Category Archives: Rogue States

Fighter generations comparison chart

The appearance of the new J-20 (unofficially dubbed “Black Eagle”) raised many questions about the Chinese stealth fighter. Some experts think it will be more capable than the F-22; others (and I’m among these ones) think that the real problem for the US with the J-20 is not with the aircraft’s performance, equipment and capabilities (even if the US legacy fighters were designed 20 years earlier than current Chinese or Russian fighters of the same “class”); the problem is that China will probably build thousands of them.

Anyway, comparing the US and Chinese fighters, everybody referred to “fifth generation planes” bringing once again the concept of “fighter generation” under the spotlight.

Generations are a common way to classify jet fighters. Often, generations have been “assigned” to fighters in accordance with the timeframes encompassing the peak period of service entry for such aircraft.

The best definition I’ve found so far of fighter generations is the one contained in an article published in 2009 by Air Force Magazine, that proposes a generations breakdown based on capabilities:

Generation 1: Jet propulsion

Generation 2: Swept wings; range-only radar; infrared missiles

Generation 3: Supersonic speed; pulse radar; able to shoot at targets beyond visual range.

Generation 4: Pulse-doppler radar; high maneuverability; look-down, shoot-down missiles.

Generation 4+: High agility; sensor fusion; reduced signatures.

Generation 4++: Active electronically scanned arrays; continued reduced signatures or some “active” (waveform canceling) stealth; some supercruise.

Generation 5: All-aspect stealth with internal weapons, extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, some or full supercruise.

Potential Generation 6: extreme stealth; efficient in all flight regimes (subsonic to multi-Mach); possible “morphing” capability; smart skins; highly networked; extremely sensitive sensors; optionally manned; directed energy weapons.

In order to give the readers a rough idea of the type of aircraft belonging to each generation based on the above breakdown I’ve prepared the following table with the help of Tom Cooper / ACIG.org and Ugo Crisponi / Aviatiographic.com, who provided the profiles. It’s not meant to show all the aircraft theoretically belonging to a generation and includes only the profiles available at the time of writing…

As I’ve already said on Twitter, what such a table should let you understand at a glance is that capabilities and appearance are inversely proportional: former generations aircraft look much better than more modern fighters…..

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How to target an aircraft carrier

In a recent article about the USS Nimitz and the 5th Fleet, describing why an aircraft carrier is always on the move I explained: “…..upon reaching a specific area of operations, the ship tends to keep it for several days, “orbiting” in international waters so as unpredictable as possible to avoid exposure to unlikely, but not impossible, extremely difficult long-range ballistic shootings “. In fact, when I wrote that text, I knew that China was developing the first ASBM (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile) with a range of 3.000 kilometers and speed in excess of Mach 10 but didn’t know they were close to deploy it. I actually thought and still believe that, although most probably achieving the IOC (Initial Operational Capability), the DF21D (Dong Feng) “carrier killer” missile still has years of tests needed to tune its guidance system before it can be considered a real threat. Indeed, no over-water tests, required to evaluate the accuracy of the missile to pinpoint moving targets, has been announced or unveiled by intelligence sources. However, the ASBM threat has to be taken in proper consideration if “mobility” and “power projection” will remain the two key concepts behind the U.S. naval doctrine in the next few years. In the meanwhile Popular Mechanics provides some info about how the ASBMs work.

How it Works ASBM – China’s Antiship Ballistic Missile – Popular Mechanics.

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