Why the US can’t just start building more F-22s

F-22 Raptor
F-22 Raptor.

  • The F-22 was developed as a dominant air-superiority fighter and is still considered to be the best such jet in service.
  • The US stopped building the F-22 in 2011 because the need for advanced dogfighters seemed less pressing.
  • Demand for highly capable aircraft is growing, but restarting production of the F-22 after a decade just isn’t practical.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force has two air-superiority fighters in their stable in the F-22 Raptor and F-15 Eagle, but when looking to bolster the fleet with purchases of a new (old) jet for the job, it was the Eagle, not the famed Raptor, to get a second lease on life.

That really begs the question: If America can buy new F-15s, a design that’s nearly 50 years old, why isn’t it looking to build new F-22s instead?

By most accounting, the F-22 Raptor remains the most capable air-superiority fighter on the planet, with its competition in China’s J-20B beginning to shape up and Russia’s Su-57 still lagging a bit behind.

The F-22 really is still at the top of its game … but that doesn’t mean building more actually makes good sense.

The F-22 and F-35 are fighters with 2 very different jobs

F-35 and F-22
F-22s and F-35s.

While the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is widely seen as the most technologically advanced fighter in the sky, it was designed as a sort of continuation of the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s multi-purpose architecture, with an emphasis placed on conducting air-to-ground operations.

The older F-22 Raptor was intended to serve as a replacement instead for the legendary F-15 Eagle, as the nation’s top-of-the-line dogfighter.

While both the F-22 and F-35 are 5th-generation jets that leverage stealth to enable mission accomplishment and both are able to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground combat operations, they each specialize in a different aspect of air combat and were intended to serve in very different roles.

Unlike the F-22, the US continues to receive new F-35s, though comments made by senior defense officials over the past year have placed the Joint Strike Fighter’s future into some question.

America will undoubtedly be flying F-35s for decades to come, but it’s beginning to seem less and less likely that the F-35 will replace the F-16 as the Air Force’s workhorse platform.

The F-22 was canceled because America didn’t need a stealth air-superiority fighter for the War on Terror

f 22 raptor f-22
An F-22 Raptor.

The Air Force originally intended to purchase 750 F-22s to develop a robust fleet of stealth interceptors for the 21st century. But as the United States found itself further entrenched in counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations against technologically inferior opponents, the need for advanced dogfighters became far less pressing.

With ongoing combat operations in multiple theaters to fund, the F-22 program was shut down in December 2011 with just 186 fighters delivered. Today, nearly a decade later, the F-22 exists in precious few numbers, despite its fearsome reputation.

Now the United States faces concerns about its dwindling fleet of F-22 Raptors that were once intended to replace the F-15 outright. Only around 130 of those 186 delivered F-22s were ever operational, and today the number of combat-ready F-22s is likely in the double digits.

With no new Raptors to replenish the fleet as older jets age out, each hour an F-22 flies anywhere in the world is now one hour closer to the world’s best dogfighter’s retirement.

The future of the Air Force, as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown has plainly stated, doesn’t include the mighty Raptor. But America needs an air superiority fighter that can stand and swing with the best in the world, and as capable as the F-15EX Eagle II may be, it lacks the stealth it would need to survive an open war with a nation like China or Russia.

With the NGAD program still years away from producing an operational fighter, America’s air-superiority mission now runs the risk of not having the jets it needs for a high-end fight if one were to break out – as unlikely as that may be.

The production facilities and supply chain for the F-22 were cannibalized for the F-35

FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018.   REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo
An F-35 at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, April 25, 2018.

As simple as just building new F-22s may sound, the truth is, re-starting the F-22 production line would likely cost the same or potentially even more than simply developing an entirely new and potentially better fighter.

Lockheed Martin cannibalized a great deal of the F-22’s production infrastructure to support the ongoing production of the F-35, meaning it wouldn’t be as simple as just re-opening the plants that had previously built Raptors.

In fact, Lockheed Martin would have to approach building new F-22s as though it was an entirely new enterprise, which is precisely why the United States didn’t look into purchasing new F-22s rather than the controversial new (old) F-15EX.

