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U.S. Air Force awards $1.2 billion contract for eight F-15EX fighter jets

An F-15E Strike Eagle flies over Afghanistan. The F-15E's primary role in Afghanistan is providing close-air support for ground troops. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)
July 18, 2020

The U.S. Air Force said Monday it has awarded a nearly $1.2 billion contract for its first lot of eight F-15EX fighter aircraft.

The new St. Louis-made fighters will replace older F-15C/Ds in the Air Force inventory.

The fighters were approved in the current fiscal year budget and another dozen were requested in the fiscal year 2021 budget. The Air Force plans to buy a total of 76 F-15EX aircraft, it said in a news release.

The Air Force describes the F-15EX as a two-seat fighter with the capability of carrying a load of advanced weapons. It comes with a new electronic warfare system, advanced cockpit systems, and other improvements.

Boeing, in a news release, says the aircraft “carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class, and can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds.”

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Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of the Air Combat Command, in a statement called the F-15EX “the most affordable and immediate way to refresh the capacity and update the capabilities provided by our aging F-15C/D fleets.”

He said bases currently operating the older F-15s will be able to transition to the new EX platform “in a matter of months versus years.”

The first eight F-15EX aircraft will be fielded at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to support testing efforts. The first two aircraft are scheduled for delivery in the second quarter of 2021.

Boeing and its predecessor, McDonnell Douglas, have built more than 1,500 F-15s in the past five decades, but none for the Air Force in the past 15 years.

Instead, the F-15 manufacturing line at the Boeing plant has been sustained by orders from foreign buyers, such as Singapore, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who sits on the Appropriations Committee and pushed the Air Force to pick the fighter, in 2019 called the F-15 program “critical” to the country’s defense.

It also helps sustain thousands of jobs.

Boeing is Missouri’s largest manufacturer, employing nearly 16,000 workers in the St. Louis region.

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© 2020 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch