July 14 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion contract -- with a ceiling of nearly $23 billion -- to build the first lot of eight F-15EX fighter jets.
The F-15EX is the newest version of a tactical fighter aircraft the Air Force has used since 1976, and is expected to replace the service's oldest F-15C/Ds, the Air Force said on Monday.
"The F-15EX is the most advanced version of the F-15 ever built, due in large part to its digital backbone," said Lori Schneider, Boeing F-15EX program manager, in a press statement. "Its unmatched range, price and best-in-class payload capacity make the F-15EX an attractive choice for the U.S. Air Force."
Based on the F-15QA fighters Boeing has produced for Qatar's military, the newer plane is designed to handle a crew of up to two people. It includes the Eagle Passive Active Warning and Survivability System and the Suite 9.1 Operational Flight Program software.
The aircraft also carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class and can launch hypersonic weapons that weigh up to 7,000 pounds and are up to 22 feet long, according to Boeing.
The first two aircraft are under construction at the Boeing F-15 production facility in St. Louis, the manufacturer said this week, and the jets are scheduled for delivery in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021.
Future plans call for as many as 144 F-15EX aircraft, according to Boeing, with the Air Force acknowledging it plans to purchase 76 of the new model fighters during the current five-year Future Years Defense Program.
"The F-15EX is the most affordable and immediate way to refresh the capacity and update the capabilities provided by our aging F-15C/D fleets," said Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command. "The F-15EX is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line."
According to the Air Force, the first eight F-15EX aircraft will be fielded at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
At the end of June, General Electric was awarded $101.3 million to produce engines for F-15EX aircraft.