Jet fighter generations
Jet fighters are often categorized historically in "generations", a term that first appeared in the 1990s, according to the Royal Australian Air Force's Air Power Development Centre Bulletin: "to make sense of the leap-frogging improvements in performance to jet fighter aircraft brought about through major advances in aircraft design, avionics, and weapon systems". and proposes that a "generational shift in jet fighter aircraft occurs when a technological innovation cannot be incorporated into an existing aircraft through upgrades" and retrofits.
Lockheed Martin has applied the term "fifth-generation" for its F-22 and F-35 aircraft, to imply their competition is unable to offer similar levels of performance, a classification debated by Eurofighter, and by Boeing IDS for the bid to replace Canadian Forces jets. Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman noted that Lockheed Martin "labeled the F-35 a “fifth-generation” fighter in 2005, a term it borrowed from Russia in 2004 to describe the F-22", and proposes that the post–Cold War era, low-cost approach of the Saab Gripen should qualify it as a sixth generation jet. This marketing terminology made its way to statements by the Australian politicians.
Definitions of the generations
Richard P. Hallion
- 1. High subsonic (1943–50): "little aerodynamic difference from the last generation of propeller-driven fighters. First- and second-generation turbojets; wood, fabric, and all-metal construction; optical gunsights; straight wing and straight tail. Mechanical control systems. Primitive ejection seats. Mach 0.75-0.85." Me 262, Gloster Meteor, P-80, DH Vampire, Yak-15, MiG-9, Saab 21R, F-84 Thunderjet, F9F Panther, Dassault Ouragan, DH Venom.
- 2.Transonic (1947–55): "Second-generation turbojets; radar gunsights; swept wings; generally have adjustable horizontal stabilizers. Early hydromechanical flight control systems. Mach 0.90-1.05." F-86, F-84 Thunderstreak, F9F Cougar, MiG-15, MiG-17, Hawker Hunter, Dassault Mystère IV.
- 3. Early supersonic (1953–60): "Swept wings, all-moving tails, radar gunsights, introduction of air-to-air missile armament. Third-generation turbojet engines. Early stability augmentation technology. Generally adaptable for both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Mach 1.3." MiG-19, F-100, F-8.
- 4. Supersonic (limited purpose) (1955–70): "Supersonic aerodynamics, especially area ruling; fourth-generation turbojets; radar for search and fire control. Overreliance on air-to-air missiles based on unrealistic expectations. Mach 2.0." F-104, early model MiG-21, English Electric Lightning, early model Mirage III.
- 5. Supersonic (multirole) (1958–80): "Refined supersonic aerodynamic design, including canards and variable geometry wings; fourth- and fifth-generation engines; stability augmentation; mixed-gun air-to-air missile (AAM) armament; terrain-following radar for low-level high-speed flight; radar search and fire control; infrared sensors; heads up displays (HUD); laser ranging and targeting; wide range of air-to-surface missiles, bombs, and rockets, including precision-guided munitions. Mach 1.4-2.5." F-105, F-4, late-model MiG-21, late-model Mirage III, F-5, F-111, Mirage V, Su-24, MiG-23, MiG-27, SEPECAT Jaguar, Mirage F1, Kfir.
- 6. Supersonic multirole, high efficiency (1974–present): "Combined the characteristics of the fifth-generation fighters with advances in propulsion, radar (multiple target track-while-scan, look-down/shoot-down), sensor, and electronic flight control technology to generate highly maneuverable, highly agile aircraft that can be swing-roled for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Fifth- or sixth-generation gas-turbine engines; engine thrust-to-weight ratios in excess of one; ability to attain supersonic speeds without afterburning; sustained high-G flight, and controllability below 70 knots at angles of attack exceeding 70 degrees. High degree of energy efficiency. Mix of cannon and missile armament, coupled with diverse air-to-ground weaponry. Mach 1.8-2.5." F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18, Mirage 2000, Panavia Tornado, MiG-29, Su-27.
In 2004 the website Aerospaceweb noted that classification by generations, "appears to have first appeared in Russia during the mid-1990s when officials were planning a competitor to the American Joint Strike Fighter" and proposed a classification :
- 1. 1945 to 1955, similar in capability to piston-engined fighter, thrust limited early jet engines, subsonic, rare radars, conventional armament (guns, bombs, rockets) : Me 262, F-86, MiG-15, etc.
