‘Long ago in flight school, I remember an instructor told us that we were not flying aircraft or fighters. No he said, we were merely flying weapon platforms, and it was the weapon, not the pilot or aircraft that was most important,’ John Chesire, former US Navy F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat pilot.
Fighter aircraft are fixed-wing military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat. In military conflict, the role of fighter aircraft is to establish air superiority of the battlespace. Domination of the airspace above a battlefield permits bombers and attack aircraft to engage in tactical and strategic bombing of enemy targets.
The key performance features of a fighter include not only its firepower but also its high speed and maneuverability and its onboard radar relative to the target aircraft.
‘Long ago in flight school, I remember an instructor told us that we were not flying aircraft or fighters. No he said, we were merely flying weapon platforms, and it was the weapon, not the pilot or aircraft that was most important,’ says John Chesire, former US Navy F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat pilot, on Quora.
So, as a fighter pilot, what advantages would you rather have, a longer range missile, a faster and better maneuvering plane, or an outstanding radar?
‘Of course I want all three, but one rises to the surface of most desired. ‘Faster and better maneuvering aircraft: Without an adequate weapon system – radar and missiles – a fighter even though it can outmaneuver anything, is not desirable. The MiGs of my day were extremely maneuverable, albeit maybe not fast, except for the MiG-21. Worse, they possessed poor radar and weapon systems, that really limited their capability which negated their superior turning ability.
‘Outstanding radar: I was fortunate to have at the time superlative radar, the AWG-9. It was so advanced for its time it could track 24 targets and attack with missiles six targets, simultaneously. That was then. Today the need for a long range and superlative radar is overshadowed by the AWACS capabilities. Better than a fighter’s radar, they see a much larger picture, and through data link can feed target information to the fighter, just as its own radar might.
‘A longer-range missile: This would be my most desirable choice, as long it was an effective missile. (Consider for instance, fire-and-forget, launch and leave missiles.) I am reminded of ancient and later pike men with their long 16-foot weapons that could reach out and touch the dragoon or swordsman, well before they could bring their weapons to bear on you. Pike men did not have to be “maneuverable” or fast, nor did they need “long range eyesight.” They just needed their “longer range weapon” to put the hurt on someone before they could do it to you.’
‘Consider this; no matter what your fighter’s wonderful capabilities are, a Russian K-100 missile fired at 400km from you will get a lot more attention from you and much sooner, than you can fire your perhaps otherwise superior AIM-120D AMRAAM fired at its max range of 180 km at the Russian, no matter how much superior your fighter may be.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy