Fighter aircraft are segmented into generations. Generations are established based innovations that these aircraft went through from decade to decade. The fighter aircraft of the 1960s and 70s are considered to be third generation aircraft and include the first supersonic fighters with infrared (IR) missiles. With the combination of these IR missiles, the radars that guided them, and faster speeds, it was expected that the days of aerial combat were largely a thing of the past. Guns were not included on the aircraft like the F-4 Phantom and the pilots who gained experience dogfighting in WWII and Korea were no longer around or passing on their skills.
What they discovered during the Vietnam War was the IR missiles were less effective and inaccurate than expected. And, because the aircraft lacked guns to get in close and not as maneuverable as the enemy, American pilots were losing their edge.
The next generation of aircraft would be more maneuverable and provide the pilot with the tools to succeed in air combat with the enemy. Fighters were developed to be faster and able to turn tighter with innovations like the F-16’s angled seats and fly-by-wire technology. Missiles would be improved to be more accurate with newer radars to fire at beyond visual range (BVR).
Comparing Eight 4.5 Generation Aircraft
- Su-34 Fullback – The Su-34 first flew in 1990 but wasn’t officially introduced into service until 2014. This Russian twin-engine, all-weather supersonic jet is a medium range fighter-bomber/strike aircraft. The Su-34 has a crew of two in an armored tandem cockpit. In the area behind the crew seats are a galley and toilet. It has a front facing and rear facing radar. The front radar can track ten air targets and attack four simultaneously. The rear radar alerts pilot of a rear attack and allows the Su-34 to fire a missile at a pursuing target without turning around. Its two turbofan powerplants push the Fullback to 1,200 mph. It has a range of 680 miles and a service ceiling of over 49,000 feet. It can be heavily armed on its 12 hardpoints with rockets, missiles, and bombs.
- F-15 Eagle – This twin-engine tactical fighter has achieved air superiority in several conflicts since its introduction in 1976. Even with more than four decades on its airframe, the Eagle is still one of the most feared fighters in the world. It is manned by a crew of one and is highly maneuverable and fast. It reaches speeds of 1,800 mph propelled forward by two engines that produce 14,590 lb of thrust each. With 11 available hardpoints, it can be armed with up to four Sparrow and four Sidewinder and eight AMRAAM missiles. The range of the F-15 is 3,450 miles and it has a service ceiling of 65,000 ft. Those two powerful engines help the F-15 have a rate of climb of 50,000 ft per min.
- Eurofighter Typhoon – The Typhoon is a twin-engine canard-delta wing multirole fighter which first flew in 1994. It was designed to be a supremely effective air superiority fighter but over the years has developed into a multirole platform. It is primarily used by the air forces of Britain, Germany, Italy, and Spain, but many other countries also operate the Typhoon. The two afterburning turbofans produce 13,500 lbf of thrust each and drive the Eurofighter to a maximum speed of 1,550 mph. Manned by a single pilot, it has a range of 2,350 miles and a service ceiling of 65,000 ft. The Typhoon has 13 hardpoints with the ability to carry 19,800 lb of missiles and bombs. It can also employ 150 rounds from its BK-27 revolver cannon.
- Dassault Rafale – Though originally expected to enter service in 1996, the Rafale would officially be introduced into service in 2004 with the French Navy and 2006 with their Air Force. It is a canard delta wing design. This twin-engine jet is a multi-role fighter with capabilities of air-to-air and air-to-ground attack along with reconnaissance and anti-ship strikes. With a crew of 1, the Rafale has a range of 2,299 miles and a combat radius of 1,130 miles. It carries a 30mm autocannon with 125 rounds and 14 hardpoints to mount missiles including a nuclear missile. The two turbofans produce 11,250 lbf of thrust each enabling the Rafale to reach a maximum speed of 1,188 mph with a service ceiling of 50,000 ft. The Rafale is primarily operated by the French Air Force and Navy along with Air Forces of Egypt and Qatar.
