Sunday, January 31, 2010

A comparison of 4+ and 5th generation fighters

The Internet is being flooded with all sorts of claims about 4+ and 5th generation fighters and I think that some reality needs to be re-injected into all this. Thankfully, Air Power Australia, which always has very good technical analyses, published an excellent comparative chart which is very helpful in getting some sense of the real capabilities of the various 4+ and 5th generation fighters currently in existence:

Ok. I guess I should add here that the folks at Air Power Australia have an agenda: they really, really, do not want the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for their country. But hey - who could blame them?! Besides, the fact that these folks are horrified at the prospect at getting the F-35 JSF does not mean that they analyses are flawed. On the contrary, the analysts writing for Air Power Australia are among the best out there and I have never seen anybody challenging their expertise or conclusions.

Now, a full comparison would require further elements, such as a comparison of radars and radar modes, jamming capabilities, air to air missiles, etc. Air Power Australia already has published such comparisons and I am not going to re-publish all that stuff here. Rather, let me share the bottom line with you: there are only 2 real 5th generation fighters in existence: the F-22 and the PAKFA (and only the former is actually deployed) and of these two the PAKFA is the more capable and more advanced one. Russian 4+ (or even 4++ as some refer to them) such as the Su-35BM or the MiG-35 are trailing the F-22 very closely and are clearly ahead of other 4+ aircraft (Eurofighter, Rafale, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet).

Lastly, I would like to add here that the difference in costs between 4++ and 5th generation fighters is huge and that I believe that 4++ generation fighters have a better export potential than the immensely expensive and complex 5th generation ones. Airpower is really running into a diminishing marginal returns issue here. Ask yourself - what is better: a wing of 4+ fighters or a pair of 5th generation ones? The answer, of course, depends on assumptions and on your engagement scenarii, but I just don't see countries like, say, Indonesia or Venezuela coming up with many reasons to procure 5th generation fighters.

The Saker

PS: does anybody know how to embed a full-size picture in Blogger? I tried all sort of things and the least bad one was to host the image on Picasa (which I did with the chart above). But it always de-pixelizes the damn picture. I really would want to post high res picture here without having to put up with the idiotic size limitations of Blogger. Any help with this would be really appreciated!!