The Air Force on Monday awarded a nearly $1.2 billion contract to Boeing to produce its first lot of eight F-15EX fighter aircraft, the first new F-15 to roll off an assembly line for the service in more than 15 years.

To mark the occasion, the Air Force released a photo of the first of the eight new aircraft in production, complete with a serial number that indicates it's the first aircraft purchased as part of this current fiscal cycle.

“The F-15EX is the most advanced version of the F-15 ever built, due in large part to its digital backbone,” Boeing's F-15EX program manager said in statement. “Its unmatched range, price, and best-in-class payload capacity make the F-15EX an attractive choice for the U.S. Air Force.”

Air Force photo

Eight F-15EX aircraft were approved as part of the Air Force's fiscal year 2020 budget, and 12 additional aircraft were requested as part of its fiscal year 2021 budget, according to the service.

The last year that Boeing produced an F-15 fighter for the Air Force was in 2004, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Air Force plans to purchase a total of 76 F-15EX aircraft over the five-year Future Years Defense Program, the service said.

According to The War Zone, the Air Force's full F-15EX fleet could eventually total nearly 144 aircraft as part of the service's push to replace the oldest F-15C/D's in its overall inventory.

“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,” Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes said in a statement. 

Related: Watch the world's most advanced F-15 make its maiden flight with a 'Viking' takeoff

In a news release, Boeing noted that the F-15EX “carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class, and can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weighing up to 7,000 pounds.”

The aircraft will also host “fly-by-wire flight controls, a new electronic warfare system, advanced cockpit systems, and the latest mission systems and software capabilities available for legacy F-15s,” according to the Air Force.

“The F-15EX’s digital backbone, open mission systems, and generous payload capacity fit well with our vision for future net-enabled warfare,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said in a statement.

According to both the Air Force and Boeing, the Pentagon is looking to bring the aircraft's advanced capabilities to bear sooner rather than later.

“The F-15EX is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line,” Holmes said. “When delivered, we expect bases currently operating the F-15 to transition to the new EX platform in a matter of months versus years.”

“Pilots and mechanics currently operating the F-15 anticipate transitioning to the F-15EX in a matter of days as opposed to years,” Boeing said in its statement. 

The first eight F-15EX aircraft will be fielded at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, to support testing efforts, according to the Air Force, with the first two aircraft scheduled for delivery in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021.