Fighter jets have long been a staple of any successful military campaign. They are fast, effective, expensive and highly lethal machines, capable of traveling long distances with enormous firepower and guns. This article introduces us to the five top military jet fighters in service today, the price we pay for them, and the future of jet fighting aviation. Only fighter jets that made it into active duty were considered, therefore the YF-23 Black Widow, the YF-17 Cobra, and the F-20 Tigershark were excluded. Additionally, only fighter jets were examined and therefore bombers such as the F-117 Nighthawk and the F-21 Kfir were also not included.
1. F-14 Tomcat
Type Interceptor/multi-role Fighter aircraft
Designed by Bob Kress, engineering manager
Maiden flight 21 December 1970
Introduction September 1974
Retired 22 September 2006, USN
Status Active service with Iran, Limited Service in United States Navy
Primary users United States Navy, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
Number built 712
Unit cost US$38 million in 1998
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, variable geometry wing aircraft. The F-14 was the United States Navy’s primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defense interceptor and tactical reconnaissance platform from 1974 to 2006. It later performed precision strike missions once it was integrated with LANTIRN. It was developed after the collapse of the F-111B project, and was the first of the American teen-series fighters which were designed incorporating the experience of air combat in Vietnam against MiGs.
It entered service in 1972 with the U.S. Navy, replacing the F-4 Phantom II. It was later exported to the Imperial Iranian Air Force in 1976. It was retired from the U.S. Navy fleet on 22 September 2006, having been replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. As of 2007, it remains in service only with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.
The F-14 has visual and all-weather attack capability to deliver Phoenix and Sparrow missiles as well as the M-61 gun and Sidewinder missiles for close in air-to-air combat. The F-14 also has the LANTIRN targeting system that allows delivery of various laser-guided bombs for precision strikes in air-to-ground combat missions. The F-14, equipped with Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) is the Navy’s only manned tactical reconnaissance platform.
The F-14 Tomcat has the ability to fire the AIM-54 Phoenix — the longest ranged AAM in the world.
*** The Tomcat was retired from the U.S. Navy’s active fleet on 22 September 2006, having been supplanted by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. As of 2012, the F-14 was only in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, having been exported to Iran in 1976, when the U.S. had amicable diplomatic relations with Iran’s government. (Source : Wikipedia)
2. F-15 Eagle
Type Air superiority fighter
Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas/Boeing IDS
Maiden flight 27 July 1972
Introduction 9 January 1976
Status Active: 567
Primary users United States Air Force, Israeli Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Saudi Air Force
Unit cost US$27.9 million (F-15A/B) US$29.9 million (F-15C/D) in 1998
Variants F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15S/MTD
The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle is an all-weather tactical fighter designed to gain and maintain air superiority in aerial combat. It was developed for the U.S. Air Force, and first flew in July 1972. The F-15E Strike Eagle derivative is an all-weather strike fighter that entered service in 1989.
The Eagle’s air superiority is achieved through a mixture of unprecedented maneuverability and acceleration, range, weapons and avionics. It can penetrate enemy defense and outperform and outfight any current enemy aircraft. The F-15 has electronic systems and weaponry to detect, acquire, track and attack enemy aircraft while operating in friendly or enemy-controlled airspace. The weapons and flight control systems are designed so one person can safely and effectively perform air-to-air combat.
The F-15’s superior maneuverability and acceleration are achieved through high engine thrust-to-weight ratio and low wing loading. Low wing-loading (the ratio of aircraft weight to its wing area) is a vital factor in maneuverability and, combined with the high thrust-to-weight ratio, enables the aircraft to turn tightly without losing airspeed.
* The F-15 Eagle has a perfect combat record of 101 victories and zero defeats.
* During the Balkan conflict, the F-15E was the only fighter able to attack ground targets around the clock, in all weather conditions.
