Fifth generation fighter jets – A Chinese, Russian and US arms race.

Stealth fighter jets introduced – new technology means new possibilities.

Fifth generation fighter jets are the most technologically advanced nowadays. They were designed to operate in the network and the digital battlefield environment. Sophisticated avionics, the stealth technology and super maneuverability are just a few advantages giving them domination in the sky. Being invisible to the enemies is a priority for the engineers, but it is also the hardest task for them. The stealth technology is a complex and advanced range of techniques which makes the aircraft (or any other vehicle) less visible to the opponent’s radars, and therefore reduces the chance of being detected. An appropriate design, a smooth surface, an electronic countermeasure and many more, are certain issues for the aircraft companies to deal with. Each fighter jet requires an appropriate mix of techniques. Stealth design features enforces complex shape of the whole construction. Rounded frame redirects signals from the radars and exhaust ducts reduce the heat trial. Also the engines are located in body of the plane in order to hide the infrared and the heat radiation. Moreover radars on the aircraft used to scan for the hostiles or ground targets can reveal the position during the mission. All these aspects have to be taken into account by engineers and make designing extremely complex. That is the reason why only a few countries have decided to pursue the development of fifth generation fighter jets.

Lockheed F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lighting II – Worthy successors to today’s kings of the sky?

Two F-35A Lightning II – long range test flight

The United States Air Force undertook the Advance Tactical Fighter program. Two air superiority fighters to replace F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon are being developed. In 2005 the first fifth generation fighter jet the F-22 Raptor was introduced. It is a multirole supersonic aircraft, highly maneuverable with the stealth technology and equipped with advanced weapons. Super cruise speed of 1.5 Mach, simultaneous integration of information from on-board sensors and off-board source makes it currently the best fighter jet in the world. On the other hand, it is the most expensive aircraft in the history, and extremely difficult to maintain. Some parts of its avionics, mostly microchips are out of date because they were developed in early 90’s and they should be replaced.

The second fighter jet, the F-35 Lighting II is still under development. Introduction was planned for 2016. It is an international project under the leadership of the United States. The aircraft is similar to the F-22 but has more sophisticated avionics and higher super cruise speed (1.8M). Being built in three different variants makes it extremely multirole – conventional takeoff- landing, short takeoff – vertical landing and a carrier version. Also the equipment and performance depend on a mission, for example, if task does not require stealth technology the external pylons for weapon or fuel can be loaded.

Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA- The Russian answer for F-22 Raptor

Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA prototype

Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA prototype

The Sukhoi PAK FA “Perspektivny aviatsionny kompleks frontovoy aviatsii”, which means “Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation” is a twin-engine, multirole fighter jet developed by Sukhoi and planned for 2016. The aircraft is equipped with all of the abovementioned technologies for fifth generation aircrafts. Probably the biggest advantage and difference between the” MiG-29 successors” and other aircraft will be the aerodynamic airframe feature, but better maneuverability of the aircraft is achieved at the cost of stealth. Russian engineers probably also focus on on-board radars and sensors which means it will be more of a defense aircraft. Of course the PAK FA is not a perfect machine. Comparing to the ATF fighters avionics it is not as advanced, especially when it comes to the information streaming and cockpit displays, which might contribute to individuality over the battlefield rather than team working what is extremely important in modern warfare.

Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon – The Chinese stealth fighter jets.

A Chinese Chengdu J-20 on the ground

About the Chengdu J-20 we don’t know much. Almost each piece of information is rather speculation than a fact. The first flight was conducted in January 2011 and it only showed the aircraft from outside. Depending on photos, videos and some information from media we can figure out the performance and the technology used in the new Chinese plane. Basically it is a fifth generation jet fighter with the stealth technology, super maneuverability and probably sophisticated avionics. The shape of the airframe is better than PAK-FA or F-35 but materials and the technology used are unknown, so it is hard to access how advanced the stealth is. The Size of the J-20 and information about the engines allow to presume that it may be the fastest among fifth generation fighter jets. As always nothing is ideal. Design and speed make it rather an Inceptor than a multirole aircraft so it may be the biggest disadvantage during the war time.  Recently has been shown new fighter aircraft Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon. Is second Chinese stealth fighter jet and we don’t know much about it. Only few photos have been released. For more information you can go here.

The fifth generation fighter is a sign of power.

The Japanese Mitsubishi ATD-X, the South Korean KF-X and the Indian-Russian FGFA Fifth generation fighter projects. Each of them is in a different development stadium and we don’t know much about them. However, it clearly shows how important the air domination is for the powerful countries and how much resources they can spend on the project. Each new generation aircraft has some individual features that make it unique so it is hard to undoubtedly decide which one will be the best.

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