The same shift seems to be occurring within the Pentagon now with the release of the Trump Administration’s 2020 budget requesting an increase in funding for the F-15X fighter jet. Proponents of the F-35 fighter worry that any new F-15X procurement will create a future competition for resources with the previously requested F-35s. Unfortunately, this is bound to spark an unnecessary political battle, as the Air Force is currently committed to purchasing both aircraft.
As a former staffer at the Department of Defense who dealt with procurement issues, I understand the need for some diversity when equipping our armed forces for differing threats. There has always been a tug of war between providing what the Pentagon requests versus what Congress says it needs, mostly because of politics. Armaments production is notoriously peppered throughout many legislative districts so as to exert maximum pressure on fund authorizers and appropriators, many times at the expense of the advice of strategists and operators. That said, while it is difficult to call a $750Bdefense budget a “resource-constrained environment” with a straight face, such expense falls in line with the current national security strategy (NSS), regardless of how one might feel about its efficacy.
The F-15X, a new platform drawing heavily from the traditional (and familiar) F-15, theoretically would be more marketable to the international community given the presumably lower threshold with respect to tech release issues and lower cost per flight hour (CPFH). These are two of the biggest issues when attempting to integrate a platform into the U.S. national security strategy while simultaneously trying to lessen the burden of development/integration on the Pentagon by cost sharing with international customers. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s previous purchase of F-15s provides a robust follow-on potential for future upgrades and sales. Israel and Japan also fly the F-15, two partners in volatile regions that would benefit from continued service of the platform in the areas of interoperability, acquisition and cross-servicing capabilities, and of course, the potential for future upgrades and sales.
The F-15X touts itself as a wholly upgraded version of a reliable, versatile, and familiar platform. What that means to the war-fighter is that “maintenance facilities, hangars and supply chains would not need to be changed, and pilots would only need brief training with new electronics systems; these conversions could take place immediately and without loss of readiness,” says George Landrith of Frontiers of Freedom, an educational foundation promoting strong defense.
Greg Archetto was a foreign affairs officer at the Bureau of Political Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and a security assistance officer at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Office of Secretary of Defense. He was also foreign policy advisor to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He has a BA in Political Science from Rowan University, MA in Public Policy from Rutgers University, and an MA in National Security/Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.