Friday, February 08, 2019

Is the F-15X a Good Choice for the Air Force?

Could new F-15s solve the Air Force numbers problem as aging aircraft are retired faster than F-35s will be built?

In the last data dump I noted an article saying that the Air Force might buy F-15X aircraft to replace aging F-15Cs. This author thinks it is a mistaken way to maintain numbers as planes are retired because it cannot match the F-35 for going up against enemy stealth and sophisticated aircraft:

The F-15X is an updated version of the F-15E, and six active duty pilots I have interviewed who have flown both that jet and the F-35 state the former could never survive in a modern day, high-threat environment, and that it would be soundly defeated by an F-35 in almost any type of air-to-air engagement. That strongly suggests buying the F-15X in lieu of the F-35 would be a very poor choice.

It is hard to imagine any high-end scenario where fighters will be able to operate outside of the threat rings of surface-to-air missiles. Even with the threat in places like Syria, stealth is becoming a prerequisite for survival.

By some estimates, the next generation of Russian and Chinese air-to-air missiles will out-range ours by some measure. While an F-15X’s arsenal of 22 air-to-air missiles is formidable, it might not live long enough to target a fourth-generation Russian or Chinese fighter, much less even see their fifth-generation fighters that will guard every conceivable avenue of approach 12 years from now.

Not to state the obvious, but the F-15X wouldn't fight the F-35 given that we are selling it to allies (well, there is one potential problem).

But aside from that, this argument neglects that the F-15C is used for continental air defense and won't face enemy stealth fighters or air defense missiles; and forgets that a lot of potential enemies would have less capable aircraft--nor will even China and Russia have exclusively 5th generation planes (Russia especially)--that the F-15X could defeat. Why wear out F-35s on weaker air opponents?

Further, with the ability to carry so many air-to-air missiles, the F-15X could serve as a missile truck that an F-35 could be linked to for firing the F-15 weapons based on what the F-35 saw--without the F-35 revealing itself by firing. Maybe this plane could be the way to go to support the F-35 instead of the AABONE I suggested.

Oh, but each F-15X will not cost more than an F-35 (tip to Instapundit).

I have concerns that a replacement for an air superiority F-15 fighter is based on the strike version of the F-15. But for continental air defense against large long-range bombers that isn't an issue. And if the plane plays a missile truck role to support F-35s fight advanced enemy fighters then that isn't an issue either.

And it would be nice to have some capabilities outside of the F-35 in case it is hacked and put out of action even for a short time, as I noted in a data dump last December:

Pilots love the F-35. Will hackers love it, too? I worried about the software vulnerability despite pilot raves in exercises before Israeli pilots had a chance to fly the plane in a combat environment. And I worried about the ALIS system before the plane could even be flown in exercises. But at least I'm no longer worried about the plane and its fighting concept itself--which Russia really tried to kill with information operations.

Right now I'm leaning toward the idea that new F-15s to supplement the F-35 (and the far smaller number of F-22s, of course) is the way to go. But perhaps other arguments could sway me.

UPDATE: I've actually approvingly mentioned the F-15X before, noting that it could take the place of the F-22 in North American air defense. Also, I asked if the X model has the frontal stealth of the Silent Eagle. Which would be useful to a missile truck.