The fourth-generation fighter is a class of jet fighters in service from around 1980 to the present, and represents design concepts of the 1970s.
During this period, maneuverability was enhanced by relaxed static stability, made possible by introduction of the fly-by-wire (FBW) flight-control system, which in turn was possible due to advances in digital computers and system-integration techniques. Replacement of analog avionics, required to enable FBW operations, became a fundamental requirement as legacy analog computer systems began to be replaced by digital flight-control systems in the latter half of the 1980s. The further advance of microcomputers in the 1980s and 1990s permitted rapid upgrades to the avionics over the lifetimes of these fighters, incorporating system upgrades such as active electronically scanned array (AESA), digital avionics buses, and infra-red search and track.
Due to the dramatic enhancement of capabilities in these upgraded fighters and in new designs of the 1990s that reflected these new capabilities, they have come to be known as 4.5 generation. This is intended to reflect a class of fighters that are evolutionary upgrades of the fourth generation incorporating integrated avionics suites, advanced weapons efforts to make the (mostly) conventionally designed aircraft nonetheless less easily detectable and trackable as a response to advancing missile, radar technology and stealth technology.
What is the difference between fourth-generation fighters produced by the US and Russia?
‘Let’s eliminate stealth because there isn’t any fair comparison. So, we’ll stick with 4th gen aircraft, and their best seems to be the Su-27 Flanker in all its variations. And as a Navy guy, I’ll just look at the F/A-18E/F,’ says Adam Daymude, former US Navy Pilot (2009-2013), on Quora.
‘Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Flanker is one sexy looking aircraft. It has some pretty decent engines (always key) and is big enough to carry a bunch of missiles, some of which are very capable. In fact, the AA-11 Archer heat seeking missile was leaps and bounds better than US AIM-9 until the AIM-9X came out. Additionally, their BVR weapons for a time presented a “bigger stick” than US fighters, meaning they could shoot us from further than we could shoot them. This plane is absolutely, no joke and no exaggeration, a massive threat to US air forces.
‘The Super Hornet corrected for the issues with the legacy Hornet: better range, better payload, better engines…it’s basically a completely different aircraft. It’s comparable in size and payload to the Su-27 and came about at around the same time. The cat and mouse with A-A missiles has swung back and forth for who has the bigger stick, but we have the top spot for now.
‘Here’s the difference: the US simultaneously upgraded their RADARs. It really doesn’t matter how big your stick is if you can’t see your opponent. Fighters were always hard to pick up at the max range of your missiles. Add in RCS reduction techniques and now your tactics are more driven by your RADAR’s capabilities vs the missile’s. I, for one, would never want to fly against an aggressor in this scenario. It’s been done at Red Flag with stealth aircraft and the results, for the 4th gen fighters, are not good.’
‘Until, or unless, Soviet (yes they’re Soviet, not Russian) aircraft are upgraded to AESA RADARs, they just don’t have a chance. We can shoot them when and where we choose and they have little to nothing to counter what we can do.
‘That’s for gen 4 vs gen 4. Put a Raptor or Battle Penguin [as the F-35 is nicknamed because its wings are relatively short compared to its length] in the fight…toast. Even US fighters would be toast, AESA or not.’
Photo credit: Lieutenant Jonathan Pfaff / U.S. Navy
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The F-18 is 500kts slower, has a 12,000ft lower ceiling, and lacks the maneuverability of the SU-27. It also has 700nm less range and a climb rate of 10,000 fpm less than the SU-27. I cannot take your assessment seriously. Having a better radar does not negate the obvious advantages the SU-27 has over an F-18
subguy772 Yes having a better radar absolutely does negate all the supposed advantages you mentioned. When you can shoot someone down before they even know you’re there it doesn’t matter what the payload or climb rate or top speed is. In modern dogfights the first one to see the enemy usually wins.