coming years.

NOTE: There is conflicting information about whether the photo at the top of this story is actually of an F-15EX. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the same photograph in their report with the following caption: "F-15EX decals affixed to F-15QA4 jet in Building 67, Final Assembly_St. Louis, MO. Purpose of the photo is to show aircraft readiness to our USAF customer (F-15EX contract award). MSF20-0024 Series."

However, an official Boeing Tweet features this picture and also says "We’ve already begun construction of the first two #F15EX jets." In addition, the Air Force's official news item on the new contract includes this photo, but does not say one way or another whether it shows an F-15EX.

We have reached out to Boeing for clarification.

NOTE 2: Boeing has confirmed to The War Zone that this picture shows F-15EX-1, the first F-15EX for the U.S. Air Force, under construction.  

Contact the authors: Joe@thedrive.com and Jamie@thedrive.com