How Much Longer Will the Air Force Fly the F-15C Strike Eagle?

November 16, 2021 Topic: F-15C Region: United States Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: U.S. Air ForceF-16Fourth-Generation AircraftF-22AMRAAM

How Much Longer Will the Air Force Fly the F-15C Strike Eagle?

The iconic F-15 variant has an important mission, but is seeing rising costs and becoming more difficult to maintain.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The F-15C is an improved variant of the iconic McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, introduced in 1979. By 1985, around 480 F-15C units were built.

Almost fifty years since its introduction, the F-15 platform has set yet another record.

An F-15C Eagle executed the longest known air-to-air missile shot in March 2021, according to a press statement issued earlier this week by the 53rd Wing of the U.S. Air Force (USAF). “An F-15C Eagle fired an AIM-120 AMRAAM at a BQM-167 subscale drone, resulting in a “kill” of the aerial target from the furthest distance ever recorded,” the statement read. 

“This test effort supported requests from the CAF for ‘long range kill chain’ capabilities,” said Maj. Aaron Osborne, 28th TES. “Key partnerships within the 53rd Wing enabled the expansion of capabilities on a currently fielded weapons system, resulting in warfighters gaining enhanced weapons employment envelopes.” The statement added that the test in question was conducted “at a relatively low cost, showcasing innovation and directly supporting the 2018 [National Defense Strategy’s] calls for increased lethality and affordability.”

The press release does not specify what the new record is. The F-15 platform previously broke as many as eight world-time-to-climb records. The fighter is likewise among the world’s most successful air-to-air combat platforms, achieving an impressive 104 recorded kills while reportedly never having been shot down over the course of air-to-air combat. 

The F-15C is an improved variant of the iconic McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, introduced in 1979; by 1985, around 480 F-15C units were built. The F-15C upgrade package initially added expanded internal fuel, an improved central computer, and more robust weapons compatibility. The F-15C supports air-to-air missiles from the AIM-7, AIM-9 Sidewinder, and AIM-120 AMRAAM series spread across nine hardpoints with a total payload capacity of up to 7,300 kilograms. As with its F-14 Tomcat counterpart, The F-15C also carries the M61 Vulcan 20-millimeter Gatling gun.

Although the F-22 Raptor is considered by many to be the best air superiority technology available, there simply aren’t enough F-22 jets to fulfill USAF’s robust rotation commitments across Pacific, European, and Middle-Eastern theaters. This is why USAF’s fleet of around two hundred F-15C/D’s remains a core component of American air superiority capabilities—these fighters continue to be upgraded in order to maintain their battlefield relevance to the present day. Later F-15C models came with an improved engine and, more recently, the AN/APG-63(V)3 AESA radar. It was likewise reported that a certain number of F-15C jets are being fitted with infrared search and track systems. 

Still, the USAF is aware that the aging F-15 Eagle platform is getting increasingly more cost-ineffective to maintain and operate. The pace of upgrades has slowed significantly in recent years, with the service ordering a 47 percent cut to the number of F-15C fighter aircraft eligible for modernization.

The Air Force is reviewing plans to retire the F-15C/D fleet around the mid-2020s, though a final decision has yet to be made. The proposal’s supporters argue that the F-16 Fighting Falcon can reproduce much of the capabilities of an F-15C jet at a lower cost. 

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for The National Interest. This article first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.