Boeing’s new F-15s are considered fourth-generation fighters that are sorely lacking in stealth when compared to advanced fighters like the F-22 and F-35, but the Air Force has agreed to purchase new F-15s at a per-unit price that even exceeds new F-35 orders.

Why? There are a number of reasons, but chief among them are operational costs (the F-15 is far cheaper per flight hour than either the F-35 or the F-22), and immediate production capability. Boeing has already been building advanced F-15s for American allies in nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, so standing up a new production line for the United States comes with relatively little cost.

Air Force F-15EX fighter jet
An F-15EX conducts aerial refueling over Northern California, May 14, 2021.

The F-22’s production line, on the other hand, hasn’t existed in nearly a decade.

In a report submitted to Congress in 2017, it was estimated that restarting F-22 production would cost the United States $50 billion just to procure 194 more fighters.

That breaks down to between $206 and $216 million per fighter, as compared to the F-35’s current price of around $80 million per airframe and the F-15EX’s per-unit price of approximately $88 million.

Does that mean it’s impossible to build new F-22s? Of course not. With enough money, anything is possible – but as estimated costs rise, the question becomes: Is it practical? And the answer to that question seems to be an emphatic no.

The US Air Force has invested a comparatively tiny $9 billion into its own Next Generation Air Dominance fighter program – aimed at developing a replacement for the F-22 – over the span of six years (2019-2025).

If the new NGAD fighter enters service on schedule, it may even get to fly alongside the F-22 before it heads out to pasture. So while the Raptor’s reign as king of the skies may soon come to an end, it may not be before America has a new contender for the title.

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The US Air Force wants to get rid of over 200 aircraft – here’s what it wants to send to the boneyard

A-10 Warthog
A-10.

  • The Air Force has put more than 200 aircraft on the chopping block in its new budget proposal.
  • The list of fighters includes dozens of fighter jets and attack aircraft.
  • The Pentagon is divesting of legacy capabilities to invest in newer systems for future warfare.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force wants to mothball over 200 aircraft in the coming year to free up funds for new technology and weapons, according to the service’s fiscal year 2022 budget request.

The Department of the Air Force’s latest budget request asks for $173.7 billion, which includes an increase in research, development, test, and evaluation funding but a decrease in funds for procurement.

Speaking to lawmakers about the Pentagon’s $715 budget proposal this week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the Department of Defense is making sure it is “focused on acquiring the right kinds of capabilities that we need to be relevant in the future fight.”

“That requires us to take a hard look with the services with capabilities that will not be relevant in a future fight and really begin to no longer invest in them,” he said.

For the Air Force, that means retiring a couple hundred planes, most of which are fighter and attack aircraft. Here is what could be headed to the boneyard.

A-10 Thunderbolt II

A 10 Warthogs
A-10s.

Distinguished by its 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, the A-10 is a ground-attack aircraft that has served the Air Force since the late 1970s.

The proposed cut would reduce the size of the A-10 fleet by 42 aircraft, from 281 to 239.

F-15C/D Eagle

F-15C Eagle refueling during deterrence patrol
F-15C.

The F-15C/D fighters are proven combat aircraft, having never officially been shot down in air-to-air combat, but the average age of the jets is now almost 40 years.

The Air Force plans to cut 48 of these aircraft, which are steadily being replaced by the F-15EX Eagle II. The Air Force plans to buy 144 of the new variant.

F-16C/D Fighting Falcon

US Air Force F-16C fighter jet in flight
F-16C.

The F-16C/D Fighting Falcon is a multirole and air superiority fighter. The proposed defense budget cuts 47 aircraft, bringing the overall size of the fleet down from 936 aircraft to 889.

The F-16, like the A-10, remains part of the Air Force’s vision of the future fleet, but the service is already considering replacements, which could be the F-35A. The service plans to buy about 50 of the fifth-generation stealth fighter in the coming fiscal year.

KC-135 Stratotanker

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 from the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing is parked on the ramp at the Sioux City, Iowa airport
KC-135.

The KC-135 is an aerial-refueling tanker that has been in service since the late 1950s.

The Air Force has proposed scrapping 18 of these aircraft, reducing the size of the tanker fleet to 376 aircraft.

