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5th Generation Fighters and the TF-X Program

Since the 1990s Fighter Jets have been classified and categorized in ‘generations’ from technology perspective, with each new generation reflecting a major advance in technology and capability

Issue 81

The term ‘generations’ applies to only jets rather than propeller driven fighter aircraft. During the 2000s Aerospace companies have also preferred to use generation-based categorization in order to differentiate between ‘old’ and ‘new’, fighter jet designs and capabilities and in a short time the notion of aircraft generations has turned into a marketing terminology. Lockheed Martin, for example, has labelled the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter a “fifth-generation” fighter in 2005, a term it borrowed from Russia in 2004 to describe the F-22. As a powerful marketing tool, the term ‘fifth-generation’ has been applied to the F-22 and F-35 aircraft, to underline that competing companies could not offer similar levels of performance and technological capabilities.  

However, even the ‘generations’ are supposed to be defined by new game-changing capabilities, since the evolving combat capabilities and requirements blur generational lines there is no clearly defined line between successive generations. Generational shift in fighter jets occurs when a technological innovation cannot be incorporated into an existing aircraft generation through upgrades and retrofits. Among the generational lines focus is shifting from platform to system-of-systems and each generation represents certain class of technology used in the fighter jet such as avionics, software, construction materials, network capability, engines, etc. A higher generation means a more technologically advanced platform.