Fighter aircrafts are fixed-wing military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat. In a military conflict, the role of fighter aircraft is to establish air superiority of the battlespace. Domination of the airspace above a battlefield permits bombers and attack aircraft to engage in enemy targets’ tactical and strategic bombing.
How do you gauge the performance of a fighter craft?
The key performance features of a fighter include not only its firepower but also its high speed and maneuverability relative to the target aircraft. The success or failure of a combatant’s efforts to gain air superiority hinges on several factors, including its pilots’ skill, the tactical soundness of its doctrine for deploying its fighters, and the numbers and performance of those fighters.
Many modern fighter aircraft often have secondary capabilities such as ground attack and some types, such as fighter-bombers, are designed from the outset for dual roles in air supremacy. Eg: Intercepter, Heavy Fighter and Night Fighter.
Fighter aircraft are a vital component of any air force and examples such as the F-35 Lightning and F-22 Raptor demonstrate their vast superiority. Now based on aircraft specifications, technology, armament fit and performance, let’s take a look at the current reigning champions:
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft intended to perform air superiority and strike missions. It is also able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The F-35’s mission systems are among the most complex aspects of the aircraft. The avionics and sensor fusion is designed to enhance the pilot’s situational and command and control capabilities and facilitate network-centric warfare. Key sensors include the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, BAE SYSTEMS AN/ASQ-239 Barracuda electronic warfare system, Northrop Grumman/Raytheon AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS), Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-40 Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) and Northrop Grumman AN/ASQ-242 Communications, Navigation, and Identification (CNI) suite. The F-35 was designed with sensor intercommunication to provide a cohesive image of the local battlespace and availability for any possible use and combination with one another; for example, the APG-81 radar also acts as a part of the electronic warfare system.
The single-seat fighter is armed with a range of weapon systems such as Sidewinder and Storm Shadow, as well as Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs).
Lockheed Martin/Boeing F22 Raptor
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is an American single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed exclusively for the United States Airforce (USAF). As the result of the USAF’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, the aircraft was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but also has ground attack, electronic warfare, and signal intelligence capabilities.
The F-22’s high cruise speed and operating altitude over prior fighters improve the effectiveness of its sensors and weapon systems and increase survivability against ground defences such as surface-to-air missiles. The ability to supercruise, or sustain supersonic flight without using afterburners, allows it to intercept targets that subsonic aircraft would lack the speed to pursue and afterburner-dependent aircraft would lack the fuel to reach. The F-22’s thrust and aerodynamics enable regular combat speeds of Mach 1.5 at 50,000 feet (15,000 m)
The Raptor made its first flight in September 1997. The first production F-22 was delivered to Nellis Air Force Base in January 2003. The aircraft formally entered USAF’s service in December 2005.
Chengdu J-20 is a fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine stealth fighter jet manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) to perform aerial combat operations for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
One important design criterion for the J-20 is high instability. This requires sustained pitch authority at a high angle of attack, in which a conventional tail-plane would lose effectiveness due to stalling. On the other hand, a canard can deflect opposite to the angle of attack, avoiding stall and thereby maintaining control.
The main weapon bay is capable of housing both short and long-range air-to-air missiles while the two smaller lateral weapon bays behind the air inlets are intended for short-range AAMs. The J-20 is reported to lack an internal autocannon or rotary cannon, suggesting the aircraft is not intended to be used in short range dogfight engagements with other aircraft but engage them from long standoff ranges with missiles such as the PL-15 and PL-21.
The Su-57 is a fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft manufactured by Sukhoi, a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation. It was formerly known as PAK FA and T-50.
The aircraft is designed to perform air superiority and attack missions primarily of the Russian Air Force and the Russian Navy. It can defend all types of ground, air and surface targets of the enemy and monitor the airspace at longer ranges.
With a combat weight of 10t, the aircraft can carry short-range air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles such as X-31, X-35, X-38, X-58, X-59, short and medium-range guided and unguided weapons, and aerial bombs in 250kg, 500kg, and 1,500kg classes.
Eurofighter Typhoon is a new generation multirole fighter aircraft that is presently one of the best in the world. It is a foreplane/delta wing aircraft integrating modern avionics and sensors, Defensive Aids Sub System (DASS) and distinct weapons, such as Mauser BK-27 27mm cannon, air-to-air, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles and precision-guided munitions.
Although not designated a stealth fighter, measures were taken to reduce the Typhoon’s radar cross-section (RCS), especially from the frontal aspect; An example of these measures is that the Typhoon has jet inlets that conceal the front of the engines (a strong radar target) from radar. Many important potential radar targets, such as the wing, canard and fin leading edges, are highly swept so they will reflect radar energy well away from the front. Some external weapons are mounted semi-recessed into the aircraft, partially shielding these missiles from incoming radar waves. In addition, radar absorbent materials (RAM), developed primarily by FADS/DASA, coat many of the most significant reflectors, such as the wing leading edges, the intake edges and interior, the rudder surrounds, and strakes.
The Typhoon is capable of the supersonic cruise without using afterburners.
Eurofighter Typhoon made its combat debut in 2011 for reconnaissance and ground strike missions in Libya by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Italian Air Force.
- COVER: military.com