Wait, I thought the whole point of this was to allow the limited fleet of F-22 aircraft that are currently having their hours of flying time wasted on CONUS defense patrols be instead deployed forward as needed in high threat environments where they can better use their expensive attributes? Why would the USAF forward deploy F-15s in high threat environments when they have F-22s and F-35s available for that, having been freed up by having their home defense duties covered by updated or new-build F-15s that have state of the art electronics to make their defense capabilities relevant?
There is no intent to replace F-22s and F-35s doing CONUS defence with F-15EXs. The intent is to replace the ANG F-15C/D fleet which is aging out and requires a SLEP.
As for cost of operation projections, the F-15EX is a relatively known quantity. We know how much it costs to keep the QA, which it's based on, in the air.
We don’t know what the QA costs to operate, none are in service yet. The Saudi’s have the SA in service which is very similar but trying to compare a USAF operating cost for an ANG unit to that of Saudi Arabia is probably pointless.
We already have the infrastructure in place. There is just no need to spend the money on retooling all of those F-15 bases to support F-35 operations, which are known to be having logistics and sustainment issues as a result of the well publicized failings and limitations of ALICE.
The selling point for the F-15EX is the existing infrastructure and manpower and the industrial considerations of keeping the line open. The F-35 has some teething issues with ALIS but it will be overcome, given the focus on it now, in the next couple of years. The question is whether the long term costs of converting F-15C/D units to F-35 is a waste of resources or whether the long term benefits of having more 5th gen aircraft available to the US is worth it. Given we know the F-15EX won’t be used in a near peer conflict except in a stand-off role and won’t be deployed anywhere where air superiority isn’t assured (by F-22 and F-35 aircraft…) then the long term utility of the F-15EX fleet is questionable.
This is a STRATEGIC decision. It doesn't have to make sense from a money perspective, just not be a complete and utter waste. DOD wants air superiority assets forward deployed. They have two choices, maximize F-22 availability for that, or build more. They can maximize F-22 availability by moving as many as possible to a forward deployed posture and covering their duties with F-15s. They can also invest a mountain of money into regenerating the ability to produce them, but, then, that's chasing a 30 year old design at this point. It would make NO sense to do so without investing into making updates, which just multiplies the cost of that task.
The USAF has submitted a plan to rationalise F-22 locations to see better utilisation of the fleet and essentially not spread it so thin. That plan does not see the F-22s reducing their current CONUS patrol duties, it just concentrates the fleet in fewer locations. The F-22 is never coming back to production, of that we can all be 100% certain.
The important thing to note is that more F-16s conduct CONUS air defence than F-15s today with the first few of those units to soon transfer over to the F-35. The F-22 and the F-15 are not the only or sole solution to CONUS air defence and the F-35 is likely to be a better asset in that role than either of the previous aircraft anyway given its better sensor suite, longer range and cheaper per hour cost.
It makes MUCH more sense to just take the latest and greatest version of the F-15 for home defense, fulfills a STRATEGIC obligation to maintain domestic (Boeing's) ability to produce high end fighters, and allows the F-22s that ARE available to be used where they are most relevant and reduces the number of flight hours that they are accumulating as a result of flying missions that don't require their capabilities.
Of the above only the strategic industrial decision is rational. Flight hours for the F-22s will not be a problem with the base rationalisation. The aircrew still need to fly to maintain currency and the rationalisation will see more time available for high end training missions.
Then, you compound some of this by taking into account other, local factors in this decision. Canada is still dragging their feet on replacing their aging hornet fleet. They kicked the can down the road a bit with the purchase of the RAAF legacy hornets, but, its not expected to make a major impact on their availability woes, and their combat effectiveness is VERY questionable against peer states. It is reasonable to expect that the USAF will have to assist Canada in policing their own airspace in the coming years, which means MORE hours on home defense aircraft. Yeah, no one is talking about this, but, if we're honest with ourselves, its a very real possibility. There are other factors at play here. China, which is a real and present adversary, is developing a carrier fleet of their own. They already have two in active operations, and another soon to come online, and a whole fleet of them planned and in various stages of production. Just as the US projects power, so will China. As a result of this, there will be more patrols flying in the coming years, not less. Do we want to burn hours on high end assets or do we want long life assets that are tailored to that very role employed for it?
Assuming Canada does acquire a replacement aircraft eventually in that 2025-2030 time period then they will be able to handle their own airspace patrols as per NORAD agreements. Given the low number of intercepts and forward deployment the RCAF does today anyway it won’t be a significant change in the future. Perhaps the US will see increased air patrol requirements in the future, it is debatable that China has any interest in sending a carrier fleet to sit off the coast of California when US bases exist in the Western Pacific, but I’m not convinced that cannot be accomplished in other ways or using newer technology to intercept only those you need or want to, as opposed to every one because you feel you have to.
But neither of those arguments factors in favour of the F-15EX being able to fly more hours. There is almost certainly a limit to the number of hours each of these aircraft will fly in a year given available funding resources and more importantly manning constraints. The F-1EX will be lucky to fly more than 300 hours a year per jet and on those numbers it won’t matter which jet does the flying. At current life rates the F-35 will fly those missions for the next 27 years and the expectation is the F-35 will be capable of more than the mandated 8000 hour life. What that translates to for the F-15EX is a whole lot of life on the jet that will never be used.
I don't see the F-15EX as the perfect solution, but I don't see it as a bad one. The alternatives cost just as much or more in the long run, and some of them can present a very real problem in specific circumstances.
The evidence suggests that the F-15EX will be a more expensive option to maintain over its life than comparable options in the form of the F-35 or even the F-16. It has a few benefits over the F-35 perhaps in the form of deploying heavy weight hypersonic missiles but since none of those exist yet it is hard to know that those limitations, or benefits, are real.
We are suffering from a crucial mistake made over a decade ago, not making enough F-22s. We've been served a sh*t sandwich by the past and we're trying to make the best of it. The F-15EX has value for the USAF going forward. It will have a very long life of availability. It is fully dual role and can be used to supplement the F-15Es that aren't replaced by the F-35 as they begin to be retired in the coming decade as well as not every strike mission will require putting hours on a stealth platform.
The F-15E planned retirement date is currently 2042. I could see the F-15E replacement being an optimised loyal wingman to 5th and 6th gen aircraft or on the outside a modified PCA but the loyal wingman concept makes more fiscal and operational sense.
Just like people complained that, in the middle east, not every mission required a high end fighter or bomber to complete it, and it was a waste of money and frame hours to use those fighters for those missions, and they argued that the A-10 or even lower end strike aircraft like the OV-10, the super Tucano, or other turbo props could have been used just as effectively for far less money, this is the VERY SAME ARGUMENT.
It isn’t the same argument. The USAF currently doesn’t have the pilots available to fly all those low end conflict jets and those high end conflict jets at the same time and it clearly is not in favour of maintaining a two tier air force. The USAF has a clear vision of future near-peer conflict and every single 5th gen aircraft it acquires can operate in that near-peer conflict or those low air threat conflict, in the same way those B-1s, F-15E, F-16s, F-22s have to date. The F-15EX cannot do that going forward. The other side of that is while it may seem a waste to send high end fighter jets into operations over low threat conflicts that still provides the USAF will valuable learning and experience for their crews in deploying weapons on real targets and in supporting US ground forces.