Top10 Modern Dogfighters 

INTRODUCTION

The aerial battle between fighter aircrafts at close range is termed as close combat or dogfighting (also known as ‘ air combat manoeuvring ‘ in modern terminology). First appeared in WW-I, dogfighting is still considered as an important part of aerial combat. Once considered as a thing of the past, now time has proved its inevitability. The outcome of combat in this regime is governed by four factors – tactics, training, aircraft maneuverability, energy and to some extent technology. The dogfighting can be ‘high speed – low maneuverability’ fight or ‘low speed – high maneuverability’ fight, both have their own advantages and disadvantages. In this article we will explain top ten best performing modern dogfighters currently operational.

Note:

  • Ranking is done based on merits after analysing more than a dozen of fighters
  • Wing loading is used as an indicator of manoeuvrability.

10.MCDONNELL DOUGLAS F-15C EAGLE

It was Pentagon’s premier air-superiority fighter since 1976 until the arrival of F-22 Raptor in 2005. It is an all-weather heavy air-superiority fighter designed to gain and maintain air supremacy in aerial combat. It is one of the very successful modern combat aircrafts, credited with an impressive 104 confirmed air to air kills to 0 losses. A major share of these kills were scored by Israeli Air Force  (during air raids against Palestinian factions in 1979-81, 1982 Lebanon war) and U.S. Air Force (during 1991 Gulf war). The F-15 Eagle’s strength lies mainly in BVR combat however, it has decent performance in close range aerial combat. The high T/W ratio and lower wing loading are the key aspects behind the manoeuvrability of F-15 Eagle, which enables it to turn tightly without losing airspeed. Its instantaneous and sustained turn rates are said to be good and are 21 degree/sec and 16 degree/sec respectively. We place F-15C Eagle here at 10th position.

T/W ratio: 1.15

Wing loading: 342 kg/m^2

Armament:

  • 1×20 mm M61A1 Vulcan 6 barrel cannon with 940 rounds
  • AIM-9X (90°) High off-boresight close combat missile

Pros

  • High T/W ratio and lower wing loading
  • Impressive rate of climb (254 m/s).

Cons

  • Hybrid fly-by-wire flight control system.


    9.LOCKHEED MARTIN F-35A LIGHTNING II

    It is a single engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft designed to replace a multitude of fighter aircrafts in service with United States and Partner nations. It has three main variants: the F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take-Off and Landing) variant, the F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off and Vertical-Landing) variant, and the F-35C CATOBAR carrier based (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) variant. Among these three variants F-35A CTOL variant is the only variant which has an internally mounted gun and built to withstand positive g-load limit of 9g. It has decent manoeuvrability, visual stealth and much better (about 40 to 48% higher) Angle of Attack performance than both F-16 and F-15. It has a set of impressive sensors including Lockheed Martin AAQ-40 EOTS – which can provide full fire control solution to the cannon fire or launching missiles and Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-37 DAS System – which provides 360° situational awareness in all-weather, day and night conditions; so it is pretty tough to surprise an F-35 pilot in aerial combat.

    T/W ratio: 0.9

    Wing loading: 481 kg/m^2

    Armament

    • 1×25mm GAU-22/A four barrel rotary cannon with 180 rounds
    • AIM-9X (90°) High off-boresight close combat missile.

    Pros

    • Cutting edge sensors
    • Integrated avionics and sensor fusion increase the situational awareness and improve target identification and weapon delivery.

    Cons

    • low T/W ratio
    • Poor turning and climbing performance 


      8.F-16 FIGHTING FALCON

      It is a single engine, highly manoeuvrable multirole combat aircraft designed to supplement heavier F-15 Eagle air-superiority fighters in aerial combat. Unlike F-15 Eagle, F-16 is a much smaller and lighter combat aircraft and also the very first operational aircraft to use relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire flight control system which makes it a nimble and maneuverable combat aircraft in air. To enhance manoeuvrability, it have variable camber wing and leading edge extensions known as strakes which increases the maximum lift coefficient and minimize the stalling speed and also allows the aircraft to achieve a greater angle of attacks without stalling. Its angle of attack is said to be 26° and instantaneous turn rate is 26 degree/sec (about 20% higher than that of F-15 Eagle) it also has very good T/W ratio above one and is designed to bleed less energy in dogfight.

