Jet fighters | Wikipedia audio article


A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft
designed primarily for air-to-air combat against other aircraft, as opposed to bombers and
attack aircraft, whose main mission is to attack ground targets. The hallmarks of a fighter are its speed,
maneuverability, and small size relative to other combat aircraft. Many fighters have secondary ground-attack
capabilities, and some are designed as dual-purpose fighter-bombers; often aircraft that do not
fulfill the standard definition are called fighters. This may be for political or national security
reasons, for advertising purposes, or other reasons.A fighter’s main purpose is to establish
air superiority over a battlefield. Since World War I, achieving and maintaining
air superiority has been considered essential for victory in conventional warfare. The success or failure of a belligerent’s
efforts to gain air superiority hinges on several factors including the skill of its
pilots, the tactical soundness of its doctrine for deploying its fighters, and the numbers
and performance of those fighters. Because of the importance of air superiority,
since the early days of aerial combat armed forces have constantly competed to develop
technologically superior fighters and to deploy these fighters in greater numbers, and fielding
a viable fighter fleet consumes a substantial proportion of the defense budgets of modern
armed forces.==Terminology==
The word “fighter” did not become the official English-language term for such aircraft until
after World War I. In the British Royal Flying Corps and Royal
Air Force these aircraft were referred to as “scouts” into the early 1920s. The U.S. Army called their fighters “pursuit”
aircraft from 1916 until the late 1940s. In most languages a fighter aircraft is known
as a hunter, or hunting aircraft (avion de chasse, Jagdflugzeuge, avión de caza etc.). Exceptions include Russian, where a fighter
is an “истребитель” (pronounced “istrebitel”), meaning “exterminator”, and
Hebrew where it is “matose krav” (literally “battle plane”). As a part of military nomenclature, a letter
is often assigned to various types of aircraft to indicate their use, along with a number
to indicate the specific aircraft. The letters used to designate a fighter differ
in various countries – in the English-speaking world, “F” is now used to indicate a fighter
(e.g. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II or Supermarine Spitfire F.22), though when the
pursuit designation was used in the US, they were “P” types (e.g. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk). In Russia “I” was used (Polikarpov I-16),
while the French continue to use “C” (Nieuport 17 C.1). Although the term “fighter” specifies aircraft
designed to shoot down other aircraft, such designs are often also useful as multirole
fighter-bombers, strike fighters, and sometimes lighter, fighter-sized tactical ground-attack
aircraft. This has always been the case, for instance
the Sopwith Camel and other “fighting scouts” of World War I performed a great deal of ground-attack
work. In World War II, the USAAF and RAF often favored
fighters over dedicated light bombers or dive bombers, and types such as the Republic P-47
Thunderbolt and Hawker Hurricane that were no longer competitive as aerial combat fighters
were relegated to ground attack. Several aircraft, such as the F-111 and F-117,
have received fighter designations though they had no fighter capability due to political
or other reasons. The F-111B variant was originally intended
for a fighter role with the U.S. Navy, but it was cancelled. This blurring follows the use of fighters
from their earliest days for “attack” or “strike” operations against ground targets by means
of strafing or dropping small bombs and incendiaries. Versatile multirole fighter-bombers such as
the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet are a less expensive option than having a range
of specialized aircraft types. Some of the most expensive fighters such as
the US Grumman F-14 Tomcat, McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and
Russian Sukhoi Su-27 were employed as all-weather interceptors as well as air superiority fighter
aircraft, while commonly developing air-to-ground roles late in their careers. An interceptor is generally an aircraft intended
to target (or intercept) bombers and so often trades maneuverability for climb rate.==Development overview==Fighters were developed in World War I to
deny enemy aircraft and dirigibles the ability to gather information by reconnaissance over
the battlefield. Early fighters were very small and lightly
armed by later standards, and most were biplanes built with a wooden frame covered with fabric,
and a maximum airspeed of about 100 mph (160 km/h). As control of the airspace over armies became
increasingly important, all of the major powers developed fighters to support their military
operations. Between the wars, wood was largely replaced
in part or whole by metal tubing, and finally aluminium stressed skin structures (monocoque)
began to predominate. On 15 August 1914, Miodrag Tomić encountered
an enemy plane while conducting a reconnaissance flight over Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian aviator initially waved
at Tomić, who waved back. The enemy pilot then took a revolver and began
shooting at Tomić’s plane. Tomić produced a pistol of his own and fired
back. He swerved away from the Austro-Hungarian
plane and the two aircraft eventually parted ways. It was considered the first exchange of fire
between aircraft in history. Within weeks, all Serbian and Austro-Hungarian
aircraft were armed. The Serbians equipped their planes with 8-millimetre
(0.31 in) Schwarzlose MG M.07/12 machine guns, six 100-round boxes of ammunition and several
bombs.By World War II, most fighters were all-metal monoplanes armed with batteries
of machine guns or cannons and some were capable of speeds approaching 400 mph (640 km/h). Most fighters up to this point had one engine,
but a number of twin-engine fighters were built; however they were found to be outmatched
against single-engine fighters and were relegated to other tasks, such as night fighters equipped
with primitive radar sets. By the end of the war, turbojet engines were
replacing piston engines as the means of propulsion, further increasing aircraft speed. Since the weight of the turbojet engine was
far less than piston engine, having two engines was no longer a handicap and one or two were
used, depending on requirements. This in turn required the development of ejection
seats so the pilot could escape, and G-suits to counter the much greater forces being applied
to the pilot during maneuvers. In the 1950s, radar was fitted to day fighters,
since due to ever increasing air-to-air weapon ranges, pilots could no longer see far enough
ahead to prepare for the opposition. Subsequently, radar capabilities grew enormously
and are now the primary method of target acquisition. Wings were made thinner and swept back to
reduce transonic drag, which required new manufacturing methods to obtain sufficient
strength. Skins were no longer sheet metal riveted to
a structure, but milled from large slabs of alloy. The sound barrier was broken, and after a
few false starts due to required changes in controls, speeds quickly reached Mach 2, past
which aircraft cannot maneuver sufficiently to avoid attack. Air-to-air missiles largely replaced guns
and rockets in the early 1960s since both were believed unusable at the speeds being
attained, however the Vietnam War showed that guns still had a role to play, and most fighters
built since then are fitted with cannon (typically between 20 and 30 mm in caliber) in addition
to missiles. Most modern combat aircraft can carry at least
a pair of air-to-air missiles. In the 1970s, turbofans replaced turbojets,
improving fuel economy enough that the last piston engined support aircraft could be replaced
with jets, making multi-role combat aircraft possible. Honeycomb structures began to replace milled
structures, and the first composite components began to appear on components subjected to
little stress. With the steady improvements in computers,
defensive systems have become increasingly efficient. To counter this, stealth technologies have
been pursued by the United States, Russia, India and China. The first step was to find ways to reduce
the aircraft’s reflectivity to radar waves by burying the engines, eliminating sharp
corners and diverting any reflections away from the radar sets of opposing forces. Various materials were found to absorb the
energy from radar waves, and were incorporated into special finishes that have since found
widespread application. Composite structures have become widespread,
including major structural components, and have helped to counterbalance the steady increases
in aircraft weight—most modern fighters are larger and heavier than World War II medium
bombers. The global combat aircraft market was worth
$45.75 billion in 2017 and is projected by Frost & Sullivan at $47.2 billion in 2026:
35% modernisation programmes and 65% aircraft purchases, dominated by the Lockheed Martin
F-35 with 3,000 deliveries over 20 years.==Piston engine fighters=====
World War I===The word “fighter” was first used to describe
a two-seater aircraft with sufficient lift to carry a machine gun and its operator as
well as the pilot. Some of the first such “fighters” belonged
to the “gunbus” series of experimental gun carriers of the British Vickers company that
culminated in the Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus of 1914. The main drawback of this type of aircraft
was its lack of speed. Planners quickly realized that an aircraft
intended to destroy its kind in the air had to be fast enough to catch its quarry. Another type of military aircraft was to form
