Jet fighters generations are categories created to separate major technology leaps in the historical development of jet fighters.
Jet fighters generations are categories created to separate major technology leaps in the historical development of jet fighters. The term generation first appeared in the 1990s, according to the Royal Australian Air Force’s Air Power Development Centre Bulletin: “to make sense of the leap-frogging improvements in performance to jet fighter aircraft brought about through major advances in aircraft design, avionics, and weapon systems”, and proposes that a “generational shift in jet fighter aircraft occurs when a technological innovation cannot be incorporated into an existing aircraft through upgrades” and retrofits.
But which are the criteria to define a fighter generation and one (or several) examples of every generation?
‘The first jet fighters, developed at the end of WWII. Other than engine type they actually differ little from prop planes’, says Matthew Bekaert, an aviation expert, on Quora. ‘Main factors:
- Jet engines
- Straight wings
- Subsonic speeds
- no avionics / radar
‘Examples: Gloster Meteor, ME 262, P80 (later F-80), MiG-9
‘The fighters that dominated the Korean war
- Swept wings
- Transonic speeds
- Early radar / gun targeting systems
- First heatseeking missiles.
Examples: F-86, MiG-15, Mig-17, F9F8, Hawker Hunter
‘Third generation jets:
- More advanced radar systems
- First radar guided missiles and better heat seeking missiles became the primary weapons, cannons became secondary. Limited BVR
- Afterburning engines for Mach 2 speeds
‘Examples: Mig-19 and 21, F-4 Phantom, F-8 Crusader, Mirage 3, Electric Lightning
- Better radar systems, including look down shoot down
- Better missiles, both radar guided and heat seeking. BVR
- Computer assisted flight, fly by wire etc for better agility.
‘Examples: Mirage 2000, F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, Mig-29, SU-27
‘Examples of gen 4.5, that push gen 4 even further with EASA radars, radar reflection reducing technology, networking etc: Eurofighter Typhoon , Dassault Rafale, MiG-35, SU-30, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
- Networking between different planes
‘Examples: F-35, F-22, SU-57, J-20, J-31.’
‘The generations are of course a bit blurry, an upgraded gen 3 jet can easily be considered a gen 4. An early gen 4 like an F-16 is no match for the latest Rafale.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Dassault, Indian Air Force