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  • January 2014
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Comparing modern Western fighters

Posted by picard578 on January 11, 2014


This article will compare Western fighters that have entered service in late 1970s or later, and are still in service. “Western” in this context means Canada, United States as well as European countries that were not part of Warshaw pact. Thus list of fighter aircraft to be compared is:

United States: F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22, F-35

United Kingdom, Italy, Germany: Typhoon

France: Rafale

Sweden: Gripen C

Measures to be used in comparision

As has been discussed in Pierre Sprey’s fighter effectiveness study, as well as several of articles written by myself, to win air battles pilot needs to:

  1. surprise the opponent without being surprised
  2. outnumber enemy in the air
  3. outmaneuver the enemy to gain firing position
  4. outlast the enemy while outmaneuvering him
  5. achieve reliable kills

Additional requirement are low operating costs and good reliability, allowing extensive pilot training – this is possibly the most important point, since pilot skill dominates all others.

Surprising the enemy without being surprised

Surprise lets pilot to destroy the enemy aircraft at little risk to himself, and is number one factor in gaining kills, especially at beyond visual range as BVR missiles are comparatively easily defeated. To surprise the enemy, fighter aircraft has to detect and identify hostile aircraft more quickly and consistently than the enemy, as well as be hard to detect itself. Consequently, it must be capable of finding and attacking the enemy without use of active sensors – onboard or offboard – in order to achieve surprise, and minimum or no usage of uplinks. Avoiding the surprise is important to prevent the enemy from surprising oneself.

To surprise the enemy, following characteristics are required:

  1. visual invisibility
    1. visible engine smoke
    2. physical size (top, side and front)
    3. camouflage
  2. electronic invisibility
    1. usage of active sensors (radar, laser)
    2. communications and uplinks
  3. infrared invisibility
  4. cruise speed advantage

1. Visual invisibility

Engine smoke can increase detection distance by a factor of 3 to 5 if engine is smoking heavily. This increases volume of the sky by a factor of 9 to 25 (vertical distance is ignored due to ground and enemy’s cruise altitude constraints). If enemy aircraft do not smoke, then it also solves IFF problem. In the absence of smoke, visual size and camouflage govern the detection distance; however, most modern fighters have similar gray camouflage so it will be ignored.

2. Electronic invisibility

Electronic invisibility is governed by wether radar and other sources of electronic transmissions are on or off. Radar is the most powerful and easily detected of these sources. It also gives enemy a missile launch warning, since lock-on means that missile launch is imminent. It can also be used for IFF as all US fighter radars operate at frequencies between 8 and 12 GHz in order to gain an all-weather capability, which means that enemy can either not use radar at all or operate outside these frequencies to solve the IFF problem. RCS reduction is a useful defense against X-band ground-based search and engagement radars, but not so against VHF ground radars and enemy fighters.

3. Infrared invisibility

Infrared invisibility also depends on several factors. Most obvious one is engine’s thrust – stronger engine results in a higher IR signature for equal thrust setting. Afterburner plume however means a massive increase in IR signature, especially from the rear, which means that a supercruising fighter may have advantage even if other factors are against it. Next factor is size of the aircraft itself – larger aircraft means more drag and larger surface area to heat up; since IR sensors have resolution limits, larger size means that aircraft will be detected sooner. Lastly, there are various measures that can be taken to cool down either engine exhaust or airframe.

4. Cruise speed advantage

Since fighter’s main sensors typically point forward, and pilot is likely to give most attention to this area, surprise is best gained by a passive rear-quadrant approach. This is best achieved by cruising faster than the enemy; since afterburner uses up too much fuel. For this reason, maximum speed values are near-irrelevant when compared to cruise speed values.

To avoid surprise, same characteristics are required. One also has to be able to detect enemy bounces, which requires 360* situational awareness.

Outnumbering the enemy in the air

Outnumbering the enemy in the air is dependant on a) number of aircraft bought for the price and b) number of sorties flown per aircraft per day. This also helps other characteristics: since aircraft’s performance is dependant primarly on the pilot, and pilots need to fly in order to remain proficient, more reliable and easier to maintain aircraft can turn out to be superior in combat to more complex one irrespective of other factors.

In fact, even Manfred vs Richtofen had stated that most important things were pilot skills and numbers. Over the Bekaa Valley, Israeli Air Force had far better pilots, and outnumbered Syrian Air Force 3:2. In both Gulf Wars, Iraqi Air Force was doomed by incompetent pilots and Coalition’s numerical advantage.

