Fighter jets are the most prominent part of any air force. They are also often the most important. Fast, agile and powerful, modern fighters can perform various roles and are truly universal aircraft.
Many countries use older and cheaper models of fighter jets. However, the leading armies always try to have an edge over their adversaries and procure state-of-the-art equipment.
The more advanced the jet is, the more effective it can be at performing its role. So, the latest technologies are often used on fighter aircraft. Powerful engines, complex weapons systems and sophisticated radars allow these machines to be truly multirole.
Some of these aircraft employ thrust vectoring engine nozzles for additional maneuverability, while others make use of stealth designs to reduce their radar and heat signature. The latest and the most advanced fighter jets feature complex computers and communication links to process and share data.
But which fighter jets are the most advanced? Let’s try to analyze their features and find out.
AeroTime has only included jets that have already flown. Aircraft such as Russia’s Sukhoi Checkmate, India’s HAL AMCA or Turkey’s TAI TF-X are yet to take flight, while sixth-generation jets like the NGAD, the FCAS, and the Tempest among others are still in the design phase.
Without further ado, here is AeroTime’s 10 most advanced fighter jets in 2023!
10. Sukhoi Su-35S
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 offering 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.
9. Dassault Rafale
The Rafale and the Typhoon are quite similar, not least because they began development as one aircraft. However, in the mid-1980s France decided to divide the program and create a separate fighter for its own needs.
The Rafale has more variants than the Typhoon, including a stealth jet dropped by the manufacturer, and a carrier-borne one.
France also upgrades its Rafales constantly. The F3 being is the latest variant and includes the latest weapons systems and sensors.
The Rafale F4 is currently 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.
8. Eurofighter Typhoon
As its name implies, the Eurofighter Typhoon was designed to be a joint European fighter jet. However, it has received a lot of attention from outside Europe and is now used by some of the strongest air forces across the continent and in the Middle East, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
And there are good reasons for that. The Typhoon is one of the most advanced and powerful 4th generation jets, and its latest variant, the Tranche 3, employs the newest technologies. An even more advanced Tranche 4 was introduced in 2020, improving the electronics and weapons systems featured on the Tranche 3.
The Typhoon has been so successful that Europe skipped the development of its 5th generation jet and jumped straight to the sixth-generation with the FCAS and the Tempest.
7. Boeing F-15EX Eagle II
The F-15 was one of the first 4th generation fighter jets. Sometimes it is hard to believe that this jet celebrated its 50th birthday in 2022.
However, it still remains a potent war machine. It is the only fighter jet in the world to score more than 100 air-to-air kills and experience no air-to-air losses. It has also been continuously upgraded, with its new variants featuring the most advanced technologies.
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.
6. Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon
China seems to have finally dusted off this project, which was first presented more than a decade ago. Although the FC-31 is yet to be unveiled, the jet, under different designations, is close to becoming China’s new carrier-based jet, as well as its first 5th generation fighter to be exported to other countries.
While little is known about its true capabilities, recent images show the FC-31 with redesigned engine housing, a new canopy and many other intriguing upgrades.
5. Sukhoi Su-57
The Sukhoi Su-57 Felon is Russia’s first stealth aircraft. However, its development was slowed due to numerous problems and delays and, although initially planned to become operational years ago, it only exists in small quantities.
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.
4. KAI KF-21 Boramae
Designed in South Korea, the KF-21 is the newest jet on this list. While KAI designates it as 4.5 generation, it has many features compatible with 5th generation jets, such as stealthy design and some technologies used on the F-35.
The first KF-21 conducted its maiden flight only in July 2022, and several more prototypes are currently in production and undergoing testing at KAI. The company aims to start delivering these jets to the military in 2026.
The Boramae is also set to receive additional improvements in the near future. Further variants, with internal weapons bays and improved sensors, will make it a true 5th generation fighter jet. So, this jet could feature it even higher in future versions of this list.
3. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
The F-22 is the first-ever 5th generation fighter jet to enter service, and the first fighter to include stealth features. Its thrust-vectoring engines give it an edge at close-range dogfighting, and it also has powerful sensors for beyond-visual-range.
The United States Air Force (USAF) is the only service to operate this jet, as it was deemed too advanced to be handed over to another country. However, the F-22 was regularly deployed abroad where it has been used in multiple combat missions, proving its worth.
The USAF is also continuously upgrading its Raptors, which means that, despite being first designed more than two decades ago, they remain some of the most advanced aircraft in the world.
2. Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon
China’s first 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 might not be as maneuverable as its counterparts 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 is continuously upgrading the jet is well known. New variants are currently in development, including a two-seater jet intended to control drones. A new, more powerful engine is also currently being tested on this aircraft.
1. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
This comes as no surprise. Ever since entering production in 2006, the F-35 has embodied the latest in combat aircraft development. It boasts stealth features, the world’s most powerful aircraft engine, and the most advanced radar. Its pilots even use a special augmented reality helmet that offers them unprecedented levels of situational awareness.
This jet is said to take its all-aspect stealth and sensor fusion to the max, making it almost unbeatable in beyond-visual-range combat. Furthermore, it can hold its own in good old dogfights too. In 2017, during the model’s first Red Flag exercise, the F-35 scored 20:1 kill ratio, meaning that it won 20 engagements for each one it lost. Such an advantage is mostly the result of the F-35’s unprecedented situational awareness. The aircraft can track and attack targets in all directions, so, getting on the F-35’s tail does not mean you are safe from its missiles.
The F-35 also has three distinct variants: the conventional F-35A, which works as your regular fighter jet; the F-35B, which has vertical take-off and landing ability; and the F-35C, designed to land on aircraft carriers.
Initially, this jet experienced several developmental problems and, despite being intended as a cheap alternative to the F-22, quickly became the most expensive weapons system in the world. However, with the cost of the new F-35s dropping and the deficiencies being ironed out, more and more countries are ordering F-35s, making it an unexpected export success.
But which fighter jet is the best?
While all these jets are incredibly advanced, one question may remain: which is the best fighter jet?
However, it is impossible to give a simple answer to that question. Each fighter differs, and they are designed to perform different roles. Some are better at dogfighting, while others are better ground attack platforms or have the edge when it comes to beyond-visual-range combat.
Countries design jets to feature the latest technologies in their possession, but military doctrines are also considered. This means that while a jet might be the best for one country, it may not be idea for others.
Furthermore, the fighter is just a machine. Personnel matters a lot, and a country with the best pilots but older jets could have an advantage over one with less well-trained pilots and the most advanced jets.
Other variables, such as infrastructure, logistics, chain of command, and discipline, complicate this question even further, and make it almost unanswerable. It may well be that there is not one ‘best fighter jet’ but rather the most suitable for use in a particular circumstance.
What are some other advanced fighter jets?
This list features American, Chinese, Korean and Russian aircraft. However, many other countries manufacture their own fighter jets.
While they may have not made the cut to appear on our 2023 list, some of these jets are still incredibly advanced, so we would like to give them a special mention.
- The Saab JAS 39 Gripen E, the newest Swedish fighter jet, very nearly made this list. It is a monumental upgrade to older variants of the Gripen, featuring a new engine, electronics and weapons.
- The HAL Tejas is India’s home-grown 4th generation light fighter and includes many advanced features. India is also close to testing the Mk2 variant, which boast an even better performance.
- The PAC JF-17 Thunder is a joint production between China and Pakistan, and a light and nimble successor to the legendary MiG-21.
- The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, in its latest Block 70/72 variant, features the newest electronics and weapons, and is a great improvement on this legendary light fighter.