The F-35

The domain of the skies determines the strategic position of nations, where the F-35, J-20 and Su-27 fighters play a leading role.

In the current military panorama, fighters have become icons of defensive power, their presence in military powers being especially relevant. The diversity of functions and state-of-the-art technology puts them in the investment sights of modern armies.

Various Functions and Relevance of Modern Fighters

With strategic roles ranging from early warning to nuclear weapons delivery, today’s fighters go beyond simply showing force. In this regard, its impact in recent conflicts such as the Gulf War and NATO-Libya has been crucial, driving global investment in these aircraft.

At the same time, the development of air defense systems has increased, especially in areas of geopolitical tension. However, the manufacture of these combat aircraft is proceeding at a gradual pace, given the complexity and time required for their production.

Fighter programs, which require long-term planning, represent a considerable investment in global weaponry. In fact, these aircraft are considered a unique asset within defense production. Despite the slow production, it is essential to know which models are preferred by the world air forces, which in turn makes it possible to identify the programs and types of fighters on the rise.

The F-35, the flagship of the United States Air Force, has long been in the lead, with little competition from the fourth-generation F-15EX. This fifth-generation fighter, the only one of its kind in the Western world, has achieved a place of its own, especially following the cessation of production of the F-22 Raptor.

The F-35A is considered the ideal fighter for the 21st century, especially in scenarios where it is more likely to evade ground anti-air defenses than engage in dogfights against fighters of a similar level. While the F-35, a product of the Joint Strike Fighter program, may not be the most agile in aerial combat, its cost-effective stealth capabilities have made it a sought-after asset.

Its production is carried out on a large scale, although it is not yet ready for high-intensity combat. Nonetheless, the F-35 has been successful in export markets, especially in Western-aligned countries, primarily Europe, thanks to its distinguished position among NATO-compliant aircraft.

The J-20, the fighting cock of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, challenges the supremacy of the F-35. Revealed to the world in 2016, the J-20, like the F-35, focuses on stealth. However, it has shown superiority in areas such as speed, range and altitude.

The design of the J-20 was motivated by the anticipation of a massive deployment of F-22s by the United States Air Force. Although this fleet of F-22s did not materialize to the extent expected, the J-20 has cashed in, outperforming competitors, including the F-35.

The J-20 possesses an advanced arsenal of weapons and state-of-the-art avionics, prompting the United States to invest in projects like the AIM-260 missile to level the playing field. Furthermore, production of the J-20 has eclipsed other heavy fighters, reaching a similar scale to that of the F-22.

The J-20 has achieved a notable presence in the air forces of its country of origin, evidenced in demand for its different variants: the basic J-20, the J-20A with improvements in engines and stealth, the two-seater J-20AS and the J-20B with improved stealth and more powerful engines.

The WS-15 engine endows the J-20 with unprecedented thrust among global fighters, extending its range and allowing for better weapons integration with high-speed flight.

In the background, but no less relevant, we find the J-10C, a PLA Air Force fighter, purchased in large numbers since its debut in 2018. This light, single-engine fighter of the so-called “generation 4+” is a solid competitor to the F-35A in terms of overall performance.

The J-10C: high availability and easy maintenance

Although the J-10C does not possess the stealth capability of the F-35 or J-20, it stands out for its high availability, easy maintenance, impressive flight performance, and advanced weaponry. Its design favors operational efficiency and minimal maintenance.

China tests Taiwan's defenses with increasingly close flights.
J-10

Despite its short range and lower radar and weapon load compared to aircraft of similar size, the J-10C represents an efficient and cost-effective means of modernizing Chinese combat units. It surpasses the J-7 and J-10A fighters it replaces and possesses considerable advantages over most types of fighters the People’s Liberation Army Air Force could face on the battlefield.

The Su-27 Flanker, a fourth-generation heavy fighter, proved its worth since its induction into the Soviet Air Forces and Air Defense Forces in 1984. Despite the economic contraction and reduced defense budget that hit Russia in 1992, this fighter resisted and has continued to serve the vast Russian territory effectively.

