Happy Sunday, FighterSweep Fans! We hope you’re having an awesome weekend thus far and have had the chance to enjoy yourselves with some down time, or perhaps even some time in the cockpit!

Here’s some interesting news filtering out of the Defense IG “International Fighter Conference” held in London, England earlier this week: according to senior officials, the U.S. Air Force may be soliciting bids for up to 72 new aircraft based on legacy platforms. Boeing F-15s, Lockheed-Martin F-16s, or perhaps even Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets are under consideration.

Why the potential push for upgraded legacy platforms? The reason is budget. Money issues are in danger of pushing production rates for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter further to the right, creating a fairly sizable capability gap until production and money catch up to each other.

An F-16E Desert Falcon from the UAEAF turns out from a low approach at NAS JRB Fort Worth while undergoing testing at Lockheed's F-16 production facility
An F-16E Desert Falcon from the UAEAF turns out from a low approach at NAS JRB Fort Worth while undergoing testing at Lockheed’s F-16 production facility. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

The bottom line is affording 48 F-35s per year for the initial full-rate production cycle is putting the USAF in a financial bind. A potential CONPLAN is to have a “tiered” force, with approximately 300 Vipers and Eagles at the top of the food chain being modernized to augment our 5th-Generation assets in a near-peer fight, while other older, less-capable aircraft would be assigned to lower-intensity operations.

As we’ve talked about before, the plan to purchase upgraded “Legacy” platforms is due to the per-unit cost of the F-35 actually being lower at the end of the buy than such 4th-Generation fighters cost. But as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, and one such measure could mean seeing Block 60 F-16E/Fs, or perhaps even the F-16V in U.S. markings. The same goes for the highly-formidable F-15SA or “Advanced” Eagle.

A Boeing F-15SA loaded with sixteen air-to-air missiles and equipped with the most advanced radar and sensors currently available to the type. (Photo courtesy of Boeing Defense)
A Boeing F-15SA loaded with sixteen air-to-air missiles and equipped with the most advanced radar and sensors currently available to the type. (Photo courtesy of Boeing Defense)

According to industry officials, the Air Force has asked for pricing on the new F-15s and F-16s, to include SLEP (Service Life Extension Program) and future upgrade options. They’ve also made inquiries into fitting aircraft currently in service with new wings and totally rebuilt fuselages. The Navy is considering the same options for its fleet of Super Hornets, as the that service is also considering reducing the planned F-35C production rate as well–and for the same reason.

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We can guarantee that both Boeing Defense and Lockheed-Martin would be thrilled to sell the Air Force its latest Legacy designs for $80-100 Million per copy, so it really comes down to just how desperate the service is, and how deep its pockets are when it comes time to make the decision.

We’ll be watching this one closely, so stay tuned!

(Featured photo by Jonathan Derden)