Air Force seeks afterlife for F-15s

The U.S. Air Force is pushing to more than double the life of its stalwart F-15 Eagles with a series of upgrades.

“About two and a half years ago, the U.S. Air Force wanted fatigue tests on C models,” says Brad Jones, F-15 mission systems director for Boeing, which makes the aircraft.

As the F-15 fleet aircraft approached their life expectancies for total flight hours, the Air Force wanted see how far the service could delay fleet retirements, Jones said during a recent briefing with reporters.

The design service life for the aircraft is 8,000 flight hours and the lead-the-fleet aircraft have flown more than 10,000 actual flight hours and counting, Boeing says.

Boeing is now working on full-scale fatigue test certifications to push F-15C/D models to 18,000 equivalent flight hours (EFHs) and F-15E models to 32,000 EHFs. “Structural fatigue improvements in current-production F-15s provide longer life and reduced maintenance requirements,” Boeing says.

“We do not have an end date for the F-15,” Jones says. Indeed, he says, there are several programs to make U.S. and international models better with age.

The F-15 radar modernization program proposes to retrofit all F-15Es by 2021 with APG-82(V)1 suites with APG-79 processors, which will offer a fivefold improvement over the APG-63(V)3 equipment in reliability and effectiveness. The initial operational capability for the radar work is early 2014.

The Advanced Display/Core Processor II (ADCP II) program will replace all the computers in U.S. F-15Es and serve as the baseline computer for all future aircraft sales. The new computers increase computing power, adding additional gigabit Ethernet and fiber channel connections, with a Milestone B decision scheduled in November. “The U.S. Air Force has a display upgrade working team up now,” Jones says.

Boeing also is offering an advanced cockpit system that includes a large-area display, low-profile head-up display, reference standby display and low-profile engine fuel hydraulics display, all of which replace 23 existing displays, instruments and indicators.

“It’s more for situational awareness,” Jones says, adding the improvements significantly lower the cost of the aircraft, for both purchase price and life cycle costs.

The proposed new Digital Electronic Warfare System (DEWS) replaces several legacy systems, such as the radar warning receiver, jammer internal countermeasures set, countermeasures dispenser and interface blanker.

With DEWS, there is no need for a waveguide or nitrogen pressurization, Boeing says, and the digital system provides more than 200% throughput and memory growth reserve as well as better operation with wideband agile radars and other RF systems.

–┬áThis article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Another sign that the stealth fighters the USAF planned on procuring for our needs are running into problems and we end up relying on the proven things that work. I will be very impressed though if they can get 18,000-32,000 flight hours out of these.

    • blight_

      The F-16 will soldier on, as long as we are cranking out Block 60 for the Middle Eastern clients.

      I imagine the push to extend lifetimes versus new production is a consequence of defense austerity. Could always do more European withdrawals to free up funds…

    • Red

      Never take a break from the anti-stealth agenda, eh?

      • blight_

        He’s not anti-stealth: just that the JSF is a horrible program for the cost, and the cost is supposed to be worth it because of stealth features.

        • David

          blame Congress who demanded the JSF as a “cost saver” and the USAF, USN, and USMC brass who said nothing.

          The JSF program did exactly what it was supposed to, make a single, stealthy, relatively similar jet for all 3 service branches that fly jets.

          • Blue 1

            …except met budget and timetable requirements and produce an accepted VTOL version.

            I believe Jack Nicholson said it best with ‘I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 Joint Strike Fighters [branches of the government] working for them, and that ain’t bad.

          • Johnny Ranger


          • William C.

            Since when is the F-35B unacceptable?

    • Chuck

      Yet another sign you have no understanding for the need for progress and to not stand still, while the enemy evolves.

  • Jerry

    For those of you interested in USAF’s recapitalization plans, this piece discusses the AF plan to upgrade limited numbers of newer (less old?) F-15/16s as a bridge to the F-35:

  • Dude

    Why not just refurbish some 150 F15 & 300 F16 from Davis-Monthan?

