Portland Air National Guard Base Will Be Home To The First Operational F-15EX Eagle Unit
The 142nd Fighter Wing will transition to the F-15EX after the schoolhouse in Klamath Falls receives the type.
The Air Force has officially announced the first major changes for Air National Guard units that currently operate the F-15C/D Eagle as the type marches towards retirement. Most notably, the 123rd Fighter Squadron, the "Redhawks," of the 142nd Fighter Wing, based in Portland, Oregon, will become the first operational unit to transition to the new F-15EX. This is scheduled to occur in 2023, a year after the Guard's formal F-15C/D training unit, the 173rd Fighter Wing based at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, receives the type.
As it sits now, the Air Force plans on procuring at least 144 of the advanced Eagles to replace many of the F-15C/Ds that are now well over 40 years old. What is also interesting is that in the formal USAF announcement on the initial F-15EX basing, it is noted that the 125th Fighter Wing, based out of Jacksonville, Florida, will give up its F-15C/Ds for F-35As. This would mark an end to having F-15s stretched relatively evenly along America's west, east, and southern maritime borders where Eagles sit alert at their home bases.
The announcement also states that Massachusettes, Louisana, and California based F-15C/Ds will all transition to a new airframe as well, which could be the F-35A or the F-15EX. It was broadly assumed that all the existing five F-15C/D units tasked with the air sovereignty mission along America's maritime borders would receive the F-15EX. It also mentions basing some F-35As at Naval Air Station Lemoore. Currently, the California Air National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing that flies F-15C/Ds is based in Fresno, not Lemoore. This could indicate that plans may be in the works to move the unit to the sprawling naval strike fighter base in Central California or to forward station some aircraft there for training or alert duties. It just isn't clear at this time, although consolidating the Guard's F-35 operations at Lemoore would make some sense as the Navy already hosts the F-35C there. If the 144th Fighter Wing were to receive F-35As, this would could potentially save many tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs and ease transition from the Eagle to the Joint Strike Fighter by relocating the wing to the naval air station.
It will be interesting to see exactly how the rest of the F-15EX basing works out, as it isn't as clear as it seemed to have been exactly where these jets will end up or how many will end up being built, especially beyond the 144 inventory number currently targeted. It also seems that the F-15EX and F-35A are more formally pitted against each another for procurement dollars than was originally anticipated. All this also seems to leave open the possibility non-Guard units could end up with the F-15EX, as well. You can read more about this possibility in this recent feature of ours.
As for the F-15EXs heading to Oregon first, this really is no surprise. Oregon is already 'Eagle country' as it houses the service's elite F-15C/D training unit and one of the most renowned fighter units in the world, 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland. Transitioning the core F-15C/D training unit in Southern Oregon and then the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland right after has a lot of synergies and will only help the Air Force write the book for operating the F-15EX quicker than it could otherwise.
It has been just over two years since The War Zone originally broke the F-15X/EX story. It's amazing to see just how fast this program has moved ahead in what can be considered a blink of an eye in modern weapons procurement terms.
We will keep you informed as more information on the F-15EX bed-down comes available.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com