The U.S. Air Force is continuing to modernize its future fighter force, and part of that evolution includes the sunset of the F-15C Eagle division of the United States Air Force Weapons School Weapons Instructor Course. The single-seat F-15C aircraft entered the U.S. Air Force inventory in 1979, and weapons officers have been trained on the aircraft’s tactics at the Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base since 1978. Those years of tradition came to an end on Dec. 8, as the last cadre of students and instructors flew the final defensive counter-air vul for Weapons Instructor Course 21-B. At the Air Force Association annual Air, Space, and Cyber Conference in September, Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command discussed the Air Force’s future fighter roadmap.
“I love the F-15C. We always brag about the record of 104 to zero, and that is predominately based on the fact that we have the air superiority fighter. I don’t want it to die, but we have to move on because if we continue to rest on our laurels, it’s going to make the fight that much harder for us,” Maj. Rodolfo Cruz said. Cruz is the 433rd Weapons Squadron director of operations and one of the last five WIC instructors for the F-15C. He graduated as part of class 18-A and became an instructor in 2019. They took a different approach when teaching this last iteration of students because as the student’s transition, they will likely be in their jobs a bit longer. After all, there will be no subsequent students to replace them.
Maj. Michael Tope, the WIC 21-B F-15C class leader, said he and his fellow F-15C WPS graduates are prepared to take on the new leadership role as the airframe’s last Weapons School graduates. “We are having to pivot as an Air Force. We train against the current threats and to be ready in case we need to employ. The baseline threat has changed so much, and the ranges at which people are shooting and dying in air-to-air war have increased so significantly over the last 20 years it is pretty incredible. The F-15 has some advances, but it’s still the F-15 from the 1970s in a lot of ways. That speaks to the capabilities of the maintainers and the people who have worked on the jets, as well as the instructors who have developed different tactics, ”he added.
The F-15 has some advances, but it’s still the F-15 from the 1970s in a lot of ways. The U.S. Air Force from seven different platforms toward four plus one. The U.S. Air Force must keep the F-22 (Raptor) dominant for air superiority in a highly contested environment and facilitate a hot handover with our Next Generation Air Dominance capability. The F-35 Lightning II will be the cornerstone of the contested environment force, with the F-15E and EX providing the big range, big weapons, and disruptive fifth-gen avionics and sensors to complement the F-35. The newest F-16 Fighting Falcons will remain an affordable capacity fighter, and the A-10 Thunderbolt II will be the “plus one.”
At Nellis AFB, the Eagle Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 57th Wing Maintenance Group, maintains 16 F-15Cs, which are assigned to the 53rd and 57th Wings. The jets will be relocated to several locations. Some will be reassigned to various Guard units or Eglin AFB, Florida, for test missions. Others will be sent to a depot for refurbishing or to a boneyard in Arizona. Following WPS 21-B, Eagle AMU will deactivate, and maintainers will be assigned locally or will be relocated to meet the needs of the Air Force. Cruz and several other F-15C instructors plan to transition to the Air National Guard, while Tope is going to Eglin AFB to work with the F-15EX test and evaluation program.
As the F-15C program sunsets at Nellis AFB, the F-15EX fighter program will continue to make advancements. Operational test missions were conducted at Nellis AFB in October, and additional testing is anticipated at the base in the future. The F-15EX is a ready-now replacement for the F-15C that includes a best-in-class payload, range, and speed. Designed to deliver value to the U.S. Air Force, the F-15EX will be a backbone fighter for the service – not just today, but for the next several decades. Boeing engineers created hundreds of digital aircraft before cutting any metal and flew thousands of hours before our first test flight. The result is an aircraft with a digital backbone, open system architecture, and the capacity to carry hypersonic weapons, making it a key element of the U.S. Air Force’s tactical fighter fleet.