    Surely there are at least some airframes there that can shoulder the burden of ultra-extended service spans.

    • Chuck

      Most of those are likely early model F-15s and are not capable of retrofit, unless they are given a complete over hauls, at which point buying new F-15s would be better, but they will still fall short of the capabilities of the F-35s.

  • Jon

    What about the f-15SE? The silent eagle would offer a zero hour airframe plus lower radar signature. Air Force is probably afraid if they bought new air frames it would cut into their f35 buys….

    • Russ

      I’m afraid It’s not a bright shiny new toy. Every other industry wants to get the most units/tooling cost; not the government.

  • torpedo8

    Barry Goldwater said 50 years ago that eventually the Air Force would only be able to afford one plane/year. We’re almost there.

  • Timuk

    The USAF have only them selves to blame, they drank the Lockheed kool-aid and then started ranking the crisp out themselves.

    They have just shut down the replacement program for the AMRAAM due to budgetary cuts , all for the crocks that are the f22 and JSF .

    • David

      no, they refused to stand up to Congress and their own idiotic advisers who thought the JSF was a good idea.

      There is NO F-35B alternative for the USMC, and the F-16 is topped out, upgrade wise.

      • ViperZeroOne

        Really? The F-16 is tapped out?

        • Chuck

          Topprd out was his term. It is pretty close to the limit of our ability to improve it.

      • HeavyArrow

        England is looking into the Super Hornet as a replacement if the F-35 falls through from what I’ve heard.

        • FtD

          No, I don’t think so as the HMS QE will not install catobar so no CTOL will be in operation on that deck

          • blight_

            I’ve heard so little about the QE2, and it’s been ambiguous so it’s hard to say what’s next. First it was catobar, then ski-jump…

    • Dfens

      Hell, they pay Lockheed more if they f up, and then wonder why Lockheed f up so much. Of course, Lockheed had to lobby hard to get such a screwed up procurement system in place to begin with, but the USAF has taken to it quite well. Then there’s the Navy that was once 600 ships strong that can’t keep 280 tin cans floating now that the defense contractors are designing their ships the same way as they design aircraft for the USAF. And NASA that could put a man on the Moon in 1969 when they designed their own rockets can’t get an “astronaut’s” ass off a chair without the Russians.

  • Musson

    The new normal: Whatever’s cheapest.

  • mohinikumari

    Is it better than SU 30mki?

  • Lance

    Well look at it this way the F-22 is dead in the water except a number that escaped and made it into service. No Russian or Chinese fighter can match the F-15 over 500 kills vs 0 losses in air to air combat. The USAF will operate F-15s past 2025 and beyond for the F-15E. The best thing is to upgrade F-15C to SE standards making them almost the same as a F-22 but that is up in the air.

    Im happy to hear the Eagle will fly for the USAF for a long time.

    • The_Hand

      I like the Eagle too, but I’m concerned about its performance in 2012. I know it’s undefeated in combat but to my knowledge it hasn’t gone up against Su-30s or Rafales, and it will shortly have to contend with PAK-FAs and J-21s as well. I don’t think SE upgrades would buy it more than a few years.

      • elmondohummus

        Yeah, this. The Eagle, for all of its awesomeness is a 4th, not 5th Generation fighter. While it’s sill relevant now, it’s closer to the end of that relevancy than the beginning of it. And it’s only a matter of time before the avionics and other characteristics are simply behind relative to whatever potential advesaries come up with.

        • David

          thankfully, the F-35 will hit IOC in 2016, with the Marines putting a test squadron into service in 2014.

          • blight_

            Surprised they didn’t rip a page out of the Osprey playbook and go into full production while still troubleshooting…

    • torquewrench

      ” No Russian or Chinese fighter can match the F-15 over 500 kills vs 0 losses in air to air combat.”

