Tag Archives: Military Aviation

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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Italian troops in Afghanistan need air support AMXs can’t provide

As details about the recent fighting in the Gulistan area, in Afghanistan, that cost the life of another Italian soldier on Dec. 31, 2010, surface, the reason why the Italian AMXs, currently operating out of Herat, can’t carry bombs if Italian troops on the ground still require US air support, remains a mistery.

Indeed, the Italian ground troops, under fire for 30 minutes at the “Snow” outpost when Matteo Miotto was killed, were able to disengage only when a US attack plane dropped one bomb on the insurgents, killing four Talibans.

An internal debate about the opportunity of carrying bombs on the Ghibli had followed the death of four Italian alpines in October but, on Nov. 20, 2010, the Minister of Defence Ignazio La Russa, at the press conference following the NATO summit in Lisbon, had explained that the Italian planes deployed in the Afghanistan mission will not be armed with bombs.

The typical Italian dispute: we are fighting a war, but it can’t be said; we send bombers over there but we can’t allow them to carry bombs they need to protect our ground troops. Something we have already experienced in the past: in 1999, the Italian Tornado ECRs took part in the first waves of Allied Force but nodody knew that. Italian Tornado IDSs attacked ground targets in Serbia but, officially, they were not bombing, they operated as Integrated Defence. Nothing new here then.

Two armed AMX flying in the Goose Bay ranges (photo by: ItAF Troupe Azzurra).

Wittmund: home of the last GAF Phantoms

Located in the northern part of Germany, Wittmundhafen (or Wittmund) is the homebase of the Jagdgeschwader 71 (JG71) equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F-4F Phantom. The unit, that made its last detachment in Decimomannu last Sept. (read: Ciao German Phantoms!) and is named “Richthofen” after the WWI German ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the “Red Baron”, is the last German wing equipped with the F-4s, since the Luftwaffe is in the process of replace the “Rhinos” with the Eurofighter Typhoon. Being scheduled for 2011 the withdrawal of the type from service, Giovanni Maduli went to Wittmund to report about the operations of the last German Phantoms.
Here’s a preview of the report. All the images are available here: http://lowpassage.com/2010/12/28/wittmund/









Read Airplanes 12/2010 online!

If you click on the image below, you will be able to read the entire 12/2010 issue of Airplanes with articles dealing with the Frecce Tricolori’s 50th Anniversary airshow in Rivolto, the Ex. Vega 2010 in Decimomannu and much more! The magazine is in Italian language only, but foreign visitors can enjoy the pictures.

The first M-346 "Master" and its future in the Frecce Tricolori display team

On Dec. 21, 2010, the first  Alenia Aermacchi M-346 advanced trainer from the first batch of six aircraft for the Italian Air Force rolled out at Alenia’s factory at Venegono Superiore, during a ceremony attended by both company executives and representatives of the Aeronautical Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) and local authorities. Another M-346 was inside the hangar but did not roll out. Within a few months the first two T-346A (as the M-346 is designated by the ItAF) will be taken on charge by the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Experimental Flying Wing) at Pratica di Mare airbase, where they will undergo operational evaluation testing. During 2011 the ItAF is due to receive the other four aircraft, becoming the first air force equipped with the most advanced trainer available today to train military pilots destined to fly the latest 4th and 5th generation fighters. Along with the Aeronautica Militare, also the Republic of Singapore Air Force has ordered 12 M-346.  Even though the “Master” will be delivered to the 61° Stormo (currently flying the MB.339A for the basic training and the MB.339CD for the advanced one), that is the ItAF training Wing, many have fantasized of the aircraft wearing the Frecce Tricolori livery. The aircraft with which the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico (Aerobatic Training Squadron) “Frecce Tricolori” is currently equipped is the PAN version of the Alenia Aermacchi MB339A. The aircraft, that unlike the A model, fly with no tip tanks, differ from the standard model by the presence of the coloured smokes generation system: this device is controlled by two buttons, one on the stick, for white smoke, and one on the throttle, for coloured smoke. This type of aircraft equips the display team since 1982. Hence it is quite obsolete and, sooner or later, the Aeronautica will be compelled to replace it. However, a certain experience on the type must be gained from the operative squadrons before the aircraft can be used by the Frecce and, above all, the M-346 must be purchased in enough quantity to decide to divert 10 – 12 examples from the 61° to the team. Consequently, the only “new” aircraft that we will see at Rivolto airbase, home of the Frecce Tricolori, in the near future is the ItAF MB.339s with grey livery, on loan from the 61° Stormo, used for the training of the “Al Fursan”, the UAE air force display team. In fact, since 2009, eight fighter pilots from the UAE have been training with the Frecce pilots, with the aim to achieve the team’s operational status in 2011 with a similar version of the aircraft, known as MB.339 NAT (National Aerobatic Team). The Al Fursan team is expected to fly displays with seven aircraft, including one solo. The advanced course being held by the Italian pilots to the UAE colleagues should be completed in January, when the Al Fursan will continue its training at home. In the meanwhile, Alenia Aermacchi has been completing the upgrade of the UAE Air Force six legacy MB-339As and four A explamples, formerly belonging to the ItAF, that will carry the team’s black and gold colour scheme. The following picture was taken by Simone Bovi at Venegono in late November 2010.