The first two new F-15EX fighters are expected to roll off the production line in early 2021, and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida is already preparing their new home.
Eglin’s 40th Flight Test Squadron will take possession of the first new fighter, dubbed EX1, the Air Force said in a Wednesday news release, and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron will receive EX2. The Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force at Eglin will manage the developmental and operational testing, which will be conducted at the same time by squadron air crews and testers, the release said.
The initial testing is expected to take a year and a half, the Air Force said.
Specially-picked airmen from the 96th Maintenance Group at Eglin, Florida, will also attend classes on how to maintain the F-15EX. Once the fighters arrive at Florida those maintainers will then move to hands-on training.
The Air Force on July 13 awarded a nearly $23 billion contract to Boeing to revive the F-15 program, with the first order of eight F-15EXs slated to cost up to $1.2 billion.
The revived and updated F-15EX fighters, which have upgrades including new sensors, advanced cockpit touch displays, digital flight controls and improved computers, are intended to replace older F-15Cs and Ds flown by the Air National Guard.
The F-15 entered service in the Air Force in 1976, and many fighters are nearing the end of their service lives. There are still F-15s from the ’70s on Eglin’s flightline, the release said.
“The time has come to upgrade the aging F-15C/D fleet and that presents itself in the form of F-15EX, the most advanced F-15 ever created,” Maj. Brett Hughes, the lead F-15EX developmental test pilot for the 40th. “This represents years of iterative design and battle proven technologies.”
Air crew will be trained on a new F-15EX simulator, which is expected to arrive at Eglin, Florida, later in 2020, as well as receiving training from Boeing.
But the transition will not be too complicated, the Air Force said, since much of the new fighter is the same as the older F-15s. Engines, flight controls and displays will be the biggest differences, the release said.
The Air Force said the upgrades in the new F-15 will allow it to easily adapt to new weapons and technologies. The F-15EX also can carry three times the weapons payload that the F-35 can, the release said.
Once the new planes arrive, its first missions will be to get the air crew familiar with them and to fly in the local airspace. Then, air crews will begin testing and evaluating its Air Force-specific hardware, software and weapons.
The first tests will make sure the fighter’s software and avionics systems work well together with other features, such as advanced cockpit and controls.
Eglin’s testers will be watching for system issues, to catch them early and fix them before Boeing increases production of the F-15EX.
The remaining six jets in the first lot are scheduled to arrive at Eglin, Florida, in 2023. The Air Force expects to buy at least 144 F-15EXs in all, though the contract has options for up to 200.
The Air Force hopes to buy another 12 F-15EXs in fiscal 2021, and 64 more from fiscal 2022 to 2025. Each jet is expected to have a unit flyaway cost of $87.7 million.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.