The U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet, with its stealth, supersonic cruise and precision strike capabilities, is considered one of the most advanced stealth fighters. (AFP)
The generation designation for warplanes usually comes from a custom within aviation circles. Each generation of warplanes has a subjective set of features and attributes that may have previously existed in particular aircraft and have since become essential requirements for the next generation of warplanes.
What are the characteristics of each of the four generations of warplanes
The generation division of warplanes is quite subjective, so the Air Force is required to analyze a range of new features and assign some of them to the next generation of warplanes.
First generation: jet propulsion.
Second generation: swept wings, range-finding radar and infrared-guided missiles.
Third generation: supersonic flight, pulsed radar and missiles to engage adversaries beyond the range of the naked eye.
Fourth generation and beyond: high agility, some degree of sensor information integration, pulsed Doppler radar, reduced radar signal reflection, wire-borne flight control technology, look-down/shot-down missiles, etc.
Since the new 4th generation fighter is still in production, it is probably the most difficult generation of all fighters to “part with”. As a result, the 4th generation fighter is often further subdivided into subgenerations such as the 4, 4+, and 4++. These more advanced 4th generation platforms often have some of the capabilities of the 5th generation, but not all.
Equipping the F-35 as a nuclear-armed, dual nuclear-permanent capability fighter could provide the U.S. military with a broader range of precision nuclear attack options. (AFP PHOTO/ US AIR FORCE/CHRISTINE GROENING)
Fifth-generation warplanes put stealth at the forefront of their design
In the case of the first fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the most important difference from fourth-generation fighters is that stealth is a primary principle in the aircraft’s design.
Rather than first designing an aircraft to meet aerodynamic and performance standards and then seeking ways to reduce radar reflections, the F-22 was designed from day one with stealth at the forefront.
Of course, this is not all that is special about the F-22, and while it is in fact the first truly stealthy fighter on the planet, it also has several other attributes essential to a fifth-generation fighter.
The F-22 comes with a highly integrated computer system capable of integrating with other networked information; it is also a high-performance fighter capable of performing multiple missions and roles; as such, it has a higher level of situational awareness than older generation fighter platforms.
The F-22 also has a supercruise capability, which means the ability to maintain supersonic flight without activating the afterburner (afterburner). For an interceptor fighter like the F-22, supercruise capability means being able to approach enemy aircraft at extremely high speeds while still having enough fuel to fight them at the last minute.
In contrast, the Air Force’s mainstay fourth-generation multi-role fighter, the F-16, would use up all the fuel on the aircraft in a matter of minutes with its energizer burners ignited.
Today, there are four active fifth-generation fighter platforms in the world. The U.S. F-22 and F-35, the Chinese Communist Party‘s J-20 and Russia’s Su-57, flying alongside more than 25 different fourth-generation platforms.
To improve and prepare for these emerging maritime combat tactics, U.S. high-tech Navy amphibious assault ships recently completed deployments of up to 13 F-35s. Pictured are F-35s. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Here’s what the fifth-generation high-powered fighter has to offer compared to the most modern and advanced fourth-generation platform, the F-15EX.
-Advanced avionics systems.
-Networking or data integration capabilities.
And what will be the criteria for the sixth generation fighter
While some are still debating what characteristics are needed in the details of a fifth-generation fighter, the above characteristics are generally accepted. Some of these capabilities are available on some fourth-generation aircraft platforms, but they must be available on fifth-generation platforms. So this raises the question …… what would be the criteria for a 6th generation fighter when 5th generation fighters are still so scarce?
The following are the capabilities that a fifth and a half or sixth generation fighter might have.
This means that the design of the aircraft itself will allow modular components to be easily removed and replaced, which will not only increase the Life of each aircraft, but also allow for rapid upgrades of more advanced sensors, avionics, and weapons systems.
-Switch between manned or unmanned
With the continued integration of artificial intelligence technologies with avionics systems, the next generation (possibly 6th generation) of fighters will be so self-controlled that they will be able to perform some missions without a pilot.
-Electronic Data Center + Unmanned Wingman Swarm
With the option to carry a man, the sixth generation fighter will likely act as a data center, transmitting target/target data to a rear artillery or missile base, and also have the capability to lead a swarm of unmanned wingmen on a mission.
In order to potentially support future new weapon systems like laser weapons, the engines of the sixth generation fighter will need to have the ability to generate more excess power. Of course the modular design will make updates easy.
-More advanced data integration and cowl displays.