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Fighter jets have long been a staple of any successful military campaign.

They are fast, effective,

expensive and highly lethal machines, capable of traveling long distances with enormous firepower

and guns. This article introduces us to the five top military jet fighters in service today, the price we

pay for them, and the future of jet fighting aviation. Only fighter jets that made it into active duty

were considered, therefore the YF-23 Black Widow, the YF-17 Cobra, and the F-20 Tigershark were

excluded. Additionally, only fighter jets were examined and therefore bombers such as the F-117

Nighthawk and the F-21 Kfir were also not included.

1. F-14 Tomcat
Type Interceptor/multi-role Fighter aircraft

Manufacturer Grumman

Designed by Bob Kress, engineering manager[1]

Maiden flight 21 December 1970

Introduction September 1974

Retired 22 September 2006, USN

Status Active service with Iran, Limited Service in United States Navy

Primary users United States Navy, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force

Number built 712

Unit cost US$38 million in 1998

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, variable geometry wing aircraft.

The F-14 was the United States Navy’s primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defense

interceptor and tactical reconnaissance platform from 1974 to 2006. It later performed precision strike

missions once it was integrated with LANTIRN. It was developed after the collapse of the F-111B

project, and was the first of the American teen-series fighters which were designed incorporating the

experience of air combat in Vietnam against MiGs.

It entered service in 1972 with the U.S. Navy, replacing the F-4 Phantom II. It was later exported to

the Imperial Iranian Air Force in 1976. It was retired from the U.S. Navy fleet on 22 September 2006,

having been replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. As of 2007, it remains in service only with the

Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.


The F-14 has visual and all-weather attack capability to deliver Phoenix and Sparrow missiles as well

as the M-61 gun and Sidewinder missiles for close in air-to-air combat. The F-14 also has the LANTIRN

targeting system that allows delivery of various laser-guided bombs for precision strikes in air-to-

ground combat missions. The F-14, equipped with Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) is

the Navy’s only manned tactical reconnaissance platform.


The F-14 Tomcat has the ability to fire the AIM-54 Phoenix — the longest ranged AAM in the world.
2. F-15 Eagle

Type Air superiority fighter

Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas/Boeing IDS

Maiden flight 27 July 1972

Introduction 9 January 1976

Status Active: 567

Primary users United States Air Force, Israeli Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Saudi Air


Unit cost US$27.9 million (F-15A/B) US$29.9 million (F-15C/D) in 1998

Variants F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15S/MTD

The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle is an all-weather tactical fighter designed to gain and

maintain air superiority in aerial combat. It was developed for the U.S. Air Force, and first flew in July

1972. The F-15E Strike Eagle derivative is an all-weather strike fighter that entered service in 1989.

The Eagle’s air superiority is achieved through a mixture of unprecedented maneuverability and

acceleration, range, weapons and avionics. It can penetrate enemy defense and outperform and

outfight any current enemy aircraft. The F-15 has electronic systems and weaponry to detect, acquire,

track and attack enemy aircraft while operating in friendly or enemy-controlled airspace. The weapons

and flight control systems are designed so one person can safely and effectively perform air-to-air


The F-15’s superior maneuverability and acceleration are achieved through high engine thrust-to-

weight ratio and low wing loading. Low wing-loading (the ratio of aircraft weight to its wing area) is a

vital factor in maneuverability and, combined with the high thrust-to-weight ratio, enables the aircraft

to turn tightly without losing airspeed.


* The F-15 Eagle has a perfect combat record of 101 victories and zero defeats.

* During the Balkan conflict, the F-15E was the only fighter able to attack ground targets around the

clock, in all weather conditions.

3. F-16 Falcon

Manufacturer General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin

Maiden flight 1974-02-02

Introduction 1978-08-17

Status Active: 724

Reserve: 69

Primary users United States Air Force and 24 other users

Number built >4,000

Unit cost US$14.6 million (F-16A/B) US$18.8 million (F-16C/D) in 1998

Variants General Dynamics F-16XL Mitsubishi F-2

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is an American multirole jet fighter aircraft developed by General Dynamics

and Lockheed Martin for the United States Air Force. Designed as a lightweight fighter, it evolved into

a successful multirole aircraft. The Falcon’s versatility is a paramount reason it was a success on the

export market, serving 24 countries. The F-16 is the largest Western fighter program with over 4,000

aircraft built since production started in 1976. Though no longer produced for the US Air Force, it still

sees limited duty and is also produced for export.