Outmaneuvering the enemy

If the enemy is not shot down unaware, maneuvering combat will ensue in which enemies will try to get in the best position for the kill; this is equally true in beyond visual range and within visual range combat.

Following parameters decide aircraft’s maneuvering performance:

  1. roll onset rate at angle of attack
  2. instantaneous turn rate
  3. pitch onset rate / pitch rate
  4. acceleration
  5. sustained turn rate

Not all parameters are equally important; in visual-range combat, roll onset rate, instantaneous turn rate and acceleration are most important for purpose of getting within opponent’s observe-orient-decide-act loop and to avoid his missile and gun fire; pilot will use high-g breaks and rolls to remain unpredictable, using acceleration bursts to keep energy up as much as possible. In beyond visual range combat, sustained turn rate gains importance as both opponents have more time to react, and energy is typically held up to make missile evasion easier. Maximum acceleration capability can be compared by comparing maximum climb rates.

Maximum turn rate depends on lift coefficient and wing loading. As lift coefficient can only be determined experimentally, comparision here will be based on the wing loading. Even more important is transient performance which itself is decided by a roll onset rate at various angles of attack, as well as a time to pitch up to maximum g and back down to 1 g flight. Classically defined handling qualities are only important so far as they insure safe execution of maneuvers; however, modern fighters often sacrifice abruptness of transition (roll and pitch) for smoothness and safety, which harms combat-relevant qualities – violence and unpredictability of maneuver.

Outlasting the enemy

If combatants are matched closely enough (either both having aircraft and pilots of similar skill levels, or one pilot’s advantage in skill exactly nullifying opponent’s advantage in aircraft performance) then outcome of combat will be decided by which combatant runs out of the fuel first; that is, by fighter’s persistence. Persistence is dictated by fuel consumption rate during combat and by fuel capacity; while higher-thrust fighter might consume fuel at higher rate than lower-thrust fighter at equivalent thrust setting, it can also throttle down and thus conserve the fuel. Thus comparing fixed time at either maximum dry power or maximum afterburner is not useful. Persistance is however very sensitive to fuel fraction, that is amount of fuel as percentage of fighter’s clean takeoff weight.

Achieving reliable kills

Being able to achieve firing opportunity does not mean much if one cannot turn opportunity into the kill. Weapons should be combared under unfavorable combat conditions: time pressure, unfavorable aspect angle, multiple targets, background clutter and an intelligent enemy.

Maximum weapons’ range is limited by the range at which reliable identification can be achieved and by weapon’s own engagement range. Aspect is determined by the kinematics of the engagement. Duration during which a kill can be achieved is determined by situation – in visual-range dogfight, it is no more than several seconds, while in beyond-visual range combat, it may be much longer, though reduction in timeframe is still useful. Different weapons also require different times from opportunity to breakaway; longer time means that fighter is more vulnerable to being attacked, and requires more time between kills. Times beyond 7-9 seconds also mean unacceptable vulnerability; time to use gun is 3-6 seconds, for IR missile is 5-7 seconds and for radar-guided missile 6-15 seconds.

Fighter should also carry a sufficient ammo for multiple engagements, determined by a number of on-board kills. This means that weapons carried should have high Pk both individually and total Pk. Pk for weapon is always far lower than in tests – before Vietnam, missile lethality was overstated by a factor of 10. As different weapons are vulnerable to different – and some common – countermeasures, weapons should complement each other so that countermeasure to one weapon may create an opportunity for achieving kill with another weapon. Vulnerability to countermeasure is less relevant provided that weapon can be used in surprise attacks, which radar missiles cannot. Both radar and IR missiles can have problems with clutter, but radar missiles are more vulnerable to target breaking lock through maneuvering.

For guns, probability of kill is driven by firing acceleration, lethality per round and projectile velocity. Acceleration is important since most firing opportunities in combat are very brief, so it becomes important to put large number of rounds in the air nearly instantaneously (within 1 second or less); even then only few rounds will actually hit. Similarly, high projectile velocity is required to increase probability of hit.

Imaging IR missiles may be vulnerable to DIRCM, but exact vulnerability is questionable. They are vulnerable to target evading the missile.

Radar-guided missile can have their lock broken, or be outmaneuvered. Their seekers can also be jammed Fuze jammers can be effective against missiles using radar fuzing. regardless of seeker type.


