The ability to deploy a diverse fighter fleet with complementary capabilities is critical to our global air superiority. Now, more than ever, our nation needs to be prepared to take on new challenges and emerging threats from across the globe. Some of America’s most forward-thinking military leaders are actively working toward that goal by proposing to develop a diverse future fleet of fighters that can stop our enemies in their tracks on multiple fronts.
Over my career, I conducted more than 600 combat missions flying multiple aircraft. None exhibited the importance of a mixed force more than in 1974 - 1975 when the entire fleet of F-14 Tomcats were grounded due to issues with their rear stabilizers. We immediately flexed our capabilities by deploying my unit on the USS Enterprise and its fleet of F-4 Phantoms in order to continue the fight and protect our soldiers on the ground.
Right now, the U.S. Air Force has the chance to use that same successful strategy by rejuvenating its fighter fleet with the new F-15EX fighter. And it couldn’t come at a more opportune time. The Air Force’s current fleet of fighter aircraft is the smallest in history. It also needs modernization. Though the fleet of F-35s is growing, progress is slow and puts battle-readiness at serious risk. The problem was amplified after the early termination of the F-22 program.
The Air Force needs to invest in a fighter that it can deploy immediately. The smartest choice is the super-charged F-15EX. Its ability to carry more weapons fly higher and faster than any other aircraft, and at an affordable $27,000 flight-hour cost is an enormous value for our military and the taxpayer.
By modifying an existing, proven airframe – with an undefeated air-to-air combat record - the Air Force can take advantage of an existing manufacturing process and ground support infrastructure without the need for extensive pilot-re-training. This will allow the military to deploy the F-15EX quickly with little added cost to the American taxpayer – saving valuable funds for F-35 production.
In addition, it’s the perfect complement to pair with the F-35 and guarantee air-to-ground and air-to-air superiority for the Air Force. The F-15EX, carrying 22 missiles, is the tactical fighter that provides the payload, range, and speed the F-35 cannot. It’s also the perfect fighter to carry and deploy the future hypersonic weapons systems that cannot fit inside the internal bays of fighters like the F-35.
With growing threats abroad, including from nations like China and Russia that seek to take America’s top spot on the world’s economic and military stages, we need to deploy a fighter fleet that can guarantee global air superiority. You can’t do that with one devoted aircraft; it takes the right mix of diverse and complementary capabilities. Investing in the super-charged F-15EX now is the right choice to immediately slate into the Air Force’s existing fleet. If we don’t, America will be exposed to an increased risk of attack from our foreign adversaries.
Colonel Jack Jackson (USMC Ret.) is a highly decorated Marine Corps veteran who flew more than 600 combat missions in Vietnam and has flown virtually every type of aircraft in the U.S. military arsenal. After his service, Jackson worked as a chief test pilot for McDonnell Douglas, then Boeing, before being elected to the Missouri State House of Representatives in 2002.