With F-22 production slashed to just 180 from the 380 the Air Force says it needs, the service is scrambling to figure out how to fill the gap.The problem is that the current air superiority force of F-15C Eagles numbers more than 300 jets. To keep watch over the U.S. and South Korea plus provide enough jets for contigencies, the Air Force is going to have to fly some of its Eagles longer than expected.Considering that the last C-model Eagle rolled off McDonnell Douglas' St. Louis production line 20 years ago and that the last major update was the Multi-Stage Improvement Program (MSIP) in the mid-90s, maintaining the F-15C is going to require structural mods and upgrades.Aviation Week explains:A roadmap of options for the remaining F-15Cs and Strike Eagles is nearly complete, [according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley]. That document is expected to outline needed upgrades, such as active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, for some F-15Cs that would allow them to detect cruise missiles. Raytheon officials have been pitching upgrades to the existing radars as well as new systems for the F-15.Some folks in the Air Force figure, Hey, if we're going to tear these jets apart for major surgery, why not give them a ground-attack capability while we're at it? The idea is to turn old Eagles into 'Raptor Lites' (my term, not the Air Force's).Aviation Week outed this plan in its infancy as far back as 2004:To provide a "bridge" to the F/A-22's ground-attack capability, [then-Air Force Secretary James] Roche said the Air Force is considering upgrading part of its F-15C Eagle fleet to give the air-to-air fighter an improved ground-attack capability. Unlike the newer F-15E Strike Eagle, which performs air-to-ground as well as air-to-air missions, the F-15C Eagle saw little action in Iraq because there was almost no air-to-air combat."We found in the last conflict that we had C's flying around looking for Saddam Hussein's airplanes which never flew," he said. "Effectively, the C's were taking up ramp space."The Air Force is looking at adding weapons and improving the radars on some of its F-15Cs so they could do air-to-ground missions in future conflicts. The upgraded F-15Cs might be called "Golden Eagles."Air Force Times says as many as 200 F-15s could receive the modifications.
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