Surprising the enemy without being surprised

With visual detection, largest aircraft are first to be noticed. All aircraft have largest signature when watched from the top or bottom; relative sizes can be seen here:


As it can be seen, F-22, far from being the least visible, is the largest of all fighters compared. Smallest is Saab’s Gripen, while Rafale, Typhoon and F-35 are halfway between them. Frontal and side visual signature is going to be larger for stealth aircraft than for non-stealth aircraft of similar size and configuration, though external stores can reduce the difference when it comes to the side signature.

While engine smoke can be a major contributor to aircraft’s visual signature, most if not all fighters compared do not smoke heavily, at least when cruising. Camouflage is also similar.

Requirement for surprise also means that usage of active sensors is out of the window. While there are ways to make radar LPI (frequency hopping), modern radar warners can cover far more than just X band, and radar’s transmitted power must always be far greater than noise to compensate for losses in reflection – absolute minimum requirement is for a signal to be several hundred times stronger than background noise as less than 1% of signal that reaches enemy fighter deflects back towards the emitter. Fighter aircraft which do not have passive sensors capable of detecting the enemy at beyond visual range are at disadvantage. Out of fighters compared, all of them have radar warning receivers; however, it must not be expected that a competent opponent will use radar himself. Consequently, IRST is primary sensor of modern fighter aircraft. Typically it works much like older mechanically scanned radars of older fighters, scanning the area in front of the fighter to find the opponent; modern QWIP IRSTs like PIRATE and OSF can detect typical subsonic fighter aircraft head-on at distances of 90 and 80 km, respectively; from the rear, distance increases to 145 and 130 km, while all distances noted are 10% greater against supercruising target. Using the afterburner can be expected to greatly increase detection distance from sides and rear, and somewhat from the front, compared to a supercruising fighter of similar size and aerodynamic configuration. Only aircraft on the list that are capable of supercruising in combat configuration are F-22 (M 1,7), Rafale (M 1,4) and Typhoon (M 1,5). F-22 does not have IRST, while Rafale’s OSF and Typhoon’s PIRATE are quite close in performance parameters (as can be seen from range figures noted). As a result, Rafale and Typhoon are the only fighters on the list capable of consistently surprising the enemy; F-35s IRST is not meant for air-to-air combat and F-35 itself is incapable of supercruise, F-22 is capable of supercruise but does not have IRST, while all other fighters do not have either IRST or supercruise capability.

As IRST does not cover the rear sector of any of the aircraft compared, avoiding the surprise is reliant on cockpit visibility and other sensors. All fighters except Gripen and F-35 have acceptably good rearward visibility, but F-35 is the only aircraft except Rafale to posses the imaging infrared sensors that cover rear of the aircraft, and the only one so far to possess full spherical situational awareness. While both Rafale’s Detecteur De Missile and F-35s Distributed Aperture System are primarly missile warning devices, their nature allows them to be used as a short-ranged IRSTs or IR cameras. This capability is not yet operational in either aircraft, and on the F-35 at least, it may never be. Even if issues with F-35s helmet are solved, its display is inherently inferior to the human eye. This means that F-35, with its lack of rearward visibility, is at danger at being surprised by a faster-cruising adversary. All fighters also have very capable radar warning systems. While these can be used for detecting and identifying the enemy, only F-22, Rafale and possibly Typhoon and F-35 have ability to use them for BVR engagement.

When everything is taken into account, aircraft can be rated 1. Rafale, 2. Typhoon, 3. F-22, 4. F-35, 5. Gripen, 6. F-16, 7. F-18, 8. F-15.

Outnumbering the enemy in the air

Outnumbering the enemy is depentant on generating large number of sorties. This is calculated by number of fighter aircraft procured for same amount of money times number of sorties per day per aircraft. For this comparision, 10 billion USD total procurement cost will be used.

Unit flyaway costs when adjusted for inflation to FY 2013 USD are 126 million USD for F-15C, 70 million USD for F-16C, 68 million USD for F-18C, 273 million USD for F-22A, 188 million USD for F-35A, 127 million USD for Typhoon, 95 million USD for Rafale C and 44 million USD for Gripen C, all in FY2013 USD. As a result, 10 billion USD gives 79 F-15Cs, 142 F-16Cs, 147 F-18Cs, 36 F-22As, 53 F-35As, 78 Typhoons, 105 Rafales and 227 Gripens.