In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air

combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets

in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface

role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior

accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather

capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.

In designing the F-16, advanced aerospace science and proven reliable systems from other aircraft

such as the F-15 and F-111 were selected. These were combined to simplify the airplane and reduce

its size, purchase price, maintenance costs and weight. The light weight of the fuselage is achieved

without reducing its strength. With a full load of internal fuel, the F-16 can withstand up to nine G’s —

nine times the force of gravity — which exceeds the capability of other current fighter aircraft.

* The F-16 flew more sorties in Operation Desert Storm than any other aircraft.

* The F-16 is the most numerous fighter in the West.

4. F-18 Hornet

Type Multirole fighter, strike fighter

Manufacturer Boeing Integrated Defense Systems

Designed by McDonnell Douglas

Maiden flight 1995-11-29

Introduction 1999

Primary user United States Navy

Produced 1995-present

Number built 300

Unit cost US$57 million (F/A-18E)

US$59 million (F/A-18F)

Developed from F/A-18 Hornet

Variants EA-18 Growler

The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a carrier-based fighter/attack aircraft that entered service in

1999 with the United States Navy. The fighter has recently been ordered by the Royal Australian Air

Force. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a larger and more advanced development of the F/A-18C/D



The F/A-18 Hornet is an all-weather aircraft and is used as an attack aircraft, as well as a fighter.

While in fighter mode, the F/A-18 Hornets are used mainly as fighter escorts and fleet air defense.

While in attack mode, it is used for force projection, interdiction and close and deep air support.


The F/A-18 Hornet broke all records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability, and maintainability
during Operation Desert Storm

5. F-22 Raptor

Type Stealth air superiority fighter

Manufacturers Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems

Maiden flight YF-22: 29 September 1990

F-22: 7 September 1997

Introduction 15 December 2005

Status Active: 91[1]

Planned: 183

Primary user United States Air Force

Unit cost US$137.7 million as of 2007[3]

Variants X-44 MANTA, FB-22

The F-22 Raptor is a fifth generation fighter aircraft which utilizes fourth generation Stealth

technology. It was originally envisioned as an air superiority fighter for use against the Soviet Air

Force, but is equipped for ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence roles as well.

Faced with a protracted development period, the prototype aircraft was designated YF-22 and, as F/A-

22 during the three years before formally entering United States Air Force service in December 2005

as the F-22A. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is the prime contractor and is responsible for the majority

of the airframe, weapon systems and final assembly of the F-22. Along with Lockheed Martin, partner

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems provides the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and all of

the pilot and maintenance training systems.


* The F-22 has the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds.

* The Raptor will be the leading American air-to-air fighter of the new century.
The Future of Jet Fighting

- F-35 Lightning

Manufacturers Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

Northrop Grumman

BAE Systems

Maiden flight 15 December 2006

Introduction 2011 (scheduled)

Status Under development/pre-production

Primary users United States Air Force

United States Navy

United States Marine Corps

Royal Air Force / Royal Navy

Produced 2003-present
Unit cost F-35A: US$48 million, F-35B: US$62 million, F-35C: US$63 million

Developed from Lockheed Martin X-35

The F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, stealth-capable military strike fighter, a multi-

role aircraft that can perform close air support, tactical bombing, and air-to-air combat. The F-35 is

descended from the X-35 of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Its development is being

principally funded by the United States with the United Kingdom and other partner governments

providing additional funding. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by

Lockheed Martin with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems as major partners. Demonstrator aircraft

flew in 2000; a production model first took flight on 15 December 2006. The F-35 is scheduled to be

released for service in 2011 and will set a new standard in fighter jet aviation.