As the sparse details in the Pentagon’s 2020 budget proposal reach the media, there have been few surprises. The Air Force still intends to purchase eight new F-15 airframes (single-seat F-15EX variants) and although the final deal is still yet to be hashed out, it appears that first batch will run Uncle Sam just about the predicted price of $1,117,400,000. That translates to around $80 million per aircraft, plus the additional one-time expense of adding U.S. Air Force-specific hardware to the already-updated fighter and standing up the production line.
Of course, that program will still need Congressional approval, which may be challenging in the face of fierce political support for F-35 production and procurement. The F-35 is widely considered to be the most advanced fighter platform on the planet, but much of its support from lawmakers can actually be attributed to Lockheed Martin’s approach to dispersed production. With some element of F-35 production taking place in 46 out of America’s 50 states, finding any sort of political consensus for anything other than buying more F-35s will always be an uphill climb. Any vote in favor of curbing F-35 production would immediately be met by hard questions from constituents about the possibility of lost jobs.
So while the F-15EX’s future with the Air Force may still be up in the air (so to speak), another dated fighter platform has also found its way into the Pentagon’s pitch: just about $40 million to procure 22 new (old) F-5 Tiger IIs from the Swiss Air Force.
These fighters first took to the sky in their current iteration in the early 1970s, though their pedigree dates back to the first F-5A flights in the late 1950s. The jets have seen service in a wide variety of nations, from Vietnam to Venezuela, and have long served as aggressor aircraft for American fighters to train against. In fact, the fictional and fearsome “MiG-28” from the movie “Top Gun” was actually a dressed up Northrop F-5.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps already employ 44 F-5N/Fs that were purchased from the Swiss more than a decade ago, operating out of one Marine Corps and two Navy adversary squadrons. Adversary, or aggressor, squadrons are aircraft and aviators that specialize in serving as opposing forces in air-to-air combat training. In other words, these F-5s play the role of enemy fighters in dogfights, just as they’re depicted as doing in the aforementioned “Top Gun.”
At less than $40 million for the batch, the Navy is looking at spending just about $1.8 million per fighter — a low enough price tag that transporting these jets to the States, as the War Zone points out, could cost just as much as the purchase itself.