Fighter aircraft is worthless if it doesn’t fly, so value required is number of sorties that given force can generate per day. Number of sorties per aircraft per day is 1 for F-15, 1,2 for F-16 and F-18, 0,5 for F-22, 0,3 for F-35,

Rating is thus 1. Gripen, 2. Rafale, 3. F-18, 4. F-16, 5. Typhoon, 6. F-15, 7. F-22, 8. F-35.

Outmaneuvering the enemy

Roll onset rate is determined by aircraft’s responsitivity to control inputs, which includes efficiency of control surfaces as well as roll inertia. Roll inertia itself is very sensitive to wing span and vertical location of aircraft’s center of mass relative to center of lift. Latter however is similar for most fighters, as they have to fulfill basic stability parameters to achieve controlled flight. Instantaneous turn rate is dependant on lift-to-weight ratio, approximated by wing loading, while acceleration can be determined by climb rate. Ability to sustain turn meanwhile can be approximated by thrust-to-weight ratio.

F-15 has very classical wing-tail aerodynamic configuration and wing span of over 13 meters. This results in comparatively sluggish transient performance (roll response at maximum Angle of Attack is poor), especially when coupled with large inertia due to heavy weight. Instantaneous turn rate is good due to the low wing loading of 278 kg/m2 at combat weight of 15.729 kg. Instantaneous turn rate is 25,5 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 12,85 deg/s.

F-16 is the only USAF fighter ever designed specifically to perform well in dogfight. F-16C has good thrust-to-weight ratio of around 1,2 at combat weight and good transient performance, but its turning ability is harmed by high wing loading (almost 400 kg/m2 at combat weight of 10.936 kg) and inability to reach 32 degrees of angle of attack it requires for maximum lift – widening of the nose for the larger radar resulted in unacceptable lack of directional stability at higher angles of attack, resulting in it being limited by flight control software to a maximum of 25,52 degrees. Sharp LERX and high degree of wing-body blending does result in large amount of body lift, and unlike statically stable F-15, horizontal tail surfaces add to lift when turning. Relatively low 40* wing sweep angle does result in comparatively low drag when turning. Instantaneous turn rate is 26 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 18 deg/s.

F-18 is another fighter that came out as a result of lightweight fighter competition. It does not have as good turn and transient performance as F-16 (it is limited to 7,5 g and its greater wingspan hurts roll performance), but is not AoA limited as much as F-16 is, being capable of achieving 50 degrees AoA. Combat weight is 13.505 kg, resulting in wing loading of 355 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,19.

F-22 is a replacement for F-15 and has similar aerodynamic configuration. Its instantaneous turn and pitch rates are better than those of the F-15 due to its more refined aerodynamics, particularly 70*-sweepback LERX which generates strong vortex over the wing, delaying air flow separation. Wing sweep is 48*, resulting in a lower drag when turning. It also has improved transient performance. Combat weight is 24.579 kg, with wing loading of 314 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,29. Instantaneous turn rate is 35 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 28 deg/s at 20.000 ft.

F-35 is allegedly an F-16 replacement, but its instantaneous turn rate is lower than F-16s due to higher wing loading and weight (18.270 kg and 428 kg/m2 at combat weight). High drag and comparably low thrust-to-weight ratio (1,07 at combat weight) mean that it cannot accelerate well, and also cannot sustain turn rate. Roll onset rate in level flight should be about as good if not better than F-16s, but roll performance at angle of attack is likely inferior to F-16s due to weaker vortices. Instantaneous turn rate is 26,5 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 11 deg/s.

Typhoon has acceptable instantaneous and sustained turn rates due to its low wing loading and high thrust-to-weight ratio, however its roll performance is lacking. Pitch rate is good as it has long moment arm canards, but canards do not help lift or wing control surface effectiveness so it may not be better than Rafale’s or Gripen’s. Comparably high wing sweep results in high drag when turning, but also allows excellent acceleration performance when combined with high thrust-to-weight ratio. Climb rate is 315 meters per second maximum, and 200+ meters per second in air policing configuration. Instantaneous turn rate is 35 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 27 deg/s.

