A-10: close air support fighter
F-4: bomber interceptor with limited air superiority ability
F-15: bomber interceptor with air superiority ability
F-16: air superiority fighter with ground attack ability
F-22: bomber interceptor with air superiority ability
F-35: ground attack aircraft with limited self-defense ability
F-104: point defense bomber interceptor
F-105: strategic bomber / ground attack aircraft with limited self-defense ability
F-106: point defense bomber interceptor / air superiority fighter
JAS-39: point defense air superiority fighter with ground/maritime attack ability
Rafale: air superiority fighter with ground/maritime attack ability
Typhoon: bomber interceptor with air superiority and ground attack ability
15 thoughts on “Aircraft roles”
Interesting is the lack of a defined single role aircraft here.
Rafale would probably be regarded as the best air superiority fighter here
Gripen would be closer to a point defense interceptor, especially with its low fuel fraction, but could probably be an acceptable air superiority fighter
A-10 is the only true CAS aircraft here
A case could be made that an F-16 would be a good air superiority plane too, but all the newer variants have gotten much more heavy.
I suppose we can add:
– F14: again, another bomber interceptor only with limited air superiority
– Drones: recon aircraft that can only ground attack in a very permissive environment
Among Russian aircraft:
– Su-27: bomber interceptor with air superiority ability (and quite long range)
– Su-25: dedicated CAS aircraft
– Mig-29: Point defense aircraft
Agreed. Aircraft has to be designed with single mission in mind, but as usual, brass and industry cause the most illogical course of action to be adopted.
Technically speaking, ironically, there is one single mission type of combat aircraft in the US inventory: the strategic bombers – B1, B2, and B52.
They are intended to carry heavy munitions deep into the enemy territory and drop very heavy bombs in strikes. Typically these will be PGMs.
Of course, this is not effective, but I suppose this is closest thing (apart from the A-10 which is now in a fight for its life) to a single role combat aircraft.
Indeed. And majority of “tactical” aircraft in the US inventory are pseudo-strategic bombers. They even tried to turn the F-22 in a bomber.
I suppose in a sense, the F-35 is a single role aircraft, a tactical bomber.
The F-35 is hopeless as a CAS aircraft and ineffective at best as an air superiority aircraft. In that regard, it is single role (a bomber).
The F-22 I suppose can bomber intercept, is a bit too large for a good fighter (somewhat better than F-15, but not considering the cost difference), and is probably big enough to carry a decent sized payload (at the expense of stealth).
So essentially for aircraft we have:
– F22, a bomber interceptor that the USAF is thinking about turning into a bomber too
– F35, a bomber that can carry a few AAMs
Then the older airframes, which they will have to keep due to the cost overruns;
– F16: could be a good fighter had they stuck to YF-16, but now a psuedo-bomber
– F15: a bomber interceptor that can carry bombs
– F18: again, too large to be a good fighter, so a bomber interceptor that can also bomb
The A-10 is in a fight for it’s life. Assuming it gets chopped (very likely), I suppose among the other combat aircraft, there’s the attack helicopters (Army mostly) that are single role, but again of questionable effectiveness.
It’s reflection I suppose of the USAF’s priorities. Strategic bombing behind enemy lines.
“but again of questionable effectiveness. ”
Helicopters simply aren’t survivable to carry out CAS against a serious opposition.
I suppose you are talking about the JAS 39 C and not the E version?
Gripen E has very good range, fully comparable to that of the Rafale or Typhoon. I would classify Gripen as an air superiority aircraft. Gripen C typically wins exercise engagements with both Norwegian F16 and Finnish F18 at both BVR and WVR combat.
You also leave out the reconnaissance ability? Typically an important asset in Flygvapnet and some of the best pilots used to fly the recon version of the Viggen (SF37 and SH37 – land recon and sea recon). Thus, the ‘S’ in ‘JAS’ is important. There were 5 different versions of the Viggen. Gripen replaced all of them and had to have true multi role capability since Flygvapnet can’t fall back on other platforms like the British or French air forces.
“I suppose you are talking about the JAS 39 C and not the E version? ”
Unless I note otherwise, I am talking about C, yes.
“You also leave out the reconnaissance ability? ”
Yes, I know (J signifies air-to-air, A is for air-to-ground and S for recon). But while quite a few aircraft have reconnaissance ability, I was focusing on primary roles.
Fair enough. Reconnaissance is a primary role though I would say. As far as I know the french airforce flew with wet film recce pods in Libya whereas Gripen flew with a state of the art digital system. Reconnaissance may be a ‘soft’ role but it is a big mistake to downplay it.
Speaking of soft, in Flygvapnet a central factor is “combat effect”. There is a brilliant blog post by a former Flygvapnet pilot who makes an attempt at explaining this. Pay attention to when he explains how Swedish pilots fight very differently from American or Russian pilots. The big powers have pre-determined strategies they follow, a rule book, while Swedish pilots are taught to improvise and adapt. This means that the airplanes are designed with radical difference. If you’re playing a hard numbers game, then specifications become central. If you’re playing a more fluid, “softer” game centered on the pilot, then numbers become far less important (note how the pilot suggests a ten fold increase in combat effectiveness if situational awareness is good when using Swedish philosophy of combat). Note how the writer downplays the meaningfulness of number of sensors and other hard numbers – even calling it “specification masturbation”.
This is through Google translate and the translation is lacking. But hopefully you get the gist.
“The big powers have pre-determined strategies they follow, a rule book, while Swedish pilots are taught to improvise and adapt.”
In other words, big powers only play war games, while Swedes fight an actual war.
“Note how the writer downplays the meaningfulness of number of sensors and other hard numbers – even calling it “specification masturbation”. ”
And he’s entirely correct in saying that. Ultimately – as I have tried explaining (mostly in vain) to quite a few people – comparing aircraft specifications is a waste of time. Organization, training, initiative and adaptability is what matters the most.
Thanks for the link.
That is why man for man, the smaller nations tend to do better. They encourage their pilots (and in general all their people) to think, to look for unconventional ideas.
Perhaps it is because they have to. Sweden is a small nation with limited resources. It cannot afford to waste resources. There’s no large population to call upon if things go wrong.
The US in particular attempts to rely on its massive defense budget to compensate for other weaknesses. It can because of its size, geography, and available resources to do so. Even so, as the current experiences show, that approach has quite a few shortcomings, many of which cannot be solved by money.
Bombing does not seem very effective in Kobani. Could they send A10s?
The USAF is fighting hard to try to get them retired.
There are some sane efforts here and there
It’s a very contentious battle.
Even if the A-10s are saved, it might not amount to much. During the Gulf War, the USAF only deployed them to the insistence a small group of people. Their effectiveness frightened the USAF which has been restricting their operation ever since.
The USAF has been doing everything it can to make the A-10s look bad I’m afraid.
The other question is, although A-10s are more accurate, a matter of getting intelligence. A lot of the time, civilians are killed in these bombing attacks. A-10s would be more precise, but not to the point where you could be near 100% of what you were killing.
That is why CAS aircraft are typically directed by either ground or airborne FACs, and why airborne FACs tend to be small propeller aircraft.