the basis for an effective “fighter” in the modern sense of the word. It was based on the small fast aircraft developed
before the war for such air races as the Gordon Bennett Cup and Schneider Trophy. The military scout airplane was not expected
to carry serious armament, but rather to rely on its speed to reach the scout or reconnoiter
location and return quickly to report – essentially an aerial horse. British scout aircraft, in this sense, included
the Sopwith Tabloid and Bristol Scout. French equivalents included the Morane-Saulnier
N. Soon after the commencement of the war, pilots
armed themselves with pistols, carbines, grenades, and an assortment of improvised weapons. Many of these proved ineffective as the pilot
had to fly his airplane while attempting to aim a handheld weapon and make a difficult
deflection shot. The first step in finding a real solution
was to mount the weapon on the aircraft, but the propeller remained a problem since the
best direction to shoot is straight ahead. Numerous solutions were tried. A second crew member behind the pilot could
aim and fire a swivel-mounted machine gun at enemy airplanes; however, this limited
the area of coverage chiefly to the rear hemisphere, and effective coordination of the pilot’s
maneuvering with the gunner’s aiming was difficult. This option was chiefly employed as a defensive
measure on two-seater reconnaissance aircraft from 1915 on. Both the SPAD S.A and the Royal Aircraft Factory
B.E.9 added a second crewman ahead of the engine in a pod but this was both hazardous
to the second crewman and limited performance. The Sopwith L.R.T.Tr. similarly added a pod
on the top wing with no better luck. An alternative was to build a “pusher” scout
such as the Airco DH.2, with the propeller mounted behind the pilot. The main drawback was that the high drag of
a pusher type’s tail structure made it slower than a similar “tractor” aircraft. A better solution for a single seat scout
was to mount the machine gun (rifles and pistols having been dispensed with) to fire forwards
but outside the propeller arc. Wing guns were tried but the unreliable weapons
available required frequent clearing of jammed rounds and misfires and remained impractical
until after the war. Mounting the machine gun over the top wing
worked well and was used long after the ideal solution was found. The Nieuport 11 of 1916 and Royal Aircraft
Factory S.E.5 of 1918 both used this system with considerable success; however, this placement
made aiming difficult and the location made it difficult for a pilot to both maneuver
and have access to the gun’s breech. The British Foster mounting was specifically
designed for this kind of application, fitted with the Lewis Machine gun, which due to its
design was unsuitable for synchronizing. The need to arm a tractor scout with a forward-firing
gun whose bullets passed through the propeller arc was evident even before the outbreak of
war and inventors in both France and Germany devised mechanisms that could time the firing
of the individual rounds to avoid hitting the propeller blades. Franz Schneider, a Swiss engineer, had patented
such a device in Germany in 1913, but his original work was not followed up. French aircraft designer Raymond Saulnier
patented a practical device in April 1914, but trials were unsuccessful because of the
propensity of the machine gun employed to hang fire due to unreliable ammunition. In December 1914, French aviator Roland Garros
asked Saulnier to install his synchronization gear on Garros’ Morane-Saulnier Type L. Unfortunately
the gas-operated Hotchkiss machine gun he was provided had an erratic rate of fire and
it was impossible to synchronize it with a spinning propeller. As an interim measure, the propeller blades
were armored and fitted with metal wedges to protect the pilot from ricochets. Garros’ modified monoplane was first flown
in March 1915 and he began combat operations soon thereafter. Garros scored three victories in three weeks
before he himself was downed on 18 April and his airplane, along with its synchronization
gear and propeller was captured by the Germans. Meanwhile, the synchronization gear (called
the Stangensteuerung in German, for “pushrod control system”) devised by the engineers
of Anthony Fokker’s firm was the first system to see production contracts, and would make
the Fokker Eindecker monoplane a feared name over the Western Front, despite its being
an adaptation of an obsolete pre-war French Morane-Saulnier racing airplane, with a mediocre
performance and poor flight characteristics. The first victory for the Eindecker came on
1 July 1915, when Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, flying with the Feldflieger Abteilung 6 unit
on the Western Front, forced down a Morane-Saulnier Type L two-seat “parasol” monoplane just east
of Luneville. Wintgens’ aircraft, one of the five Fokker
M.5K/MG production prototype examples of the Eindecker, was armed with a synchronized,
air-cooled aviation version of the Parabellum MG14 machine gun. The success of the Eindecker kicked off a
competitive cycle of improvement among the combatants, both sides striving to build ever
more capable single-seat fighters. The Albatros D.I and Sopwith Pup of 1916 set
the classic pattern followed by fighters for about twenty years. Most were biplanes and only rarely monoplanes
or triplanes. The strong box structure of the biplane provided
a rigid wing that allowed the accurate lateral control essential for dogfighting. They had a single operator, who flew the aircraft
and also controlled its armament. They were armed with one or two Maxim or Vickers
machine guns, which were easier to synchronize than other types, firing through the propeller
arc. Gun breeches were directly in front of the
pilot, with obvious implications in case of accidents, but jams could be cleared in flight,
while aiming was simplified. The use of metal aircraft structures was pioneered
before World War I by Breguet but would find its biggest proponent in Anthony Fokker, who
used chrome-molybdenum steel tubing for the fuselage structure of all his fighter designs,
while the innovative German engineer Hugo Junkers developed two all-metal, single-seat
fighter monoplane designs with cantilever wings: the strictly experimental Junkers J
2 private-venture aircraft, made with steel, and some forty examples of the Junkers D.I,
made with corrugated duralumin, all based on his experience in creating the pioneering
Junkers J 1 all-metal airframe technology demonstration aircraft of late 1915. While Fokker would pursue steel tube fuselages
with wooden wings until the late 1930s, and Junkers would focus on corrugated sheet metal,
Dornier was the first to build a fighter (The Dornier-Zeppelin D.I) made with pre-stressed
sheet aluminium and having cantelevered wings, a form that would replace all others in the
1930s. As collective combat experience grew, the
more successful pilots such as Oswald Boelcke, Max Immelmann, and Edward Mannock developed
innovative tactical formations and maneuvers to enhance their air units’ combat effectiveness. Allied and – before 1918 – German pilots
of World War I were not equipped with parachutes, so in-flight fires or structural failure were
often fatal. Parachutes were well-developed by 1918 having
previously been used by balloonists, and were adopted by the German flying services during
the course of that year. The well known and feared Manfred von Richthofen
“Red Baron” was wearing one when he was killed, but the allied command continued to oppose
their use on various grounds.In April 1917, during a brief period of German aerial supremacy
a British pilot’s average life expectancy was 93 flying hours, or about three weeks
of active service. More than 50,000 airmen from both sides died
during the war.===Inter-war period (1919–38)===
Fighter development stagnated between the wars, especially in the United States and
the United Kingdom, where budgets were small. In France, Italy and Russia, where large budgets
continued to allow major development, both monoplanes and all metal structures were common. By the end of the 1920s, however, those countries
overspent themselves and were overtaken in the 1930s by those powers that hadn’t been
spending heavily, namely the British, the Americans and the Germans. Given limited defense budgets, air forces
tended to be conservative in their aircraft purchases, and biplanes remained popular with
pilots because of their agility, and remained in service long after they had ceased to be
competitive. Designs such as the Gloster Gladiator, Fiat
CR.42, and Polikarpov I-15 were common even in the late 1930s, and many were still in
service as late as 1942. Up until the mid-1930s, the majority of fighters
in the US, the UK, Italy and Russia remained fabric-covered biplanes. Fighter armament eventually began to be mounted
inside the wings, outside the arc of the propeller, though most designs retained two synchronized
machine guns directly ahead of the pilot, where they were more accurate (that being
the strongest part of the structure, reducing the vibration to which the guns were subjected
to). Shooting with this traditional arrangement
was also easier for the further reason that the guns shot directly ahead in the direction
of the aircraft’s flight, up to the limit of the guns range; unlike wing-mounted guns
which to be effective required to be harmonised, that is, preset to shoot at an angle by ground
crews so that their bullets would converge on a target area a set distance ahead of the
fighter. Rifle-caliber .30 and .303 in (7.62 mm) caliber
guns remained the norm, with larger weapons either being too heavy and cumbersome or deemed
unnecessary against such lightly built aircraft. It was not considered unreasonable to use
World War I-style armament to counter enemy fighters as there was insufficient air-to-air
