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.

  • 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.

  • 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….

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.