      The vast majority of those kills were against equipment that was already obsolescent and uncompetitive against the F-15 at the time, such as the IAF’s Bekaa Valley turkey shoot against rusting and poorly flown Mig-21s.

      The Eagle is a superb airframe. One of the best fighters ever built. It’s also a design that entered service in _1975_.

      There are excellent reasons to suppose that the F-15 is equally matched by advanced Flanker variants in current service, and would be overmatched by next-generation Russian and Chinese air superiority platforms.

      But what’s even worse is that the F-15 is essentially not survivable within the engagement envelope of modern and widely proliferating triple-digit SAM systems. It’s been more than 40 years since SAMs took a major toll on the USAF. They have collectively forgotten how ugly a capable SAM environment can be for combat jets, simply because SAM technology lagged for decades. It has caught back up.

      • blight_

        I thought we’d learned enough about SAM systems operating in GW1 and subsequently against Serbia…twice.

      • Lance

        Strange in Mock combat F-15s did extremely well against SU-27s and SU-30s since they are the same generation and lack the radars and missiles the Eagle has. The Eagle has shot everything down not just old MiG-21 but newer MiG-25 and 29s as well. As for the J-21 no Chinese fighter has been picked for the winner of there competition and who knows China’s stealth tech may suck like most of there equipment so saying its invincible would be bias at best. overall the F-15 has many years to come to fly for US.

    • Chuck

      While it is out of production, it could be brought back into production, and I believe it should be. I think a lean manufacturing model should be applied as it will be costly, but the line should never have been shut down. It we start up production, it whould be with an eye on specialized models. In particular, a two seat F-22 designed to control a small squadron of UCAVs would be very desirable.

    • Chuck

      While it is out of production, it could be brought back into production, and I believe it should be. I think a lean manufacturing model should be applied as it will be costly, but the line should never have been shut down. It we start up production, it whould be with an eye on specialized models. In particular, a two seat F-22 designed to control a small squadron of UCAVs would be very desirable.

  • Tribulationtime

    I think it is better rebuild the newer airframes with the older. Stop buying spares and disolve Air National Guard units. Whit the money saved USAF could boost Typhoon or Rafale production to exchange airframes for AESA radars and weapons, even engines. Thats keep money in USA and USAF gets new airframes, better than f-15 and f-16. Nato can arrange parties of european soldiers to teach logistics, maintenace, etc. Better aircraft in No Time.

    • LarryDuffy

      Disolving ANG units does not save the military money and in fact costs more. ANG/AFRES members aren’t provided housing/medical/family benefits. They are paid when they show up to work vs. 30 days a month. Additionally the majority of ANG/AFRES pilots are former active duty witha tremendous amount of experience that the younger pilots simply don’t have.

    • Anlushac11

      Not even BAE has been able to develop a AESA small enough to fit the Typhoons nose. They expect to be able to within a year or two.

      The second major problem is Typhoon lacks the F-15’s combat radius. Typhoon does not have the range and loiter time the F-15 does.

      Typhoon is a excellent aircraft but it was was designed with a European environment and for that it is superb.

    • tribulationtime

      I don´t doub of cost-eficience of ANG, less planes are always less money, and spare parts solved for a long time. And yes i will try to keep pilots in, maybe the first to fly the new plane. TWO, I belive radars fit in typhoon or rafale. Typhoon have same range performance than f-15C at same fuel weight plus supercruise, plus meteor missile, plus less rcs, plus not worn-out engines, plus IRIS, plus better overall fly performance. Overtop I dont say typhoon the future fighter for USAF I say better solution to cover the gap. thanks for answers

  • elmondohummus

    Small quibble, but can’t you Defensetech guys come up with a better headline? For a minute there I thought the Air Force hired mediums to hold seances for long dead F-15s. :(

  • Manowar

    One can claim, a refurbished F15 is a 4.3 Gen fighter, a new F15K or SE is 4.5 Gen, F22 is 5 gen, F35 is 5.3 Gen.

