Every country that wants to protect its air space must have the newest and the best fighter jets in its arsenal. Currently, the 5th generation fighter airplanes with their latest weapons, powerful engines and stealth capabilities are the most advanced.
But many countries already started developing 6th generation fighter jets, while 4th generation fighters remain the backbone of a majority of air forces around the world. Fourth-generation fighters can be upgraded with new technology to make them an effective fighting force on the modern battlefield. Such aircraft are often referred to as 4+ or 4++ generation fighter jets.
We will use these characteristics to measure how advanced each fighter aircraft is:
The power and the reliability of its engine: the best fighter jets are powered by the most powerful and the most advanced engines;
Newest and most advanced weapon systems: a fighter is as effective as its weapons;
High-performance avionics: advanced flight control equipment allows for the best handling of the plane;
All-aspect stealth: such capability allows an aircraft to remain invisible to enemy radars and detectors for as long as possible;
Powerful and advanced radar: it allows to detect enemies and offers low probability of being intercepted;
Highly integrated computer systems: sophisticated computers allow to control the aircraft and also to communicate with other fighters, as well as the ground control.
Keeping this in mind, let’s count the top 10 most advanced fighter jets of 2021!
10. JF-17 Thunder / HAL Tejas
That’s right, these two great fighter jets are so matched that we can’t decide which of them is better! Speedy and nimble, the JF-17 and Tejas are the very best 4th generation light fighter design could offer. They are excellent dogfighters armed with a great array of weapons, and are also multirole fighters capable of performing a multitude of combat roles.
The JF-17 Thunder, also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong, was developed by Pakistan and China and now has become the workhorse of the Pakistan Air Force by replacing older Dassault Mirage III and Chengdu J-7 fighter jets. In January 2021, the newest variant the JF-17A Block 3 went into production, offering the most advanced avionics, helmet-mounted display, new radar, and many other improvements.
HAL Tejas is its Indian counterpart, developed to replace older MiG-21 fighter jets and enrich the Indian Air Force with numerous, domestically-produced advanced fighters. In January 2021, the improved Tejas Mark 1A variant was approved for production, featuring a new radar, advanced electronic warfare equipment, and a reduced radar signature.
9. Sukhoi Su-30SM
The Sukhoi Su-30SM is the newest development of the most numerous fighter jet of the Russian Air Force, the Su-27. Improving every aspect of the base model, the Su-30 is a 4+ generation fighter aircraft and features new radar, avionics, weapons systems, and much more.
Many countries, including India, Vietnam, Armenia, and others use various models of the Su-30 with great success. The Su-30 SM improves on it with even more powerful radar, newer avionics, and most importantly – the thrust-vectoring system which allows to rotate jet engine nozzles for unrivaled maneuverability. Thanks to it, the Su-30SM is one of the most maneuverable aircraft and one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world.
8. Boeing F-15EX
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is the most numerous aircraft of the United States Air Force (USAF), as well as many other air forces around the world. Nowadays the jet is built by Boeing, which developed many improvements for the aircraft. The F-15E Strike Eagle is its current variant and the F-15EX is an upgrade that gives it the 4+ generation capability with new control system, advanced weapon capabilities, and many other features.
It is based on the F-15QA developed for Qatar Air Force, while many other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and others have also upgraded their F-15s to modern standards. In early 2021, the United States approved the sale of the F-15EX to India too.
7. Eurofighter Typhoon
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a 4+ generation multirole fighter jet used by Great Britain, Germany, Qatar, Kuwait, Italy, and others. It was a joint development of Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo, and is one of the most advanced fighter jets manufactured in Europe.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is constantly upgraded with new features. Tranche 3 is the latest production standard, with new electronics, radar and defense systems, and has a greatly improved air-to-air and air-to-ground capability. Older Eurofighter Typhoons are constantly being improved to the level of the newest variant, making them some of the most advanced fighter jets in 2021.
6. Dassault Rafale
The Rafale is a multirole fighter jet developed by the French company Dassault. France withdrew from the joint European fighter jet program after disagreements with other countries, and developed its own fighter jet that would replace its older Mirage fighters in both air defense and ground attack roles.
Not only France, but also India, Egypt, Qatar and Greece have ordered the aircraft for their air forces, while many other countries considered buying it too. Rafale has many variants that include armament, avionics and stealth upgrades.
5. Shenyang FC-31
The FC-31 is the latest Chinese 5th generation fighter jet. Not much is known about its capabilities, but it is most likely going to be introduced into Chinese military soon, as a light maneuverable counterpart to the J-20 or as a new fighter jet for China’s aircraft carriers.
Lighter and simpler than many 5th generation fighter aircraft, the FC-31 is nevertheless very advanced, showing stealth, supercruise and many other incredible capabilities. Since it is not yet introduced, it still has to prove itself though.
4. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
The F-22 Raptor was the first fifth-generation fighter jet and remains the stealthiest fighter jet in existence. It also laid the course for other aircraft to follow, introducing low radar visibility, supercruise, advanced sensor networks, and supermaneuverability in one package.
Although its production was discontinued in 2011 due to high cost, it remains one of the deadliest fighter jets for beyond-visual-range combat, made even more intimidating by its near-unrivalled dogfighting capability. Lacking multirole capabilities of many other fighter jets, the Raptor is still an incredibly effective air-to-air platform.
3. Sukhoi Su-57
The Su-57 Felon is the Russian answer to the F-22. It is the country’s first stealth airplane, combining great close-combat effectiveness of the Su-27 and the Su-30 family with low radar visibility and other fifth-generation fighter jet features.
Although its estimated cost is much lower than other newest fighter jets, the development of the Su-57 was plagued with delays. Its serial production started only in 2020, and in 2021 Russian Air Force already uses its first units of this incredible fighter jet. Also, Russia is currently developing the new engine for it, so, in the near future the Su-57 is going to become even more advanced and even deadlier in the air.
2. Chengdu J-20
Also known as the Mighty Dragon, the J-20 is the most advanced Chinese fighter jet, employing the latest stealth technology. It is also the second 5th generation fighter jet to enter service in the world, an achievement made even more impressive by the fact that China has just recently started developing its own advanced fighter aircraft.
Its true capabilities are a closely guarded secret known only by the highest ranking Chinese officials. Nevertheless, we can tell that China keeps constantly upgrading its J-20s. Most recently, new powerful domestically-made engines were developed for it, and there are also hints that new, more advanced variants are in the works.
1. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
Some love it, others hate it, but nobody can deny that the F-35 is one of the most advanced and most capable fighter jets. While its early variants were beset by all kinds of problems, the U.S. spent billions of dollars improving this airplane, and many tests and training fights show that it can challenge any other jet.
The aircraft has three distinct variants: F-35A is the basic conventional fighter; F-35B is a variant for short take off and vertical landing; F-35C is the carrier variant, designed to replace the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 fighter jet.
What makes the F-35 stand out is its incredible fusion of advanced sensors, stealth, electronic warfare, and networking capabilities. The U.S. spent over $1.5 trillion dollars developing this plane, making it the most expensive weapon platform ever. It also made it the most advanced one.