combat during most of the period to disprove this notion. The rotary engine, popular during World War
I, quickly disappeared, its development having reached the point where rotational forces
prevented more fuel and air from being delivered to the cylinders, which limited horsepower. They were replaced chiefly by the stationary
radial engine though major advances led to inline engines, which gained ground with several
exceptional engines—including the 1,145 cu in (18.76 l) V-12 Curtiss D-12. Aircraft engines increased in power several-fold
over the period, going from a typical 180 hp (130 kW) in the 900-kg Fokker D.VII of
1918 to 900 hp (670 kW) in the 2,500-kg Curtiss P-36 of 1936. The debate between the sleek in-line engines
versus the more reliable radial models continued, with naval air forces preferring the radial
engines, and land-based forces often choosing in-line units. Radial designs did not require a separate
(and vulnerable) cooling system, but had increased drag. In-line engines often had a better power-to-weight
ratio, but there were radial engines that kept working even after having suffered significant
battle damage. Some air forces experimented with “heavy fighters”
(called “destroyers” by the Germans). These were larger, usually twin-engined aircraft,
sometimes adaptations of light or medium bomber types. Such designs typically had greater internal
fuel capacity (thus longer range) and heavier armament than their single-engine counterparts. In combat, they proved vulnerable to more
agile single-engine fighters. The primary driver of fighter innovation,
right up to the period of rapid re-armament in the late 1930s, were not military budgets,
but civilian aircraft racing. Aircraft designed for these races introduced
innovations like streamlining and more powerful engines that would find their way into the
fighters of World War II. The most significant of these was the Schneider
Trophy races, where competition grew so fierce, only national governments could afford to
enter. At the very end of the inter-war period in
Europe came the Spanish Civil War. This was just the opportunity the German Luftwaffe,
Italian Regia Aeronautica, and the Soviet Union’s Red Air Force needed to test their
latest aircraft. Each party sent numerous aircraft types to
support their sides in the conflict. In the dogfights over Spain, the latest Messerschmitt
Bf 109 fighters did well, as did the Soviet Polikarpov I-16. The German design had considerably more room
for development however and the lessons learned led to greatly improved models in World War
II. The Russians, whose side lost, failed to keep
up and despite newer models coming into service, I-16s were outfought by the improved Bf 109s
in World War II, while remaining the most common Soviet front-line fighter into 1942. For their part, the Italians developed several
monoplanes such as the Fiat G.50, but being short on funds, were forced to continue operating
obsolete Fiat CR.42 biplanes. From the early 1930s the Japanese had been
at war against both the Chinese Nationalists and the Russians in China, and used the experience
to improve both training and aircraft, replacing biplanes with modern cantilever monoplanes
and creating a cadre of exceptional pilots for use in the Pacific War. In the United Kingdom, at the behest of Neville
Chamberlain, (more famous for his ‘peace in our time’ speech) the entire British aviation
industry was retooled, allowing it to change quickly from fabric covered metal framed biplanes
to cantilever stressed skin monoplanes in time for the war with Germany. The period of improving the same biplane design
over and over was now coming to an end, and the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire
finally started to supplant the Gloster Gladiator and Hawker Fury biplanes but many of the former
remained in front-line service well past the start of World War II. While not a combatant themselves in Spain,
they absorbed many of the lessons learned in time to use them. The Spanish Civil War also provided an opportunity
for updating fighter tactics. One of the innovations to result from the
aerial warfare experience this conflict provided was the development of the “finger-four” formation
by the German pilot Werner Mölders. Each fighter squadron (German: Staffel) was
divided into several flights (Schwärme) of four aircraft. Each Schwarm was divided into two Rotten,
which was a pair of aircraft. Each Rotte was composed of a leader and a
wingman. This flexible formation allowed the pilots
to maintain greater situational awareness, and the two Rotten could split up at any time
and attack on their own. The finger-four would become widely adopted
as the fundamental tactical formation over the course of World War.===World War II===World War II featured fighter combat on a
larger scale than any other conflict to date. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel noted the
effect of airpower: “Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against
an enemy in complete command of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops,
under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success.” Throughout the war, fighters performed their
conventional role in establishing air superiority through combat with other fighters and through
bomber interception, and also often performed roles such as tactical air support and reconnaissance. Fighter design varied widely among combatants. The Japanese and Italians favored lightly
armed and armored but highly maneuverable designs such as the Japanese Nakajima Ki-27,
Nakajima Ki-43 and Mitsubishi A6M Zero and Italy’s Fiat G.50 and Macchi MC.200. In contrast, designers in the United Kingdom,
Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States believed that the increased speed of
fighter aircraft would create g-forces unbearable to pilots who attempted maneuvering dogfights
typical of the First World War, and their fighters were instead optimized for speed
and firepower. In practice, while light, highly maneuverable
aircraft did possess some advantages in fighter-versus-fighter combat, those could usually be overcome by
sound tactical doctrine, and the design approach of the Italians and Japanese made their fighters
ill-suited as interceptors or attack aircraft.====European theater====During the invasion of Poland and the Battle
of France, Luftwaffe fighters—primarily the Messerschmitt Bf 109—held air superiority,
and the Luftwaffe played a major role in German victories in these campaigns. During the Battle of Britain, however, British
Hurricanes and Spitfires proved roughly equal to Luftwaffe fighters. Additionally Britain’s radar-based Dowding
system directing fighters onto German attacks and the advantages of fighting above Britain’s
home territory allowed the RAF to deny Germany air superiority, saving the UK from possible
German invasion and dealing the Axis a major defeat early in the Second World War. On the Eastern Front, Soviet fighter forces
were overwhelmed during the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa. This was a result of the tactical surprise
at the outset of the campaign, the leadership vacuum within the Soviet military left by
the Great Purge, and the general inferiority of Soviet designs at the time, such as the
obsolescent I-15 biplane and the I-16. More modern Soviet designs, including the
MiG-3, LaGG-3 and Yak-1, had not yet arrived in numbers and in any case were still inferior
to the Messerschmitt Bf 109. As a result, during the early months of these
campaigns, Axis air forces destroyed large numbers of Red Air Force aircraft on the ground
and in one-sided dogfights. In the later stages on the Eastern Front,
Soviet training and leadership improved, as did their equipment.Since 1942 Soviet designs
such as the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 had performance comparable to the German Bf
109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Also, significant numbers of British, and
later U.S., fighter aircraft were supplied to aid the Soviet war effort as part of Lend-Lease,
with the Bell P-39 Airacobra proving particularly effective in the lower-altitude combat typical
of the Eastern Front. The Soviets were also helped indirectly by
the American and British bombing campaigns, which forced the Luftwaffe to shift many of
its fighters away from the Eastern Front in defense against these raids. The Soviets increasingly were able to challenge
the Luftwaffe, and while the Luftwaffe maintained a qualitative edge over the Red Air Force
for much of the war, the increasing numbers and efficacy of the Soviet Air Force were
critical to the Red Army’s efforts at turning back and eventually annihilating the Wehrmacht. Meanwhile, air combat on the Western Front
had a much different character. Much of this combat was centered around the
strategic bombing campaigns of the RAF and the USAAF against German industry intended
to wear down the Luftwaffe. Axis fighter aircraft focused on defending
against Allied bombers while Allied fighters’ main role was as bomber escorts. The RAF raided German cities at night, and
both sides developed radar-equipped night fighters for these battles. The Americans, in contrast, flew daylight
bombing raids into Germany. Unescorted Consolidated B-24 Liberators and
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, however, proved unable to fend off German interceptors
(primarily Bf 109s and Fw 190s). With the later arrival of long range fighters,
particularly the North American P-51 Mustang, American fighters were able to escort far
into Germany on daylight raids and established control of the skies over Western Europe. By the time of Operation Overlord in June
1944, the Allies had gained near complete air superiority over the Western Front. This cleared the way both for intensified