    Since the F22 is dead, and F35 is well, who knows, [unicorn?] this is a good idea; assuming it doesn’t run into technical and cost problems like everything else the DoD does. If a test planes works, a fleet refurbishment needs to be expedited, even at the expense of the F35.

  • Nicky

    This is why if the USAF knew that their F-35 and F-22 were going to run into problems, they should have gone with the F-15 SE and the Block 60 F-16. At the same time keep the F-22 and F-35A at a low rate production and keep the F-35 B & C in the R&D stage of development

    • David

      sorry, the Marines HAD to have a STOVL jet, and both the USAF and USN wanted a stealth jet. Congress wouldn’t fund 3 separate programs.

      • blight_

        Even two programs would’ve been nice.

        Sell it as a SVTOL, then a air force/navy fighter jet “recapitalizing” on SVTOL assets and “some commonality”. Congress goes yay, Lockheed goes yay, everyone is happy.

        We could’ve given Boeing the X-32 A and C and left Lockheed with the B…since their -B was unquestionably better.

  • Will

    Not a surprise given F-22 production limited to 187.

  • torquewrench

    “This is why if the USAF knew that their F-35 and F-22 were going to run into problems, they should have gone with the F-15 SE and the Block 60 F-16.”

    There should have been multiple contingency plans and at least one of those plans should have been activated by now.

    It was plain as a pikestaff that there were going to be major problems, especially with the F-35. But USAF brass strapped on their blinders and put in their earplugs and said collectively, “Na na na na. I can’t hear you. Na na na na.”

    Childish. And it has had the sort of result that should be expected from a childish approach to policymaking. Because of F-22 cancellation and F-35 delays, the USAF are now facing a horribly severe crunch for airframes that will be deployable and survivable in the 202x decade. The bite will begin even before that; by 2016 or so, a huge number of combat-coded tails will start to time out on fatigue life. We’re talking about entire air wings simply being stood down and disappearing because they will have nothing to fly.

    There are big time lags in a military aviation procurement cycle. Get behind the cycle and those lags start to do more and more damage. What’s worse is that a mismanaged procurement cycle can’t be quickly turned around, and the damage steadily worsens with no immediate remedy.

    • BlackOwl18E

      There is a remedy. It’s called upgraded-legacy-fighter-soup. The USAF needs to have some very badly.

    • Nicky

      It’s why the USAF should have looked into buying into the F-15SE, F-15K or even the Block 60 F-16. The other option would have been to get involve with the Super hornet and buy into the Super Hornet International Road map. They should have had back up plans along time ago. Maybe they can put that thrust vectoring technology from the F-22 into the F-15SE, F-15K, Block 60 F-16 and even the F/A-18 E/F and the E/A-18G.

  • torquewrench

    “Why not just refurbish some 150 F15 & 300 F16 from Davis-Monthan?”

    Let’s remember that refurbished airframes are often a crummy economic decision.

    Look at what happened to the USMC with their UH-1Y and AH-1Z plan. They sold it to Congress as cheap overhauls of already bought frames. That plan did not work as billed. Turns out to have been even more expensive than buying new would have been. Great for the contractor. Terrible for the budget deficit.

    • blight_

      How pleasant.

      Do you have a link on it?

  • Yetti

    Nothing is plug and play in the military. You cannot easily do unplanned upgrades to machines. 2010’s tech in 1970’s tech probably will fail and cost more than a new replacement. Systems integration and software is hard enough in something new like F35, which is where most delays occur.

  • Hunter76

    Stealth is dead. Passive radar technology kills the generation-long air-superiority US has had. The final link needed is near range autonomous visual acquisition, and that’s just cheap little cameras and software. Watch those multi-hundred million dollar airplanes come tumbling out of the sky.

    • David

      yeah, so said Iraq in 2003.