      T/W ratio: 1.07

      Wing loading: 432 kg/m^2

      Armament:

      • 1×20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6 barrel rotary cannon with 511 rounds
      • AIM-9X (90°) High off-boresight close combat missile.

      Pros

      • High T/W ratio.

        Cons

        • Higher Wing loading value indicates lower maneuverability
        • Poor performance in low speed.


          7.SAAB JAS 39 GRIPEN

          Saab JAS-39 Gripen is a light single engine canard delta wing multirole fighter aircraft designed to replace Saab 35 Draken and Saab 37 Viggen in Swedish Air Force. Designed and built by Saab, it is intended to perform a wide range of missions including interception, air to ground strike and aerial reconnaissance etc. It is the lightest fighter aircraft featured on this list. It is so nimble, fast and agile and has excellent visual stealth. Agility and manoeuvrability is achieved by a pair of canards, which ensures airflow over the wings at high AoA. Gripen is not designed as a dogfighter however, the airframe has inherent qualities which makes it a good dogfighter.

          T/W ratio:0.8

          Wing loading: 309 kg/m^2

          Armament:

          • 1×27mm Mauser BK-27 Revolver cannon with 120 rounds
          • IRIS-T (90°) and A-Darter (above 60°) High off-boresight missiles. 

          Pros

          • Impressive low speed handling and manoeuvrability
          • Very good high alpha performance.

          Cons

          • Lowest T/W ratio (only 0.8 in interceptor configuration).

          6.MiG-29M Fulcrum E

          MiG-29 is a highly manoeuvrable twin engine fourth generation multirole combat aircraft designed and developed by Mikoyan design bureau to supplement heavier, long range Su-27 flankers in aerial combat. Like Su-27, MiG-29 is a very agile and manoeuvrable combat aircraft with very good instantaneous and sustained turn performance and high alpha capability. It is one of the very few aircrafts capable of performing complex manoeuvres like Pugachev’s Cobra which demands a high alpha of nearly 110°-120°. The MiG-29M is a redesigned single seat variant packed with advanced sensors and avionics. MiG-29M is the most advanced operational MiG-29 variant developed without sacrificing aerodynamic performance of basic MiG-29. Once a nightmare for western fighter pilots; still evolved MiG-29 variants are a potent adversary to any modern fighters in WVR combat.

          T/W ratio: 0.9

          Wing loading: 420 kg/m^2

          Armament:

          •  30mm Gsh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds 
          • R-73E/M (60°) High off-boresight missile

          Pros

          • Impressive manoeuvrability and AoA performance

          Cons

          • Low T/W ratio
          • Quickly bleed energy.

          5.DASSAULT RAFALE C

          Dassault Rafale is a French twin engine highly manoeuvrable 4.5th generation multirole combat aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation to replace different types of combat aircrafts in service with French Air Force and Navy. The Dassault Rafale is a canard delta wing combat aircraft designed to have a high level of agility and manoeuvrability. The high T/W ratio, low wing loading and canards are the key factors behind the manoeuvrability of Rafale. In comparison with other Euro-canards especially Typhoon, Rafale offers exceptional low speed handling, manoeuvrability and high alpha performance due to active close coupled canards in place of long-arm canards in Typhoon. The Rafale is said to have very good instantaneous and sustained turn rates and handling at airspeed even below 150-200 knots. We place Rafale here at 5th position.

          T/W ratio: 1.07

          Wing loading: 312 kg/m^2

          Armament:

          • 30mm GIAT Auto-cannon with 125 rounds 
          • MICA-IR (60°) High off-boresight missile.

          Pros

          • Impressive slow speed handling and manoeuvrability
          • High T/W ratio

          Cons

          • No HMDS integrated yet so cannot fully exploit the potential of LOAL and high off-boresight capacity of MICA-IR close combat missile.


