PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – Which fighter aircraft types dominate the global fighter fleets today? Our top 10 list provides information: We present the most widely used fighter jets in the world.
At the height of the Cold War, jets like the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II or Mikojan MiG-21 dominated the scene – and in enormous numbers. More efficient and more powerful, but also more expensive, most of today’s samples cannot nearly keep up with these quantities.
The Dassault Rafale, for example, currently has 175 units built [as of January 2019] – its Swedish counterpart Saab Gripen has around 250. Both have clearly missed the top 10 most used fighter jets – but both are still being built, while more common, older specimens are clearly on the decline. In addition, the Lockheed F-35 will soon be among the ten most popular combat aircraft in the world. It is currently around 360 units [as of January 2019] – and the trend is rising.
10. Sukhoi Su-24, 377 active fighter jets
It is difficult to say how many of the Su-24s that are registered as active worldwide are actually still airworthy. Indeed, this Soviet “dinosaur” of the Cold War, which flew for the first time in 1967 and was codenamed “Fencer” by NATO, has long since been on the decline. The Russian air force announced in 2012 that it would replace all of its Su-24s with the more modern Su-34s by 2020. That should be tight, because at the moment there are still 294 “Fencers” on duty in Russia – at least on paper. Still, the end is foreseeable.
The swivel-winged Su-24 was used in the USSR from 1974 as a tactical all-weather bomber. As with the similarly constructed General Dynamics F-111, the two pilots sit next to each other in the cockpit. As a low-flying, all-weather ground combat aircraft, it can be compared with the F-111 and the Tornado. Powerful and capable of taking off even from poorly prepared airfields, the Su-24 performed well during the Cold War and beyond. A total of around 1400 “fencers” were built.
Other current users besides Russia are Algeria (23 aircraft), Iran (23), Libya (2), Syria (20), Sudan (3) and the Ukraine (12).
9. Northrop F-5, 396 active fighter jets
The F-5 family is one of the few examples of American fighter jets that celebrated their great success, especially outside the United States. Designed as a light fighter and fighter-bomber, numerous friendly nations received the F-5A / B Freedom Fighter and later the improved F-5E / F Tiger II. By 1987, 2,246 series machines were produced. The prototype’s first flight was on July 30, 1959.
South Korea is currently the largest user with 194 jets (158 F-5E and 36 F-5F). In Europe, the Swiss Air Force still uses 29 F-5E Tiger IIs – their aerobatics team “Partrouille Suisse” also delights the public at air shows with their six red and white painted F-5E’s. The Patrouille Suisse is the only aerobatic team in Western Europe that relies on a supersonic emergency aircraft.
With regard to the further development of the F-5, it is also worth taking a look at Iran. With the replicas Azarakhsh, Saeqeh (with double-titled work) and Kowsar, there are three domestic derivatives of the F-5A that were still delivered to the Shah government in the 1960s. The Kowsar was only presented to the public as an Iranian in-house development in summer 2018. It looks like the “normal” F-5, but should have modern avionics and a new radar.
8. Sukhoi Su-25, 485 active fighter jets
The Su-25 was developed as a classic attack aircraft in the late 1960s. The first machine flew on February 22, 1975. More than 1000 copies were built, many of which were exported. In addition to Russia (200 aircraft), numerous air forces in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia rely on the Su-25, which NATO has named “Frogfoot”. Peru also has 18 aircraft. In Russia, efforts are being made to make the aircraft fit for the future through ongoing modernization. The latest version is the Su-25M3. How many of the specimens still around the world are actually ready to fly is an open question.
The Russian vernacular also knows the Su-25 by the nickname “Gratsch” (rook). The construction of the ground attack aircraft places a special focus on robustness. The windshield is made of armored glass, the cockpit is surrounded by a welded titanium cladding up to 24 millimeters thick. Its strong undercarriage enables the Su-25 to use poorly prepared slopes, and the tanks in the fuselage and wings are self-sealing. The two Tumanski R95Sh Trebwerke can also be operated with petrol and diesel if necessary. A wide arsenal of weapons is also available for the Su-25.
7. Eurofghter Typhoon, 553 active fighter jets
The Eurofighter was originally commissioned as the European answer to the top Warsaw Pact aircraft, MiG 29 and Su 27. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the project was on the brink for several years – an expensive, highly agile air superiority fighter was no longer needed. Ultimately, however, the governments of the nations involved in the project – Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain – decided to continue the development of the aircraft and assign the Eurofighter a new military role: The fighter jet, which took off for its first flight in 1994 and has been known as the “Typhoon” since 1997, is now a veritable multipurpose fighter that can fill a wide variety of roles.
Series production began in 2003, and the first operational machines went into service in 2006. A worldwide marketing effort by Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH in Hallbergmoos caught on especially in the Gulf States – here the Eurofighter is in service with the armed forces of Saudi Arabia (72 planes), Oman (12) and Kuwait (28), Qatar has ordered 24 Typhoons . Austria is also deploying 15 Eurofighters from Tranche 1.
6. Chengdu J-7 / F-7, 810 active fighter jet
In the 1960s, China began building replicas of the Soviet Mikoyan MiG-21. The aircraft, known as the J-7, first flew on January 17, 1966 and was manufactured in numerous versions. The Chinese Air Force still relies on the robust oldie more than 50 years later: 388 J-7s were in the inventory at the end of 2018. There are also 30 other aircraft operated by the Chinese Navy.
As the F-7, China also exported the Chengdu J-7 to other countries. Production only ended in May 2013 when the last jets were handed over to Bangladesh. The advantages of the aircraft – especially for the armed forces of poorer nations – are obvious: it is cheap and technically not particularly complex, but still offers sufficient combat power and is relatively easy to maintain.
