The next US fighter jet’s specifications are unknown, although some information can be obtained from its major competitors, Russia‘s Su-57 and China‘s Chengdu J-20.
The US Air Force stated in September that it has secretly produced and tested a fighter prototype as part of its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
Experts continue to speculate on the capabilities of the first sixth-generation aircraft. Popular Mechanics, an American publication, examined the Su-57 and the Chengdu J-20 to determine what the next US fighter should be in order to obtain air superiority.
Fifth-generation fighters are distinguished by their stealth design. Fourth-generation fighters utilize radio-absorbing coatings to hide. Su-57 and J-20 were built with stealth from the start.
The Su-57 is considered the least secretive fifth-generation competitor. It may be designed to be less observable than the J-20.
Russia’s fragile economy and old industrial base may hamper its capacity to create a real stealth fighter.
“I would call the Su-57 something between the Super Hornet or the Silent Eagle International Roadmap and the Chinese J-20, and it is closer to the first than to the second,” explained aviation analyst Tyler Rogoway (Tyler Rogoway).
Second Su-57 serial model in development. Recent photographs reveal that Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Russia‘s aviation manufacturer, has improved production tolerances.
While there is still debate over how stealthy the Chinese J-20 is, it is believed to be more difficult to detect than its Russian competitor.
The design of the J-20 is very similar to the American F-22 Raptor, although there are some distinct differences between these two aircraft.
At first, people thought the J-20’s forward wing’s aerodynamic design made the plane less stealthy. But computer simulations show that the J-20 is very hard to spot from the front, and its ability to stay hidden may get better as the program grows.
Although stealth technology is the most talked about component of fifth-generation fighters, advancements in avionics systems provide an equally significant advantage.
The Su-57, like the F-35, can communicate with other aircraft and ground units in the area. It integrates this information with previously collected intelligence on recognized targets to create a detailed picture of the battlespace.
“It works on the idea of network centricity, which means that the plane’s onboard systems and operational complexes are successfully updated. The complex’s multi-core base gives them almost endless options “Dmytro Grybov, who is in charge of making the Su-57’s onboard systems, says this.
“The Su-57 also boasts side-viewing radars that work in conjunction with AFAR. These radars provide the Su-57 with a vast field of view and significantly increase the pilot’s situational awareness.”
The J-20, like other fifth-generation competitors, is thought to communicate data between itself, other aircraft, and nearby ground assets via a secure communications channel.
The J-20 also incorporates an infrared / electro-optic search and surveillance sensor and a passive optoelectronic detection system, which provides the pilot with 360-degree situational awareness.
Rumor has it these technologies are advanced enough to compete with the F-35’s systems.
All the stealth technology and avionics in the world can’t win a battle without weapons, but weapons are one area where the new fighters fall short of their predecessors. To maintain stealth, they must carry weapons inside, which limits their overall carrying capacity.
Details concerning the Su-57’s armament are few, but we can deduce a few things. It has an internal weapons bay capable of carrying four to six medium-range air-to-air missiles.
Two more armament bays can be found in triangular structures beneath the fighter’s wing roots. So far, no images or videos of the use of these unique secondary compartments have surfaced.
When stealth is not necessary, the aircraft has six external suspension systems for transporting additional weapons. The Su-57 uses one GSh-30-1 30mm cannon for close combat.
The J-20 employs a single huge weapons bay for various missiles and bombs, frequently built for air-to-air warfare against ground targets.
There are additionally two small side bays for air-to-air missiles. They enable the J-20 to keep the main compartment closed during combat with other fighters, reducing radar visibility.
When stealth is not a priority, the J-20 can use four external suspension assemblies under the wings. In total, the aircraft can carry four weapons in the main interior compartment, one in each side compartment, and four externally. Officially, the aircraft has no guns at all, making it the only fifth-generation fighter jet in the world to abandon guns.
The closer fighters are to each other when they engage, the more maneuverable they must be to win. But at long distances, avionics and the effectiveness of weapons systems become a more significant advantage.
The Su-57 and J-20 show these two approaches to aerial combat, with the Russian fighter specializing in close combat and the Chinese preferring long-range aerial combat.
As in the Su-35 of the fourth generation, the Su-57 uses an all-around deviation of the thrust vector, which provides high maneuverability.
At low speeds, thrust vector control allows the pilot to enter the aircraft into sharp rolls and loops.
At the same time, the aircraft’s dynamics decrease, making it vulnerable to aerial attacks. As a result, thrust vector control will most likely be used for high-altitude, high-speed strikes.
The Su-57 is the only stealth fighter that uses all-around deflection of the thrust vector.
The Chinese Air Force’s original J-20s did not have thrust vector control. However, China has declared that the current version of the J-20B fighter will have this capability.
According to J-20 test pilots, the aircraft’s maneuverability is comparable to that of the fourth generation Chinese fighter, the J-10.
Another analysis by Chinese aerospace engineer Song Wencong indicated that the plane would be more agile than most experts predicted.
Fifth-generation fighters are expected to be multi-role platforms capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. However, the greater the number of activities available to the aircraft, the less capable it gets in each of them.
This means that the Su-57 and J-20 can perform similar tasks, but each seems to specialize in slightly different areas.
The Su-57 is scheduled to be equipped with new Product 30 engines, although even with the current AL-41F turbojets, the fighter can reach speeds of over Mach 2 and has a practical ceiling of 20,000 meters.
When operating at subsonic speeds and employing outboard fuel tanks, the Su-57 is thought to have a supersonic flight range of more than 1,450 km or 3,060 km.
The Su-57 also has infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) systems that use laser turrets to blind attacking missiles with infrared homing warheads.
While China is working on an engine for its fifth-generation fighter, J-20s powered by Russian AL-31 engines have a top speed of Mach 2.55.
It is assumed that the J-20 will be used as a long-range interceptor, and its range is more than 2,600 km.
The J-20 also reaches a height of around 20,000 meters, but it does so at a little slower rate than the Su-57, with a climb rate of just under 20 kilometers per minute.
Although it is faster and has a more extended range, concerns about the maneuverability of the J-20 may put it behind the Su-57 in terms of close combat capabilities and the lack of an onboard gun.
New US Air Force fighter
With the J-20 and Su-57 already in service and moving towards mass production, it makes sense that the US is moving quickly to develop its fighter.
And in keeping with America’s aviation pedigree, they will likely seek to outflank the capabilities of Russia’s and China‘s top fighter jets.
As long as stealth technology continues to develop, the new US fighter jets can make a massive leap in avionics and data fusion.
F-35 pilots are head and shoulders above the competition in terms of situational awareness, thanks to the aircraft’s ability to receive and organize data from multiple sources in a single interface.
The next iteration of this technology will almost certainly include drones operating in support of manned fighters. This will expand the weapons and transmission range’s armory and protect the pilot.
These efforts are already being implemented in programs such as the Air Force Skyborg and the Boeing Loyal Wingman.
The Chengdu J-20 and Su-57 not only represent the best examples of their aircraft but also the end of the American monopoly on stealth fighters. Simply put, NGAD participants have a lot to work on.