          4.Su-30MKI/MKA/MKM/SM

          This is a special and advanced variant of Sukhoi-30 developed by incorporating various advanced technologies from Su-35 prototype and Su-37 technology demonstrator to further improve the capabilities of Sukhoi-30s. These are heavy long range all-weather air-superiority fighters designed to dominate aerial warfare. These aircrafts have slightly lower wing loading than their younger cousin Su-35; hence theoretically they offer slightly better turning and climbing performance and are more responsive to pilot input however, their T/W ratio is significantly lower. Their performance in low speed is enhanced by a pair of canards and advanced 2D thrust vectoring engines, and are known to perform complex manoeuvres.
          T/W ratio: 0.96

          Wing loading: 419 kg/m^2

          Armament

          • 30mm Gsh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds 
          • R-73E/M (60°) High off-boresight missile

          Pros

          • Excellent manoeuvrability and high alpha performance

          Cons

          • Prone to bleed energy quickly

          3.EUROFIGHTER TYPHOON / / /

          Eurofighter Typhoon is an agile and manoeuvrable canard delta wing combat aircraft designed and manufactured by a consortium three aviation firms viz Alenia Aermacchi, Airbus group and BAE Systems to fulfil the requirement of Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain for an air-superiority fighter to counter Soviet/Russian Flankers and Fulcrums. Typhoon is an ‘energy fighter’ who excels mainly at high altitude – high speed fight. It has a combination of high T/W ratio and lower wing loading ( lowest in this list) which enables it to achieve high manoeuvrability, climb rate and turn rate (both instantaneous and sustained) with less energy loss. It has a combination of IRST system, HMDS and advanced close combat missiles (AIM-132 ASRAAM and IRIS-T) which makes tracking, targeting and engaging targets in WVR a whole lot easier.

          T/W ratio: 1.15

          Wing loading: 309 kg/m^2

          Armament:

          • 1×27mm Mauser BK-27 Revolver cannon with 150 rounds 
          • AIM-132 ASRAAM (90°) and IRIS-T (90°) High off-boresight missiles.

          Pros

          • High T/W ratio
          • Excellent climb rate and turn rates

          Cons

          • Poor low speed handling.



            2.LOCKHEED MARTIN F-22 RAPTOR

            The F-22 Raptor is a super-manoeuvrable, fifth generation, twin engine, all-weather tactical combat aircraft developed for the USAF. It is the most advanced and stealthy combat aircraft featured on this list. The F-22 Raptor is agile and super-manoeuvrable at both subsonic and supersonic speeds. It has a pair of 2D thrust vectoring nozzles with reduced infrared emissions for enhanced manoeuvrability and survivability at close range combat. Raptor is said to have superior climb rate and turn rates (both instantaneous and sustained). Like Eurofighter Typhoon; F-22 Raptor is considered as an energy fighter designed to bleed less energy in high manoeuvres. A fully armed Raptor produces significantly lower drag than a similarly armed 4th/4.5th generation aircraft due to weapons in conformal weapon bays. The unparalleled high T/W ratio and lower drag enables it to maintain a high level of energy in all phase of fight. Raptor is the ideal platform to fight both ends of the aerial combat.
            T/W ratio: 1.18

            Wing loading: 345 kg/m^2

            Armament

            • 1×20mm M61A2 Vulcan 6 barrel rotary cannon with 480 rounds 
            • AIM-9Xmissiles (90°) Helmet-less high off-boresight close combat missile

            Pros

            • Excellent manoeuvrability and T/W ratio

            Cons

            • No Helmet mounted display system and IRST system

            1.SUKHOI SU-35 FLANKER E

            It’s not a surprise to see this super-manoeuvrable Flanker at the first position on this list. Initially known as Su-27M the Su-35 is considered as an incremental development of baseline Su-27S single seat airframe. The Su-35 is a 4++ generation fighter that is designed to bridge the gap between legacy fighters and fifth generation PAKFA. It is a super-manoeuvrable fighter powered by a pair of highly powerful 3D thrust vectoring engines which enables it to achieve an exceptional level of manoeuvrability and T/W ratio. Many of us have already seen its gravity defying stunts at many Airshows. It has three main advantages in WVR regime, which makes it a beast in close combat, which are:

            1. Aerodynamically refined airframe

            2. High T/W ratio

            3. 3D Thrust vectoring engines etc.

            T/W ratio: 1.10

            Wing loading: 423 kg/m^2

            Armament:

            • 30mm Gsh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds
            • R-73E/M (60°) and R-74M (90°) High off-boresight missiles 

              Pros

              • High T/W ratio
              • Excellent manoeuvrability

                Cons

                • None.

                CONCLUSION

                I hope this list has given you a good idea about the 10 best performing dogfighters in service today. It is important to note that different aircrafts listed in this article have advantage at different altitudes and airspeed.

                So at the end of the day it’s the man behind the machine that matters; well-trained pilots with good tactics and better understanding of their machines will always try to keep the fight in a corner where they have some advantage.

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