Rafale has close coupled canards, LERX and anhedral wings. Vortexes created by canards and LERX keep air flow connected to the wings even at comparably high angles of attack, thus improving turn rate, improving wing responsiveness to control surface inputs, and keeping trailling-edge control surfaces effective, while wing-body blending means that it also has large amount of body lift while turning. Close coupled canards also cause vortex lift to start earlier, thus reducing drag for given lift. This results in excellent transient performance (roll onset and pitch onset rate) and excellent instantaneous turn rate, though sustained turn rate is lower than F-22s due to lower thrust-to-weight ratio. Climb rate is 305 meters per second maximum, implying marginally lower acceleration than Typhoon’s, and 250+ meters per second in air policing configuration. Instantaneous turn rate is 36 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 27 deg/s.

Gripen has mostly all aerodynamic advantages of Rafale, but lack of LERX and higher wing loading mean that its instantaneous rate is likey slightly lower. More importantly, canard dihedral and lack of wing anhedral result in lowered roll and roll onset rate. Sustained turn rate is harmed by very low thrust-to-weight ratio, as is acceleration, though low drag due to good aerodynamical configuration compensates for it somewhat. Climb rate is quoted as 254 meters per second maximum and 200+ meters per second in air policing configuration.

So getting all characteristics together:

Following parameters decide aircraft’s maneuvering performance: (8 aircraft)

1) roll onset rate at angle of attack = Rafale > Gripen > F-22 > F-35 > F-16 > Typhoon > F-18 > F-15

2) instantaneous turn rate = Rafale > Gripen (?) > Typhoon > F-22 > F-15 > F-16 > F-18 > F-35

3) pitch onset rate / pitch rate = Rafale > Gripen > F-22 > Typhoon > F-16 > F-18 > F-35 > F-15

4) acceleration = F-22 > Rafale > Typhoon > F-15 > F-16 > Gripen > F-18 > F-35

5) sustained turn rate = F-22 > Typhoon = Rafale > F-15 > F-16 > Gripen > F-18 > F-35

Total score:

Rafale: 40 + 32 + 24 + 14 + 6 = 116

Gripen: 35 + 28 + 21 + 6 + 3 = 93

F-22: 30 + 20 + 18 + 16 + 8 = 92

F-35: 25 + 4 + 6 + 2 + 1 = 38

F-16: 20 + 12 + 12 + 8 + 4 = 56

Typhoon: 15 + 24 + 15 + 12 + 7 = 73

F-18: 10 + 8 + 9 + 4 + 2 = 33

F-15: 5 + 16 + 3 + 10 + 5 = 39

Rating is thus 1. Rafale, 2. Gripen, 3. F-22, 4. Typhoon, 5. F-16, 6. F-15, 7. F-35, 8. F-18.

It should be noted that due to weight differences, Gripen is likely to match or at least come close to Rafale, and Typhoon to match or surpass F-22. During high-speed high-altitude flight classical control surfaces become less effective; at supersonic speeds, center of pressure also moves backwards, resulting in an aerodynamically stable aircraft. F-22 uses thrust vectoring in part to deal with this problem, while Typhoon uses control surfaces positioned in front of the wing; however, close-coupled canards keep center of pressure forward, as well as improving control surface effectiveness. As such, relative rating as outlined remains true in entire speed range, from very slow speeds sometimes achieved in gun-only dogfight up to supersonic speeds. Further, this rating assumes that F-35 has delivered on all premises; in current state (18* AoA, 5 g maximum) it falls to the solid last place.

Outlasting the enemy

As already noticed, persistence is determined by fuel fraction; fuel fraction for fighters is 0,33 for Rafale C, 0,31 for Typhoon, 0,28 for Gripen C, 0,29 for F-22, 0,38 for F-35A, 0,29 for F-15C, 0,27 for F-16C, and 0,31 for F-18C. Only Gripen, F-18 and F-35 have thrust-to-weight ratio below 1,1 at combat weight, and below 1 at air-to-air takeoff weight; F-15 however experiences afterburner flameoff issues. F-35 is also most draggy of fighters compared relative to thrust avaliable, while Gripen is the second least draggy relative to its size, bettered only by Rafale.

Rating is thus 1. Rafale, 2. Typhoon, 3. F-22, 4. F-16C, 5. Gripen C, 6. F-15C, 7. F-35A, 8. F-18C.

Achieving reliable kills

Main weapons used by fighters are BVR missiles, WVR missiles and guns. As has been mentioned, main aspect in achieving kills is surprise, followed by time: times beyond 7-9 seconds also mean unacceptable vulnerability; time to use gun is 3-6 seconds, for IR missile is 5-7 seconds and for radar-guided missile 6-15 seconds. Against competent opponent, revolver or linear action guns have achieved probability of kill of 0,3, rotary guns of 0,26, WVR missiles of 0,15, and BVR missiles of 0,08.

