Ever since news first broke that the Air Force was being pressured by Pentagon officials to procure new F-15 airframes in 2020, pundits, lawmakers and defense officials alike have protested in the name of America’s most advanced fighter platform, the F-35. Now, with the Air Force’s F-35 order looking like it will be short of projections, some are sure to cry foul.

The F-35 is objectively a more capable multi-function platform than the air superiority-specific F-15X, thanks to its advanced sensor suite and stealth design. Still, the branch’s need to maintain fourth-generation platforms throughout the 2030s has made Boeing’s F-15X a promising solution to the problems presented by America’s long-in-the-tooth fleets of F-15s. The Department of Defense (DoD), Air Force, and even Lockheed Martin officials have repeatedly stated that F-15X purchases will not have any effect on F-35 procurement, but according to reports, the 2020 budget will only request 78 new F-35s. That’s six fewer than previously planned.

Air Force plans to order fewer F-35s in 2020, is the F-15X to blame?
Boeing F-15SA

With a dozen new F-15X’s said to be included in the same budget request, it seems likely the drop in F-35 orders will ruffle some feathers. However, according to Pat Shanahan, acting Defense Secretary (and notably, a former Boeing executive), the drop in F-35s has nothing to do with the new (old) jets, but rather with continuing concerns regarding how incredibly expensive the F-35 is to operate.

“What’s really important for people to always take away is I’ve found the aircraft — the F-35 as a product, its capability and performance — to be eye-watering. It is high, high-performing — no ambiguity — no ifs, ands or buts,” Shanahan said, seemingly attempting to assuage previous claims that he’s been overly critical of the platform.