- 2. 1955 to 1960, supersonic in level flight, radar, first air-to-air missiles : F-102, F-104, F-105, F-106, MiG-19, MiG-21, Gloster Javelin, Dassault Mirage III, Saab Draken
- 3. 1960 to 1970, multi-purpose fighter-bombers : F-4, F-5, F-8, MiG-23, MiG-25, MiG-27, Su-15, Su-17/20/22, British Aerospace Harrier, Mirage F1, Super Etendard, J-8II, Yak-38
- 4. 1970 to 1990, emphasizing maneuverability rather than speed : F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, MiG-29, MiG-31, Su-27, Su-33, Yak-141 , Panavia Tornado, Mirage 2000, Viggen, Mitsubishi F-2, AIDC Ching-Kuo, Chengdu J-10
- 4.5. 1990 to 2000, enhanced capabilities, advanced avionics, limited Stealth technology characteristics : F/A-18E/F, Su-30, Su-34, Su-35, Mig-35, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale
- 5. 2000-, advanced integrated avionics, low observable "stealth" techniques : F-22, F-35
Air Force Magazine
- 1. Jet propulsion : F-80, Me 262
- 2. Swept wings; range radar; infrared missiles : F-86, MiG-15
- 3. Supersonic, pulse radar, Beyond-visual-range missiles : Century Series, F-105, F-4, MiG-17, MiG-21
- 4. Pulse-doppler radar; high maneuverability; look-down/shoot-down missiles : F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000, MiG-29.
- 4+. High agility; sensor fusion; reduced radar signature : Eurofighter Typhoon, Su-30, F/A-18E/F, Rafale
- 4++. Active electronically scanned arrays; continued reduced signatures or “active” (waveform canceling) stealth technology, supercruise : Su-35, proposed F-15SE
- 5. All-aspect stealth with internal weapons bays, extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, some or full supercruise : F-22, F-35.
The magazine also proposes a 6th category for advanced aircraft in early developmental stages:
- 6: Extreme stealth, morphing capability, smart skins, highly networked, extremely sensitive sensors, optionally manned, directed energy weapons.
- 1. 1942–1950. from World War II to the Korean War, similar construction to their propeller driven fighter, 1st and 2nd generation turbojets : Me 262, Gloster Meteor, MiG 15, F-86
- 2. 1950–1965. onboard radar, infrared homing missiles
- 3. 1965–1975. look-down/shoot-down, RF air-to-air missiles, Terrain awareness and warning systems, Air-to-surface missiles with electro-optical guidance (e.g. AGM-65 Maverick), laser-guided bombs : F-4
- 4. 1975–2005. relaxed stability by fly-by-wire, digital computers, Active electronically scanned array, Infra-red search and track : F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18
- 4+, 4++. 1986- high capacity data-link
- 5. 2005–2025. minimized radar cross-section (chines instead of standard leading edge extensions or canards, internal weapon bays), composite materials, commercial off-the-shelf processors, consolidated view of the battlespace, low observable data links.
Air Power Development Centre Bulletin classification
- 1. mid 1940s to mid 1950s. subsonic, no radars or self-protection countermeasures, unguided bombs and unguided rockets, no afterburners : F-86, MiG-15, MiG-17
- 2. mid-1950s to early 1960s. air-to-air radar, semi-active guided and infrared missiles, radar warning receivers, supersonic level flight : F-104, F-5, MiG-19, MiG-21
- 3. early 1960s to 1970. multi-role fighters, look-down/shoot-down, off-bore-sight targeting, Semi-active radar homing missiles, beyond visual range : MiG-23, F-4, Mirage III
- 4. 1970 to late 1980s. head-up displays, fly-by-wire, Swing-role fighters : MiG-29, Su-27, F/A-18, F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000
- 4.5. late 1980s into the 90s. (half generation from a reduction in military spending) stealth technology, Radar-absorbent materials, thrust vectoring, Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, Network Warfare, multirole missions : F/A-18E/F, F-15SE, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale
- 5. 2005- stealth technology, multispectral sensors, networked : F-22, F-35, PAK FA, Chengdu J-20
The Chinese have created their own system used to describe their own aircraft:
- 1. 1950s to 1960s: J-5, J-6
- 2. 1970s to 1980s: J-7, J-8
- 3. 1990s to 2000s: J-10, J-11
- 4. 2010s: J-20
The following table compares the various categorizations, by era and key feature.
