USAF looks at fourth-gen fighters

Study is looking at new-build F-15, F-16 or F/A-18E/Fs

A senior USAF officer has said that Air Combat Command is studying the viability of purchasing new fourth-generation fighter aircraft. Up to 72 aircraft could be purchased to equip a single fighter wing, with upgrades of legacy fighters also being evaluated.

The study has come about partly due to the delivery rates of F-35A Lightning IIs, plus the desire for a high-end, low-end fighter mix.

One of the options clearly being reviewed is the Boeing Advanced F-15.

In our December 2015 issue of Combat Aircraft, on sale now, we featured the Advanced F-15.

This taps into the host of refinements evolved over the 40-plus years of Eagle production, and which manifests in the latest — and potentially final — variant now on the famous St Louis production line. Boeing is currently building 84 F-15SA Eagles for the Royal Saudi Air Force. These feature a host of significant new capabilities including digital fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control technology, the Advanced Digital Core Processor (ADCP) 2 mission computer, the advanced crew station with Large-Area Display (LAD), Digital Electronic Warfare System (DEWS), and an AESA radar.

Many of these features were planned as part of the stealthy F-15SE Silent Eagle, which failed to attract direct interest from new customers. The F-15SE’s conformal weapons bays (CWBs) were, for example, part of the industrial offset with Korean industry if a third buy of Eagles had been forthcoming. The CWBs had two doors and two weapon mounts, the upper, side-opening door carrying a rail launcher for an AIM-120 AMRAAM or an AIM-9-type missile, or a launcher for a single 500lb or 1,000lb bomb or two Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs). The lower door accommodated a trapeze-plus-ejector mount for an AIM-120, or for a single 500lb or 1,000lb bomb or two SDBs. The CWBs would also accommodate a small amount of fuel. Having funded an initial test period, including firing an AIM-120 from the CWB in July 2010, Boeing was ready to develop a number of the Silent Eagle options with customer support as prospective buyers came forward.

Although Seoul opted for the F-35, the Saudi deal paved the way for some of the less noticeable elements of the Silent Eagle to come to fruition, notably the advanced cockpit, digital FBW, and DEWS. Various elements that have been taken up by Boeing’s export customers over the past decade are now on the table to be offered as upgrades for other existing F-15 customers — including the USAF. Or maybe even for new USAF F-15s…?

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