- F-16 Fighting Falcon – One of the original 4th Gen fighters, with many avionics upgrades including an AESA radar, the newest F-16 variants are designated as 4.5 generation fighters. The F-16 was one of the first fighter aircraft to use a fly-by-wire system and designed to be slightly aerodynamically unstable for increased maneuverability. Powered by a single turbofan engine that produces 27,000 lbs of thrust, the single crew F-16 can reach speeds up to 1,500 mph with a service ceiling of 50,000 feet and a range of 2,425 miles. The F-16 is equipped with a 20mm multibarrel cannon and 500 rounds. It has 9 hardpoints for missiles, bombs, rockets, and ECM and targeting pods. Along with the U.S. Air Force, Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, and Israel. and many other countries operate the F-16.
- Chengdu J-10 Firebird – The J-10 is China’s answer to the 4th generation jet. Ithas a delta wing and canards like the Rafale and Typhoon. It is a lightweight multirole fighter that was designed to be the counter to the F-16 and MiG-29. It was introduced into service in 2006 and the primary user is the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The engine was originally designed to be part of a pair of turbofans used in the Su-27 Flanker, but only one is used in the J-10. That engine produces 19,000 lb of thrust. It has a maximum speed of 1,687 mph (Mach 2.2), a range of 1,988 miles, and a service ceiling of 59,000 ft. Like the MiG-29 and F-16, the J-10 has 9 hardpoints for missiles, rockets, and bombs. It is also armed with a twin barrel 23mm autocannon.
- SAAB JAS 39 Gripen – Similar to other European Gen 4 fighters, the JAS 39 is also a single engine delta wing with canards. It was introduced to service in 1996 and is in operation with the air forces of Sweden, South Africa, Czech Republic, and Hungary. The Gripen is a light-weight, multirole, single-engine aircraft with one crew member. The engine provides 12,100 lbf of thrust giving it a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 (1,381 mph) and a service ceiling of 65,616 mph. Its ferry range is 1,864 miles. It is armed with a 27mm revolver cannon with 120 rounds plus 7 hardpoints dedicated to carrying rockets, missiles, and bombs.
- MiG 29 Fulcrum – This twin-engine air superiority fighter was introduced into service in 1984. Like the F-16, the MiG-29 is a popular aircraft operated by 26 different countries around the world. Like the F-15, the Fulcrum has two engines, each producing 18,300 lb of thrust. Though originally developed for an air-to-air role, over the decades it has taken on additional roles like an air-to-ground attack. The MiG-29 has a maximum speed of 1,714 mph and a service ceiling of 59,100 ft. The range of the Fulcrum is 1,496 miles. For weapons, the single piloted MiG-29 has a single 30mm autocannon with 150 rounds and 7 hardpoints to carry a total of 8,800 lb of an assortment of rockets, missiles, and bombs.
With many of the avionics and radar systems of these 4th generation aircraft originating in the 1970s and 1980s, the electronics and electromechanical systems can be over three decades old. Like many of the aircraft that originated during the 60s, 70s, and 80s that are still flying today, aircraft like the F-15 and F-16 can face maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) dilemmas all over the aircraft. These MRO problems often involve obsolescence issues where documentation is missing or defective parts cannot be replaced due to OEMs no longer supporting that system, or the OEM may no longer exist.
When budgets are tight, these legacy systems must still be maintained even when facing obsolescence issues. Avoiding scrapping repairable parts requires a depot to develop the missing technical data or reverse engineer broken or missing parts. This is especially important when aging platforms like the Falcon and Eagle are proposed to fly well into the 2020s.
Repairing Obsolete Equipment
Duotech specializes in repairing obsolete equipment that the OEMs no longer support, or if they do, the repair comes at a cost well over repair percentage guidelines.
For companies who only need one or a few items repaired, we are responsive to their small quantity repair requirements. For equipment that does not have documentation or has unavailable parts, Duotech is able to reverse engineer and develop technical data.
Instead of scrapping repairable equipment, we offer solutions to keep your legacy aircraft in the air and your obsolete mission critical equipment functioning. Duotech is AS9100D certified and is an Air Force qualified repair depot for many major airborne electronic systems.