strategic bombing of German cities and industries, and for the tactical bombing of battlefield
targets. With the Luftwaffe largely cleared from the
skies, Allied fighters increasingly served as attack aircraft. Allied fighters, by gaining air superiority
over the European battlefield, played a crucial role in the eventual defeat of the Axis, which
Reichmarshal Hermann Göring, commander of the German Luftwaffe summed up when he said:
“When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the jig was up.”====
Pacific theater====Major air combat during the war in the Pacific
began with the entry of the Western Allies following Japan’s attack against Pearl Harbor. The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service primarily
operated the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, and the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service flew the
Nakajima Ki-27 and the Nakajima Ki-43, initially enjoying great success, as these fighters
generally had better range, maneuverability, speed and climb rates than their Allied counterparts. Additionally, Japanese pilots had received
excellent training and many were combat veterans from Japan’s campaigns in China. They quickly gained air superiority over the
Allies, who at this stage of the war were often disorganized, under-trained and poorly
equipped, and Japanese air power contributed significantly to their successes in the Philippines,
Malaysia and Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and Burma. By mid-1942, the Allies began to regroup and
while some Allied aircraft such as the Brewster Buffalo and the P-39 were hopelessly outclassed
by fighters like Japan’s Zero, others such as the Army’s P-40 and the Navy’s Wildcat
possessed attributes such as superior firepower, ruggedness and dive speed, and the Allies
soon developed tactics (such as the Thach Weave) to take advantage of these strengths. These changes soon paid dividends, as the
Allied ability to deny Japan air superiority was critical to their victories at Coral Sea,
Midway, Guadalcanal and New Guinea. In China, the Flying Tigers also used the
same tactics with some success, although they were unable to stem the tide of Japanese advances
there. By 1943, the Allies began to gain the upper
hand in the Pacific Campaign’s air campaigns. Several factors contributed to this shift. First, second-generation Allied fighters such
as the Hellcat and the P-38, and later the Corsair, the P-47 and the P-51, began arriving
in numbers. These fighters outperformed Japanese fighters
in all respects except maneuverability. Other problems with Japan’s fighter aircraft
also became apparent as the war progressed, such as their lack of armor and light armament,
which made them inadequate as bomber interceptors or ground-attack planes – roles Allied fighters
excelled at. Most importantly, Japan’s training program
failed to provide enough well-trained pilots to replace losses. In contrast, the Allies improved both the
quantity and quality of pilots graduating from their training programs. By mid-1944, Allied fighters had gained air
superiority throughout the theater, which would not be contested again during the war. The extent of Allied quantitative and qualitative
superiority by this point in the war was demonstrated during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, a
lopsided Allied victory in which Japanese fliers were downed in such numbers and with
such ease that American fighter pilots likened it to a great turkey shoot. Late in the war, Japan did begin to produce
new fighters such as the Nakajima Ki-84 and the Kawanishi N1K to replace the venerable
Zero, but these were produced only in small numbers, and in any case by that time Japan
lacked trained pilots or sufficient fuel to mount a sustained challenge to Allied fighters. During the closing stages of the war, Japan’s
fighter arm could not seriously challenge raids over Japan by American B-29s, and was
largely relegated to Kamikaze tactics.====Technological innovations====
Fighter technology advanced rapidly during the Second World War. Piston-engines, which powered the vast majority
of World War II fighters, grew more powerful: at the beginning of the war fighters typically
had engines producing between 1,000 hp (750 kW) and 1,400 hp (1,000 kW), while by the
end of the war many could produce over 2,000 hp (1,500 kW). For example, the Spitfire, one of the few
fighters in continuous production throughout the war, was in 1939 powered by a 1,030 hp
(770 kW) Merlin II, while variants produced in 1945 were equipped with the 2,035 hp (1,517
kW) Griffon 61. Nevertheless, these fighters could only achieve
modest increases in top speed due to problems of compressibility created as aircraft and
their propellers approached the sound barrier, and it was apparent that propeller-driven
aircraft were approaching the limits of their performance. German jet and rocket-powered fighters entered
combat in 1944, too late to impact the war’s outcome. The same year the Allies’ only operational
jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, also entered service. World War II fighters also increasingly featured
monocoque construction, which improved their aerodynamic efficiency while adding structural
strength. Laminar flow wings, which improved high speed
performance, also came into use on fighters such as the P-51, while the Messerschmitt
Me 262 and the Messerschmitt Me 163 featured swept wings that dramatically reduced drag
at high subsonic speeds. Armament also advanced during the war. The rifle-caliber machine guns that were common
on prewar fighters could not easily down the more rugged warplanes of the era. Air forces began to replace or supplement
them with cannons, which fired explosive shells that could blast a hole in an enemy aircraft
– rather than relying on kinetic energy from a solid bullet striking a critical component
of the aircraft, such as a fuel line or control cable, or the pilot. Cannons could bring down even heavy bombers
with just a few hits, but their slower rate of fire made it difficult to hit fast-moving
fighters in a dogfight. Eventually, most fighters mounted cannons,
sometimes in combination with machine guns. The British epitomized this shift. Their standard early war fighters mounted
eight .303-inch (7.7 mm) calibre machine guns, but by mid-war they often featured a combination
of machine guns and 20 mm cannons, and late in the war often only cannons. The Americans, in contrast, had problems producing
a native cannon design, so instead placed multiple .50 caliber (12.7 mm) heavy machine
guns on their fighters. Fighters were also increasingly fitted with
bomb racks and air-to-surface ordnance such as bombs or rockets beneath their wings, and
pressed into close air support roles as fighter-bombers. Although they carried less ordnance than light
and medium bombers, and generally had a shorter range, they were cheaper to produce and maintain
and their maneuverability made it easier for them to hit moving targets such as motorized
vehicles. Moreover, if they encountered enemy fighters,
their ordnance (which reduced lift and increased drag and therefore decreased performance)
could be jettisoned and they could engage the enemy fighters, which eliminated the need
for the fighter escorts that bombers required. Heavily armed and sturdily constructed fighters
such as Germany’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Britain’s Hawker Typhoon and Hawker Tempest, and America’s
P-40, Corsair, P-47 and P-38 all excelled as fighter-bombers, and since the Second World
War ground attack has been an important secondary capability of many fighters. World War II also saw the first use of airborne
radar on fighters. The primary purpose of these radars was to
help night fighters locate enemy bombers and fighters. Because of the bulkiness of these radar sets,
they could not be carried on conventional single-engined fighters and instead were typically
retrofitted to larger heavy fighters or light bombers such as Germany’s Messerschmitt Bf
110 and Junkers Ju 88, Britain’s Mosquito and Beaufighter, and America’s A-20, which
then served as night fighters. The Northrop P-61 Black Widow, a purpose-built
night fighter, was the only fighter of the war that incorporated radar into its original
design. Britain and America cooperated closely in
the development of airborne radar, and Germany’s radar technology generally lagged slightly
behind Anglo-American efforts, while other combatants developed few radar-equipped fighters.===Post–World War II period===Several prototype fighter programs begun early
in 1945 continued on after the war and led to advanced piston-engine fighters that entered
production and operational service in 1946. A typical example is the Lavochkin La-9 ‘Fritz’,
which was an evolution of the successful wartime Lavochkin La-7 ‘Fin’. Working through a series of prototypes, the
La-120, La-126 and La-130, the Lavochkin design bureau sought to replace the La-7’s wooden
airframe with a metal one, as well as fit a laminar-flow wing to improve maneuver performance,
and increased armament. The La-9 entered service in August 1946 and
was produced until 1948; it also served as the basis for the development of a long-range
escort fighter, the La-11 ‘Fang’, of which nearly 1200 were produced 1947–1951. Over the course of the Korean War, however,
it became obvious that the day of the piston-engined fighter was coming to a close and that the
future would lie with the jet fighter. This period also witnessed experimentation
with jet-assisted piston engine aircraft. La-9 derivatives included examples fitted
with two underwing auxiliary pulsejet engines (the La-9RD) and a similarly mounted pair
of auxiliary ramjet engines (the La-138); however, neither of these entered service. One that did enter service – with the U.S.
