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Fighter Aircraft

The global fighter market will be reshuffled since the restrictions concerning the sale of the F-35 fighter may impact its proliferation. In spite of this, the F-35 will likely replace the lion’s share of the ageing American-made fighter aircraft in Europe and the Far East. No new European fighter programme is underway and, therefore, according to present estimates there will be no European stealth fighter on the horizon before the 2040s. The European 4+ generation fighters still participate in some European, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern competitive tendering processes.

Russian manufacturers are also in the same markets to an extent. China is also looking to participate in the international market. However, the national fighter programs of Japan, Turkey and South Korea are still in process, and so their export prospects are uncertain. Questions associated with integration and access to armaments and weapon systems impede the sales of these aircraft types. Only China has national production in place and, relying on it, China can probably deliver an entire weapon system and the required system support.

As the original purpose of a fighter was to destroy airborne targets, fighters were normally relatively small, single-seater fast jets furnished with 1-2 engines. Even though the fighters’ multi-role capabilities are continually advancing, due to physical constraints they cannot replace transport, ISTAR and C2 aircraft, or strategic bombers in other tasks assigned to air forces.

Whereas aerodynamic characteristics and powerplant technology define the fighter’s performance as an aircraft, its warfighting capability is based on its sensor technology, weapons, self-protection and communication systems as well as the situational awareness and decision-making systems intended to support the pilot. It is commonplace to use survivability and mission success as the metrics of a fighter’s warfighting capability.

Recently, numerous references to fighter generations, and especially to the differences between the 4th and 5th generations, have been seen in public. Most seem to believe that the factors that separate these generations include stealth technology, manoeuvrability, super cruise capability, avionics and sensors, and sensor fusion. Even though this kind of a classification makes it easier to compare different types of aircraft and the fleets used by different air forces, their comparability suffers as the classifications and associated terminology become skewed, serving the interests of commercial actors.

While the clearly unique characteristics of 5th generation fighters are being emphasised, many manufacturers are introducing new variants of 4th generation fighters furnished with 5th generation properties as ‘4+ or 4++’ generation fighters. Bearing in mind the abovementioned criteria, there is only one 5th generation fighter in operational service in the world: the American F-22 Raptor.

Military aviation has shown an historical trend towards higher unit costs. Norman Augustine famously predicted that “In the year 2054, the entire [US] defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.”

Reported fighter prices vary enormously, typically by a factor of two. The Eurofighter Typhoon was over twice as expensive as the F-16 at published commercial rates.The lower price is usually the airplane itself, while the higher price is the fully equipped airplane, with accessories and spares and so forth. Even higher prices can be derived by looking at total program cost, to include development expenses. Export versions can be substantially different from domestic ones and export deals typically involve complicated compensation packages.

As recently as 2008 Lockheed officials said the cost for the three versions of the F-35 would be between $45 million and $63 million each. The 2013 South Korean FX-3 competition provides a fairly robust apples-to-apples price comparison for 60 fully equiped commercial sale aircraft. The F-15 Silent Eagle aircraft unit price was $40 million, and the F-35 Lightning II aircraft unit price was $180 million.

A fighter aircraft is a weapon system-bearing aerial platform, maneuverable in three dimensions (six degrees of freedom), the functionality of which is to seek out, engage and destroy hostile targets. An onboard operating crew, such as a fighter pilot, typically controls the aircraft and the associated weapon systems interactively in real-time. A common type of operational activity a fighter aircraft is typically tasked to is an air-to-air combat (AA), which is carried out in order to challenge one or more adversary aircraft having similar maneuvering capabilities, similar weapon system-bearing options and controlled in a substantially similar manner by an adversary operating crew. The AA can also include an engagement between aircrafts having different capabilities and different weapons. A subset of AA is the close-in combat or Within Visual Range (WVR) combat, colloquially referred to as a dogfight (DGFT), which is considered to be the most difficult type of air warfare activity to conduct.

