Military Aviation

Here are the criteria that define jet fighters generations (along with several examples of every generation)

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?

‘First 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

‘Second generation:

Hawker Hunter

‘The fighters that dominated the Korean war

‘Main factors:

  • 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:

Mirage IIIs

‘Main factors:

  • 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

‘Fourth Generation:


‘Main factors:

  • 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.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 No. 29(R) Squadron, ZK308 / TP-V – 2014

‘Fifth Generation:

F-22s and F-35s

‘Main factors:

  • Stealth
  • Networking between different planes

‘Examples: F-35, F-22, SU-57, J-20, J-31.’

Bekaert concludes;

‘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.’

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Dassault, Indian Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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