The U.S. Air Force officially signed the first order for eight Boeing F-15EX Advanced Eagle fighter jets on July 13, 2020. These pre-series aircraft will allow the military and the manufacturer to test and fully define their applications. The first contract is estimated at $1.2 billion.

An “Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity” contract with a ceiling value of nearly $23 billion for the F-15EX was also signed by the USAF, according to Boeing. The deal is a breath of fresh air for the manufacturer, caught in the industry-wide drought caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainties regarding the future of the Boeing 737 MAX.

A resurrecting order

The F-15 Strike Eagle is one of the elders of the United States arsenal. Since it entered service in 1976, the fighter jet dedicated to air superiority was regularly updated. Expected to be retired in the 2020s for some time, the aircraft will have yet another iteration, named F-15EX Advanced Eagle, which will prompt a needed technological leap for the aging airframe.

With redesigned lines and special radar-absorbent paint, the fighter jet will see its radar signature reduced, allowing it to carry out air defense, close air support, and deep penetration missions. While not up to par with the 5th generation of fighter jets, it will be able to assist the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in its missions. “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,” explained General Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command.

The F-15EX is partly based on the F-15QA (for “Qatar Advanced”) specifically developed for the Qatari Air Force, which features fly-by-wire controls, a digital cockpit, modernized sensors, radars, and electronic warfare capabilities. Thus, the manufacturer will base a domestic fighter jet on its export version. “The F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems, and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare,” said Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

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The Boeing F-15QA, to be delivered to Qatar in 2021, made its first flight in the skies of Saint Louis, Missouri. The most advanced version of the F-15 to date took off for a 90-minute demonstration flight above the ex-McDonnell Douglas facilities.
 

The delivery of the first two jets, already under construction, should take place in the second quarter of 2021, with the remaining six expected before 2023. With plans to acquire from 76 to 144 aircraft in the coming years, the F-15EX will eventually replace the fleets of older F-15C and D within the USAF.