The United States Air Force recently announced it would seek funding to procure a dozen new F-15X fighter jets as a part of its 2020 budget proposal, a move the branch was pushed toward by Pentagon officials, including the now-acting Defense Secretary and former Boeing executive, Patrick Shanahan.

Shanahan’s ties to Boeing, the company that produces F-15s, has been the subject of much speculation regarding the decision to buy new old jets, and media pundits have repeatedly questioned the need for a fourth-generation fighter as America continues to develop a fleet of fifth-generation aircraft. Even Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has been quoted as saying the conflicts of the future will all require fifth-generation fighters, so what purpose would buying more fourth-gen aircraft possibly serve?

The thing is, there are actually quite a few arguments that can be made in the F-15X’s favor — most of which have been ignored by outlets that default to picking apart new initiatives as a means to produce conflict in their coverage. While purchasing the F-15X may not be a no-brainer, there are certainly some advantages to fielding a new batch of America’s old air superiority workhorse. It’s especially true regarding the media, and even Heather Wilson’s persistence in comparing the F-15 to America’s new show pony, the F-35.

The F-15X and F-35 would not serve in the same combat roles

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was built on compromise. While it is an extremely capable aircraft with potential far exceeding the combat operations it has participated in thus far, the “multi-role” part of the F-35’s design makes it a jack of all trades and a master of none. The F-35 was built to do a number of things with great effect, but in order to balance those mission requirements, the F-35 really isn’t the fighter America would want to lean on in a large-scale airborne conflict. While the F-35 is a capable long-range sniper, thanks to its advanced on-board sensor suite, air-to-air engagements are best left to the aircraft the U.S. Air Force employs specifically for that job: the F-22, and of course, the F-15.

Why would the Air Force want to buy new F-15s in the era of stealth fighters?
F-22s fly alongside an F-15 (USAF)

Take each aircraft‘s top speed, for instance. The F-35, which was built with more of an air-to-ground engagement strategy in mind, tops out at around Mach 1.6, or a bit under 1,230 miles per hour. The much older F-15’s top speed is better than 600 miles per hour faster. While the F-35 enjoys a stealth advantage, the F-15 was purpose-built to engage with enemy aircraft and is exceedingly good at it. That’s why the U.S. Air Force continues to maintain a sizable fleet of F-15s in the first place. There simply aren’t enough F-22 Raptors to go around and the F-35 wasn’t designed to do the same job.

America will be using F-15s for years to come anyway

Because the F-15X procurement plan would mean purchasing brand new F-15 air frames, the argument has sometimes been misrepresented as a decision to go back to employing fourth-generation fighters in situations that would otherwise fall to the F-35. That simply isn’t the case. With no set retirement date for the F-15 and years before the F-35 has been produced in sufficient numbers to eliminate America’s reliance on legacy air frames, the question isn’t between operating new F-15s or new F-35s — it’s really between operating new F-15s or old F-15s.