KC-10 Extender

Tech. Sgt. Javier, 380th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Extender Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, marshals a KC-10 Extender
KC-10.

The KC-10 is a newer aerial-refueling tanker that has been serving the Air Force since the 1980s.

The Air Force is planning on cutting 14 of these aircraft, from 50 to 36, as it divests of older tankers and invests in the new KC-46 Pegasus.

C-130 Hercules

C-130 Hercules aircraft
C-130.

The C-130H is a military transport aircraft able to move troops and cargo. The Air Force intends to retire 13 of these aircraft, which would leave the service with 128 aircraft.

The service also plans to acquire five C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.

E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System

e-8c
E-8C.

The Air Force’s E-8 Joint STARS aircraft provide a variety of capabilities, including airborne battle management, reconnaissance, and command and control, giving it the ability to support attack operations through surveillance and targeting.

The service plans to cut four from its fleet of 16 planes.

RQ-4 Globe Hawk

RQ-4
RQ-4.

The RQ-4 is a remotely piloted high-altitude surveillance drone. The Air Force has 30 of these drones, but it plans to divest of 20.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers Thursday that the budget proposal “is biasing the future over the present,” Defense News reported.

“We are trying right now to put down payments on investments that are going to pay huge dividends, five, 10, 15 years from now, for a future force that will be able to compete successfully with any adversary out there, to include China,” he said.

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Top US Air Force general suggests future fighter-jet fleet won’t include the F-22 Raptor

F-22 f 22 flares
F-22 deploys flares

  • The Air Force’s top general is thinking about a future fighter fleet that does not include the F-22.
  • Brown said recently that a future fleet could include the A-10, F-16, F-35, F-15EX, and the NGAD.
  • The F-22 was the first fifth-generation stealth fighter.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force is thinking about what its future fighter fleet might look like, and that picture apparently doesn’t include the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown said at a McAleese and Associates conference Wednesday that the service is trying to find the right mix of aircraft for the future fleet through an internal tactical air study, according to multiple reports.

“Right now we have seven fighter fleets,” Brown said, according to Defense One. “My intent is to get down to about four … really a four plus one,” with the A-10, a ground-attack aircraft rather than a pure fighter, as the plus-one.

The general said that the mix could include the A-10 and F-16 “for a while,” the F-35, which “will be the cornerstone” for the fleet, the F-15EX, and then the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter.

As Military.com notes, absent from Brown’s list were the F-22 and F-15E Strike Eagle.

An Air Force spokesperson told Air Force Magazine that the “F-22 is still undergoing modernization” and that “there are no plans to retire it in the near-term.”

The Air Force official explained that Brown is thinking more about the long-term. The F-22 will “eventually” retire, the spokesperson said, explaining that the platform’s likely successor will be the NGAD fighter, which Brown reportedly called “the air-superiority fighter of the future.”

The F-15EX, which is replacing the ageing fleet of F-15C/D fighters, could potentially replace the F-15E as well, the Air Force previously suggested.

Although the A-10 and the F-16 made the chief of staff’s list, the A-10 is not expected to serve beyond the 2030s, according to Air Force Magazine, and the Air Force, Brown said, is already thinking about the F-16 replacement, which could be “additional F-35, or something else into the future.”

“I don’t need to make that decision today,” Brown said. “That’s probably six, seven, eight years away into the future.”

Talking about the Air Force’s internal tactical air study, Brown stated the service will “look across the board, [at] all of our combat aircraft, our attack, our fighter portfolio,” adding that the Air Force is really looking “for a window of options, because the facts and assumptions based on a threat will change over time.”

The F-22 Raptor is a single-seat, fifth-generation stealth air-dominance and multi-role fighter that first flew in 1997 and entered service in 2005.

The fighter did not fly a combat mission though until 2014, two years after the Air Force received its last F-22 fighters. The program was capped at 187 jets, and 186 are currently in service.

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The Air Force now has more F-35s than F-15s and A-10s

F-35 fighter jet elephant walk
F-35As on the runway during a combat-power exercise at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, January 6, 2020.