The objective of the pilot during a close-in combat is to maneuver the aircraft within the combat space such as to attain angular/energy advantage in respect to the adversary aircraft and thereby reach an attack position wherefrom an effective weapon system-based threat could be actualized. During a finite time window, the length of which depends upon various operational factors, the aircraft is directed such that ideally a gradual build-up of tactical advantage in respect to the adversary aircraft is achieved until an optimal attack position is reached.

In the early periods of air warfare a close-in combat typically involved the exclusive utilization of gun systems where the pilot used primitive aiming methods while having no capability of performing formal firing calculations. It was soon realized that under these operational constraints in order to be effective an attacking aircraft had to be maneuvered into a position close to and in the rear hemisphere of an adversary aircraft within a considerably limited firing sector wherein one or more accurately timed firing sequences of the guns could be carried out.

Continuous improvements in aerial weapon systems including the introduction of all-aspect-guided missiles, the substantial enhancement of the effective lethal weapon range envelopes, and the improved accuracy of the gun systems provided the option of firing the guns and launching the missiles against an adversary aircraft in enhanced traverse angles and within increased ranges. Consequently, it was commonly estimated that the need for traditional intense maneuvering for the positioning the attacking aircraft to the aft firing sector in respect to and into close ranges to an adversary aircraft would be substantially negated.

In response to the usage of guided missiles efficient counter measures were introduced to reduce the missile attack threat. The use of increasingly effective counter measures reduced the overall efficiency of the guided weapon systems operating in enhanced ranges and at high angular traverses and necessitated under some circumstances the appropriate maneuvering of the attacking aircraft in the traditional manner such as to position the aircraft into a close range in the rear hemisphere in respect to the adversary aircraft. Thus, the reduction of the guided weapons threat by the use of the defensive counter measures maintains the importance of a superior maneuvering capability in order to attain tactical advantage in the combat space.

The conduct of close-in maneuvering air combat is a skill-based activity, which requires that the practitioner of the combat, such as a fighter pilot, possess a set of preferred physiological characteristics (superior eyesight, fast reflexes, G-tolerance and the like). Extensive theoretical knowledge concerning aerial fighting in general, various aerial aircrafts performance and maneuverability characteristics and aerial weapon systems characteristics in particular, sufficient practical competence and suitable operational skills are also required. The core skills include the ability of the pilot to perform continuously and effectively a sequence of operational steps such as: to observe the dynamically changing situation in the combat space to evaluate the current situation accurately (specifically adversary air speed and altitude); to assess the distances between participating aircraft; to predict future potential situations; to derive correct conclusions based on the evaluations and to translate the derived conclusions into maneuver or energy commands to be input into the control systems of the aircraft in order to achieve an optimal maneuvering of the aircraft in respect to the adversary pilot and thereby to achieve an advantageous attack geometry in respect to the adversary aircraft.

The optimal conduct of a close-in combat involves a great number of variables that are associated with a plurality of input parameters, which can result in a multitude of possible potential outcomes. There are considerable and frequent variations regarding the best manner for performance of a close-in combat during a distinct engagement or across different engagements since the optimal manner of conducting the combat depends on a plurality of operational factors, such as for example the lethal weapon range envelope of the participating aircraft, the availability or non-availability of defensive means against IR-guided missiles, the external configuration of the aircraft, the rate of fuel consumption and the like. In general, the pilot engaged in a dogfight will attempt to position his aircraft to acquire an angular advantage vis-a-vis the opponent's aircraft, in such a manner as would allow the pilot to threaten the opponent's aircraft with the available weapons at his disposal. The opponent pilot will attempt to reach like position. Because some countermeasures would "blind" some aircraft's weapons systems, such as the long distance missiles, the ability to out-maneuver and reach the rear and near region of the opponent's aircraft is still of great significance.

