Air National Guard gets service’s first combat-ready F-15EX

Air National Guard gets service’s first combat-ready F-15EX

The Air Force on June 5 received its first combat-ready F-15EX Eagle II fighter.

The Boeing-made jet was flown from the company’s facility in St. Louis, Missouri, where it was built, to Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon.

It is the first of 18 F-15EXs to be completed at the St. Louis factory that will be assigned to the Air National Guard’s 142nd Wing in Portland, and the first of nearly 100 operational F-15EXs expected to be delivered to the Air Force overall.

Wing Commander Col. Michael Kosderka said in a video the Air Force posted online that it is unusual for the Air National Guard to receive a new weapon system before active duty units. But he said the skill of the 142nd’s pilots, maintainers, fuelers and logisticians made the wing the ideal to be the first to fly operational Eagle IIs.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that an Air National Guard base got a major weapon system before the active component,” Kosderka said. “It’s a super big deal.”

Maj. Calvin “Knife” Conner and Maj. Brandon “Wiggles” Wigton, of the 142nd Wing’s 123rd Fighter Squadron, flew the two-seater fighter jet to Oregon. Air National Guard deputy director Maj. Gen. Duke Pirak attended the jet’s departure from the St. Louis factory.

“We’re here to protect the Pacific Northwest with our 24/7 alert mission,” Kosderka said. “We’re also here to now get this new weapon system that will allow us to participate and survive in major combat operations.”

Boeing said the Air Force’s second operational F-15EX will fly out to Portland in the next few weeks, completing the first production lot of the jet. Boeing had previously delivered six test F-15EXs starting in 2021.

The Air Force is now planning to buy 98 F-15EXs, an updated version of the fourth-generation F-15 with advanced avionics such as fly-by-wire controls and improved electronic warfare capabilities. Boeing said it is now building about three jets every two months, and wants to pick up the pace to two per month beginning in 2025. The second lot of jets will start being delivered in late 2024.

The F-15EX will replace some F-15C and D-model jets as the Air Force retires the older fighters. But the Air Force’s proposed budget for fiscal 2025 would only buy 18 F-15EXs, six fewer than originally expected, and would halt further purchases in subsequent years.

The House’s proposed 2025 defense policy bill would reverse the decision to cap the F-15EX line. Instead, it would add $271 million to buy 24 more F-15EXs in 2026 and keep the production line going.

Kosderka said his first impression of the jet was that while it looks almost identical to its predecessor, its engines were quieter than previous versions of the F-15. He said hundreds of people from around the base turned out to see the jet arrive.

“When they popped the canopy open [after landing], the cheers, the clapping, it’s incredibly exciting,” Kosderka said.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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