Jet fighter generations

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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".[1] 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.[1]

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,[2] and by Boeing IDS for the bid to replace Canadian Forces jets.[3] 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.[4] This marketing terminology made its way to statements by the Australian politicians.[5]

Definitions of the generations[edit]

Richard P. Hallion[edit]

USAF historian Richard P. Hallion proposed a classification in 1990:[6]

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-18, Mirage 2000, Panavia Tornado, MiG-29, Su-27.

Aerospaceweb[edit]

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 :[7]

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-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, HAL LCA
4.5. 1990 to 2000, enhanced capabilities, advanced avionics, limited Stealth technology characteristics : F-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[edit]

In 2009, Air Force Magazine also define fighter generations and proposed a sixth :[8]

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, 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,
6: extreme stealth, morphing capability, smart skins, highly networked, extremely sensitive sensors, optionally manned, directed energy weapons.

The 5th generation was expanded to the PAK FA and the Chengdu J-20 by the self-published website The Aviationist[9]

Jim Winchester[edit]

Jim Winchester, in a book published in 2011 by The Rosen Publishing Group, proposed the following definitions:[10][citation not found]

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-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[edit]

The Royal Australian Air Force Air Power Development Centre Bulletin proposed a classification in 2012:[1]

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

Chinese classification[edit]

The Chinese have created their own system used to describe their own aircraft:[11]

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

Comparing categorizations[edit]

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-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-18, Mirage 2000, Panavia Tornado, MiG-29, Su-27 - proposed -

The following table lists aircraft that have been categorized in multiple generations.

categorization of aircraft appearing in multiple classification
aircraft introduction Hallion Aerospaceweb AF Mag. AP Dev. Centre
Me 262 1944 1 1 1 -
P-80 1945 1 - 1 -
F-86 1949 2 1 2 1
MiG-15 1949 2 1 2 1
MiG-17 1952 2 - 3 1
F-100 1954 3 - 3 -
MiG-19 1955 3 2 - 2
F-102 1956 - 2 3 -
F-8 1957 3 2 - -
F-104 1958 4 2 3 2
F-105 1958 5 2 3 -
F-106 1959 - 2 3 -
MiG-21 1959 4, 5 2 3 2
F-4 1960 5 3 3 3
Mirage III 1961 4, 5 2 - 3
F-5 1962 5 3 - 2
MiG-23 1970 5 3 - 3
Mirage F1 1973 5 3 - -
F-14 1974 6 4 - -
F-15 1976 6 4 4 4
F-16 1978 6 4 4 4
Panavia Tornado 1979 6 4 - -
Mirage 2000 1982 6 4 4 4
F-18 1983 6 4 - 4
MiG-29 1983 6 4 4 4
Su-27 1985 6 4 - 4
Su-30 1996 - 4.5 4+ -
Saab Gripen 1997 - 4.5 - 4.5
F/A-18E/F 1999 - 4.5 4+ 4.5
Dassault Rafale 2001 - 4.5 4+ 4.5
Eurofighter Typhoon 2003 - 4.5 4+ 4.5
F-22 2005 - 5 5 5
Su-35 2012 - 4.5 4++ -
F-35 2015 - 5 5 5
F-15SE - - - 4++ 4.5
J-20 2016 - - 5 5

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "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. 
  2. ^ "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)
  3. ^ Daniel Leblanc (18 October 2013). "War heats up between Lockheed Martin and Boeing in bid to replace jets". "The Globe and Mail". 
  4. ^ Bill Sweetman (24 March 2014). "Is Saab’s New Gripen The Future Of Fighters?". "Aviation Week & Space Technology". 
  5. ^ "The F-35 JSF: what is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft?". "The Conversation" Australia. 30 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Dr Richard P. Hallion (Winter 1990), Air Force Fighter Acquisition since 1945, "Air Power Journal" 
  7. ^ Joe Yoon (27 June 2004). "Fighter Generations". Aerospaceweb. 
  8. ^ John A. Tirpak (October 2009). "The Sixth Generation Fighter". "Air Force Magazine". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. 
  9. ^ David Cenciotti (13 January 2011). "Fighter generations comparison chart". The Aviationist. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Does China’s J-20 rival other stealth fighters?". China Power. CSIS. Retrieved 30 April 2017.