According to a report, production errors and quality issues in Boeing’s F-15EX Eagle II program have pushed the fighter’s delivery schedule by at least six months, which could jeopardize its ability to meet key deadlines. A new report from the US Government Accountability Office.
Boeing originally expected to start delivering its last batch of F-15EX Eagle II fighters to the Air Force in December 2022, the federal watchdog wrote in its annual assessment of weapons systems, released Friday.
The GAO said that various production problems delayed the delivery of those six fighters in batch 1B. Those delays were primarily caused by what the office referred to as “supplier quality issues related to a critical component in the forward fuselage assembly that ensures flight safety.” The report gave no further details about that component but said the quality issues had been fixed by the time Boeing built the seventh and eighth F-15EXs.
Boeing also misdrilled the windshield mounting holes on four F-15EXs in this batch because the company used tools with a design error, the GAO said. Program officials told auditors that the problem was caught before more plans were badly drilled and that Boeing would re-drill the holes in the affected plans before starting production on the second batch of fighters.
Boeing declined to comment to Defense News on the quality issues noted in the GAO report, referring questions to the Air Force.
Boeing spokeswoman Deborah VanNierop confirmed Friday that the only F-15EXs delivered so far to the Air Force are the two test plans that were delivered in spring 2021, considered Lot 1A. More than two years later, the service is still waiting for the next batch of fighters.
The F-15EX is an upgraded version of the fourth-generation Eagle fighter, with advanced avionics like fly-by-wire controls and enhanced electronic warfare capabilities.
But the GAO said those problems are ripple effects on the F-15EX program. Each fighter in batch 2 is now delayed by two months as a result of problems with the previous batch, according to the report, and delivery times risk being further delayed.
The report noted that program officials thought Boeing could deliver all six F-15EXs from that batch between May and July at a rate of two per month. But Boeing and the Federal Defense Contract Management Agency warned that further delays could ensue.
Boeing’s analysis predicted that it would not be able to deliver the first fighter of this batch until July and the second in August. The Defense Contract Management Agency concluded that the last deliveries of the batch would probably not take place until September due to problems so far.
According to the GAO, if the delivery of these aircraft is delayed beyond July, it will be difficult to meet the planned timelines in 2023, including the declaration of initial operational capability in July and full production in October.
The GAO also warned that cybersecurity vulnerabilities remain the number one vulnerability in the F-15EX. The fighter’s design was derived from versions of the F-15 that were sold to foreign militaries, the GAO said and were not designed to meet the US Air Force’s own cybersecurity requirements.
Program officials said they were working through the Department of Defense’s six-phase process to assess cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the F-15EX, with the first four already completed or expected to be completed by early 2023. the program expects to complete the final two phases on the aircraft delivered in batch 1B.
The Air Force plans to purchase 104 F-15EXs and has requested funding to purchase 24 of these fighters in the proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.
Last year, the Air Force decided to reduce the F-15EX acquisition in the FY23 budget from the original 144 to 80. The goal was to free up funds for fighter jet acquisition. According to the GAO, the goal was to free up funds for higher-priority programs.
The watchdog warned that a lack of sufficient funds for the F-15EX acquisition could see the program scaled back slightly below the already reduced 80. A June 2022 cost estimate showed that the Air Force would not have enough money for 80 fighters and could only buy 78.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told a March budget briefing that the service had decided to partially reverse its decision to reduce F-15EX acquisition to 80, bringing it back to 104.