The fallout from the U.S. Air Force’s request to buy F-15EX fighter jets to replace the aging F-15C/D Eagle has certainly been entertaining. Largely driven by lobbyist influence mixed with self-interest, a number of lawmakers and retired generals reflexively viewed the proposal to buy 144 F-15EXs as a threat to the 80-year 1,763 F-35A program. They predictably advocate that buying more F-35As — not F-15EXs — is the solution to replace the deteriorating F-15C/D fleet, whose shortcomings are inherent to operating a 35-year old fighter that averages 8,300 flight hours but was originally designed to fly just 4,000 hours. This camp’s message is that the F-15EX is an outdated fighter from the 1960s, equipped with decades old technology, is not survivable, not effective, is of little operational relevance, does not support the National Defense Strategy, and is more expensive than the only U.S. Air Force fighter currently in production — the F-35.
Brad Orgeron’s recent article explored four options that would sustain the fighter air superiority fleet over the next 20 years by detailing possible procurement combinations of three aircraft —F-15C, F-15EX, and F-35A. His research provided a much-needed objective and analytical voice to a conversation that has become overwhelmingly subjective and emotional. Building on that, I hope to offer yet a different perspective. Spoiler: The F-15EX and F-35A are both needed, but not in the way the debate has been framed and not in a way most defense professionals have been conditioned to think. To understand this requires the conversation begin with strategy — something that many voices in the debate appear to have overlooked. READ MORE...
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