The US Air Force (USAF) plans to cut more than 100 F-15E fighter bombers from the fleet in the coming years, leaving 99 Strike Eagles in active service. The move comes as the service seeks to modernize and bring on new platforms while still keeping enough fighters to be able to meet mission demands, Air & Space Forces Magazine says.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said the determination was made to “balance capability and capacity” when he was asked about the move by Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) on Jul. 11, 2023.
The USAF currently fields 218 F-15Es with an average age of more than 30 years. The service said in budget documents released by the Department of Defense on future force structure in May that it wants to keep 99 F-15Es and spend money to upgrade all those jets with the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), an electronic warfare suite which has already been installed on some aircraft.
The newer F-15E aircraft are equipped with Pratt & Whitney’s F-100-PW-229, an upgraded version of the F100-PW-220 engines on older F-15E models. The USAF wants to keep the models with better engines and modernize them in other ways.
Concern about the service’s fighter capacity was expressed by Budd whose state includes Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, one of the USAF’s five F-15E bases.
The USAF had to make tough calls due to budget constraints according to Brown.
“Prioritizing modernization efforts to keep pace with near-peer competitors requires difficult tradeoffs with existing aircraft inventories and programs,” according to the Air Force’s justification for its future force structure changes. ”The Air Force determined the best mix for the fighter fleet calls for maintaining an F-15E fleet of 99 aircraft with the more powerful engine (F-100-PW-229) and shifting resources to maximize procurement of newer fighters and capabilities.”
EPAWSS was already planned for installation on the USAF’s F-15E fleet as part of a modernization of its aging “analog, federated system with a next-generation, digital, fully-integrated EW suite that enables the F-15 to operate in a modern threat environment,” according to the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Now, that fleet will shrink to 99 by 2028.
But Congress ultimately determines what the service is allowed to do. But no current language exists that prevents the Air Force from retiring F-15Es in the future and the service does not plan to retire any Strike Eagles in the 2023 or 2024 fiscal years.
The two-seat F-15E version is a dual-role fighter that can engage both ground and air targets.
The Strike Eagle was developed to meet the USAF requirement for air-to-ground missions. It made its first flight from St. Louis in December 1986. The Strike Eagle can carry 23,000 pounds of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons and is equipped with an advanced navigation and an infrared targeting system, protecting the Strike Eagle from enemy defenses. This allows the Strike Eagle to fly at a low altitude while maintaining a high-speed, even during bad weather or at night.
In the meantime, the USAF is rapidly divesting its aging F-15C/D air-to-air fighters, which first entered service in the late 1970s—in 2024, the service wants to cut 57. The first production model of the F-15E was delivered to the 405th Tactical Training Wing, Luke AFB, Arizona, in April 1988. The service plans to buy 104 F-15EX Eagle IIs, the newest variant of the venerable multirole fourth-generation fighter.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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