October 5, 2019

World powers race for air superiority

World powers race for air superiority

America’s F-35 Lightning II

By Temisan Amoye

It is no secret that without air superiority, winning a conventional war will be virtually impossible. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery gave credence to that assertion when he said: “if we lose the war in the air, we lose the war, and we lose it quickly”.

America’s F-35 Lightning II

From World War II to the ongoing war on terror, air superiority has played a major role. The Luftwaffe reigned supreme till the United States Air Force made its presence felt in the European theater.  The unconventional war on terror has also been given a boost by the use of stealth drones to attack the most remote locations, saving military personnel in the process.

Despite calls for world peace and disarmament, world powers have been involved in a race to develop the latest generation fighter jets and bombers to secure air superiority and source of revenue and influence through to arms export.

The United States of America, Russia and China are locked in a race to gain air superiority and build the most advanced fighter jet ever known to man. With billions of dollars committed to this program, calls for disarmament and world peace might as well be swept aside.

United States of America

The US Department of Defense awarded the largest and most expensive military program at a current cost of  one trillion dollars, $1tn to Lockheed Martin of the SR-71 fame for the development of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. A single-seat, all-weather, multi-role stealth fighter jet. Adept at both ground attacks and air superiority missions.

Developed by Lockheed Martin with other sub-contractors such as Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Pratt and Whitney, with part-funding coming from close U.S allies and NATO members, not limited to the U.K, Italy, Australia and until recently Turkey, who was expelled from the F-35 fighter program for purchasing Russian made S-400 air defence systems.

With a unit cost of US$90m for the F-35A and a projected service life till 2070. The Americans have spared no cost to ensure superiority and supremacy. Manufactured for US Air Force (USAF) US Marine Corps (USMC) and US Navy (USN), allies will also have the chance to order for F-35 Lightning II. With the Italians to receive 22 F-35s before 2021.

Armed with a four-barrel version of the 25mm GAU 12 equalizer cannon to ensure it comes out victorious in dogfights, air to surface missiles, air to air missiles, Paveway series of bombs and anti-tank missiles amongst others. The F-35 is sure to strike fear in the hearts of America’s rivals as arguably the most advanced stealth fighter.

Russian Federation

Not wanting to be left behind, Russia has also started the development of its fifth-generation stealth fighter program for the Su-57, manufactured by the major Russian aircraft manufacturer, JSC Sukhoi. With a program cost of US$8bn- US$10bn. Started as the PAK FA, a joint program with India, the Indians pulled out to start their own domestic fighter project. It is Russia’s first attempt to develop a new combat aircraft since the fall of the soviet union

Russia’s Su-57 fighter jet

The Su-57 is a single-seat, twin-engine, multi-role stealth fighter adept for air superiority and attacks, with a unit cost of $42m is a more affordable weapon compared to the US’s F-35 Lightning II, but it’s equally just as deadly. Armed with Kh-38m air to ground missiles, KAB-500 precision-guided bombs, Kh-35UE anti-ship missiles, Kh-58Ushk anti-radiation missile, the Su-57 is sure to rival any opposition in the air, on the ground and the seas.


As always the Chinese are not far behind when the Americans and Russians are involved, the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation manufactured the Chengdu J-20, a fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, stealth fighter jet. It is designed as an air superiority fighter with precision strike capability. Manufactured for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)

China’s J-20 brandishing its payload

In April 2009, a Wall Street Journal report indicated that, according to the Pentagon, information from the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II had been compromised by unknown attackers that appeared to originate from China. There is some speculation that the compromise of the F-35 program may have helped in the development of the J-20.

The J-20 is armed with short, medium and long-range air to air missiles, such as the PL-10 short-range missile, PL-15 BVR long-range missile and LS-6 precision-guided bomb.

With a unit cost of US$30m-US$50m, a far cheaper alternative to the US’s F-35 lightning, the J-20 is definitely going to fly the colours of countries other than that of China, with Chinese state media reporting on October 2017 that the designs of J-20 had been finalized, and is ready for mass production as well as combat-ready.

With conflicts raging all over the world, from the South China Sea dispute to the fight on terror, battle for regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The need for air superiority cannot be overstated. With the United States committing what amounts to thirty times Nigeria’s annual budget on one fighter jet programme, the chances of these jets being used are very high.

Other countries involved in the fifth-generation stealth fighter race include; India with its HAL Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, Japan’s Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin, South Korea’s KAI KF-X, Turkey’s TAI TF-X. Sweden also has plans for the Saab 2020 programme.

As much as it will be very fascinating to watch these machines go head to head in dogfights in the skies, reminiscent of Top Gun,  the human cost would not be worth it.

Vanguard News