Reports have come down that the Air Force is buying fewer F-35s and will purchase more of the F-15X. The Air Force is planning on acquiring 48 F-35s next year, which is far fewer than the 72 per year they had slated. They plan to plug the shortfall with the F15X, and this isn’t without debate.
Many in the top leadership opposed the purchase of the F-15Xs. They say the planes are unable to penetrate the air defenses of modern states that employ systems like the Russian-made S-400 missiles, or compete with the Chinese J-20 and other advanced fighters. The F-35 is no stranger to controversy. It has faced numerous technical problems, cost overruns, and continues to be rather expensive to maintain.
Yet there is a good argument to make in favor of the F-15X. It replaces the older variants and, in the process, reduces the operating cost from $44,000 to $27,000 per hour. Because it’s an upgrade to an existing plane it can be integrated into the current force structure and be maintained at lower cost than the F-35s. In contrast, as many as half of the F-35s have been grounded at one point due to a lack of spare parts and overactive sensors.
The plane might not be able to penetrate defenses, but it can quickly reach cruising speed. Combined with its lower operating cost it would make the F-15X good for air defense patrols. They could also provide additional firepower after air defenses have been degraded by the F-35s, and they could defend airspace in conjunction with surface-to-air missiles which would free up F-35s for other missions.
As with all platforms there are various debates and controversies, but this seems like a decent measure to get more planes in the air to work in conjunction with a smaller number of more-advanced planes.