Air Force Grounds F-15s

The United States Air force has indefinitely grounded its fleet of F-15s after a recent accident.

The US Air Force has grounded all its F-15 fighter planes after an accident in Missouri triggered concerns about the ageing fleet, officials said Tuesday. The decision comes after Japan on Sunday grounded its F-15 fleet after it was informed by US forces that an Air National Guard F-15 fighter jet had crashed.

“The cause of that accident is still under investigation,” the US Air Force said in a statement. “Preliminary findings indicate that a possible structural failure of the aircraft may have occurred. The suspension of flight operations is a precautionary measure.”

The Air Force has more than 700 F-15s in its fleet. But until further notice, they will only be used for emergency missions in Iraq or Afghanistan, while F-16s will be used for all routine operations. “They have some concerns about structural issues with the F-15 that went down,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. “The Air Force is looking at its operational requirements and where they have the newer aircraft and are making some of those available for missions while they take a look at the F-15 and see if they have a more systemic problem throughout the fleet,” said Whitman. “They will still be flying F-15 in support of troops and when there are no other aircraft available.”

The plane that crashed on Friday was a 27-year-old F-15C built in Hazelwood, Missouri.

Around 500 of the total F-15 fleet are older models with an average age of around 25 years, Air Force spokesman Cristin Marposon told AFP. There are also around 223 of the later F-15E models, which are mostly the ones used in Iraq.

The Air Force is trying to replace its oldest F-15s with the F-22 Raptor made by Lockheed Martin, but due to budgetary constraints it has so far only been able to purchase half of the aircraft it has asked for. The US Congress has given approval for the Air Force to purchase 183 F-22s, although military officials have said they need 381 aircraft. A total of 97 F-22s have already been integrated into the fleet. But Friday’s accident may help step up the replacement program.

It’s crazy to still be flying fighter jets that are older than their pilots. That doesn’t mean, however, that we need to replace them all with ridiculously expensive F-22s. Much cheaper new F-15s would more than fill the need in most cases. They’re still available:

The US Air Force stopped buying F-15s in 2004, but Boeing has continued to produce them for clients in South Korea and Singapore, which ordered 12 new craft at the end of 2005.

The F-22 was designed to fight a Cold War mission that no longer exists. Potential adversaries are improving their fleet with Russian-made jets, so we need upgrades. It’s doubtful, though, that we need a fleet of F-22s and F-35s.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    Back in my naval aviation days (crew member, not pilot), I was flying in airplanes (EA-3B Skywarriors) older than the F-15s are now, and we were bouncing them off of carrier decks. They also weighed 73,000 pounds, almost twice that of any other carrier-borne aircraft.

    Just because the planes are pushing 30 doesn’t make them unusable. Sure, they’re more likely to develop problems as they get older, but they’re not bad planes just because of their age. That’s what preventive maintenance is designed to combat.

  2. Bob says:

    The Air Force wants its new F-22, with its bells & whistles, at a cost of $250 million/plane. The new AF budget for next year has no money for C-17 cargo plane but F-22 fully funded. Problem has become its single minded focus on F-22 program has meant shortchanging the rest of its fleet. It probably needs to manage its fighter & cargo fleet more like Navy manages their carriers. And, of course, then there’s the tanker replacement mess…

  3. If the Air Corps had flown the Spad 13, adopted in World War One, as long as the F-15, it would have been flying them at the beginning of the Korean War.

  4. James Joyner says:

    If the Air Corps had flown the Spad 13, adopted in World War One, as long as the F-15, it would have been flying them at the beginning of the Korean War.

    Quite so. Of course, that was in the infancy of military aviation — indeed, aviation, period. Advances are much more incremental now and our enemies aren’t in any danger of surpassing us.

    It makes sense to do R&D and even to acquire some next generation planes. It’s silly to use a Ferrari as a daily commuter, though.

  5. anjin-san says:

    due to budgetary constraints

    In other words, Bush’s money pit in Iraq is compromising national security…

  6. tylerh says:

    The V-22 kept falling out of the sky, but the Pentagon kept pouring more millions into that program.

    B52’s have fallen out of the sky, in one case explicitly because of structural failure (over Kuwait), but we don’t hear about a need to ground that fleet, which is 20 years older than the F-15.

    Likewise, the tanker fleet is as as old as the B-52s and is kept flying.

    Yet, One F-15 has trouble, out of 500, and they ground the entire fleet?

    This just stinks. Any way we can TDY the Air Force procurement office to Karbala to focuse their attention on what’s important?