Building a 21st Century Fighter From the Ground Up

Stealth must be designed into the aircraft; it can NOT be done after the fact.
The F-35 is an integrated low observable fighter built from the ground up.

In the graphic in the first slide, the design items are highlighted which directly contribute to stealth: e.g. internal fuel, internal weapons, etc.

Each of the items above specifically highlight why a 4th generation fighter can NOT achieve VLO stealth.

There are many 4th generation airplanes, which do have reduced RCS, but as soon as you hang weapons, pods, or fuel tanks the RCS explodes.

Another hallmark of 5th generation is agility, which goes hand in hand with stealth.

Slide 2

This slide depicts two VLO aircraft on the left, the B-2 and the F-117. These airplanes are not considered 5th generation because they lack agility.

The B-2 and F-117 flew at night in order NOT to be detected visually. If any other 4th generation fighter just happened to see them it would all over.

Without agility it is extremely difficult to defend.

The F-22 and F-35 on the other hand enjoy VLO stealth along with agility.

In other words, stealth is an enabler, but not the whole story.

These are fighters first and foremost.

The F-35 aerodynamic challenge was to build a fighter with the low speed handling of the Hornet and the high-speed performance of the Viper. These design goals have been met and are being verified in flight test.

Slide 3

This slide shows the findings of the most recent Northern Edge environment.

Although the F-35 airframe has not been flown in Northern Edge some its sensors have been. The sensors performed extremely well and portend a bright future. It is understood by most that the electronic order of battle will play a key role in future conflicts.

Indeed, in recent exercises that have included the F-22, the world’s only other 5th Generation fighter, many key observations have been made regarding the benefits of operating 5th Generation tactical aircraft in concert with 4th Generation fighters:

It is expected the F-35 with its 5th Generation capabilities of stealth, advanced multi-spectral precision sensors, and enhanced interoperability provides many, if not more, of the same benefits to existing fighters and command and control assets as the F-22 demonstrated.

A 5th Generation fighter, with its ability to fly ahead of the package in contested air space, will be able to ID threats for the entire package much sooner.

The presence of 5th Generation fighters in the package increases overall mission effectiveness by enhancing survivability and lethality for the entire combat package.

The common reaction of legacy pilots to a 5th Generation fighter is the incredible situation awareness (SA) that sensors and advanced integrated fusion provide over legacy aircraft.

This enhanced SA and fusion allow the aircraft to function as air battle managers for the package. Even when the F-22 is weapons bingo it stays in the fight as a battle manager sharing this SA with the package.

5th Generation fighters are able to complement command & control platforms (E-2, E-3, GCI). They can provide a picture at greater ranges. They can datalink back IDs, fill-ins, threat data, striker position, and targeting information.

5th Generation fighters will function as Non-Traditional Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (NTISR) and Suppression of Enemy Defense (SEAD) mission enablers and coordinators by:

  • Calling threat activity positions;
  • Minimizing emitter search volume for other ISR platforms;
  • Reducing EA-6, F-18E/F and F-16CJ SEAD timelines.

The F-35 gives our most trusted allies and coalition partners a state of the art 5th Generation multi-role Strike Fighter that is interoperable from a communication, logistics, and operational point of view with U.S. forces.

And the F-35 fleet can be deployed from main operating bases, austere bases and ships (CV and L-class).

Slide 4

In this slide are depicted the generations of fighters from the first jets to the 5th generation.

Also shown is the advancement of stealth across the top and the airplanes associated.

Currently, only the F-22 and the F-35 are considered 5th generation fighters.

They encompass all of the necessary attributes of VLO, agility, integrated sensor fusion, network enabled, and advanced sustainment.

Slide 5

Advanced stealth is a key enabler in both air to surface and air-to-air operations.


It is in this sense that the F-35 is considered a multi-role fighter.

The bridge between 4th generation and 5th generation VLO stealth can NOT be bridged in legacy airframes.

At the extreme, a 4th gen fighter encased in radar absorbent material, will lose every advantage as soon as you hang a fuel tank, sensor pod, or weapon.

Slide 6


VLO stealth must be planned for and built in.

The designers must incorporate large internal fuel tanks, internal weapon bays, and internally mounted sensors with appropriate apertures.


Slide 7

This slide shows a graphical example of the impact of radar cross section.

To an enemy surface to air missile (SAM) site a 1st through 3rd generation fighter looks like the leftmost slide. The red region represents the “area of denial.” In this region the aircraft can be detected and engaged.

The center graphic is that of a 4th generation fighter given the benefit of the doubt.

In other words, this represents the absolute best-case scenario for a 4th generation fighter.

The rightmost graphic is a 5th generation fighter.

Even in the denied airspace environment of a modern SAM the 5th gen can get through where the 4th gen cannot.