The latest contracts for the F-35 and F-15EX fighter planes have been a topic of discussion recently, and they come with varying price tags. As of October 27, 2023, the cost of an F-15EX Eagle II is approximately $90 million for each aircraft in the second production batch. This is about $7.5 million more than the most recent price of the F-35A, according to sources in the defense industry.

The U.S. Air Force has confirmed the contract for the next three production batches of the Boeing-manufactured F-15EX, marking an important milestone for the program. However, the $90 million per unit cost in this contract, which is expected to increase in subsequent lots, has raised concerns among critics both within and outside the Air Force. They argue that the focus should be on acquiring more F-35s.

Under this new agreement, the cost of an F-15EX will begin at around $90 million for Lot 2, rise to $97 million for Lot 3, and then drop to $94 million for Lot 4, according to a spokesperson from the Air Force.

It’s worth noting that an initial deal for the first batch of F-15EX aircraft was set at $80.5 million each in November 2022, with two test aircraft already included. This means that the cost of the F-15EX per unit increases each year until the fourth batch is introduced, adjusted for inflation.

The new F-35 and F-15EX contracts
U.S. Air Force Maj. Kristin Wolfe, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team pilot and commander,

For comparison, the F-35A, the Air Force’s stealth fighter variant, costs an average of $82.5 million for the 15th, 16th, and 17th production lots, to be delivered between 2023 and 2025. Other F-35 variants, such as the F-35B with vertical takeoff and landing and the F-35C for aircraft carriers, have their own price points for these production lots.

The Air Force spokesperson explained that their agreement with Boeing for the F-15EX encompassed the second and third batches and involved undefined contract actions (UCAs), which allow the Pentagon to start work with dollar awards while specific issues like price are resolved. The fourth batch, however, was awarded without a UCA, making the cumulative value of the three lots approximately $3.9 billion for a total of 48 F-15EXs. The second and third batches consist of 12 fighters each, while the fourth batch comprises 24, with deliveries for this batch scheduled to begin in 2026.

Both Boeing and the F-35 program representatives highlighted the challenges posed by inflation in the industry but expressed their commitment to controlling costs and increasing production capacity to meet demand. They emphasized the value of their respective aircraft in providing advanced capabilities.

The new F-35 and F-15EX contracts

It’s important to note that the price figures for these aircraft can vary due to how manufacturers present costs, such as announcing jet bodies separately from engines. The Air Force clarified that the F-15EX flight cost covers various elements, including the fuselage, systems like EPAWSS (Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability Suite), engines, radars, and associated subsystems, as well as other costs related to production engineering and program management. The F-35 program calculates launch costs differently, including airframe, vehicle systems, mission systems, engines, and engineering change orders.

Ultimately, the costs for these two fighters are considered reasonable when taking into account their different production rates, capabilities, and intended use cases. The F-15EX is seen as suitable for national defense missions and offers a higher weapons-carrying capacity compared to the F-35, which prioritizes stealth. The two fighters are optimized for different roles and weapon systems.

Additionally, maintaining a diverse industrial base is crucial, as relying solely on the F-35 for new fighter deliveries could pose challenges for the Air Force, especially if they aim to increase fighter procurement in the near future.

In conclusion, while the costs of the F-15EX and F-35 vary, it’s important to consider the differences in their capabilities and roles, as well as the state of their respective programs and industrial bases. The discussion around these costs is influenced by a variety of factors, including production rates, intended use, and the need for diversity in the fighter fleet.