3. F-16 Falcon
Manufacturer General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin
Maiden flight 1974-02-02
Status Active: 724
Primary users United States Air Force and 24 other users
Number built >4,000
Unit cost US$14.6 million (F-16A/B) US$18.8 million (F-16C/D) in 1998
Variants General Dynamics F-16XL Mitsubishi F-2
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is an American multirole jet fighter aircraft developed by General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin for the United States Air Force. Designed as a lightweight fighter, it evolved into a successful multirole aircraft. The Falcon’s versatility is a paramount reason it was a success on the export market, serving 24 countries. The F-16 is the largest Western fighter program with over 4,000 aircraft built since production started in 1976. Though no longer produced for the US Air Force, it still sees limited duty and is also produced for export.
In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.
In designing the F-16, advanced aerospace science and proven reliable systems from other aircraft such as the F-15 and F-111 were selected. These were combined to simplify the airplane and reduce its size, purchase price, maintenance costs and weight. The light weight of the fuselage is achieved without reducing its strength. With a full load of internal fuel, the F-16 can withstand up to nine G’s — nine times the force of gravity — which exceeds the capability of other current fighter aircraft.
* The F-16 flew more sorties in Operation Desert Storm than any other aircraft.
* The F-16 is the most numerous fighter in the West.
4. F-18 Hornet
Type Multirole fighter, strike fighter
Manufacturer Boeing Integrated Defense Systems
Designed by McDonnell Douglas
Maiden flight 1995-11-29
Primary user United States Navy
Number built 300
Unit cost US$57 million (F/A-18E)
US$59 million (F/A-18F)
Developed from F/A-18 Hornet
Variants EA-18 Growler
The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a carrier-based fighter/attack aircraft that entered service in 1999 with the United States Navy. The fighter has recently been ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a larger and more advanced development of the F/A-18C/D Hornet.
The F/A-18 Hornet is an all-weather aircraft and is used as an attack aircraft, as well as a fighter. While in fighter mode, the F/A-18 Hornets are used mainly as fighter escorts and fleet air defense. While in attack mode, it is used for force projection, interdiction and close and deep air support.
The F/A-18 Hornet broke all records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability, and maintainability during Operation Desert Storm
5. YF-22 Raptor
Type Stealth air superiority fighter
Manufacturers Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
Boeing Integrated Defense Systems
Maiden flight YF-22: 29 September 1990
F-22: 7 September 1997
Introduction 15 December 2005
Status Active: 91
Primary user United States Air Force
Unit cost US$137.7 million as of 2007
Variants X-44 MANTA, FB-22
The F-22 Raptor is a fifth generation fighter aircraft which utilizes fourth generation Stealth technology. It was originally envisioned as an air superiority fighter for use against the Soviet Air Force, but is equipped for ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence roles as well. Faced with a protracted development period, the prototype aircraft was designated YF-22 and, as F/A-22 during the three years before formally entering United States Air Force service in December 2005 as the F-22A. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is the prime contractor and is responsible for the majority of the airframe, weapon systems and final assembly of the F-22. Along with Lockheed Martin, partner Boeing Integrated Defense Systems provides the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and all of the pilot and maintenance training systems.
* The F-22 has the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds.
* The Raptor will be the leading American air-to-air fighter of the new century.
The Future of Jet Fighting
– F-35 Lightning
Manufacturers Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
Maiden flight 15 December 2006
Introduction 2011 (scheduled)
Status Under development/pre-production
Primary users United States Air Force
United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Royal Air Force / Royal Navy
Unit cost F-35A: US$48 million, F-35B: US$62 million, F-35C: US$63 million
Developed from Lockheed Martin X-35
The F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, stealth-capable military strike fighter, a multi-role aircraft that can perform close air support, tactical bombing, and air-to-air combat. The F-35 is descended from the X-35 of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Its development is being principally funded by the United States with the United Kingdom and other partner governments providing additional funding. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems as major partners. Demonstrator aircraft flew in 2000; a production model first took flight on 15 December 2006. The F-35 is scheduled to be released for service in 2011 and will set a new standard in fighter jet aviation.