Navy in March 1945 – was the Ryan FR-1 Fireball; production was halted with the war’s end on
VJ-Day, with only 66 having been delivered, and the type was withdrawn from service in
1947. The USAAF had ordered its first 13 mixed turboprop-turbojet-powered
pre-production prototypes of the Consolidated Vultee XP-81 fighter, but this program was
also canceled by VJ Day, with 80% of the engineering work completed.==Rocket-powered fighters==The first rocket-powered aircraft was the
Lippisch Ente, which made a successful maiden flight in March 1928. The only pure rocket aircraft ever mass-produced
was the Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet in 1944, one of several German World War II projects
aimed at developing high speed, point-defense aircraft. Later variants of the Me 262 (C-1a and C-2b)
were also fitted with “mixed-power” jet/rocket powerplants, while earlier models were fitted
with rocket boosters, but were not mass-produced with these modifications.The USSR experimented
with a rocket-powered interceptor in the years immediately following World War II, the Mikoyan-Gurevich
I-270. Only two were built. In the 1950s, the British developed mixed-power
jet designs employing both rocket and jet engines to cover the performance gap that
existed in turbojet designs. The rocket was the main engine for delivering
the speed and height required for high-speed interception of high-level bombers and the
turbojet gave increased fuel economy in other parts of flight, most notably to ensure the
aircraft was able to make a powered landing rather than risking an unpredictable gliding
return. The Saunders-Roe SR.53 was a successful design,
and was planned for production when economics forced the British to curtail most aircraft
programs in the late 1950s. Furthermore, rapid advancements in jet engine
technology rendered mixed-power aircraft designs like Saunders-Roe’s SR.53 (and the following
SR.177) obsolete. The American Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor
(the first U.S. fighter to exceed Mach 1 in level flight) met a similar fate for the same
reason, and no hybrid rocket-and-jet-engine fighter design has ever been placed into service. The only operational implementation of mixed
propulsion was Rocket-Assisted Take Off (RATO), a system rarely used in fighters, such as
with the zero-length launch, RATO-based takeoff scheme from special launch platforms, tested
out by both the United States and the Soviet Union, and made obsolete with advancements
in surface-to-air missile technology.==Jet-powered fighters==It has become common in the aviation community
to classify jet fighters by “generations” for historical purposes. There are no official definitions of these
generations; rather, they represent the notion that there are stages in the development of
fighter design approaches, performance capabilities, and technological evolution. Also other authors have packed the fighters
into different generations. For example, Richard P. Hallion of the Secretary
of the Air Force’s Action Group classified the F-16 as a sixth generation jet fighter.The
timeframes associated with each generation are inexact and are only indicative of the
period during which their design philosophies and technology employment enjoyed a prevailing
influence on fighter design and development. These timeframes also encompass the peak period
of service entry for such aircraft.===First–generation subsonic jet fighters
(mid–1940s to mid–1950s)===The first generation of jet fighters comprised
the initial, subsonic jet fighter designs introduced late in World War II and in the
early post-war period. They differed little from their piston-engined
counterparts in appearance, and many employed unswept wings. Guns and cannon remained the principal armament. The need to obtain a decisive advantage in
maximum speed pushed the development of turbojet-powered aircraft forward. Top speeds for fighters rose steadily throughout
World War II as more powerful piston engines were developed, and was approaching transonic
flight speeds where the efficiency of propellers drops off, making further speed increases
nearly impossible. The first jets were developed during World
War II and saw combat in the last two years of the war. Messerschmitt developed the first operational
jet fighter, the Me 262A, primarily serving with JG 7, the world’s first jet fighter wing. It was considerably faster than contemporary
piston-driven aircraft, and in the hands of a competent pilot, was quite difficult for
Allied pilots to defeat. The design was never deployed in numbers sufficient
to stop the Allied air campaign, and a combination of fuel shortages, pilot losses, and technical
difficulties with the engines kept the number of sorties low. Nevertheless, the Me 262 indicated the obsolescence
of piston-driven aircraft. Spurred by reports of the German jets, Britain’s
Gloster Meteor entered production soon after and the two entered service around the same
time in 1944. Meteors were commonly used to intercept the
V-1 flying bomb, as they were faster than available piston-engined fighters at the low
altitudes the flying bombs were flying. Nearer the end of World War II, the first
military jet-powered light fighter design, the Heinkel He 162A Spatz (sparrow), was intended
to be a simple jet fighter for German home defense, with a few examples seeing squadron
service with JG 1 by April 1945. By the end of the war almost all work on piston-powered
fighters had ended. A few designs combining piston and jet engines
for propulsion – such as the Ryan FR Fireball – saw brief use, but by the end of the 1940s
virtually all new fighters were jet-powered. Despite their advantages, the early jet fighters
were far from perfect. The operational lifespan of turbines were
very short and engines were temperamental, while power could be adjusted only slowly
and acceleration was poor (even if top speed was higher) compared to the final generation
of piston fighters. Many squadrons of piston-engined fighters
were retained until the early to mid-1950s, even in the air forces of the major powers
(though the types retained were the best of the World War II designs). Innovations including ejection seats, air
brakes and all-moving tailplanes became widespread in this period. The Americans began using jet fighters operationally
post-war, the wartime Bell P-59 having proven itself a failure. The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (soon re-designated
F-80) was less elegant than the swept-wing Me 262, but had a cruise speed (660 km/h (410
mph)) as high as the maximum speed attainable by many piston-engined fighters. The British designed several new jets, including
the distinctive single-engined twin boom de Havilland Vampire which was sold to the air
forces of many nations. The British transferred the technology of
the Rolls-Royce Nene jet engine to the Soviets, who soon put it to use in their advanced Mikoyan-Gurevich
MiG-15 fighter, which used fully swept wings that allowed flying closer to the speed of
sound than straight-winged designs such as the F-80. Its top speed of 1,075 km/h (668 mph) proved
quite a shock to the American F-80 pilots who encountered them in the Korean War, along
with their armament of two 23 mm cannons and a single 37 mm cannon. Nevertheless, in the first jet-versus-jet
dogfight, which occurred during the Korean War on 8 November 1950, an F-80 shot down
two North Korean MiG-15s. The Americans responded by rushing their own
swept-wing fighter – the North American F-86 Sabre – into battle against the MiGs,
which had similar transsonic performance. The two aircraft had different strengths and
weaknesses, but were similar enough that victory could go either way. While the Sabres were focused primarily on
downing MiGs and scored favourably against those flown by the poorly trained North Koreans,
the MiGs in turn decimated US bomber formations and forced the withdrawal of numerous American
types from operational service. The world’s navies also transitioned to jets
during this period, despite the need for catapult-launching of the new aircraft. The Grumman F9F Panther was adopted by the
U.S. Navy as their primary jet fighter in the Korean War period, and it was one of the
first jet fighters to employ an afterburner. The de Havilland Sea Vampire was the Royal
Navy’s first jet fighter. Radar was used on specialized night fighters
such as the Douglas F3D Skyknight, which also downed MiGs over Korea, and later fitted to
the McDonnell F2H Banshee and swept wing Vought F7U Cutlass and McDonnell F3H Demon as all-weather
/ night fighters. Early versions of Infra-red (IR) air-to-air
missiles (AAMs) such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and radar guided missiles such as the AIM-7
Sparrow whose descendants are still in use, were first introduced on swept wing subsonic
Demon and Cutlass naval fighters.===Second–generation jet fighters (mid–1950s
to early 1960s)===The development of second-generation fighters
was shaped by technological breakthroughs, lessons learned from the aerial battles of
the Korean War, and a focus on conducting operations in a nuclear warfare environment. Technological advances in aerodynamics, propulsion
and aerospace building materials (primarily aluminium alloys) permitted designers to experiment
with aeronautical innovations, such as swept wings, delta wings, and area-ruled fuselages. Widespread use of afterburning turbojet engines
made these the first production aircraft to break the sound barrier, and the ability to
sustain supersonic speeds in level flight became a common capability amongst fighters
of this generation. Fighter designs also took advantage of new
electronics technologies that made effective radars small enough to carry aboard smaller
aircraft. Onboard radars permitted detection of enemy
aircraft beyond visual range, thereby improving the handoff of targets by longer-ranged ground-based
warning and tracking radars. Similarly, advances in guided missile development
allowed air-to-air missiles to begin supplementing the gun as the primary offensive weapon for
the first time in fighter history. During this period, passive-homing infrared-guided
(IR) missiles became commonplace, but early IR missile sensors had poor sensitivity and
a very narrow field of view (typically no more than 30°), which limited their effective
use to only close-range, tail-chase engagements. Radar-guided (RF) missiles were introduced
as well, but early examples proved unreliable. These semi-active radar homing (SARH) missiles
could track and intercept an enemy aircraft “painted” by the launching aircraft’s onboard
radar. Medium- and long-range RF air-to-air missiles
promised to open up a new dimension of “beyond-visual-range” (BVR) combat, and much effort was placed in
further development of this technology. The prospect of a potential third world war
featuring large mechanized armies and nuclear weapon strikes led to a degree of specialization
along two design approaches: interceptors, such as the English Electric Lightning and
