Fighter jets are arguably the most important aircraft of any air force. Their task is both to defend the airspace and attack the enemy. They have to be fast, stealthy, be able to carry heavy payloads and deliver with pinpoint precision. So, a fighter must be incredibly advanced to be any good on the modern battlefield.
Most fighter jets in modern armies belong to the 4th generation. They are maneuverable, carry advanced radars and are extremely adaptable.
5th generation fighter jets are the latest and the most advanced machines. Not only do they have stealth characteristics, they are also equipped with the latest avionics, data links and sensors.
But the latest equipment also carries a price to match. So, many nations will also upgrade their 4th generation jets with 5th generation electronics, rather than buy all new jets. These fighters belong to the. 4+ or 4.5 generation.
Therefore, AeroTime’s top 10 list is based on the following characteristics:
Reliability and power of the engine;
Power and functionality of its radar and other sensors;
The performance of its avionics;
The use of the most advanced weapons systems available;
Sophistication and reliability of its computer systems;
All-aspect stealth for those aircraft that are designed to have it.
One important thing to note is that only fighter jets that are or were in production appear in this list.
Some 5th generation fighters, such as the Sukhoi Checkmate, HAL AMCA or TAI TF-X, are yet to complete their first flight. The same applies to the KAI KF-21, although its maiden flight is scheduled for mid-2022.
6th generation jets will revolutionize aerial combat, but they are still in development. We will have to wait several years until the American NGAD, the Japanese F-X or the European FCAS/NGF and Tempest reach operational status.
With that out of the way, here is AeroTime’s selection of the Top 10 most advanced fighter jets of 2022.
Honorary mention: PAC JF-17 Thunder Block 3, HAL Tejas Mark 1A and F-16 Block 70/72
Although these light fighter jets could be considered the budget option, they are still incredibly advanced.
The JF-17, a joint production between China and Pakistan, is a light and nimble successor to the legendary MiG-21, with some F-16 in its DNA. Its latest variant, the JF-17A Block III, went into production in early 2021.
HAL Tejas is the Indian answer to the JF-17. The latest Mark 1A variant is on the verge of entering production, and it features a new radar system, an electronic warfare suite, and a vastly expanded weapons selection. Meanwhile, the even more advanced Mark 2 is currently in development.
The JF-17 and the Tejas are not the only options for countries that want a light, affordable multirole aircraft on a budget. The iconic F-16 made a comeback in 2021. The latest Block 70-72 variant was deployed by several countries, and it is an incredibly powerful and versatile dogfighter.
All three of these aircraft are great, but there are only 10 entries in our list of the most advanced fighter jets in 2022. Instead, we decided to give them as an honorary mention.
So, let’s move on to the list.
10. Saab JAS 39E Gripen
While the Swedish Saab JAS 39 could be considered a budget fighter jet, the E version, which came out in more recent years, is a long way from that.
A vast upgrade to the venerated Gripen, the jet boasts a new engine, new avionics and many other upgrades that elevate it to the level of any other 4.5 generation jet.
Pricier than its predecessor, the new Gripen is also one of the most advanced jets that money can buy.
So far, only Swedish and Brazilian air forces have adopted the latest version of the JAS 39, but it has been evaluated by many others, only narrowly losing out to newer and more advanced aircraft such as the F-35. This shows the true potential of this versatile Swedish jet.
9. Sukhoi Su-35S
(Image: Dmitry Terekhov / Wikipedia)
The Russian Sukhoi Su-30, Su-35 and Su-37, along with the Chinese Shenyang J-16, are all based on the celebrated Su-27 platform, with various upgrades that offered them 4.5 generation capabilities. Each jet has a number of variants and modifications.
But the Su-35S could be considered the ultimate version of them all. It features the latest electronics systems to be produced by Russia, as well as numerous improvements to the fuselage. Its signature characteristic is the thrust-vectoring engine nozzles, which can turn to any direction, making the aircraft extremely maneuverable, so much so that it does not even require canards, a feature that became a staple on earlier Su-30 and Su-35 variants.
8. Eurofighter Typhoon
Just like many 4th generation jets, the Eurofighter Typhoon was designed in the 1970s and the 80s. However, Europe’s primary jet has experienced continuous upgrades. The latest Tranche 3 variant has a much improved air-to-air and air-to-ground capability, thanks to new radar and electronics.
