As the US Air Force officially accepted the delivery of the first F-15EX fighter jet on March 10, a senior military official projected the aircraft as the perfect launchpad for hypersonic missiles.
On Wednesday (March 10), the USAF officially accepted the first F-15EX fighter at Boeing’s St Louis production facility in Missouri.
Although the fourth-generation fighter does not possess the stealth technology unlike the F-35, the Air Force has justified its decision of procuring the jets owing to its lower operating costs.
Besides, the units flying the F-15C/D fighter jet find it far more convenient to have a transition to the F-15EX fighters instead of the Lockheed Martin F-35.
The F-15EX fighter, which has the serial number 20-001, was spotted flying in that region in its full Air Force paint scheme, including the tail codes of the Florida-based Eglin Air Force Base.
👋 Farewell to the first #F15EX for the @USAirForce! This fighter is ready for its new home with @TeamEglin. pic.twitter.com/cqOLt02hJX
— Boeing Defense (@BoeingDefense) March 11, 2021
The US Air Force intends to purchase at least 144 F-15EX fighters to replace its aging F-15C/D Eagles. There are also plans to acquire more such fighters to supplant its F-15E Strike Eagles.
“This is a big moment for the Air Force,” Colonel Sean Dorey, the F-15EX Program Manager at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, said in a statement.
All-Weather Tactical Aircraft
Developed by American aerospace juggernaut Boeing, the F-15EX is the most advanced variant of the F-15 Eagle twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter jet.
The modern fighter jet uses the frame of the classic F-15 and bears a resemblance to the Su-30 MKI in terms of its size.
The fighter can fulfill a host of missions including homeland and airbase defense, no-fly zone enforcement against limited or no air defense systems, and deploying standoff munitions.
It can carry out a variety of roles including air superiority, interceptor, deep penetration strikes against enemy infrastructure, strategic bombing, and ground attack.
“With its large weapons capacity, digital backbone, and open architecture, the F-15EX will be a key element of our tactical fighter fleet and complement 5th-generation assets,” said Dorey.
However, the most important feature that the F-15EX brings to the US Air Force is its ability to launch long-range hypersonic missiles.
“In addition, it’s capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, giving it a niche role in future near-peer conflicts,” said Dorey.
Hypersonic weapons can travel at a speed faster than Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound. They possess the capability of maneuvering between varying altitudes and azimuths, making them harder to detect.
The deadly weapons have qualities of both ballistic and cruise missile — they have the speed of a ballistic missile and the maneuverability of a cruise missile.
The hypersonic weapons have been specially designed to counter modern ballistic missile defense systems and to deliver conventional and nuclear payload at high velocities over long ranges, making them a huge threat.
So far, there is no clarity on what kinds of hypersonic weapons the US Air Force might be looking to integrate with the F-15EX fighter jets.
According to experts, there are a number of options which include multiple air-breathing hypersonic cruise missiles, which are currently under various stages of development.
Boeing, in the past, has said that the F-15EX’s centerline pylon can accommodate weapons up to 22 feet long and that weigh up to around 7,000 pounds. It has shown a model with a notional 7,300-pound hypersonic missile previously, as well.
According to reports, the fighter boasts a speed of Mach 2.5 and a combat range of 1,100 miles against F-35’s range of 670 miles. This makes it the best tactical jet to carry hypersonic missiles, especially over longer distances.