|generation||Hallion||Aerospaceweb||Air Force Magazine||Air Power Development Centre|
|1||High subsonic (1943–50) : Me 262, P-80||1945 to 1955 : Subsonic, Me 262, F-86, MiG-15||Jet propulsion : P-80, Me 262||~1945-~55 : subsonic, F-86, MiG-15, MiG-17|
|2||Transonic (1947–55) : F-86, MiG-15/MiG-17||1955 to 1960, supersonic : F-102, F-104, F-105, F-106, F-8, MiG-19, MiG-21, Mirage III||IR missiles : F-86, MiG-15||~1955-~60 : supersonic, F-104, F-5, MiG-19, MiG-21|
|3||Early supersonic (1953–60): MiG-19, F-100, F-8.||1960 to 1970, fighter-bombers : F-4, F-5, MiG-23, Mirage F1||BVR missiles : F-100, F-102, F-104, F-105, F-106, F-4, MiG-17, MiG-21||~1960-70. multi-role : MiG-23, F-4, Mirage III|
|4||Supersonic (limited purpose) (1955–70): F-104, MiG-21, Mirage III||1970 to 1990 : maneuverability : F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18, MiG-29, Su-27, Panavia Tornado, Mirage 2000||look-down/shoot-down : F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000, MiG-29||1970-~90. Swing-role : MiG-29, Su-27, F/A-18, F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000|
|4+||-||-||sensor fusion : Eurofighter Typhoon, Su-30, F/A-18E/F, Dassault Rafale||-|
|4.5||-||1990 to 2000, enhanced : F/A-18E/F, Su-30, Su-35, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale||-||~1990-~2000 multirole : F/A-18E/F, F-15SE, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale|
|4++||-||-||EASA : Su-35, F-15SE||-|
|5||Supersonic (multirole) (1958–80): F-105, F-4, MiG-21, Mirage III, F-5, MiG-23, Mirage F1||2000- : F-22, F-35||stealth : F-22, F-35||2005- stealth : F-22, F-35, J-20, J-31, PAK FA|
|6||Supersonic multirole, high efficiency (1974-): F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18, Mirage 2000, Panavia Tornado, MiG-29, Su-27||-||proposed||-|
The following table lists aircraft that have been categorized in multiple generations.
|aircraft||introduction||Hallion||Aerospaceweb||AF Mag.||AP Dev. Centre|
|Mirage III||1961||4, 5||2||-||3|
- "Five Generations of Jet Fighter Aircraft". Air Power Development Centre Bulletin. Royal Australian Air Force. January 2012. Archived from the original on 2014-03-22.
- "What is a 5th generation fighter" (PDF). Eurofighter World. February 2010. p. 16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-11-02. (archive date inferred from archive URL)
- Daniel Leblanc (18 October 2013). "War heats up between Lockheed Martin and Boeing in bid to replace jets". "The Globe and Mail".
- Bill Sweetman (24 March 2014). "Is Saab's New Gripen The Future Of Fighters?". "Aviation Week & Space Technology".
- "The F-35 JSF: what is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft?". "The Conversation" Australia. 30 April 2014.
- Dr Richard P. Hallion (Winter 1990), Air Force Fighter Acquisition since 1945, "Air Power Journal"
- Joe Yoon (27 June 2004). "Fighter Generations". Aerospaceweb.
- John A. Tirpak (October 2009). "The Sixth Generation Fighter". "Air Force Magazine". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03.
- Jim Winchester (December 15, 2011). James Bennett, ed. Jet Fighters Inside & Out. Weapons of War. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 5, 83. ISBN 978-1448859825.
- "Does China's J-20 rival other stealth fighters?". China Power. CSIS. Retrieved 30 April 2017.