US defence major Boeing is considering offering its F-15EX fighter jets to the Indian Air Force and has sought a licence from the US authorities for its possible export to India. The move is seen as an attempt by Boeing to bag a $18 billion contract by IAF to procure 114 fighter jets.
India’s multi-billion-dollar programme to acquire new fighter jets could see another contender in F 15EX of Boeing, with the company seeking formal US permission to offer it to India. New Delhi is planning to produce 114 combat aircraft at more than $15 billion in partnership with a domestic company.
India has been strengthening its defense relations with the United States to address shared strategic interests in the APAC region by purchasing a number of U.S. weapon systems.
The F-15 is a legacy fighter manufactured in 1972 while the F-35 is a modern fifteen generation fighter. While the F-15 EX is a heavy upgraded air superiority fighter with enhanced weapons payload capacity and advanced avionics, the F-35 is VTOL fighter which can operate from aircraft carriers, helipads, and unpaved runways. The two fighters differ in the mission, roles, specifications, functions, and structural designs.
The F-15EX resembles the Su-30 MKI in terms of its size. It has a speed of Mach 2.5 and a combat range of 1,100 miles. Due to its size and specifications, the F-15EX fulfills a variety of roles like air superiority, interceptor, deep penetration strikes against enemy infrastructure, strategic bombing, and ground attack.
It can carry weapons like the ASAT, JASSM-ER, GBU-28 Bunker Buster laser-guided bomb, hypersonic cruise missiles, and AGM-84H SLAM ER. It can carry twenty-two air-to-air missiles and other heavy weapons, which is far more than the F-35’s payload capacity. In fact, it carries more firepower than any other fighter aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory. In the future it may carry cluster bombs armed with thousands of small attack drones, which have the capability to enter rooms at military bases and target individuals without any collateral damage.
The F-15 can be detected by the S-400 missile system from a range of 215 miles, while that range is much lower for the F-35 which is 21 miles The survivability rate in contested airspace for the F-15 EX is less than the F-35 in view of the modern air defense system. But even at 21 miles the F-35 is vulnerable because, unlike the Patriot systems, the S-400 system is geared towards targeting aircrafts and missiles both at higher and lower altitudes.
The F-15 family is battle tested in the Middle East. Today, Israel has deployed F-15 fighters for a possible strike against Iran, and six F-15s were used in Operation Opera where they provided air cover to the offensive F-16 to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak. In 1985, six Israeli F-15Ds and two F-15Cs flew over 1,200 miles from their bases across the Mediterranean Sea to strike the PLO’s headquarters located on the coast of Tunis, Tunisia. The F-15s have given the Israeli Air Force air supremacy over the Middle East.
The IAF will be operating against China and Pakistan. IAF requires fighters which have a deep penetration strike capability, the ability to loiter in the air for long hours, heavily equipped with weapons systems, and can carry conformal fuel tanks so that they don’t have to return to the airbase for refueling. Apart from the SU 30 MKI, this criterion is fulfilled by the F-15 EX. India, at present, does not require stealth fighters as the Pakistani air defenses are antiquated and porous.
The strength of any country is measured by the deterrent capacity of the air force which is manifested in the quality of fighters. The F-15EX has a potent deterrent capability as compared to its smaller cousin the F-35. Heavy fighters are deployed for strategic effect while fighters like the F-35 usually have a restricted role and fit in the naval aviation framework. The enemy may engage the smaller F-35 but will hesitate before deploying fighters against the more potent F-15EX.
The F-15EX fulfills the requirements of the IAF as it can carry an array of weapon systems including BVR missiles.
After the Balakot airstrikes against Pakistan, the PAF had responded by dispatching a pack of fighters to attack Indian military infrastructure on the border. To counter the pack the IAF’s Mig-21s had to close in on the approaching PAF fighters for a hit. If the IAF had earlier inducted F-15EX it could have launched a BVR missile and would have successfully downed PAF fighter thus deterring the PAF from launching any further attacks.
The F-15EX can be deployed against China and due to its heavy engine capacity as it can operate in the high altitudes of Himalayas. The SU 30 MKI are already deployed on the Chinese border in the Himalayas. The F-15EX can be launched from deep inside Indian territory from a protected base and can still strike deep inside Pakistan. It can also be configured to carry nuclear weapons.