    • Matt

      Stealth in the future, with out it almost any SAM developed in the past ~50yrs has a fighting chance at taking down a fighter.
      Even /if/ the tech you described works the way you say, stealth still gives the USAF (and eventually USN/MC) near total superiority over the defences of 3rd World regimes we seem inclined to fight (Iraq, Libya, possibly Iran, etc)…

    • elmondohummus

      “Passive” radar – aka “bistatic”, non-cooperative transmissions radar – is effective against the current implementation of Stealth simply because current designs were done with the presumption that the radar transmitter would be in-line with the receiver. Designs can be created that could reduce those “off angle” reflections. And as a countermeasure you could also simply fill the airwaves with junk transmissions – jamming them in a way – which complicates the processing job the passive receivers must do. Remember: The signal paths are no longer in line with the receiver, so the processing of the returns become that much more complicated. Which is in addition to the already existent complication of having to deal with not being able to control the signals the receiver is seeing. (Cont’d…)

      • elmondohummus

        … cont’d:

        That’s not meant to be glib dismissal of the threat. Bistatic, non-cooperative-tranmitter radar does indeed strike a blow in that it potentially reduces the effectiveness of a technology that cost billions of dollars to develop, and forces more money to be spent on countering. And there will undoubtedly be a point of diminishing returns as far as improving stealth designs to counter passive radar technologies (it’s way cheaper to develop better processing methods and passive receivers than it is to redesign aircraft). But calling it “dead” is an overreaction. There has always been a place for reducing observability for a platform. The fact that a counter exists to a current implementation doesn’t automatically invalidate the original concept.

        • Guest

          weren’t the British radars of WW II all bi static ? with transmit towers not colocated with receivers ? so, this bi-static idea is not new. can you fix the transmit towers of these radars and just move around the reciever pieces ? that would be interesting

  • idahoguy101

    Better to buy new generation 4.5 upgraded aircraft than sit on your hands waiting for a generation 5 F-35 aircraft that may never come. The USAF could buy new model F-15’s and F-16’s or swallow their pride and get upgraded F/A-18 Super Hornets.

    • David

      sorry, the SH can’t pull 9gs, is twin engined, and isn’t that much better than a F-16. Plus, that would give Boeing a monopoly.

      • blight_

        We handed the 22 and the JSF to Lockheed…Lockheed’s ownership of GD gave them the F-16, so they pretty much own 3/4ths of the air force’s combat aircraft (except MD, now Boeing’s, F-15).

      • idahoguy101

        Sort of like the F-4 Phantom? An F/A-18F with two engines and two crew has inherent survivabiliry. More so with upgrades.

  • dubweiser101

    The F-15 is an icon of legendary proportion. Not to mention my favorite airplane ever.

    I don’t think the planned extension of the plane is feasible. According to the serial numbers published from Janes Defense, the last F-15E rolled off the McDonnell Douglas line in 1989, and the last F-15C model rolled out of the McDonnell Douglas line in St.Louis in 1988.

    That’s like asking the P-51 to fight the early stages of the Vietnam War…

    • elmondohummus

      They sorta did with the Spad – the A1 Skyraider – didn’t they? I mean, take a WWII era design and put it in service in the early stages of Vietnam? Granted, that was in an attack role, not a fighter one, but still, they did do that.

      On the other hand, I do agree with your point. Beyond a certain point, a prior generation design, no matter how airworthy, is simply old enough to be an anachronism. And the Spad was exactly that: A prop driven attack aircraft in a jet era war. It happened to fit a niche in a transition time, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would rather it have stayed in over the upcoming A-6 Intruders.

