Are fighter jets still of any use in modern air warfare? A quick glance at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s annual tabulation of weapons exports would certainly suggest so. From Asia to the Middle East, demand for machines designed mainly for air superiority continues to be strong.

Despite anaemic sales growth, the defence industry somehow sustains 11 different fighter types in active production, with more in early development. Yet the future of the fighter’s core mission has never been more uncertain. Fifth-generation designs were supposed to give way by 2030 to a sixth, which would leverage advances in tailless flight controls, advanced stealth, efficient supersonic propulsion and new weapons.

Now the US Air Force is having second thoughts about developing such a fighter. In unusually candid remarks, the service’s lead requirements setter, Lt Gen James Holmes, says no new technology on the horizon is likely to make a sixth-generation fighter survivable against advanced ground-based air defences.

It has been known for some time that a modern-day, close-in dogfight is essentially a mutual suicide pact for the opposing pilots, due to advances in high off-­boresight targeting and missile agility. But it is ­astonishing that the USAF should now acknowledge the fighter aircraft’s fundamental vulnerability to attacks from terra firma.

Source: Flight International