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The Top 10 Jet Fighters in the World Today

Fighter aircraft are fixed-wing military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat. In military conflict, the role of fighter aircraft is to establish air superiority of the battlespace. Domination of the airspace above a battlefield permits bombers and attack aircraft to engage in tactical and strategic bombing of enemy targets.

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The key performance features of a fighter include not only its firepower but also its high speed and maneuverability relative to the target aircraft. The success or failure of a combatant's efforts to gain air superiority hinges on several factors including the skill of its pilots, the tactical soundness of its doctrine for deploying its fighters, and the numbers and performance of those fighters.

Many modern fighter aircraft also have secondary capabilities such as ground attack and some types, such as fighter-bombers, are designed from the outset for dual roles. Other fighter designs are highly specialized while still filling the main air superiority role, and these include the interceptor, heavy fighter, and night fighter.

Fighters continued to be developed throughout World War I, to deny enemy aircraft and dirigibles the ability to gather information by reconnaissance over the battlefield. Early fighters were very small and lightly armed by later standards, and most were biplanes built with a wooden frame covered with fabric, and a maximum airspeed of about 100 mph (160 km/h). As control of the airspace over armies became increasingly important, all of the major powers developed fighters to support their military operations. Between the wars, wood was largely replaced in part or whole by metal tubing, and finally aluminum stressed skin structures (monocoque) began to predominate.

By World War II, most fighters were all-metal monoplanes armed with batteries of machine guns or cannons and some were capable of speeds approaching 400 mph (640 km/h). Most fighters up to this point had one engine, but a number of twin-engine fighters were built; however they were found to be outmatched against single-engine fighters and were relegated to other tasks, such as night fighters equipped with primitive radar sets.

In the 1950s, radar was fitted to day fighters, since due to ever increasing air-to-air weapon ranges, pilots could no longer see far enough ahead to prepare for the opposition. Subsequently, radar capabilities grew enormously and are now the primary method of target acquisition.[citation needed] Wings were made thinner and swept back to reduce transonic drag, which required new manufacturing methods to obtain sufficient strength. Skins were no longer sheet metal riveted to a structure, but milled from large slabs of alloy. The sound barrier was broken, and after a few false starts due to required changes in controls, speeds quickly reached Mach 2, past which aircraft cannot maneuver sufficiently to avoid attack.

Air-to-air missiles largely replaced guns and rockets in the early 1960s since both were believed unusable at the speeds being attained, however the Vietnam War showed that guns still had a role to play, and most fighters built since then are fitted with cannon (typically between 20 and 30 mm (0.79 and 1.18 in) in caliber) in addition to missiles. Most modern combat aircraft can carry at least a pair of air-to-air missiles.

Because of the importance of air superiority, since the early days of aerial combat armed forces have constantly competed to develop technologically superior fighters and to deploy these fighters in greater numbers, and fielding a viable fighter fleet consumes a substantial proportion of the defense budgets of modern armed forces.[2]

A fighter aircraft is primarily designed for air-to-air combat.[4] A given type may be designed for specific combat conditions, and in some cases for additional roles such as air-to-ground fighting. Historically the British Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force referred to them as "scouts" until the early 1920s, while the U.S. Army called them "pursuit" aircraft until the late 1940s. The UK changed to calling them fighters in the 1920s[citation needed], while the US Army did so in the 1940s.[5] A short-range fighter designed to defend against incoming enemy aircraft is known as an interceptor.

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Of these, the Fighter-bomber, reconnaissance fighter and strike fighter classes are dual-role, possessing qualities of the fighter alongside some other battlefield role. Some fighter designs may be developed in variants performing other roles entirely, such as ground attack or unarmed reconnaissance. This may be for political or national security reasons, for advertising purposes, or other reasons.[6]

The Sopwith Camel and other "fighting scouts" of World War I performed a great deal of ground-attack work. In World War II, the USAAF and RAF often favored fighters over dedicated light bombers or dive bombers, and types such as the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and Hawker Hurricane that were no longer competitive as aerial combat fighters were relegated to ground attack. Several aircraft, such as the F-111 and F-117, have received fighter designations though they had no fighter capability due to political or other reasons. The F-111B variant was originally intended for a fighter role with the U.S. Navy, but it was canceled. This blurring follows the use of fighters from their earliest days for "attack" or "strike" operations against ground targets by means of strafing or dropping small bombs and incendiaries. Versatile multi role fighter-bombers such as the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet are a less expensive option than having a range of specialized aircraft types.

Some of the most expensive fighters such as the US Grumman F-14 Tomcat, McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and Russian Sukhoi Su-27 were employed as all-weather interceptors as well as air superiority fighter aircraft, while commonly developing air-to-ground roles late in their careers. An interceptor is generally an aircraft intended to target (or intercept) bombers and so often trades maneuverability for climb rate.[7]

As a part of military nomenclature, a letter is often assigned to various types of aircraft to indicate their use, along with a number to indicate the specific aircraft. The letters used to designate a fighter differ in various countries. In the English-speaking world, "F" is often now used to indicate a fighter (e.g. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II or Supermarine Spitfire F.22), though "P" used to be used in the US for pursuit (e.g. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk), a translation of the French "C" (Dewoitine D.520 C.1) for Chasseur while in Russia "I" was used for Istrebitel, or exterminator (Polikarpov I-16).