In beyond visual range combat, surprise can be achieved only by being able to target and attack the enemy completely passively. This requires not only passive sensors (which has been discussed in first subsection) but also missiles with completely passive seeker head. Only Western beyond visual range missile with IR seeker is French MICA, used by Dassault Rafale; this gives Rafale a large advantage in surprising the enemy. Additional benefits are shorter lock-on time, as well as missile’s lesser vulnerability to countermeasures (missile is completely passive, achieving surprise; imaging IR missiles are less vulnerable to countermeasures than active radar missiles, and are also less vulnerable to having lock broken by target’s maneuvers). Typhoon, F-22, F-35 and possibly Gripen can all fire at enemy completely passively by using enemy’s radar emissions, same as Rafale can; they are however handicapped by using missiles with active seeker head, thus warning the opponent even if his missile warning sensors do not detect the missile.

In within visual range combat, revolver and linear action guns typically achieved probability of kill of around 0,31-0,34, while rotary cannons achieved probability of kill of 0,26. Important factors are lethality per round and number of rounds fired in first 1 second. These two factors can be combined into total energy of ammo thrown in first second. All guns are listed here. Energy per projectile is 144,5 kJ for Rafale’s GIAT-30, 136,6 kJ for Typhoon/Gripen’s BK-27, 55,13 kJ for F-22s M61A2, 52,6 kJ for F-15s/F-16/F-18s M61A1, 108,3 kJ for F-35s GAU-12/U. Number of projectiles fired in 1 second is 41 for GIAT-30, 28 for BK-27, 87 for M61A2, 88 for M61A1 and 56 for GAU-12U. However, F-22 will only fire 37 projectiles in first second as trap doors need 0,5 seconds to open; likewise, F-35 will only fire 21 projectiles in the same time.

As a result, energies for 1 second since pressing the trigger are 5,92 MJ for Rafale, 3,82 MJ for Typhoon and Gripen, 2,04 MJ for F-22, 2,27 MJ for F-35 and 4,64 MJ for US teen-series fighters.

As far as gun energies are concerned, aircraft can be rated 1. Rafale, 2. F-15, F-16, F-18, 3. Typhoon, Gripen, 4. F-35 (A variant only), 5. F-22. Fact that Typhoon and Gripen use revolver guns could push them above US teen-series fighters. Visual-range missiles for all fighters are IR based, and there is no major effectiveness difference except for the fact that both F-22 and F-35 use internal missile carriage which increases firing time.

Thus score is:

Guns: Rafale 5, Gripen/Typhoon 4, F-15/16/18 3, F-35 2, F-22 1.

WVR missiles: Gripen/Typhoon 5, Rafale 4, F-15/16/18 3, F-22/35 2.

BVR missiles: Rafale 5, others 4.

In total, rating for achieving reliable kills is 1. Rafale, 2. Gripen, Typhoon, 3. US teen-series fighters, 4. F-35, 5. F-22.


As it can be seen, Rafale is best by far in all effectiveness characteristics except for outnumbering the opponent, where it is bettered by Gripen. F-22 and F-35, the “most advanced”, and certainly most expensive, fighters in the world, do not get above 3rd place in any of criteria, while Typhoon – which is more expensive than Rafale but less so than F-22 and F-35 – achieves no more than 2nd place in any of the criteria. Reason is difference in approach – Dassault had experience and money, Saab had experience, and Eurofighter had the money. Lockheed Martin had money but it was not interested in desigining effective fighters; rather, its interest was to suck money from the US Government, which means desigining outrageously expensive, and consequently ineffective, fighters; reason why F-22 turned out (relatively) well is that Lockheed Martin was helped out by General Dynamics. But even Rafale, for all its qualities, is far from perfect, and it is comparatively easy to design a fighter which will better it in most or all characteristics. Rating with everything except numbers would result in following: 1. Rafale, 2. Typhoon, 3. Gripen, 4. F-22, 5. F-16, 6. F-15, F-35, 7. F-18. Gripen C’s lack of supercruise and situational awareness will likely make it less effective than the F-22 in combat (on platform level) due to these characteristics’ overwhelming importance, but its ease of maintenance and low cost might make it more effective than any of other fighters noted on battlefield level, as pilots need to train and human factor is more important than any technological factor.

