Stealth jets have the ability to shoot off into the “Wild Blue Yonder” and then appear “out of the blue,” undetected by radar systems. So which stealth fighters can go “climbing high into the sky” before giving others the slip?
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Stealth technology is still new, and many states are in the process of developing stealth fighters as either advanced fifth-or sixth-generation jets. So far, only the United States and Israel have deployed stealth jet fighters in combat.
The United States has had and deployed stealth fighters since the 1989 invasion of Panama. Since then, they have been deployed in the Gulf War, Kosovo in NATO involvement in the Yugoslav wars, the War in Afghanistan, and Iraq War. Stealth bombers were used during the Libyan Civil War.
Despite it being developed first for the United States Air Force, the Israeli Air Force was the first to actually use them in combat. In 2018, Israeli F-35s struck suspected Iranian targets in Syria following Iran launching of 32 rockets from Syria as part of their proxy war.
And now on to the Top 10 stealth fighter jets of today.
1. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
Made by Lockheed Martin for the United States Air Force, the F-22 entered service back in 2005. The Air Force claimed at the time that it was unmatched by any known aircraft. In 2007, two F-22s stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base were scrambled to intercept Russian Bear-H Bombers.
Despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s reluctance to deploy them in Iraq, F-22s later intercepted an Iranian F-4 Phantom II in 2013, defending an MQ-1 Predator drone off the Iranian coast. In 2014-15, F-22s were deployed in Syria, dropping 270 bombs at 60 different locations, and struck pro-Assad forces in 2018.
The F-22 is 62 feet 1 inch long, can reach Mach 2.25 via 2×Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 augmented turbofans, and are armed with a 20mm M61A2 Vulcan rotary cannon and air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, including 6×AIM-120 AMRAAMs and 2×AIM-9 Sidewinders.
2. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
The next in the F-series from Lockheed Martin, this advanced stealth fighter jet is one of the most state-of-the-art fighter jets in the world, and is produced for the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps as well as the Royal Air Force.
More than 610 F-35s have been built as of January 2021. It uses Radar Absorbent Materials (RAM) to minimize its Radar Cross Section (RSC), thus making it stealthier. Stealth-enhancing design features include serrated and radar-absorbent fibermat skin, angles which reduce radar and visual signatures, and Luneberg lenses for added stealth.
The F-35 is 51.4 feet long, has a wingspan of 35 feet, can reach 1.6 Mach speed with via a Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 afterburning turbofan, and can be armed with a 25mm GAU-22/A 4-barrel rotary cannon and many different air-to-air/ship and anti-ship missiles and bombs.
3. Chengdu J-20
Made by the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation for the Chinese Armed Forces, the J-20 was the third stealth jet fighter, and the first one not created for the US Air Force. That may not be an accident: a 2009 report by the Wall Street Journal claimed that the project had been compromised.
A 2011 test coincided with Defense Secretary Gates’s visit to China, though Chinese President Hu claimed that it was coincidental. Nevertheless, the J-20’s comparison to the F-35 has been seen as a potential threat to American air superiority, carrying political and military implications about another Cold War-esque arms race.
The J-20 is 66.8 feet long, is thought to top Mach 2, is powered by 2×Saturn AL-31FM2 afterburning turbofans, has an operational range of 3,200 nautical miles, and carries PL-10, PL-12, PL-15, and PL-21 missiles as well as L-S 6 precision-guided bombs.
4. Sukhoi Su-57
Made by Sukhoi for the Russian Armed Forces, the Su-57 is the latest in the long line of Su fighter jets, which were the backbone of the USSR Air Force. This variant is brand-new, having just been introduced in December 2020 after a lengthy development cycle.
Production is expected to ramp up with the expectation of Russia possessing 76 Su-57s by the end of the 2020s. Turkey has expressed interest in Su-57s if F-35 sales are cancelled, and Algeria and China have also both reportedly explored potentially acquiring some, though their governments officially deny such activity.
The Su-57 is 65 feet 11 inches long, can reach Mach 2 via 2×Saturn AL-41F1 (initial production) turbofans, and can carry a wide variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-ship, and anti-radiation missiles, including the RVV-MD, R-73, R-37M, Kh-38ME, Kh-59MK2, Kh-35E, and Kh-58UShKE.