  • The US Air Force’s F-35 fleet has officially surpassed the F-15 and A-10 fleets in size.
  • The F-35 fleet, currently 283 jets, is second only to the F-16 fleet, which totals 934 jets.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force‘s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet has officially surpassed the number of F-15 Eagle jets and A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, becoming the second largest fighter jet fleet in its aircraft inventory, the service’s top general said Friday.

Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown revealed the new statistic during a hearing about the fiscal 2022 budget before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. As of this week, he said, the F-35 fighter fleet is second in size only to the F-16 Fighting Falcon; the Air Force has 934 F-16 C and D models.

Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton told Military.com the service has 283 F-35s, which also surpasses the A-10 Warthog fleet by two aircraft.

During the hearing, Brown discussed how the Air Force plans to move forward with its “TacAir study,” which will determine the right mix of aircraft for the future, and assess how future fighter concepts will fit into the current mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.

“It won’t necessarily give us an answer, [but] a range of answers to take a look at the threat and make sure we have done the analysis to inform ourselves but also our key stakeholders, which includes this committee,” he said.

F-35 and F-22
Two F-22s, top, and two F-35s.

The F-35 fleet eclipsed the number of F-22 Raptors in 2019 – with 203 at the end of that fiscal year; the Air Force capped its Raptor fleet at 187 in 2009 (it currently has 186).

According to the Air Force Association’s 2020 aircraft almanac, the service has 241 F-15C/D Eagle models and 218 F-15E Strike Eagles.

Brown in February disputed reports calling the F-35 a high-cost Pentagon failure, saying that was “nowhere near the case.” In his prepared testimony before the subcommittee Friday, he said the jet remains “the cornerstone of our future fighter force and air superiority.”

He told reporters February 17 that the Air Force hasn’t ruled out bringing a new fighter jet into its inventory as it looks to replace older, fourth-generation F-16s. This marks a change; since the beginning of the Joint Strike Fighter program, the service had held that older Falcons should be replaced by the fifth-generation Lightning II. Some critics view Brown’s comments as foreshadowing the stealth jet’s demise.

The Air Force is the largest customer for the F-35 and hopes to procure 1,763 F-35 conventional takeoff and landing A-variants.

But according to Aviation Week, future defense budgets could limit the inventory. The magazine reported in December that the service might cap its total F-35 buy at 1,050 fighters.

The Air Force expects to keep a well-rounded mix of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft through the 2030s, officials have said.

Last month, the service added the F-15EX Eagle II to its ranks as its new fourth-plus generation fighter.

– Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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US F-15E fighter jets did their munitions transport mission in their new ‘bomb truck’ configuration

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

  • Six F-15E Strike Eagles relocated as part of an Agile Combat Employment operation.
  • The fighters were in their “bomb truck” configuration, each bringing 12 JDAMs and 4 SDBs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Just two months after it was tested at Eglin Air Force Base, the F-15Es of the US Air Force used for the first time the new “bomb truck” configuration during an operational mission in the US Central Command theater.

More precisely, six Strike Eagles of the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron relocated to Al Dhafra Air Base (United Arab Emirates) on April 25 as part of an Agile Combat Employment (ACE) operation, bringing with them a heavy load of munitions to sustain combat missions from the new base.

The six F-15Es in “bomb truck” configuration are part of a larger deployment of 18 Strike Eagles of the 494th Fighter Squadron “Panthers,” which deployed from their homebase at RAF Lakenheath to an “undisclosed location” earlier this month.

This location is likely Muwaffaq Salti/Al-Azraq Air Base in Jordan, where Lakenheath’s other F-15E squadron, the 492nd Fighter Squadron “Bolars,” was deployed in 2020.

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

The Bolars were relieved by the 391st Fighter Squadron “Bold Tigers” from Mountain Home AFB (Idaho), which are now being in turn relieved by the Panthers.

“These F-15Es are carrying what is called a ‘tac-ferry’ load out. What that means is we can maneuver using Agile Combat Employment, and be postured to go forward from a main operating base,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Culver, 494th EFS Director of Operations. “This is the next step for the Air Force in Agile Combat Employment. So instead of having multi-capable airmen that are exercising maneuver and logistics, now we’re doing that with sustained munitions to project power.”