Despite its numerical inferiority compared to NATO, the Flanker boasts superior performance that has kept it in a privileged position. The last three decades have seen an increase in the Russian Air Force’s reliance on the Flanker architecture, with a majority of acquisitions represented by the multi-role Su-30M2 and SM, attack Su-34s and aerial superiority Su-35s.

The F-35, J-20 and Su-27: The current landscape of fighter jets
Su-30

Despite having different functions and few common parts, the Flanker classes offer complementary capabilities. However, their acquisition has remained below the scale of the same classes in the US and China, reflecting a dwindling Russian fighter fleet.

Serial production of the Flanker was planned to stop in the early 2010s, a decade after the introduction of the MiG 1.42 fifth-generation fighter. But Russia’s difficulties in operationalizing a fifth-generation fighter kept the reliance on the Flanker variants.

China became the first foreign recipient of the Su-27 Flanker in the late 1980s, as Moscow strengthened its security ties with the Asian giant. China went on to acquire a large fleet of these planes, including nearly 100 variants of the Su-30 and obtained authorization for local production of the Su-27.

The F-35, J-20 and Su-27: The current landscape of fighter jets
Su-27

China purchased more Su-27s than the Russian Defense Ministry itself could afford. Most of these aircraft were assigned to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Navy. Notably, Chinese versions of the Su-27 have surpassed Russian ones thanks to technological advances, marked by the introduction of the J-16 in 2014.

The J-16: Air Superiority and Attack in one package

DESPITE HAVING INFERIOR RANGE AND ENGINE POWER, the J-16 surpassed the Russian Su-34 and Su-35 in many respects. Its superior performance was due to the use of composite materials, AESA radar, advanced warfare capabilities, and sophisticated weaponry. China has been acquiring J-16s at twice the rate of Russian Flankers, showing their versatility in air superiority and attack duties.

The F-35, J-20 and Su-27: The current landscape of fighter jets
J-16

However, the appearance of the J-20 has caused a decline in Chinese investment in flanker-type aircraft, perhaps marking the beginning of a new chapter in fighter jet history.

What are the most coveted modern fighters?

Today’s most coveted fighters are the F-35 of the United States Air Force and the J-20 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force. These fifth-generation fighters stand out for their advanced technology, diversified functions, and great defensive power. Russian Sukhoi Flankers are also highly valued, although they rank fourth in terms of overall preference.

What sets the F-35 apart as a standout fighter?

The F-35, a Joint Strike Fighter program product, is a fifth-generation fighter noted for its stealth and cost efficiency. Although not the most agile in aerial combat, his ability to evade ground anti-air defenses gives him leadership. It is highly sought after by countries aligned with the West and compatible with NATO.

How does the J-20 compete with the F-35?

The J-20, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force fighter, presents a significant challenge to the F-35. Although both fighters focus on stealth, the J-20 has shown superiority in areas like speed, range, and altitude. It also possesses an advanced arsenal of weapons and cutting-edge avionics.

What are the key features of the J-10C?

The J-10C is a light, single-engine fighter of the so-called “4+ generation”. Although it does not possess the stealth capability of the F-35 or J-20, it is distinguished by its high availability, easy maintenance, impressive flight performance, and advanced weaponry. It is an efficient and economical means for the modernization of Chinese combat units.

Why is the Su-27 Flanker important in the history of combat aviation?

The Su-27 Flanker, a fourth-generation heavy fighter, has proven its worth since its induction into the Soviet Air Force in 1984. Although its acquisition has dwindled compared to fighters in the United States and China, the Flanker has remained thanks to its superior performance. China has also locally sourced and produced the Su-27, outperforming the Russian versions with its J-16.

What are the most coveted modern fighters?

Today’s most coveted fighters are the F-35 of the United States Air Force and the J-20 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force. These fifth-generation fighters stand out for their advanced technology, diversified functions, and great defensive power. Russian Sukhoi Flankers are also highly valued, although they rank fourth in terms of overall preference.