On Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) officially accepted the first McDonnell Douglas F-15EX Strike Eagle from Boeing at the defense contractor's facility in St. Louis, reported Defense News. The fourth-generation fighter has been upgraded with larger weapon capacity and advanced flight control systems.
"This is a big moment for the Air Force," Col. Sean Dorey, F-15EX program manager with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, responsible for the acquisition, modernization and sustainment of the aircraft, said Thursday in a press release.
We first proposed the question in 2019 of why the Trump administration was rushing to procure an upgrade version of the 45-year old jet. We suggested, at the time, it was due to weapon capacity issues of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II "were not able to accommodate heavier weapons, such as hypersonic missiles."
Last month, the F-15EX completed its first test flight from St. Louis Lambert International Airport in Missouri. Here's a video of the flight:
Check out the #F15EX as it makes its historic first flight. F-15EX is built on a digital thread, allowing it to also serve as a testbed to incorporate future tech and capability for the @USAirForce. pic.twitter.com/6ulnxuy1fm— The Boeing Company (@Boeing) February 3, 2021
Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president, and F-15 program manager, recently said the F-15EX "is capable of incorporating the latest advanced battle management systems, sensors, and weapons due to the jet's digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture."
The USAF expects to purchase at least 144 F-15EX within the next five years.
While the internal weapon bays of U.S. stealth fight jets (F-22 & F-35) have limited capacity to carry hypersonic weapons, the Russians are already developing a prototype hypersonic missile that can fit within the weapon bays of its stealth jet, the Sukhoi Su-57.
Besides heavy bombers, the U.S. is expected to rely on fourth-generation fighters to deploy hypersonic weapons.