Each of the six F-15Es in “bomb truck” configuration was carrying 12 500-kg-class JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munition), both the base GBU-38 and laser-guided variant GBU-54, and four GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bomb).

In this configuration, the Strike Eagle is actually carrying twice its standard bomb load, as testing at Eglin AFB allowed to clear for use all six attachment points on each “Fast Pack,” instead of just three.

Back then, the USAF noted that not all the JDAMs carried can be employed in a single mission, so it is possible that the six bombs mounted on the upper hardpoints of the “Fast Packs” may not be cleared for release in combat, but only for ferry flights.

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

“We were asked to come out and support combat missions with a very short turnaround, and with the bombs not being built previously here for us. By carrying more bombs than we’d actually carry to drop, we’re setting up the initial days of combat,” said Capt. Jessica Niswonger, 494th EFS Weapon System Officer (WSO) and mission planner. After witnessing the arrival of the six F-15Es in “Bomb Truck” configuration, Capt. Niswonger added: “It was a great moment. I’m just glad to have the team here and now we’re going to get ready for combat ops.”

The forward-deployed 494th EFS with its F-15E “bomb truck” aircraft will begin flying air tasking orders immediately to support US Central Command priorities, according to the USAF press release.

It is not clear if the relocation of the six F-15Es to Al Dhafra Air Base is related to the flux of support fires that will protect US troops during the Afghanistan drawdown. Among those we can find four B-52H Stratofortress bombers of the 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base (North Dakota) that were deployed last week to Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar).

Training for ACE operations has become routine for US Air Forces Europe units with the goal of being strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable, as it was originally mentioned in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, and capable of operating everywhere with minimal support.

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

This concept can also be found in the new Air Force mission statement released earlier this month: “To fly, fight, and win … airpower anytime, anywhere”. The ability to fight and win with airpower is considered, in fact, the key factor to facing emerging competitors and near-peer adversaries.

According to the US Air Force, the ACE concept envisions the ability to generate airpower from austere airfields with varying levels of capacity and support in a contested environment, dispersing forces across different or remote airports and support their operations with fewer specialists.

The purpose is “to become more agile in our execution, more strategic in our deterrence, and more resilient in our capability. Agility, Deterrence, and Resiliency are essential to defense and operational capability in a contested environment,” the US Air Force in Europe website says when explaining the ACE Concept of Operations.

The latest ACE training operation is currently in progress in Poland, where 20 F-15s, both E and C variants, and four F-16s deployed from their homebases RAF Lakenheath and Spangdahlem Air Base (Germany), respectively, as part of Aviation Detachment Rotation (AvRot) 21-2.

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A US F-15C fighter jet recently fired the longest air-to-air missile ‘kill’ shot in Air Force history

F-15C fires missile at Eglin Air Force Base
An F-15C fires a missile near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

  • A US Air Force F-15C scored the longest “kill” shot ever recorded in a recent test.
  • The fighter took out a BQ-167 aerial target drone in March at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
  • The Air Force did not disclose the distance, as that information could be valuable to adversaries.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A US Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter fired the longest known air-to-air “kill” shot to date in a recent test, the service said Wednesday.

The fighter fired an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) at a BQ-167 target drone and scored a “kill” from the farthest distance ever recorded during testing at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in March, the 53rd Wing said in a statement.

US  Air Force F-15Cs
US Air Force F-15Cs.

The wing did not say exactly what the distance was, as that information could be valuable to adversaries, particularly given ongoing efforts by US rivals to develop long-range air-to-air missiles for improved standoff in air-to-air combat.

The weapon that was fired during the testing last month was an AIM-120D, the latest version of an all-weather, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile that first entered service in the early 1990s, a wing spokesperson told Insider.

It is unclear if the weapon or aircraft involved in the test were modified in any way.

The Air Force plans to eventually replace the AMRAAM with a weapon called the AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile, a longer-range air-to-air missile expected to be able to better compete with some of the systems developed by US rivals, such as China’s PL-15 missile.

The Air Force is also pursuing other lines of effort as America’s competitors do the same.

A US Air Force F-16 firing an AIM-120 AMRAAM over the gulf near Eglin AFB
A US Air Force F-16 fires an AIM-120 AMRAAM over the Gulf of Mexico near Eglin Air Force Base.