Navy fighter aircraft are intended primarily for operations from the short decks of aircraft carriers. Operation from an aircraft carrier poses certain constraints during the design of the aircraft. For example, the relatively short length of the flight deck (about 700 feet for the larger carriers employed during World War II) imposed restrictions on the stalling speed of the aircraft and thus required that Navy fighters have somewhat lower wing loadings than their counterparts in the USAAF. A tail hook must be provided to give rapid deceleration of the aircraft on touchdown, and this in turn required special strengthening of the rear portion of the fuselage. Furthermore, a carrier-based aircraft must be designed for higher landing sink rates than normally encountered in land-based aircraft; this higher sink rate requires a heavier landing gear and attachment structure. Since storage space both on the flight and hanger decks is at a premium on an aircraft carrier, provision must also be made for folding the wings so that the required parking space is reduced.

The state-of-the-art fighters, like the F-22, EF 2000 and Rafale, are affordable only to the larger western nations, like the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain, and even then not in the numbers originally sought. With the exception of some oil-rich states, they are beyond the means of most other nations. Thus, for the many operators of F-16 and F/A-18 class aircraft, including the smaller NATO countries, potential replacements are difficult to identify.

The RAND Corporation's "GRAY THREAT" study of 1995 noted that in 1993 and 1994, BAe and the DRA conducted an extensive series of computer combat simulations to examine the combat effectiveness of various versions of EF-2000 and compare the Eurofighter to future Russian aircraft as well as other fighters. Both studies focused on beyond visual range air-to-air combat and assumed a threat aircraft with the capabilities of an upgraded Russian Su-27 (Su-35) equipped with an AMRAAM-like missile. DRA's simulations appear to have been considerably more sophisticated than BAe's, which apparently were limited to small engagements of 2 v 2 (two fighters versus two fighters) or smaller, whereas DRA went as high as 8 v 8. Both studies used an overall effectiveness outcome scale that ranks fighters from 0 to 1.0. The higher the number earned by a given fighter, the greater the probability that the fighter wins. Given the strong incentives for having the EF-2000 perform well, considerable skepticism is warranted. The fact that the BAe results indicate only a relatively small improvement in capability provided by the nearly all-new F-18E/F compared with the existing F/A-18C seemed highly suspect to RAND.

1994 Combat Simulation Scores Claimed by British Industry and Government
British Aerospace Defence Research Agency
Fighter Effectiveness
F-22 .91 10:1 .90 9:1
EF-2000 .82 4.5:1 .75 3:1
F-15F .60 1.5:1
F-15E .55 1.2:1
Rafale .50 1:1 .50 1:1
F-15C .43 1:1.3
F-18E/F .25 1:3 .45 1:1.2
F-18C .21 1:3.8
F-16C .21 1:3.8
Gripen .40 1:1.5
Mirage 2000 .35 1:1.8
Tornado F.3 .30 1:2.3

In 2004 unclassified reports of simulated combat using various aircraft, ranging from the F-22 to cheaper fighters, suggest that putting an F-22 against a Sukhoi Su-35 in unclassified informal tests in network simulators, the F-22 would manage to shoot down 10 Su-35s for every F-22 lost. The Eurofighter managed to shoot down 4.5 aircraft for every Typhoon lost. The next best air superiority capability using the same missile systems was the Rafale, which shared a one-for-one exchange rate. F-15s, F-18s and F-16s were all less than unity.

The Captor-E Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which will use 1,426 T/R modules and is scheduled to be integrated onto the Eurofighter Typhoon in 2015, is said to be capable of identifying an F-35 at around 60 kilometers away. The F-35’s APG-81, which is reported to have 1,400 T/R modules, would be able to recognize the Eurofighter at 120 kilometers or farther.

Worldwide, there are over 50 000 military aircraft in use, approximately 15 000 of which are combat aircraft. The United States is the undisputed forerunner in fighter design and production; it has approximately 2 800 fighters in operational service – twice the number of Russia and China. Most of the fighters flying in the world are manufactured by the American aviation industry. As of 2015, the United States produces F-15 and F-16 fighters for export as well as F/A-18 and F-35 aircraft for export and its own use. It is estimated that only the production line of the F-35 is guaranteed to remain open during the next decade.

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Page last modified: 19-03-2019 09:56:27 ZULU