With the F-22A Raptor achieving initial operational capability in December, and the first production F-35A Joint Strike Fighter having just been rolled out, Lockheed Martin’s George Standridge proudly claims: “The fifth-generation fighters are here and now. They represent a major inflection point in military aviation history.”
Standridge defines the fifth generation as being the first fighters to combine stealth, fighter performance, information and sensor fusion, net-enabled capability, sustainability and deployability. “It’s not just about stealth,” he says, “it’s about the integration of all of it. That’s what makes you dominant.
“The F-117A and B-2 have low observability, but they don’t have the fighter performance to be survivable in clear air by day. You need fighter performance with low observability to be survivable for 24 hours every day, regardless of weather, and you need integrated avionics so that you get actionable information into the cockpit and not just data.
“The problem isn’t getting data into the cockpit, it’s getting useable information to the pilot in a form that he can absorb and use to manage the weapons system and prosecute the mission. In previous generation aircraft you could be overloaded with data – resulting in what we used to call ‘helmet fire’.
“Though it’s an overused term, net-enabled capability allows the fifth-generation fighter pilot to ‘go it alone’, while our emphasis on deployability has generated reductions in support infrastructure and costs that will be of value to all air forces, not just those that deploy.”
Standridge claims that today’s ‘legacy fighters’ are now so closely matched that the only difference now is pilot quality. Lockheed is confident that its fifth-generation fighters will give the USA and its allies air dominance and will be significantly more effective than existing fighters in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles.