As the Israel Air Force continues to consider replacements for its aging fighter aircraft, the US Air Force officially placed an order for its first lot of eight F-15EX fighter jets, awarding Boeing a contract of nearly $1.2 billion.According to a statement by the USAF, the contract provides for the design, development, integration, manufacturing, testing, verification, certification, delivery, sustainment and modification of F-15EX aircraft, including spare parts, support equipment, training materials, technical data and technical support. The F-15EX is set to replace the USAF’s oldest F-15C/Ds. The first two jets will be delivered to the USAF early next year and the other six will be delivered in 2023. All eight will initially be based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for testing.The USAF said that it has requested 12 F-15EX in the fiscal year 2021 budget and plans to purchase a total of 76 over the five-year Future Years Defense Program.Future plans call for as many as 144 aircraft with a ceiling value of nearly $23b., Boeing said.“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 Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, adding that it “is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line.”A two-seat fighter plane, the F-15EX can carry more weapons than any other fighter in its class, and can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long (6.7 meters) and weighing up to 7,000 pounds (3,175 kg.), Boeing said.Pilots and mechanics currently operating the legacy F-15s will be able to transition to the F-15EX in a matter of days as opposed to years, and with no additional manpower and little to no infrastructure changes.The award to Boeing comes as the IAF is still contemplating whether to procure another squadron of F-35s manufactured by Lockheed Martin or a squadron of F-15IAs.Though the deal will be funded with US defense aid, a total of $38b. over the coming decade, the contract is expected to lower the cost of F-15IAs.Meanwhile, the US State Department approved the sale of 105 F-35 fighters and related equipment to Japan in a deal also worth an estimated $23b., as the country moves to strengthen its naval strike capabilities.In a statement, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Japan requested 63 of the traditional F-35A conventional take-off-and-landing aircraft and 42 of the F-35B short-take-off-and-landing aircraft for its aircraft carriers.The IAF currently has 20 F-35i Adir aircraft and is set to receive another seven by November, including the IAF’s experimental F-35, which will act as a test bed for the country’s planned modifications.Israel’s two operational squadrons, the 140th “Golden Eagle” Squadron and the 116th “Lions of the South” Squadron, both based at Nevatim Air Base, are expected to have a total of 50 planes by 2024.Israel was the first to use the F-35 in a combat arena in 2018, just months after it declared operational capability. According to foreign reports, it continues to use the jet for a range of missions.