Here we go again...
After finding out that nobody was interested in its "stealthy" F-15SE Silent Eagle, Boeing is now promoting yet another F-15 variant, the F-15X "Super Eagle".
Those of you not familiar with the "Silent Eagle" can be forgiven. Boeing concocted the idea when it realized it was running out of fighters to build. The F-15SE was a valiant effort. Building upon the much loved F-15E Strike Eagle, the SE updated the platform with modern avionics, sensors, and even stealth improvements. Aimed towards current F-15 operators, the Silent Eagle promised a happy compromise between the F-35 bleeding edge stealth and the F-15's performance and reliability.
Unfortunately for Boeing, the Silent Eagle never found a buyer. The closest it came was South Korea's FX-III competition, when its competitors (Typhoon and F-35) failed to meet budget targets. In the end, South Korea decided on a reduced number of F-35s instead.
One can understand the ambivalence directed towards the F-15SE. As good the Eagle is, it is definitely not a stealthy plane. Even the F-15SE's marketing materials only state a "reduced" radar cross section on the front aspect only. The Silent Eagle proved that you cannot "add stealth" to an existing design. If a buyer insisted on stealth, the F-35 is still the only way to go.
|F-15SE: Never meant to be.|
So what makes the F-15X different than the F-15SE? Why would it not suffer the same fate as the Silent Eagle?
For one, the F-15X less risky than the F-15SE. Forgoing any promise of stealthiness, the F-15X is a simple update to the existing F-15C/D template. While a new radar, updated cockpit, and bigger payload are nothing to scoff at, they can be incorporated easily and cheaply.
Secondly, the F-15X is billed as a much needed replacement to the F-15C and D. Since it is not based on the Strike Eagle, the F-15X would have limited ground attack capability. This is a plus in the eyes of the Pentagon, which does not want to present a viable alternative to its big budget F-35 and B-21.
Third, the USAF would simply be getting a fighter it already knows and loves, but fresh off the assembly line with modern radar and avionics. The F-16V "Viper" has already demonstrated that this can be a good thing. Training is a snap, infrastructure is already in place, and capabilities are already well known. The Eagle is still among the best fighters in the air today, why mess with a good thing?
Possibly the most attractive feature of the F-15X will be its price. Boeing is offering it for under $100 million per unit using fixed-price terms. This offer (similar to the KC-46 Pegasus) leaves Boeing responsible for any potential cost overrun. Boeing is also promising a cost per flight hour roughly on par with the F-35 ($27,000/hr) and a whopping 20,000 hour service life. That is A LOT of fighter for the money.
So... The inevitable question:
F-15X for Canada?
Even dismissing Boeing's recent anti-Canadian practices, the answer is a resounding "NO".
Unfortunately, the F-15X is unsuitable for the same reasons the original model was. It is simply not a "multi-role" fighter. While the RCAF would have a serious upgrade to the CF-18 in terms of air-superiority, it would be giving up a great deal of strike capability in the process. That alone makes the F-15X a non-starter. The role requires a fighter that is just as adept at ground-pounding as it is interception.
It would be tempting to alter the RCAF's mission to focus more on air superiority, but this would be a hard sell given the CF-18's history of participating in high-profile coalition actions. Throughout its life, the CF-18 was far more likely to drop a bomb in anger than an air-to-air missile.
The F-15X is one of those fighters that works great as part of larger whole, but not so much by itself. The USAF plans to use these things primarily alongside the F-22, F-35, B-21, and the evergreen B-52; not exactly a "jack-of-all-trades" application.
If Canada had bought the F-15 instead of the F/A-18, then the F-15X would indeed be a tempting choice for sure. Instead, it will likely be one of those "what could have beens".