The aircraft used to launch the missile is a venerable combat platform that has served the US Air Force for decades. An F-15 has never been shot down in air-to-air combat, according to the Air Force.

But the average age of the Air Force’s legacy F-15C/D fighters is almost 40 years, and about 75% of the fleet is flying past its service life.

The Air Force intends to steadily replace all of these fighter aircraft with either the fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter or the advanced fourth-generation F-15 Eagle II, previously known as the F-15EX. The service received its first new Eagle in March.

Air Force F-15EX fighter jet
The F-15EX, the Air Force’s newest fighter, arrives at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, March 11, 2021.

The long-range “kill” shot by a legacy F-15 in March was part of efforts to develop “long range kill chain” capabilities.

The test was carried out by the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron in partnership with the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron.

The test “exercised existing long-range weapons testing infrastructure and laid the ground work for modernizing range capabilities in support of future long-range weapons testing on the Eglin-Gulf Test and Training Range,” the 53rd Wing said in its statement.

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3 things you might not know about the vaunted F-15 fighter jet

f 15
US Air Force F-15C Eagles over the island of Okinawa during a solar eclipse.

  • The F-15 has been a workhorse for the US Air Force for more than 40 years.
  • Newer, more sophisticated jets have joined the service in that time, but the F-15 has a few features that keep it in high demand.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Mcdonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and its subsequent variants have served as America’s workhorse intercept fighters for over 40 years.

For a short time, it seemed as though the F-15 would fade into history as it was being replaced by its stealthy successor, the F-22 Raptor. But the F-22 program ended and its supply chain was cannibalized to support F-35 production.

America’s relatively small fleet of fifth generation air superiority fighters isn’t large enough to replace the venerable F-15. Instead, Uncle Sam has agreed to purchase more fourth generation F-15s to replace those quickly aging out of service.

So what is it about the F-15 that’s so special that America’s Air Force can’t seem to get enough of them? Quite a bit, actually.

It’s the fastest fighter jet in America’s arsenal

f-15 eagle afghanistan

Although the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter tends to garner most of the headlines, the F-15Cs and F-15Ds currently run by the US Air Force actually beat out the F-35 in a handful of crucial air-combat metrics.

The F-35, it’s important to note, wasn’t designed to serve as a dedicated dog fighter: It was built to engage ground targets primarily. The F-15, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up to go toe to toe with the best Soviet fighters in the sky – and back then Russian fighters were really something to be feared.

The F-15’s top speed, of slightly over Mach 2.4 or 1,875 mph, is the subject of a bit of debate, as many claim the powerful fighter can go even faster. Either way, it leaves platforms like the F-35 – with a top speed of just 1,230 mph or so – in its dust.

Even the top-of-the-line F-22 can only achieve Mach 2.2. This gives the F-15 the crown of America’s fastest fighter jet.

It’s got serious range

F-15C Eagle refueling during deterrence patrol
A F-15C Eagle during aerial refueling.

While the US Navy struggles to find ways to increase the operational range of its carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-35C Joint Strike Fighters to stretch carrier ops further away from Chinese anti-ship ship missiles, the Air Force’s F-15s are boasting around three times the range of their Navy peers when flying with their three external fuel tanks.

In total, the F-15 can cover around 3,000 nautical miles without needing to refuel. Thanks to its inflight refueling capabilities, it could feasibly even stay airborne and in the fight for as long as the pilot, and its ordnance, last.

It’s got a perfect combat record

US Air Force F-15 Eagle
An F-15 Eagle fires an AIM-7 Sparrow medium range air-to-air missile.

Despite being in operation for over four decades and serving in the air forces of not just the United States, but also Japan, Israel, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Qatar, no F-15 has ever been shot down by an opposing force.

Unlike the F-35 and F-22, which rely on stealth to avoid detection and therefore, engagement, the F-15 has never been sneaky.

Without stealth to protect the aircraft from opposing fighters or ground-based air defenses, F-15 pilots have had to rely on tactics, skill and speed to outmaneuver or entirely avoid enemy contact.

This article was originally published on January 2, 2020.

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