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    The U.S. Air Force’s High-Stakes Gamble: Embracing the F-15EX Despite the Stealth Era

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    In a landscape where the stealth of fifth-generation fighters like the F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor dominates the skies, the U.S. Air Force’s decision to introduce the F-15EX Eagle II into its fleet has raised eyebrows.

    Without the low observable capabilities of its stealthy counterparts, the F-15EX represents a seemingly counterintuitive addition—a fourth-generation aircraft in an era where invisibility in the air is often touted as the ultimate advantage.

    But is this a simple case of nostalgia over innovation, or is there a tactical rationale behind this high-stakes gamble?

    The F-15EX Eagle II, the latest iteration of the venerable F-15 series, landed at the Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, on June 5, 2024.

    The arrival of the first operational F-15EX into the 142nd Wing marks a milestone, signaling a commitment to a modernized but non-stealthy platform.

    The F-15EX has been criticized for being a costly step backward, especially when compared to the F-35’s cutting-edge systems.

    “The F-35 Lightning II is basically a new iPhone, whereas the F-15EX Eagle II is a Blackberry,” expressed one commentator, highlighting the perceived technological gap.

    Despite this, the F-15EX boasts impressive upgrades such as increased payload capacity, fly-by-wire controls, a digital cockpit, advanced sensors and radars, and electronic warfare capabilities.

    It’s undeniable that the F-15EX, priced at a staggering $90 million per unit, lacks the stealth features many expected to be standard in contemporary U.S. fighters.

    Critics suggest that for the amount spent on the F-15EX, the Air Force might have been better off restarting production of the F-22 Raptor—described as the “Michael Jordan of warplanes” for its unrivaled air superiority.

    However, the F-15EX serves a specific role.

    It is equipped for airbase defense, enforcing no-fly zones, and deploying standoff weapons, missions.

    The U.S. Air Force sees the F-15EX as a complementary asset, filling in the gaps left by the truncated F-22 fleet and the delayed F-35 program.

    The F-15EX might be perceived as a “stop-gap,” but it remains one of the most advanced versions of the F-15 platform.

    The upgrades it includes—such as AESA radar, IRST, and EPAWSS systems—extend its service life to 20,000 hours, ensuring the USAF maintains a robust air superiority capability.

    Relevant articles:
    The U.S. Air Force’s F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Nightmare Has Begun, The National Interest
    15EX Eagle II lands at Portland Air National Guard Base, AeroTime
    The F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Has One ‘Flaw’ That Can’t Ever Be Fixed, The National Interest
    These are the wild F-15 variants we could have gotten, Sandboxx

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