More than 2400 copies of the J-7 and F-7 were built, of which 810 are currently still registered as active. The largest users besides China are Pakistan with 136 aircraft (plus seven FT-7 trainers) and North Korea with 120 aircraft (as of January 2019).
5. Mikoyan MiG-29, 829 active fighter jets
The MiG-29 remains a bestseller with new versions. More than 1,600 copies have been produced since the first flight on October 6, 1977. The largest current user is Russia with around 250 machines.
Up until 2004 there were also 24 MiG-29s in Germany. The machines flew at the NVA in Preschen from 1988 and were later taken over by the Federal Air Force after the GDR armed forces were dissolved.
The latest version of the fighter aircraft once feared by NATO trades under the name MiG-29M, with the Russian armed forces referring to the jet as the MiG-35. In addition to more powerful RD-33K engines from Klimow, the newest member of the MiG-29 family has a quadruple redundant flight management system and three colored multifunctional displays in the cockpit. In addition, the MiG-35 is equipped with the new AESA on-board radar NIIR Schuk.
The Russian Air Force plans to replace its aging MiG-29 variants with new MiG-35s in the medium term. In addition, Egypt and Syria have ordered the plane.
4. Boeing F-15 Eagle, 924 active fighter jets
Designed as a high-performance interceptor, the F-15 Eagle officially entered service with the US Air Force on November 14, 1974. Only 27 months passed between the first flight on July 27, 1972 and the Eagle’s commissioning. Exports to Japan and Saudi Arabia followed later.
With the introduction of the modernized F-15E, which took off for the first time in late 1986, the program received a further boost. Singapore and South Korea also opted for the Eagle in the following years. There were also orders from Israel (25 F-15I), South Korea (60 F-15K) and, at the end of 2016, from Qatar (72 F-15QA). The production of the F-15, which Boeing “inherited” through the takeover of the former competitor McDonnell Douglas, is guaranteed until 2020, primarily due to the latter major order.
The two-seat F-15E “Strike Eagle” and its more modern derivatives expanded the range of applications of the F-15 considerably. Up until now, the aircraft was primarily responsible for its original role as an interceptor, but the “Strike Eagle” can also be equipped with extensive air-to-ground armament. The high payload should be emphasized: the F-15E can hold more than 11,000 kilograms of weapons.
3. Sukhoi Su-27 / Su-30, 1066 active fighter jets
Although the Su-27 is larger and more complex than the MiG-29, the interceptor has outstripped the smaller jet in terms of active numbers. However, the multi-purpose variant Su-30 and the manufacture of the flankers in China play a major role in this.
The prototype T-10-1 first flew on May 20, 1977. It was only after an extensive revision of the design that the model became a success. The near-series T-10-S took off on its maiden flight on April 20, 1981.
The Su-27 is similar to its counterpart, the Boeing F-15 Eagle, in several ways. With similar dimensions and also with a double vertical tail, the “Flanker” began her career as an air superiority fighter. In the form of the two-seat Su-30, it also developed into a multi-purpose fighter and fighter-bomber in later years. To this day it embodies the backbone of the Russian air force – 408 units of the Su-27, Su-30 and Su-35 “Super Flankers” are currently in service there.
In the West, the Su-27 became famous and notorious primarily thanks to the “Pugachev Cobra” – a spectacular flight maneuver that test pilot Wiktor Pugachev first demonstrated at the Paris Aerosalon in 1989 and which impressively underlined the special aerodynamics of the Su-27.
2. Boeing F / A-18 Hornet / Super Hornet, 1090 active fighter jets
The prototype of the F / A-18 took off on November 18, 1978 on its maiden flight. Most of the Hornets active today, of course, fly in the US with the Navy and Marine Corps. Other users are Australia, Finland, Canada, Kuwait, Malaysia, Switzerland and Spain.
The twin-engine F-18 is based on a design by Northrop and was tailored to aircraft carrier use from the start. As the standard fighter aircraft of the US Navy, it replaced the aging Vought A-7 Corsair II and McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. It was also a welcome addition to the larger Grummann F-14 Tomcat.
With the previous design, the YF-17, Northrop had previously competed against the General Dynamics F-16 in a competition organized by the US Air Force – and had lost out. But instead of burying the project, Northrop allied with McDonnell Douglas. The resulting F-18 made a career in the Navy.
The Hornet will continue to dominate the decks of US aircraft carriers in the future: with the almost 30 percent larger F / A-18E “Super Hornet” now produced by Boeing, there is an in-house successor that is following in their footsteps. The Bundeswehr is currently also interested in the EloKa version of the “Super Hornet”, the EA-18 Growler.
1. Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, 2280 active fighter jets
With 2,280 aircraft, the F-16 Fighting Falcon accounts for around 15 percent of the global fighter jet fleet. This makes the single-engine fighter jet, which took off for the first time on February 2, 1974, the undisputed leader in our top 10 ranking and something like the VW Golf among fighter planes.
Thanks to large orders from the USA and Europe, the F-16, originally designed by General Dynamics, reached high numbers early on. Their relatively low purchase price also made them interesting for smaller nations. The F-16 quickly developed into the new NATO standard fighter aircraft.
Numerous improvements and a continuous modernization program ensured that the powerful falcon is still far from old. Series production has been running since 1976 – uninterrupted. The F-16 is also very popular as a used aircraft.
The currently largest users of the F-16 are the USA, followed by Turkey, Israel, Egypt, South Korea and Greece. More than 4500 copies have been built or are still on order. With the F-35 Lightning II, however, a successor is already preparing to overthrow the F-16 from the throne.
Read more: Top 5 best bombers in the world
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