Tony Capaccio / Bloomberg – 2007-11-10 08:16:21
(November 5, 2007) — The US Air Force temporarily grounded its fleet of Boeing Co. F-15 fighter-bombers, including those flying missions in Afghanistan, the service said, citing “airworthiness concerns.”
The grounding of more than 700 aircraft, which includes F- 15E fighter-bombers that carry the largest US precision guided weapons, took place after the crash of a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C fighter on Nov. 2.
The Air Force said in a press release Sunday that it was suspending only “non-mission critical flight operations” while a safety board determines the cause. The service in a statement tonight said it broadened its actions to a worldwide grounding of F-15s that includes bases in England, Hawaii, Japan and the Middle East.
“All F-15 aircraft have been grounded, not just non-mission critical flight ops,” the Air Force said. “The grounding will remain in effect until conclusions are made” by the safety investigation, the service said. Aircraft assigned to Afghanistan and patrols over US airspace will be on ground alert in case of a major emergency, the service said.
The F-15, introduced in 1975, is no longer in production. The plane is the primary US air-to-air fighter, and the “E” model is capable of carrying the largest laser-guided bombs. The aircraft are part of the aerial arsenal of F-16 fighters, A-10 ground-attack aircraft, B-1B bombers, aircraft-carrier based F-18 fighters and drones supporting ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When they say all the F-15s are grounded that means America’s top-of-the-line fighter is not flying,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute.
Accomplish All Missions
“The F-15 is getting so old that we could endanger our global air superiority” because of advances in Russian and Chinese fighter planes, Thompson said.
Lieutenant General Gary North, who commands US Middle East aviation forces, said in a statement that in spite of the F-15 groundings the Air Force “will accomplish all assigned missions” in Afghanistan “with a variety of fighter, attack and bomber aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.”
The US is phasing out the F-15 with the new Lockheed Martin Corp. F-22 fighter. The Pentagon has limited the Air Force to buying 183 of the new aircraft instead of the more than 300 the service says it needs. The F-15 groundings and focus on the extent of its aging may buttress the case for more F-22s, Thompson said.
“This is going to force the Pentagon to rethink how many F- 22s it wants to replace the F-15,” Thompson said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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