Senators are urging Trump to stick with F-35s as the US eyes buying new souped-up F-15 fighter jets

BoeingBoeing’s F-15X concept.
  • The US Air Force will reportedly ask for eight new Boeing F-15 fighter jets in its next budget request, and Republican senators are already worried this could mean bad things for the US’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  • Trump has long been sceptical of F-35s, and the Air Force is now looking to buy new F-15s that outperform the F-35 in some metrics to bolster their fleet.
  • Republican senators urged Trump to keep buying only F-35s, but there’s some evidence that the F-15s could offer the US an edge in combat.
  • The Air Force chief of staff said not to think of the F-15s buy as a trade-off against F-35s, but as a complement to them.

The US Air Force will reportedly ask for eight new Boeing F-15 fighter jets in its next budget request, and Republican senators are already worried this could mean bad things for the US’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

President Donald Trump has long come across as sceptical of the F-35 and its promises to fool enemy radar and revolutionise aerial combat.

Boeing has responded by offering up an improved crop of old-school dogfighter jets, and the Air Force is interested,Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

Republican Sens. John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Susan Collins, Marco Rubio, and Lisa Murkowski sent a letter to Trump warning against buying new F-15s from Boeing, saying it risked US national security by taking away from F-35 buys.

Before even taking office, Trump tweeted that the “tremendous cost” of the F-35, the most expensive weapons program in history, had caused him to look at Boeing.

Now, Boeing has offered up an F-15X, or a 21st-century restart of the Cold War-era fighter jet. Boeing’s F-15 was one of the fastest jets ever built and ruled the skies as the US’s top air-superiority fighter for decades until the F-22 came online.

Today, Boeing promises a new F-15 with better computers and avionics, and an incredible capacity for 12 air-to-air missiles. By contrast, the F-35 has a shorter range and can carry a maximum of only four air-to-air missiles in a stealth configuration.

Read more: F-35s train in air-combat ‘beast mode’ in the Pacific after China deploys ‘carrier-killer’ missiles

But the senators, citing top US Air Force brass, said the US needs F-35s and can’t risk buying older, less-survivable jets.

F-35s or bust?

F 35US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Tyler J. BolkenAn F-35 Lightning II.

“We are extremely concerned that, over the last few years, the DoD has underfunded the F-35 Program and relied on Congress to fund increases in production, sustainment, and modernisation. In order to meet the overmatch and lethality goals laid out in the National Security Strategy, the DoD needs to make these investments in the F-35 to affordably deliver and operate this fifth-generation fighter fleet. The F-35 is the most affordable, lethal, and survivable air dominance fighter, and now is the time to double down on the program,” the senators wrote.

Read more: Trump’s new Pentagon chief reportedly hates the F-35 – here’s what the US could have made instead

Essentially, the senators demanded Trump fully fund the F-35 to get Lockheed Martin, the jet’s builder and Boeing’s chief rival, to step up production to the full rate, at which point the F-35 could cost as little as $US80 million apiece.

“New versions of old F-15s designed in the 1970s-1980s cannot survive against the newest Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighter and surface to air missile threats, not to mention rapidly developing future threats,” the lawmakers wrote.

Trump has been clear that the US needs to build up its military to counter near-peer threats such as China and Russia, rather than old foes such as Middle Eastern insurgents, which the US military prefers to fight with stealth aircraft.

As a non-stealth jet, the F-15 doesn’t fit the working hypothesis of how to best kick down Moscow’s or Beijing’s door, but it may well serve a purpose in a great power war.

F-15s to the rescue?

F 22 and F 15US Air ForceThe US flies F-15s and F-22s for air superiority but has only 177 working F-22s compared with nearly 500 F-15s.

The senators cited a price of $US100 million per new F-15, but that figure may be well off. The Drive reported that the price of the F-15, which Boeing still produces for international customers, could drop to below any cost ever projected for the F-15.

Also, the senators seem out of touch with what Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein told Defence News about the new F-15s.

Read more: Watch an F-35 up close training in ‘beast mode’ for air support and all out war

“They complement each other,” he said of the two jets. “They each make each other better.”

“An F-15 will never be an F-35. Never. But I need capacity,” he continued.

Additionally, the new F-15s, with their tremendous capacity to carry bombs, may one day work as bomb trucks for the F-35, which can generate and transmit targeting data to other jets without ruining its stealth shape by opening the bomb bays.

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