    • BillMill

      The last E model did not roll off the line in 1989, I believe it was 2000 or 2001 for the USAF, those jets are stationed at RAFL. Now the last C mode did come down the line about that time, These jets were the only C delivered with the APG-70 they make up the 493 FS also at RAFL. The E modle is still in production with continuing dleiveries to Singapore, Korea and now a fres Sauidi order.
      Extension is more than feasable the Air Force has identified over 150 airframes for the Golden Eagle program, Thiis will extend C models, most of wich are now ANG birds, life well into the late 2020’s

  • demophilus

    Let’s not forget that some of our allies are just now retiring the F-4, and other nations are just now retiring their Mig-21 variants. Getting a few more years out of the 15 makes sense. It’s got the power to fling something like a MALD, networked BVRAAM, or JASSM a good long way, and it might make for a good micro-satellite launcher, as it was used in the ASAT tests back in 1985. It’s still a good tool for the toolbox, if it’s used the right way.

    Apart from that, some of you maybe need to consider the possibility that the F-35 is at least in part an effort to build a host for a directed energy weapons suite of some kind. I’m not saying that justifies the cost or complexity of the system, but it might explain some of the commitment to it.

  • Guest

    Would it be possible to upgrade them to the F-15 ACTIVES?

  • Mario Seoane

    Ultra Hornet international road maps and Growlers for the 3 forces, with affordable stealth and jamming technology, a truly 4.9 Gen, at half price, linked with Satelites, Awacs, Aegis, ground troops, and of course drones. Able to carry air to air and very long range bombs in internal bays. Today they are able to detect what ever stealth airplane with the concept of cooperative engagement, that`s the way of the future, not the soliteay stealth. Russians and Chinese are going from where America is coming back. Let them to waste their time and money.

    • FtD

      i really like this idea of maxing out SH system as the aircraft is now in service rather than keeping on hoping F35 will come out good still with no definite confirm date of operation. Su27 been around in similar period to F15 and they’ve done wonders in upgrading the avionics, engines etc for their Su30 and future Su35 so why can’t USAF/USN do the same to their F15, F18 too but putting everything on the F35?

    • William C.

      The F-22 and F-35 aren’t about solely stealth either. There is no such thing as a “4.9 gen” fighter.

  • Roy

    We are prolonging the life of old (but good) equipment, meanwhile our competitors are coming up with new hardware daily. Interesting trend…

  • Raraavis

    Let’s just not fight any more Wars of Choice or get into someone else’s Civil War and we should be fine.

    Shile we are at it, we could close half of our foreign military bases and return home 2/3 of our troops stationed abroad and it would strengthen our stratigic position. As well as save us huge amounts of money and strengthen the US Economy.

    • blight_

      As long as we support Israel someone in the Middle East will hate us. End of story. We’re either all in or all out.

      • tiger

        Our presence is more about The Gulf sea lanes Than Israel today. The Saudi’s & Kuwaiti’s have No more love for Iran than Israel does.

    • tiger

      Ron Paul policy of ignore the world? Ended in 1898.

  • idahoguy101

    If Isreal did not exist the Arabs and Persians would just hate each other a bit more. It’s been that way for over three thousand years. Hating Isreal is a sixty year distraction.

  • RCDV

    Just sell them to the Philippines for their defense and make more F-22 and F-35 variants for our defense (USA) defense.

  • Britec09 on September 24, 2011 @2010intelcore It is a old O/S but as a tech your still come across the oiaertpng system a fair bit and loads of people still use Windows XP Home, Pro, MCE & 64bit


    The poor F-15s seem to have the life being squeezed out of them. When they first went into service, people thought it was going to be shoot down in a heartbeat. But it hasn’t. Really, what we need is to divert money from the F-35 program (not all of it, just say, a fourth) to making stealthified F-15. Boeing did it by themselves on the F-15SE, and with a relatively limited budget. So what happens if you add money and more technology to the mix? F-15s, I believe, are probably the most reliable aircraft in USAF service, or anywhere, for that matter. Sure, there was that issue of the mid-air break up of one, but still. F-15 FTW, and probably the best jet fighter ever to takeoff from a runway.