As David Axe said, only thing that United States have always done well is not predict the next war. But he, as many others, draws a wrong conclusion from it.

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291 Responses to “Comparing modern Western fighters”

  1. […] Comparing modern Western fighters: Here […]


  2. […] […]


  3. […] In an independent study, based on factors mentioned in Pierre Sprey’s fighter effectiveness study, France’s Rafale ranks first in the comparison between all the Western fighter planes of same class. And yes, this list also included the F16s. You can read the full study here. […]


  4. Sam said

    Hi Piccard,

    Thank you for this blog !

    So the overall ranking without considering the number in the air is :

    1. Rafale, 2. Typhoon, 3. Gripen, 4. F-22, 5. F-16, 6. F-15, F-35, 7. F-18

    where would the F-18 E/F super hornet be on the ranking ?

    which aircraft shoud the USAIF purchase instead of F-35 ? more F-16 ? or more F-18 E/F super hornet ?

    Thank you


    • picard578 said

      Super Hornet would be inferior to F-18, it has improved strike capability but at the expense of air combat ability.

      F-35 is basically three different aircraft using somewhat similar airframe – commonality between the versions is only 20-30%, I think. So there is no replacing it with one aircraft. As far as USAFs F-35A, upgraded F-16 should do the trick. If you really want a common airframe between the USAF and USN, then a combination of F-18C/D and F-18E/F would be required, as F-16 has no carrier capability.


  5. […] Comparing modern Western fighters […]


  6. P K said

    I’ve heard that the Gripen C can turn faster than the F16, but the F16 has much better climb rate to compensate.


  7. Nonya Buziness said

    This is a crock… Pierre Sprey is nothing but an analyst … He has never flown any of these aircraft.

    Those statements you attribute to him and yourself …

    surprise the opponent without being surprised
    outnumber enemy in the air
    outmaneuver the enemy to gain firing position
    outlast the enemy while outmaneuvering him
    achieve reliable kills

    Come from WWI from pilots such as Boelcke…

    You have no data on the F-35, as its classified.. Same with the F-22… Your claims are garbage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Picard578 said

      And how does that disqualify him in any way?

      I never attributed these “statements” to anyone. These are just principles of air combat that were recognized for long time by pilots and analysts, yes, even in World War I. General principles need not be attributed, do I need to attribute to someone statement that gravity makes it possible to walk on earth? (And for all of us to exist in the first place, for that matter).

      “Classified data” is about the lamest bullshit of an excuse I have found. Even if some data is classified, comparison can still be made. Will it be a 100% accurate? No. But that does not make it invalid. If it did, all the military analysts and intelligence agencies would be out of the job.


  8. Americandude said

    this article underestimates the importance of stealth. The F22 and F35 have a major advantage in beyond visual range combat. Part of the reason they are so expensive is that they had to be designed to be capable but also stealthy, which meant no canards etc to help with the maneuverability (F 22 uses thrust vectoring to overcome this issue, the F 35(which doesn’t use thrust vectoring, except obviously in the B version for VTOL)’s maneuverability is compromised). The 22 and 35 would likely be able to engage a target before being picked up themselves.

    In a dogfight I would have to bet on the super-maneuverable F 22 winning the majority.


    • Picard578 said

      That advantage depends on how well its BVR engagement process works. Can it identify aircraft at BVR? Can it resolve firing solution? Can the missile shoot it down? If one step of the process fails, they are in trouble.

      F-22 is not the only super-maneuverable aircraft around, and you don’t need TVC for supermaneuverability… Rafale and Gripen also are supermaneuverable. Neither can supermaneuverability replace traditional maneuverability measures such as wing loading, thrust loading and g loading.


      • Americandude said

        In a WVR fight it would depend a lot on the pilots (and the position of the aircraft). These are all amazing fighters and are all capable of killing each other. Even a slower/less maneuverable fighter can potentially kill any of these in a close dogfight (assuming they use the same weapons) if the pilot is good.

        Liked by 1 person

      • maurice said

        assuming the engagement process works, stealth is very helpful, also against SAMs

        true, you don’t need tvc for supermaneuverability, but it helps. There are some maneuvers that you cant do without vectoring (like the j-turn). Not all of them are helpful in combat but some of them are


  9. Americandude said

    I forgot to mention that stealth helps a ton against surface-to-air missiles, which are obviously a huge problem for fighters


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