U.S. Considers Up To 72 New F-15s Or F-16s
AeroBD | The AERO news Company…LONDON, December 07, 2015 : The U.S. Air Force may solicit bids for 72 new Boeing F-15s, Lockheed Martin F-16s or even Boeing F/A-18E/Fs as budget issues put planned production rates for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter out of reach, according to senior service and industry officials at the Defense IQ International Fighter Conference here. F-15s and F-16s are now expected to serve until 2045, when an all-new aircraft will be ready, and plans to modernize F-16s with active electronically scanned array radars and other improvements are being revived.
The conference was run under Chatham House rules that prohibit identifying specific speakers. The U.S. Air Force “is struggling to afford 48 F-35s a year” for the first years of full-rate production, a senior officer says. The program of record shows the service buying 60 aircraft in 2020, rising to 80 per year soon after that. Consequently, F-15s andF-16s will serve longer and will outnumber F-35s and F-22s through the late 2020s.
The service is looking at a three-tier force, with 300 F-16s and some F-15s being modernized “to augment the F-35 and F-22 in a high-end fight” and others assigned to low-end operations, while the contemplated 72-aircraft buy (an Air Force wing) would sustain force numbers and provide additional modern aircraft. Although “the last time we looked, this was more expensive than buying F-35s in bulk,” the senior leader says, the issue is being re-examined.
An industry official confirms the Air Force has asked for pricing data on new F-15s along with life-extension and upgrade options, including fitting in-service aircraft with new wings and rebuilt fuselages. The U.S. Air Force activity parallels U.S. Navy fleet planning; the Navy, likewise, is considering reductions in the planned F-35C production rate to fund life-extension efforts for the Super Hornet.
The production phase of the Combat Avionics Program Extension Suite (Capes) upgrade for the U.S. Air Force F-16 force was canceled under the fiscal 2015 budget, but development of its major elements is continuing for Taiwan, with South Korea and Singapore expected to join the project. The U.S. Air Force plans to seek money to upgrade its fleet in small batches, according to the service leader.