Should we put an end to “5th generation” combat aircraft?

When Lockheed-Martin presented its F-22 Raptor for the first time, it was presented as a “5th generation” aircraft, to mark its disruptive character both operationally and technologically, with previous combat aircraft. Beyond its unit price of $160 million which, on its own, was enough to justify a major disruptive aspect since twice as expensive as the F-15E or the F/A 18 E/F then the combat planes more expensive in service or in preparation across the Atlantic, the aircraft indeed had unique capabilities, such as very advanced multi-aspect stealth, without however equaling that of the F117A in the frontal sector, the ability to maintain supersonic flight without post -combustion referred to as Super-cruise, and a first attempt to design an info-centric combat aircraft, with significant on-board processing capabilities for the time and referred to as data fusion. Since then, the 5th generation has imposed itself as a qualitative criterion often plastered as the ultimate argument for estimating the operational capabilities of an aircraft, in particular since the arrival of the F-35 Lighting II from the same manufacturer on the international market, and this even if this one does not have multi-aspect stealth but sector stealth, nor supercruise.

The F-22 Raptor was the first aircraft designated as part of the "5th generation"

However, this classification has transcended American aircraft alone, since both the Russian Su-57 and the Chinese J-20 are also presented as 5th generation aircraft, while the new programs under development, such as the Franco-SCAF SCAF German, the British Tempest or the American NGAD, are presented as future “6th generation” devices. However, by studying the history of the technological development of combat aircraft for more than a hundred years now, it appears that this much used notion could in reality be, if not artificial, in any case severely overused, to the point that one could wonder about its materiality. Thus, the 4 previous generations, just like the following 6th generation, present technological and operational aspects much more disruptive and universal than is the assembly of capacities with variable geometry used to define this 5th generation.

the Russian Su-57 sports many features that allow it to claim 5th generation status, such as stealth, supercruise, and data fusion.

If the use of the plane for military purposes began at the end of the 1900s, the first aerial combat in history took place on October 5, 1914 above Jonchery-sur-Vesles in the Marne, making Voisin LA Type 3 equipped with a machine gun by its crew, pilot Joseph Franz and mechanic Louis Quenault, the first fighter in history to shoot down a German reconnaissance aircraft. This first generation of combat aircraft, characterized by piston engines, propellers and straight wings, lasted until after the Second World War, with certain legendary aircraft such as the Camel, the Spitfire and the British Tempest, the SPAD and the French MS406, the Fokker Dr.1, the BF109 and the German FW190; the American P38 Lighting, P51 Mustang and F6F Hellcat, or even the Japanese A6M, the famous zero which prevailed in the Pacific until 1943 and the arrival of the Hellcat. Some of these aircraft remained in service during the 50s and even 60s, such as the F4U Corsair which served intensely in Korea but also in Indochina in the hands of French naval aviation pilots, and the famous Skyraider of the US Navy in Vietnam, the Sandies mission specialists to protect downed pilot extractions. These devices were however limited in their performance due to the very fact of the aerodynamic constraints linked to the use of a propeller, which did not allow them to exceed speeds beyond 750 km/h.

The Voisin LA Type 3 was the first aircraft in history to achieve an aerial victory in October 1914

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