In the US Air Force (USAF) 2020 Budget announced by US President Donald Trump last week, the USAF outlined its intentions to buy eight Boeing F-15EX to replace its aging F-15Cs, despite the fact it is continuing to procure 48 new F-35 aircraft each year from Lockheed Martin.

The USAF wrote in the plan: “The Air Force remains committed to the F-35 with its game-changing technology and this FY 2020 budget continues the procurement of 48 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters each year.

“However, to remain ready to perform in all domains, across the spectrum of conflict, this budget proposes procurement of 8 F-15EX aircraft to replace aging F-15Cs and continues modernisation of F-22A, F-15, and F-16 aircraft.”

The 2019 budget noted that the USAF were looking to procure 54 F-35 aircraft each year through from 2021 to 2023 but, due to several issues with delivering the programme thus far, it is now ordering 48 per year, while the number of F-15EX in its arsenal is expected to increase from eight in 2020 to 18 each year through to 2024.

The USAF wrote: “Additionally, to maintain our readiness to counter our adversaries, this budget proposes to replace aging F-15C’s with a modernised successor by purchasing the F-15EX to complement fifth generation capabilities across a full range of operational challenges.”

A week before the release of the budget, Bloomberg reported that the US DoD was reducing its number of F-35 aircraft from 84 to 78. This further reduction to 48 aircraft has been interpreted as an indication of the USAF’s increasing disappointment with the programme.

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However, the USAF continues to invest in support projects for the F-35.

The USAF said in the budget: “A new alert shelter ($20m) at Truax Field, Wisconsin will allow the Guard to provide necessary combatant command support to NORTHCOM and a new F-35 flight simulator facility ($14m) at the same location furthers progress to operate F-35s at that location.”

F-15’s EW upgrade

The USAF is also looking to upgrade its F-15 aircraft. One of the problems with the F-15 is its Tactical Electronic Warfare System (TEWS) self-protection suite that is “functionally obsolete”, according to the plan. The TEWS system was designed using 1970s analogue technology, which is becoming more difficult to use and more expensive to support.

Under the modernisation effort, the TEWS will be replaced with the F-15 Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), an advanced digital electronic warfare system which is capable of detection, identification, and disruption of modern electronic warfare threats.

The USAF wrote: “This upgrade will significantly improve the F-15’s capability to autonomously and automatically detect, identify and locate radio frequency (RF) threats, as well as provide the ability to deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt and defeat RF and electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) threat systems in contested and unplanned operations within highly contested environments through 2040.”