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F; and fighter-bombers, such as the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and
the Sukhoi Su-7B. Dogfighting, per se, was de-emphasized in
both cases. The interceptor was an outgrowth of the vision
that guided missiles would completely replace guns and combat would take place at beyond
visual ranges. As a result, interceptors were designed with
a large missile payload and a powerful radar, sacrificing agility in favor of high speed,
altitude ceiling and rate of climb. With a primary air defense role, emphasis
was placed on the ability to intercept strategic bombers flying at high altitudes. Specialized point-defense interceptors often
had limited range and little, if any, ground-attack capabilities. Fighter-bombers could swing, between air superiority
and ground-attack roles, and were often designed for a high-speed, low-altitude dash to deliver
their ordnance. Television- and IR-guided air-to-surface missiles
were introduced to augment traditional gravity bombs, and some were also equipped to deliver
a nuclear bomb.===Third generation jet fighters (early 1960s
to circa 1970)===The third generation witnessed continued maturation
of second-generation innovations, but it is most marked by renewed emphases on maneuverability
and traditional ground-attack capabilities. Over the course of the 1960s, increasing combat
experience with guided missiles demonstrated that combat would devolve into close-in dogfights. Analog avionics began to appear, replacing
older “steam-gauge” cockpit instrumentation. Enhancements to the aerodynamic performance
of third-generation fighters included flight control surfaces such as canards, powered
slats, and blown flaps. A number of technologies would be tried for
Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing, but thrust vectoring would be successful on the Harrier. Growth in air combat capability focused on
the introduction of improved air-to-air missiles, radar systems, and other avionics. While guns remained standard equipment (early
models of F-4 being a notable exception), air-to-air missiles became the primary weapons
for air superiority fighters, which employed more sophisticated radars and medium-range
RF AAMs to achieve greater “stand-off” ranges, however, kill probabilities proved unexpectedly
low for RF missiles due to poor reliability and improved electronic countermeasures (ECM)
for spoofing radar seekers. Infrared-homing AAMs saw their fields of view
expand to 45°, which strengthened their tactical usability. Nevertheless, the low dogfight loss-exchange
ratios experienced by American fighters in the skies over Vietnam led the U.S. Navy to
establish its famous “TOPGUN” fighter weapons school, which provided a graduate-level curriculum
to train fleet fighter pilots in advanced Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) and Dissimilar
air combat training (DACT) tactics and techniques. This era also saw an expansion in ground-attack
capabilities, principally in guided missiles, and witnessed the introduction of the first
truly effective avionics for enhanced ground attack, including terrain-avoidance systems. Air-to-surface missiles (ASM) equipped with
electro-optical (E-O) contrast seekers – such as the initial model of the widely used AGM-65
Maverick – became standard weapons, and laser-guided bombs (LGBs) became widespread
in effort to improve precision-attack capabilities. Guidance for such precision-guided munitions
(PGM) was provided by externally mounted targeting pods, which were introduced in the mid-1960s. It also led to the development of new automatic-fire
weapons, primarily chain-guns that use an electric motor to drive the mechanism of a
cannon. This allowed a plane to carry a single multi-barrel
weapon (such as the 20 mm Vulcan), and provided greater accuracy and rates of fire. Powerplant reliability increased and jet engines
became “smokeless” to make it harder to sight aircraft at long distances. Dedicated ground-attack aircraft (like the
Grumman A-6 Intruder, SEPECAT Jaguar and LTV A-7 Corsair II) offered longer range, more
sophisticated night attack systems or lower cost than supersonic fighters. With variable-geometry wings, the supersonic
F-111 introduced the Pratt & Whitney TF30, the first turbofan equipped with afterburner. The ambitious project sought to create a versatile
common fighter for many roles and services. It would serve well as an all-weather bomber,
but lacked the performance to defeat other fighters. The McDonnell F-4 Phantom was designed around
radar and missiles as an all-weather interceptor, but emerged as a versatile strike bomber nimble
enough to prevail in air combat, adopted by the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Despite numerous shortcomings that would be
not be fully addressed until newer fighters, the Phantom claimed 280 aerial kills, more
than any other U.S. fighter over Vietnam. With range and payload capabilities that rivaled
that of World War II bombers such as B-24 Liberator, the Phantom would become a highly
successful multirole aircraft.===Fourth generation jet fighters (circa
1970 to mid-1990s)===Fourth-generation fighters continued the trend
towards multirole configurations, and were equipped with increasingly sophisticated avionics
and weapon systems. Fighter designs were significantly influenced
by the Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) theory developed by Colonel John Boyd and mathematician
Thomas Christie, based upon Boyd’s combat experience in the Korean War and as a fighter
tactics instructor during the 1960s. E-M theory emphasized the value of aircraft
specific energy maintenance as an advantage in fighter combat. Boyd perceived maneuverability as the primary
means of getting “inside” an adversary’s decision-making cycle, a process Boyd called the “OODA loop”
(for “Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action”). This approach emphasized aircraft designs
that were capable of performing “fast transients” – quick changes in speed, altitude, and
direction – as opposed to relying chiefly on high speed alone. E-M characteristics were first applied to
the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, but Boyd and his supporters believed these performance
parameters called for a small, lightweight aircraft with a larger, higher-lift wing. The small size would minimize drag and increase
the thrust-to-weight ratio, while the larger wing would minimize wing loading; while the
reduced wing loading tends to lower top speed and can cut range, it increases payload capacity
and the range reduction can be compensated for by increased fuel in the larger wing. The efforts of Boyd’s “Fighter mafia” would
result in the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon (now Lockheed Martin’s). The F-16’s maneuverability was further enhanced
by its slight aerodynamic instability. This technique, called “relaxed static stability”
(RSS), was made possible by introduction of the “fly-by-wire” (FBW) flight control system
(FLCS), which in turn was enabled by advances in computers and system integration techniques. Analog avionics, required to enable FBW operations,
became a fundamental requirement and began to be replaced by digital flight control systems
in the latter half of the 1980s. Likewise, Full Authority Digital Engine Controls
(FADEC) to electronically manage powerplant performance was introduced with the Pratt
& Whitney F100 turbofan. The F-16’s sole reliance on electronics and
wires to relay flight commands, instead of the usual cables and mechanical linkage controls,
earned it the sobriquet of “the electric jet”. Electronic FLCS and FADEC quickly became essential
components of all subsequent fighter designs. Other innovative technologies introduced in
fourth-generation fighters include pulse-Doppler fire-control radars (providing a “look-down/shoot-down”
capability), head-up displays (HUD), “hands on throttle-and-stick” (HOTAS) controls, and
multi-function displays (MFD), all now essential equipment. Aircraft designers began to incorporate composite
materials in the form of bonded aluminum honeycomb structural elements and graphite epoxy laminate
skins to reduce weight. Infrared search-and-track (IRST) sensors became
widespread for air-to-ground weapons delivery, and appeared for air-to-air combat as well. “All-aspect” IR AAM became standard air superiority
weapons, which permitted engagement of enemy aircraft from any angle (although the field
of view remained relatively limited). The first long-range active-radar-homing RF
AAM entered service with the AIM-54 Phoenix, which solely equipped the Grumman F-14 Tomcat,
one of the few variable-sweep-wing fighter designs to enter production. Even with the tremendous advancement of air-to-air
missiles in this era, internal guns were standard equipment. Another revolution came in the form of a stronger
reliance on ease of maintenance, which led to standardisation of parts, reductions in
the numbers of access panels and lubrication points, and overall parts reduction in more
complicated equipment like the engines. Some early jet fighters required 50 man-hours
of work by a ground crew for every hour the aircraft was in the air; later models substantially
reduced this to allow faster turn-around times and more sorties in a day. Some modern military aircraft only require
10-man-hours of work per hour of flight time, and others are even more efficient. Aerodynamic innovations included variable-camber
wings and exploitation of the vortex lift effect to achieve higher angles of attack
through the addition of leading-edge extension devices such as strakes. Unlike interceptors of the previous eras,
most fourth-generation air-superiority fighters were designed to be agile dogfighters (although
the Mikoyan MiG-31 and Panavia Tornado ADV are notable exceptions). The continually rising cost of fighters, however,
continued to emphasize the value of multirole fighters. The need for both types of fighters led to
the “high/low mix” concept, which envisioned a high-capability and high-cost core of dedicated
air-superiority fighters (like the F-15 and Su-27) supplemented by a larger contingent
of lower-cost multi-role fighters (such as the F-16 and MiG-29). Most fourth-generation fighters, such as the
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, HAL Tejas and Dassault Mirage 2000, are true multirole
warplanes, designed as such from the start. This was facilitated by multimode avionics
that could switch seamlessly between air and ground modes. The earlier approaches of adding on strike
capabilities or designing separate models specialized for different roles generally
became passé (with the Panavia Tornado being an exception in this regard). Attack roles were generally assigned to dedicated
ground-attack aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-25 and the A-10 Thunderbolt II. A typical US Air Force fighter wing of the
period might contain a mix of one air superiority squadron (F-15C), one strike fighter squadron
(F-15E), and two multirole fighter squadrons (F-16C).Perhaps the most novel technology
