The US Air Force’s latest fighter jet, the F-15EX, which is being pitched to the Indian and other air forces, has now been officially designated as the Eagle II, marking its significance in the legacy F-15 eagle platform that has been in service for decades.
The aircraft was given the official designation in a ceremony held at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Wednesday. Earlier in March, the service accepted the first F-15 Eagle II in service.
Washington intends this aircraft to be much more than an air superiority fighter with indications that it can be equipped with hypersonic missiles in the near future.
“Undefeated in aerial combat, the F-15 Eagle epitomized air superiority in the minds of our enemies, allies, and the American people for over 45 years, but it was not meant to fly forever. We heard the demand signal from our warfighters,” Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics military deputy said during the ceremony.
“I’m pleased to say we’ve responded boldly and decisively, with a proven platform that’s modernized and optimized to maintain air superiority now and into the future,” he added.
The air force also said that the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base, Oregon is in line to become the first F-15EX formal training unit in 2024.
The first operational F-15EX squadron will function in the Oregon ANG for critical homeland defense alert missions.
The Eagle II was first seen in traditional Air Force F-15 colors in February, just weeks after its maiden flight. Its tail showed the marking of the 40th Test Squadron and the Eglin Airbase.
It is said the Eglin Air Force base shall acquire two of such F-15 Eagle IIs by the end of 2021, for which rigorous testing would be conducted before the aircraft is accepted into the US Air Force. The service has been flying the F-15 variants since 1976, and the first model made its maiden flight about half a century ago.
US aerospace giant Boeing had been awarded approximately $23 billion to work on the F-15EX project, presumably to make it the most capable fourth-generation fighter jet to replace the aging F-15C/D fleet.
According to Boeing, the F-15EX requires no new logistics chains or infrastructure modification or program offices, or weapons integration, making it easier for the service to transition to the new fighter aircraft. The company even says that the units converting to F-15EX could transition within weeks or months after receiving the first aircraft.
“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, had said last summer. “The F-15EX is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line.”
In 2018, the USAF and Boeing discussed a proposed F-15X, a single-seat variant based on the F-15QA intended to replace the USAF’s F-15C/Ds. Improvements include the AMBER weapons rack to carry up to 22 air-to-air missiles, IRST, advanced avionics and electronic warfare equipment, AESA radar, and revised structure with a service life of 20,000 hours.
In the FY 2020 budget, the United States Department of Defense requested US$1.1 billion to procure eight F-15EXs of total planned procurement of 144 F-15EXs. The USAF opted for the F-15EX to maintain fighter numbers after the premature termination of F-22 production, its aging F-15C fleet, and F-35 delays.
Although it is not expected to be survivable against modern air defenses by 2028, the F-15EX could perform the roles of homeland and airbase defense, no-fly zone enforcement against limited or no air defense systems, and deploying standoff munitions. In July 2020, the Pentagon ordered eight fighters over three years for $1.2 billion.
The company is also pitching the F-15EX to India and Israel, for which the latter recently approved orders for the F-35Is.