“Tens of Billions” of Dollars on the Line in F-15 Upgrades Project

By Rich Smith, Motley Fool:

Judging from his tweets, President-elect Donald Trump thinks the Pentagon would be well advised to defer a few F-35 fighter jet purchases from Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) and invest in some cheaper fighters from Boeing (NYSE:BA) instead — and the Air Force may agree with him.

Earlier this week, I reviewed for you the soon-to-be-president’s musings about a potential “comparable F-18 Super Hornet” that Boeing might build. Granted, over at the Air Force, they don’t have a lot of use for Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet (which is, after all, a Navy and Marine Corps plane). But they are awfully fond of Boeing’s F-15 Eagle fighter … which is kind of a shame.

Because about half of those planes may be forced to retire.

Retirement age for warplanes

According to data from FlightGlobal’s World Air Forces 2016 report, the U.S. Air Force currently has 416 F-15 fighters (models C through E) in its inventory. More than 180 of these are recent-model F-15Es. But Defense One reports that 235 of the planes are older F-15C and D models.

Now here’s the problem: The basic F-15 design has been flying since the 1970s, and some of these C- and D-variant warbirds are getting a bit long in the beak, and need to be either upgraded or retired. To keep them flying for their full hoped-for life spans (which won’t run out for another 25 years), the Air Force says it must spend at least $12 billion (Defense One estimates the cost at “tens of billions of dollars”) to refurbish the F-15 fleet with upgraded electronics, new wings, bigger fuel tanks, and other structural replacements.

Even these upgrades won’t succeed in transforming a fourth-generation F-15 into a stealthy fifth-generation combat jet, of course. But they’d increase the plane’s range, endurance, lethality — and life span. And over at Boeing, they’re all for the idea. Steve Parker, Boeing’s vice president of F-15 programs, contends that teaming up upgraded F-15s with stealthy fifth-generation F-22 fighters from Lockheed Martin would enable the Air Force to put a lot of metal in the air, and ensure air superiority “into the 2040s.”

But at what cost?

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