introduced for combat aircraft was stealth, which involves the use of special “low-observable”
(L-O) materials and design techniques to reduce the susceptibility of an aircraft to detection
by the enemy’s sensor systems, particularly radars. The first stealth aircraft introduced were
the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk attack aircraft (introduced in 1983) and the Northrop Grumman
B-2 Spirit bomber (first flew in 1989). Although no stealthy fighters per se appeared
among the fourth generation, some radar-absorbent coatings and other L-O treatments developed
for these programs are reported to have been subsequently applied to fourth-generation
fighters.===4.5th generation jet fighters (1990s to
2000)===The end of the Cold War in 1991 led many governments
to significantly decrease military spending as a “peace dividend”. Air force inventories were cut. Research and development programs working
on “fifth-generation” fighters took serious hits. Many programs were canceled during the first
half of the 1990s, and those that survived were “stretched out”. While the practice of slowing the pace of
development reduces annual investment expenses, it comes at the penalty of increased overall
program and unit costs over the long-term. In this instance, however, it also permitted
designers to make use of the tremendous achievements being made in the fields of computers, avionics
and other flight electronics, which had become possible largely due to the advances made
in microchip and semiconductor technologies in the 1980s and 1990s. This opportunity enabled designers to develop
fourth-generation designs – or redesigns – with significantly enhanced capabilities. These improved designs have become known as
“Generation 4.5” fighters, recognizing their intermediate nature between the 4th and 5th
generations, and their contribution in furthering development of individual fifth-generation
technologies. The primary characteristics of this sub-generation
are the application of advanced digital avionics and aerospace materials, modest signature
reduction (primarily RF “stealth”), and highly integrated systems and weapons. These fighters have been designed to operate
in a “network-centric” battlefield environment and are principally multirole aircraft. Key weapons technologies introduced include
beyond-visual-range (BVR) AAMs; Global Positioning System (GPS)-guided weapons, solid-state phased-array
radars; helmet-mounted sights; and improved secure, jamming-resistant datalinks. Thrust vectoring to further improve transient
maneuvering capabilities has also been adopted by many 4.5th generation fighters, and uprated
powerplants have enabled some designs to achieve a degree of “supercruise” ability. Stealth characteristics are focused primarily
on frontal-aspect radar cross section (RCS) signature-reduction techniques including radar-absorbent
materials (RAM), L-O coatings and limited shaping techniques. “Half-generation” designs are either based
on existing airframes or are based on new airframes following similar design theory
to previous iterations; however, these modifications have introduced the structural use of composite
materials to reduce weight, greater fuel fractions to increase range, and signature reduction
treatments to achieve lower RCS compared to their predecessors. Prime examples of such aircraft, which are
based on new airframe designs making extensive use of carbon-fibre composites, include the
Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, and Saab JAS 39 Gripen. Apart from these fighter jets, most of the
4.5 generation aircraft are actually modified variants of existing airframes from the earlier
fourth generation fighter jets. Such fighter jets are generally heavier and
examples include the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which is an evolution of the 1970s
F/A-18 Hornet design, the F-15E Strike Eagle, which is a ground-attack/multi-role variant
of the F-15 Eagle, the Su-30MKI and Su-30MKK variants of the Sukhoi Su-30 and the MiG-29M,
MiG-29K and MiG-35, upgraded versions of the Mikoyan MiG-29. The Su-30MKI and MiG-35 feature thrust vectoring
engine nozzles to enhance maneuvering. 4.5 generation fighters first entered service
in the early 1990s, and most of them are still being produced and evolved. It is quite possible that they may continue
in production alongside fifth-generation fighters due to the expense of developing the advanced
level of stealth technology needed to achieve aircraft designs featuring very low observables
(VLO), which is one of the defining features of fifth-generation fighters. Of the 4.5th generation designs, the Strike
Eagle, Super Hornet, Typhoon, Gripen, and Rafale have been used in combat. The U.S. government has defined 4.5 generation
fighter aircraft as those that “(1) have advanced capabilities, including— (A) AESA radar;
(B) high capacity data-link; and (C) enhanced avionics; and (2) have the ability to deploy
current and reasonably foreseeable advanced armaments.”===
Fifth generation jet fighters (2005 to the present)===Currently the cutting edge of fighter design,
fifth-generation fighters are characterized by being designed from the start to operate
in a network-centric combat environment, and to feature extremely low, all-aspect, multi-spectral
signatures employing advanced materials and shaping techniques. They have multifunction AESA radars with high-bandwidth,
low-probability of intercept (LPI) data transmission capabilities. The Infra-red search and track sensors incorporated
for air-to-air combat as well as for air-to-ground weapons delivery in the 4.5th generation fighters
are now fused in with other sensors for Situational Awareness IRST or SAIRST, which constantly
tracks all targets of interest around the aircraft so the pilot need not guess when
he glances. These sensors, along with advanced avionics,
glass cockpits, helmet-mounted sights (not currently on F-22), and improved secure, jamming-resistant
LPI datalinks are highly integrated to provide multi-platform, multi-sensor data fusion for
vastly improved situational awareness while easing the pilot’s workload. Avionics suites rely on extensive use of very
high-speed integrated circuit (VHSIC) technology, common modules, and high-speed data buses. Overall, the integration of all these elements
is claimed to provide fifth-generation fighters with a “first-look, first-shot, first-kill
capability”. A key attribute of fifth-generation fighters
is a small radar cross-section. Great care has been taken in designing its
layout and internal structure to minimize RCS over a broad bandwidth of detection and
tracking radar frequencies; furthermore, to maintain its VLO signature during combat operations,
primary weapons are carried in internal weapon bays that are only briefly opened to permit
weapon launch. Furthermore, stealth technology has advanced
to the point where it can be employed without a tradeoff with aerodynamics performance,
in contrast to previous stealth efforts. Some attention has also been paid to reducing
IR signatures, especially on the F-22. Detailed information on these signature-reduction
techniques is classified, but in general includes special shaping approaches, thermoset and
thermoplastic materials, extensive structural use of advanced composites, conformal sensors,
heat-resistant coatings, low-observable wire meshes to cover intake and cooling vents,
heat ablating tiles on the exhaust troughs (seen on the Northrop YF-23), and coating
internal and external metal areas with radar-absorbent materials and paint (RAM/RAP). The AESA radar offers unique capabilities
for fighters (and it is also quickly becoming essential for Generation 4.5 aircraft designs,
as well as being retrofitted onto some fourth-generation aircraft). In addition to its high resistance to ECM
and LPI features, it enables the fighter to function as a sort of “mini-AWACS,” providing
high-gain electronic support measures (ESM) and electronic warfare (EW) jamming functions. Other technologies common to this latest generation
of fighters includes integrated electronic warfare system (INEWS) technology, integrated
communications, navigation, and identification (CNI) avionics technology, centralized “vehicle
health monitoring” systems for ease of maintenance, fiber optics data transmission, stealth technology
and even hovering capabilities. Maneuver performance remains important and
is enhanced by thrust-vectoring, which also helps reduce takeoff and landing distances. Supercruise may or may not be featured; it
permits flight at supersonic speeds without the use of the afterburner – a device that
significantly increases IR signature when used in full military power. Such aircraft are sophisticated and expensive. The fifth generation was ushered in by the
Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor in late 2005. The U.S. Air Force originally planned to acquire
650 F-22s, but now only 187 will be built. As a result, its unit flyaway cost (FAC) is
around US$150 million. To spread the development costs – and production
base – more broadly, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program enrolls eight other countries
as cost- and risk-sharing partners. Altogether, the nine partner nations anticipate
procuring over 3,000 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters at an anticipated average
FAC of $80–85 million. The F-35, however, is designed to be a family
of three aircraft, a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) fighter, a short take-off
and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter, and a Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested
Recovery (CATOBAR) fighter, each of which has a different unit price and slightly varying
specifications in terms of fuel capacity (and therefore range), size and payload. Other countries have initiated fifth-generation
fighter development projects, with Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 and Mikoyan LMFS. In December 2010, it was discovered that China
is developing the 5th generation fighter Chengdu J-20. The J-20 took its maiden flight in January
2011. The Shenyang J-31 took its maiden flight on
31 October 2012. Japan is exploring its technical feasibility
to produce fifth-generation fighters. India is developing the Advanced Medium Combat
Aircraft (AMCA), a medium weight stealth fighter jet designated to enter into serial production
by late 2030s. India also had initiated a joint fifth generation
heavy fighter with Russia called the FGFA. As of 2018 May, the project is suspected to
have not yielded desired progress or results for India and has been put on hold or dropped
altogether. Other countries considering fielding an indigenous
or semi-indigenous advanced fifth generation aircraft include Korea, Sweden and Turkey.===Sixth generation jet fighters===As of November 2018, France, Germany, Japan,
Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States have announced the development of a
sixth-generation aircraft program. France and Germany will develop a joint sixth-generation
fighter to replace their current fleet of Dassault Rafales, Eurofighter Typhoons, and