The interceptor is a fighter designed specifically to intercept and engage approaching enemy aircraft. There are two general classes of interceptor: relatively lightweight aircraft in the point-defence role, built for fast reaction, high performance and with a short range, and heavier aircraft with more comprehensive avionics and designed to fly at night or in all weathers and to operate over longer ranges. Originating during World War I, by 1929 this class of fighters had become known as the interceptor.[8]

The equipment necessary for daytime flight is inadequate when flying at night or in poor visibility. The night fighter was developed during World War I with additional equipment to aid the pilot in flying straight, navigating and finding the target. From modified variants of the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c in 1915, the night fighter has evolved into the highly capable all-weather fighter.[9]

The strategic fighter is a fast, heavily armed and long-range type, able to act as an escort fighter protecting bombers, to carry out offensive sorties of its own as a penetration fighter and maintain standing patrols at significant distance from its home base.[10]

Bombers are vulnerable due to their low speed, large size and poor maneuvrability. The escort fighter was developed during World War II to come between the bombers and enemy attackers as a protective shield. The primary requirement was for long range, with several heavy fighters given the role. However they too proved unwieldy and vulnerable, so as the war progressed techniques such as drop tanks were developed to extend the range of more nimble conventional fighters.

The word "fighter" was first used to describe a two-seat aircraft carrying a machine gun (mounted on a pedestal) and its operator as well as the pilot. Although the term was coined in the United Kingdom, the first examples were the French Voisin pushers beginning in 1910, and a Voisin III would be the first to shoot down another aircraft, on 5 October 1914.[11]

Another type of military aircraft formed the basis for an effective "fighter" in the modern sense of the word. It was based on small fast aircraft developed before the war for air racing such with the Gordon Bennett Cup and Schneider Trophy. The military scout airplane was not expected to carry serious armament, but rather to rely on speed to "scout" a location, and return quickly to report, making it a flying horse. British scout aircraft, in this sense, included the Sopwith Tabloid and Bristol Scout. The French and the Germans didn't have an equivalent as they used two seaters for reconnaissance, such as the Morane-Saulnier L, but would later modify pre-war racing aircraft into armed single seaters. It was quickly found that these were of little use since the pilot couldn't record what he saw while also flying, while military leaders usually ignored what the pilots reported.

An alternative was to build a "pusher" scout such as the Airco DH.2, with the propeller mounted behind the pilot. The main drawback was that the high drag of a pusher type's tail structure made it slower than a similar "tractor" aircraft.A better solution for a single seat scout was to mount the machine gun (rifles and pistols having been dispensed with) to fire forwards but outside the propeller arc. Wing guns were tried but the unreliable weapons available required frequent clearing of jammed rounds and misfires and remained impractical until after the war. Mounting the machine gun over the top wing worked well and was used long after the ideal solution was found. The Nieuport 11 of 1916 used this system with considerable success, however, this placement made aiming and reloading difficult but would continue to be used throughout the war as the weapons used were lighter and had a higher rate of fire than synchronized weapons. The British Foster mounting and several French mountings were specifically designed for this kind of application, fitted with either the Hotchkiss or Lewis Machine gun, which due to their design were unsuitable for synchronizing.The need to arm a tractor scout with a forward-firing gun whose bullets passed through the propeller arc was evident even before the outbreak of war and inventors in both France and Germany devised mechanisms that could time the firing of the individual rounds to avoid hitting the propeller blades. Franz Schneider, a Swiss engineer, had patented such a device in Germany in 1913, but his original work was not followed up. French aircraft designer Raymond Saulnier patented a practical device in April 1914, but trials were unsuccessful because of the propensity of the machine gun employed to hang fire due to unreliable ammunition.In December 1914, French aviator Roland Garros asked Saulnier to install his synchronization gear on Garros' Morane-Saulnier Type L parasol monoplane. Unfortunately the gas-operated Hotchkiss machine gun he was provided had an erratic rate of fire and it was impossible to synchronize it with the propeller. As an interim measure, the propeller blades were fitted with metal wedges to protect them from ricochets. Garros' modified monoplane first flew in March 1915 and he began combat operations soon after. Garros scored three victories in three weeks before he himself was downed on 18 April and his airplane, along with its synchronization gear and propeller was captured by the Germans.Meanwhile, the synchronization gear (called the Stangensteuerung in German, for "pushrod control system") devised by the engineers of Anthony Fokker's firm was the first system to enter service. It would usher in what the British called the "Fokker scourge" and a period of air superiority for the German forces, making the Fokker Eindecker monoplane a feared name over the Western Front, despite its being an adaptation of an obsolete pre-war French Morane-Saulnier racing airplane, with poor flight characteristics and a by now mediocre performance. The first Eindecker victory came on 1 July 1915, when Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, of Feldflieger Abteilung 6 on the Western Front, downed a Morane-Saulnier Type L. His was one of five Fokker M.5K/MG prototypes for the Eindecker, and was armed with a synchronized aviation version of the Parabellum MG14 machine gun.[18]The success of the Eindecker kicked off a competitive cycle of improvement among the combatants, both sides striving to build ever more capable single-seat fighters. The Albatros D.I and Sopwith Pup of 1916 set the classic pattern followed by fighters for about twenty years. Most were biplanes and only rarely monoplanes or triplanes. The strong box structure of the biplane provided a rigid wing that allowed the accurate control essential for dogfighting. They had a single operator, who flew the aircraft and also controlled its armament. They were armed with one or two Maxim or Vickers machine guns, which were easier to synchronize than other types, firing through the propeller arc. Gun breeches were in front of the pilot, with obvious implications in case of accidents, but jams could be cleared in flight, while aiming was simplified.


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