The Typhoon has been used by some of the strongest air forces in Europe and the Middle East, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. It has been so successful that Europe skipped the development of its 5th generation jet, and jumped straight to the 6th generation with the FCAS and the Tempest.
7. Dassault Rafale
The Rafale and the Typhoon began development as one aircraft. But then France decided to split the program in two, and create a separate fighter for its own needs.
Unsurprisingly, the two aircraft are, at least on the outside, very similar. But the Rafale has enjoyed greater sales in recent years, and a larger range of variants have been developed.
The F3-R is the latest variant and has been given many upgrades to its weaponry and sensors.
Currently, the F4 is under development, and will include further improvements to its radar and avionics. France, the United Arab Emirates, India, and a host of other customers will begin to receive delivery of this variant in the near future, while many older variants will be upgraded.
6. Boeing F-15EX Eagle II
A symbol of American air power, the F-15 is the only fighter jet in the world to score more than 100 air-to-air kills and experience no air-to-air losses.
The F-15EX, developed by Boeing, is the latest variant of the jet. The aircraft features a new radar, new avionics and weapons systems, as well as countless other improvements. It has already gathered significant attention from customers all over the world, and is likely to continue to serve for many years to come.
5. Shenyang FC-31
(Image: Weibo / South China Morning post)
This light 5th generation fighter jet was designed a decade ago, and it has been in limbo ever since. However, recently the project was dusted off, resurrected and upgraded. It will most likely become China’s new carrier-borne fighter jet, and could even see some export sales.
While little is known about its true capabilities, recent photos show the FC-31 with redesigned engine housing, a new canopy and many other intriguing upgrades.
4. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
The F-22 is the original 5th generation fighter jet, and it is still going strong. With incredible performance at both close-range dogfighting and beyond-visual-range (BVR) combat, the Raptor also features one of the stealthiest designs ever manufactured.
The US Air Force is the only user of this jet, as it was deemed to be too advanced to be handed over to any other country. However, the jet was regularly deployed abroad where it was used in multiple combat missions, proving its worth.
3. Chengdu J-20
China’s own take on the 5th generation fighter jet, the J-20 Mighty Dragon, is a heavy, powerful fighter designed to rival the F-22 and the Su-57. It may not be as maneuverable as its rivals without the thrust-vectored engine exhausts, but the stealthy design of the Chengdu J-20 is still incredibly advanced.
While the exact characteristics of this aircraft are classified, the fact that China continues to upgrade the jet is well known. New variants are developed, improvements are made and a rather impressive number of new aircraft have been produced.
2. Sukhoi Su-57
The Sukhoi Su-57 Felon is Russia’s first stealth aircraft. Its development was slowed down due to numerous problems and delays. As for early 2022, only a small number of production examples exist. But they are vastly superior to earlier prototypes, and Russia continues to make upgrades to the aircraft.
In the coming years, the Su-57 is poised to receive a new engine and various other upgrades, making the jet a vast improvement on the Su-27 concept. It is a heavy fighter with outstanding low-speed maneuverability, as well as stealth characteristics and the latest electronics and sensors.
1. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 lightning II is controversial, with many critics highlighting its high cost and modest flight performance. While not as fast as the 4th generation jets, or as maneuverable as those with thrust-vectored engine exhausts, the F-35 makes up for that in other areas.
It is incredibly high-tech, using its sensors, computers and data links to absorb and share a range of information. Results from the latest trials show that it is nearly unbeatable in beyond-visual-range combat, and is unrivalled as a precision strike platform.
There are three F-35 variants: the conventional F-35A, the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B and the carrier-borne F-35C. Between them, it has become the most numerous 5th generation fighter jet, with over 750 produced and in service across 11 countries, with several more countries are about to receive their orders.
The F-35’s advancement is part of its controversy, as incredibly complex and maintenance-heavy elements of its construction, such as avionics or its stealth skin, were prone to failure.
But these problems are now beginning to be slowly ironed out and new upgrades are being rolled out. So, there is no denying that the F-35 is currently the most advanced fighter jet in the world.