Related: The 9 Best Sukhoi Fighter Jets
5. Shenyang FC-31
Also known as the J-31, this model remains in the prototype phrase. Two have been built for the Chinese Armed Forces and some have claimed that production on the unit properly began in 2020, although this is unconfirmed. It is expected to function as an aircraft carrier-based naval fighter.
The first test flight of the FC-31 was in 2012, with improvements and additions made in 2015 and 2015. In June 2020, reports surfaced that another prototype had demonstrated even more improvements in the craft’s ability to reduce its radar signature. However, information on this Chinese fighter jet is limited.
The FC-31 is still something of a secret, but it’s through to measure 56 feet 9 inches, be able to reach Mach 1.8 via 2×RD-93 afterburning turbofans, and be capable of being armed with yet unknown air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and bombs.
6. Mitsubishi F-X
This ongoing stealth fighter project in Japan is still in the early stages, with the timeline for its production released only in July 2020. A prototype is planned for 2024, the first flight tests for 2028 and, if all goes well, mass production could begin as early as 2031.
The Mitsubishi F-X would serve as a replacement for around 90 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries F-2 jet fighters, which are slated to be retired around the mid-2030s. It is planned to include stealth technology, though given that the fighter is still in the early planning stages, information is obviously preliminary and limited.
7. Mikoyan MiG-41
Currently under production by Mikoyan, this is another example of a stealth fighter which is still in the planning stages. When completed, it is thought that it would be either a five-plus- or sixth-generation fighter jet. Either way, it is planned to have stealth capabilities.
These would replace Russia’s venerable yet aging fleet of MiG-31s, which have not been produced since 1994. The MiG-41’s design was finalized in 2019, further research was conducted throughout 2020, and in January 2021, it was announced that the stealth jet fighter had entered the development phase.
8. HESA Shafaq
With its first flight taking place in 2017, this model is still under development for the Iranian Air Force. That said, it has been under development for more than a decade, with its radar-absorbing technology being reported at least as early as 2008. It is now in the prototype phase.
The Shafaq is being designed with the help of the Aviation University Complex, which is part of the Malek-Ashtar University of Technology. Initially, Iran received help from Russia in its development, and that influence can be seen in features such as an F-36D ejector seat, which is Russian in origin.
The Shafaq measures 35 feet 7 inches long, features a Klimov RD-33 turbofan engine, and is expected to be a subsonic fighter jet and eventually carry Shahbaz, Sattar, or Fatter missiles.
9. KAI KF-X
A joint South Korean/Indonesian venture, this stealth fighter jet program is still in development. The first prototype is expected in 2021, the first test flight anticipated for 2022, is supposed to be ready for regular manufacturing by 2026, and finally may enter use by 2032.
Indonesia is expected to account for 20% of the project, while the South Korean manufacturer Korean Aerospace Industries will account for the rest. However, bribery and leaking charges have clouded its development, and its development has faced opposition in South Korea due to its cost.
The FX-X measures 55 feet 5 inches, will be able to reach Mach 1.81 via 2×Hanwha Techwin General Electric F414-KI afterburning turbofans, and will carry Taurus KEPD 350 air-to-ground missiles and MBDA Meteor, IRIS-T, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
10. HAL AMCA
This stealth jet fighter being developed for the Indian Air Force. Feasibility studies have been completed and the AMCA is scheduled to be unveiled by 2024, with four prototypes and the first flight scheduled for 2025, and production scheduled for 2030. It is the only fifth-generation jet developed in India. That said, it is also projected that once the fifth-generation has been completed, sixth-generation capabilities will be added.
The AMC is projected to measure 56 feet 5 inches long, top Mach 2.15 via an as yet undecided propulsion system, be able to cover 1,750 nautical miles, and be armed with a 23mm GSh-23 cannon, S-8 rocket pods, Astra Mark 1/2/3 air-to-air missiles, BrahMos NG air-to-ground missiles, and laser-guided bombs.