Comparing US fighterplanes against their competitors

As a part of their drive for deep defense cuts, the opponents of a strong defense claim that the Super Bug and other legacy aircraft are somehow an alternative to, or even aircraft superior to, the F-22 and the F-35. I have seldom heard more foolish, more ridiculous, and more easily disprovable claims in my entire lifetime.

Claims that the Super Bug is somehow superior to, or even an alternative to, the F-35 have been disproven here and here. Also see this rebuttal by reputed CSBA analysts. The F-22 is several orders of magnitude better than the F-35, so I will not even bother comparing it to legacy fighters. But let us compare the F-15 and the F-22 to their Russian and Chinese competitors.

First, let’s compare the F-15 and Britain’s EF-2000 Typhoon to some European, Russian, and Chinese “Generation #4+” aircraft as well as the PAKFA:

The metric F-15C F-15E EF-2000 Su-35BM J-11 PAKFA
Dry thrust (kN) 77.62×2 60×2 86.3×2 89.17×2
Thrust w/afterburner (kN) 111.2×2 129×2 89×2 142×2 129.4×2 157+x2
Max speed (Mach) 2.5 2.5+ 2 2.25 2.35 2+
Combat radius (km) 1,967 1,150 mi 1,389 NA NA NA
Service ceiling (ft) 65,000 60,000 65,000 59,100 62,523 65,600
Rate of climb (m/s) 254 254 315 280+ 300 350
Wing loading (kg/m2) 358 312 408 385 330-470
Thrust/weight ratio 1.12:1 0.93:1 1.15:1 1.1:1 1.04:1 1.19:1
Hardpoints 11 14 13 12 10 4 internal, 6 external
Supercruise No No Yes Yes No Yes
Range (mi) NA NA NA 3,600 2,070 NA

As you can see, the F-15 is superior to Russian and Chinese “Generation #4+” aircraft only in a few respects, and is inferior in several others, most notably, rate of climb, thrust, missile load, lack of supercruise, and airframe age.

The F-15 is also decisively inferior to the newest Russian fighter, the Sukhoi PAKFA. It is not stealthy at all, whereas the PAKFA is very stealthy from all aspects (except its lower surfaces and the rear, which have larger RCSes), and is inferior in terms of thrust/weight ratio, combat ceiling, thrust, rate of climb, and a lack of supercruise ability.

This matters because supercruise allows you to fly at supersonic speeds without resorting to fuel gulping afterburners. Moreover, such capability, and a higher service ceiling, allow you to extend the range of your missiles and bombs significantly beyond their standard range.

The F-15 has long held the advantage over its competitors in terms of service ceiling. But it will end when the PAKFA enters service.

Now let’s compare the F-22 to the PAKFA and the J-20. The F-22 has a service ceiling of 65,000 feet; an internal fuel load of 18,000 lbs; a max speed of Mach 2.25+; two engines providing 104 kN of dry thrust each (2 x 156 kN of thrust on afterburner); and a thrust/weight ratio of 1.26:1. In stealthy mode, it can carry 8 missiles (2 AIM-9 Sidewinders and 6 AIM-120 AMRAAMs).

The comparable stats for the PAKFA are as follows: A G limit of 9G; a thrust/weight ratio of 1.19:1; an internal fuel load of 22,711 lbs; (10,300 kgs); a max speed of Mach 2+; 2 AL-41F engines providing, collectively, 147 kN thrust (for prototypes; the final aircraft will have thrust of over 157 kN); a ferry range of 5,500 kms; a rate of climb of 350 m/s; and a service ceiling of 65,600 ft.

Thus, while the PAKFA has a somewhat larger internal fuel load, it is inferior in terms of thrust, thrust to weight ratio, and max speed (and decisively so), while only equalling the F-22 in terms of service ceiling (600 feet is not a meaningful difference in this context). The F-22’s AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles are superior in terms of range to the PAKFA’s missiles, including the AA-12 “AMRAAMski”.

The PAKFA is very stealthy from the frontal aspect, but not so much from the rear and the lower surface, making it vulnerable to American fighters if they chase it from the rear – unless it turns back, which it can do so easily due to its high maneuverability aided by its thrust vector controlling AL-41F engines. At that point, who wins the fight would be determined by who can fire more missiles from a longer distance and, if possible, stay undetected by the enemy.

The PAKFA’s delta canards are not inconsistent with being stealthy (and neither are those of the J-20); moreover, it’s quite likely that the current PAKFA prototypes are just that – prototypes for a later final design that will not feature canards. The same can be said for the known J-20 aircraft, which, in their current form, are either prototypes or technology demonstrators.

Very little information on the J-20’s comparative metrics is publicly available – only that its service ceiling will be 65,617 feet and its max speed will be Mach 2 or less – much slower than that of the F-22. That being the case, it is difficult to compare the two aircraft.

What all of this means is that the Su-35, the J-11, the PAKFA, and the J-20 are decisively superior to American legacy fighters (the F-15, the F-16, the Bug, and the Super Bug), but inferior in most respects to the F-22.

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