Panavia Tornados by 2035. The overall development will be led by a collaboration
of Dassault and Airbus, while the engines will reportedly be jointly developed by Safran
and MTU Aero Engines. Thales and MBDA are also seeking a stake in
the project. Spain is reportedly planning to join the programme
in the later stages and is expected to sign a letter of intent in early 2019.Currently
at the concept stage, the first sixth-generation jet fighter is expected to enter service in
the United States Air Force and United States Navy in 2025–30 period. The USAF seeks a new fighter for the 2030–50
period named the “Next Generation Tactical Aircraft” (“Next Gen TACAIR”). The US Navy looks to replace its F/A-18E/F
Super Hornets beginning in 2025 with the Next Generation Air Dominance air superiority fighter.The
United Kingdom’s proposed stealth fighter is being developed by a European consortium
called Team Tempest, consisting of BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo S.p.A. and MBDA. The aircraft is intended to enter service
in 2035.==Fighter weapons==
Throughout the history of air combat, fighters which, by surprise or maneuver, attain a good
firing position have achieved the kill about one third to one half the time, no matter
what weapons were carried. The only major historic exception to this
has been the low effectiveness shown by guided missiles in the first one to two decades of
their existence. From WWI to the present fighter aircraft have
featured machine guns and automatic cannons as weapons, and they are still considered
as essential back-up weapons today. The power of air-to-air guns has increased
greatly over time, and has kept them relevant in the guided missile era. In WWI two rifle calibre machine guns was
the typical armament producing a weight of fire of about 0.4 kg (0.88 lb) per second. The standard WWII American fighter armament
of six 0.50-cal (12.7mm) machine guns fired a bullet weight of approximately 3.7 kg/sec
(8.1 lbs/sec), at a muzzle velocity of 856 m/s (2,810 ft/s). British and German aircraft tended to use
a mix of machine guns and autocannon, the latter firing explosive projectiles. The modern M61 Vulcan 20 mm rotating barrel
Gatling gun that is standard on current American fighters fires a projectile weight of about
10 kg/s (22 lb/s), nearly three times that of six 0.50-cal machine guns, with higher
velocity of 1,052 m/s (3450 ft/s) supporting a flatter trajectory, and with exploding projectiles. Modern fighter gun systems also feature ranging
radar and lead computing electronic gun sights to ease the problem of aim point to compensate
for projectile drop and time of flight (target lead) in the complex three dimensional maneuvering
of air-to-air combat. However, getting in position to use the guns
is the challenge. The range of guns is longer than in the past
but still quite limited compared to missiles, with modern gun systems having a maximum effective
range of approximately 1,000 meters. High probability of kill also requires firing
to usually occur from the rear hemisphere of the target. Despite these limits, when pilots are well
trained in air-to-air gunnery and these conditions are satisfied, gun systems are tactically
effective and highly cost efficient. The cost of a gun firing pass is far less
than firing a missile, and the projectiles are not subject to the thermal and electronic
countermeasures than can sometimes defeat missiles. When the enemy can be approached to within
gun range, the lethality of guns is approximately a 25% to 50% chance of “kill per firing pass”.The
range limitations of guns, and the desire to overcome large variations in fighter pilot
skill and thus achieve higher force effectiveness, led to the development of the guided air-to-air
missile. There are two main variations, heat-seeking
(infrared homing), and radar guided. Radar missiles are typically several times
heavier and more expensive than heat-seekers, but with longer range, greater destructive
power, and ability to track through clouds. The highly successful AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking
(infrared homing) short-range missile was developed by the United States Navy in the
1950s. These small missiles are easily carried by
lighter fighters, and provide effective ranges of approximately 10 to 35 km (~6 to 22 miles). Beginning with the AIM-9L in 1977, subsequent
versions of Sidewinder have added all-aspect capability, the ability to use the lower heat
of air to skin friction on the target aircraft to track from the front and sides. The latest (2003 service entry) AIM-9X also
features “off-boresight” and “lock on after launch” capabilities, which allow the pilot
to make a quick launch of a missile to track a target anywhere within the pilot’s vision. The AIM-9X development cost was U.S. $3 billion
in mid to late 1990s dollars, and 2015 per unit procurement cost is $0.6 million each. The missile weighs 85.3 kg (188 lbs), and
has a maximum range of 35 km (22 miles) at higher altitudes. Like most air-to-air missiles, lower altitude
range can be as limited as only about one third of maximum due to higher drag and less
ability to coast downward.The effectiveness of heat-seeking missiles was only 7% early
in the Vietnam War, but improved to approximately 15%–40% over the course of the war. The AIM-4 Falcon used by the USAF had kill
rates of approximately 7% and was considered a failure. The AIM-9B Sidewinder introduced later achieved
15% kill rates, and the further improved AIM-9D and J models reached 19%. The AIM-9G used in the last year of the Vietnam
air war achieved 40%. Israel used almost totally guns in the 1967
Six-Day War, achieving 60 kills and 10 losses. However, Israel made much more use of steadily
improving heat-seeking missiles in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In this extensive conflict Israel scored 171
of out of 261 total kills with heat-seeking missiles (65.5%), 5 kills with radar guided
missiles (1.9%), and 85 kills with guns (32.6%). The AIM-9L Sidewinder scored 19 kills out
of 26 fired missiles (73%) in the 1982 Falklands War. But, in a conflict against opponents using
thermal countermeasures, the United States only scored 11 kills out of 48 fired (Pk=23%)
with the follow-on AIM-9M in the 1991 Gulf War. Radar guided missiles fall into two main missile
guidance types. In the historically more common semi-active
radar homing case the missile homes in on radar signals transmitted from launching aircraft
and reflected from the target. This has the disadvantage that the firing
aircraft must maintain radar lock on the target and is thus less free to maneuver and more
vulnerable to attack. A widely deployed missile of this type was
the AIM-7 Sparrow, which entered service in 1954 and was produced in improving versions
until 1997. In more advanced active radar homing the missile
is guided to the vicinity of the target by internal data on its projected position, and
then “goes active” with an internally carried small radar system to conduct terminal guidance
to the target. This eliminates the requirement for the firing
aircraft to maintain radar lock, and thus greatly reduces risk. A prominent example is the AIM-120 AMRAAM,
which was first fielded in 1991 as the AIM-7 replacement, and which has no firm retirement
date as of 2016. The current AIM-120D version has a maximum
high altitude range of greater than 160 km (>99 miles), and cost approximately $2.4 million
each (2016). As is typical with most other missiles, range
at lower altitude may be as little as one third that of high altitude. In the Vietnam air war radar missile kill
reliability was approximately 10% at shorter ranges, and even worse at longer ranges due
to reduced radar return and greater time for the target aircraft to detect the incoming
missile and take evasive action. At one point in the Vietnam war, the U.S.
Navy fired 50 AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles in a row without a hit. Between 1958 and 1982 in five wars there were
2,014 combined heat-seeking and radar guided missile firings by fighter pilots engaged
in air-to-air combat, achieving 528 kills, of which 76 were radar missile kills, for
a combined effectiveness of 26%. However, only four of the 76 radar missile
kills were in the beyond-visual-range mode intended to be the strength of radar guided
missiles. The United States invested over $10 billion
in air-to-air radar missile technology from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Amortized over actual kills achieved by the
U.S. and its allies, each radar guided missile kill thus cost over $130 million. The defeated enemy aircraft were for the most
part older MiG-17s, −19s, and −21s, with new cost of $0.3 million to $3 million each. Thus, the radar missile investment over that
period far exceeded the value of enemy aircraft destroyed, and furthermore had very little
of the intended BVR effectiveness. However, continuing heavy development investment
and rapidly advancing electronic technology led to significant improvement in radar missile
reliabilities from the late 1970s onward. Radar guided missiles achieved 75% Pk (9 kills
out of 12 shots) in operations in the Gulf War in 1991. The percentage of kills achieved by radar
guided missiles also surpassed 50% of total kills for the first time by 1991. Since 1991, 20 of 61 kills worldwide have
been beyond-visual-range using radar missiles. Discounting an accidental friendly fire kill,
in operational use the AIM-120D (the current main American radar guided missile) has achieved
9 kills out of 16 shots for a 56% Pk. Six of these kills were BVR, out of 13 shots,
for a 46% BVR Pk. Though all these kills were against less capable
opponents who were not equipped with operating radar, electronic countermeasures, or a comparable
weapon themselves, the BVR Pk was a significant improvement from earlier eras. However, a current concern is electronic countermeasures
to radar missiles, which are thought to be reducing the effectiveness of the AIM-120D. Some experts believe that as of 2016 the European
Meteor missile, the Russian K-37M, and the Chinese PL-15 are more resistant to countermeasures
and more effective than the AIM-120D.Now that higher reliabilities have been achieved, both
types of missiles allow the fighter pilot to often avoid the risk of the short-range
dogfight, where only the more experienced and skilled fighter pilots tend to prevail,
and where even the finest fighter pilot can simply get unlucky. Taking maximum advantage of complicated missile
parameters in both attack and defense against competent opponents does take considerable
experience and skill, but against surprised opponents lacking comparable capability and
countermeasures, air-to-air missile warfare is relatively simple. By partially automating air-to-air combat
and reducing reliance on gun kills mostly achieved by only a small expert fraction of
fighter pilots, air-to-air missiles now serve as highly effective force multipliers.==See also==
List of fighter aircraft Warbird

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