OK, I Did Not See This Coming

There are a number of things that I thought would never happen.

One of them was that the US Air Force would never order another F-15.

They have been trying to kill them for some time, but now it looks like they might be asking for some new Eagles in the 2020 budget:

Indecision has plagued the U.S. Air Force’s approach to managing a fleet of about 230 Boeing F-15C/Ds. Only two years ago, top Air National Guard officials floated a proposal to retire the U.S.-based portion of the air superiority fleet. After that idea withered under the heat of a Congressional backlash, the Air Force last year opted to deprive its F-15C/D units of a critical electronic warfare upgrade, making the entire fleet vulnerable to a near-term retirement decision. Again, Congress intervened and voted to partially restore the program in the enacted fiscal 2019 budget.

But Air Force leaders now seem poised to perform the budgetary equivalent of the F-15’s about-face Immelmann turn. Instead of launching another attempt to retire the F-15 fleet, the Air Force is likely to ask Congress for money to order new F-15s for the first time in 19 years. The anticipated policy reversal has prompted calls for the Air Force to justify such a sweeping, strange request in fleet strategy.

“We’re in a bit of a pickle, and the pickle is we don’t have the capacity we need,” Matt Donovan, Air Force undersecretary, explained on Jan. 18.

Donovan was careful to clarify that he was neither confirming nor denying reports that the F-15X would be included in the Trump administration’s upcoming fiscal 2020 budget, but he still offered a preview of the Air Force’s newly formed argument that the time has come to reverse its nearly two-decade-old position. Instead of insisting that acquiring more non-stealthy, manned fighters in the modern era is futile, Air Force officials are now pleading for more air superiority aircraft overall, regardless of whether they are less observable to radar.

There are a number of issues, the USAF is maintaining that they are not getting F-35s fast enough, but I am inclined to believe that in addition to their sky-high acquisition costs, that the operating costs of the Lightning II are much higher than anticipated.

The hourly direct operating cost of the F-15 is lower than either the F-22 or F-35, while the Eagle’s unrefueled range is greater than either of the newer aircraft, and its air to air and air to ground loadouts are superior.

For about 95% of any conflicts, the F-15 is cheaper and more capable, so this decision would make sense, which is why I never expected the US Air Force to consider such a decision.

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