Fifth generation fighters are the most modern class of combat aircraft today. The F-35 is the latest development in this class, which has not yet entered the military. But advances in technology could turn the F-35 into the last fighter in our understanding.
There is no exact classification of the generations of fighters. Most experts consider the main characteristic of fifth generation fighters to be a high consistency of combat vehicles, the integration of the aircraft into a single complex of forces and means, coordinated and controlled by a computer network. The times when the regiment commander set the task for the pilots, indicating the main and reserve targets on the map, are in the distant past. Now the pilot of the aircraft on combat patrol may not know the exact target, the coordinates of which are received by the on-board computer.
The fifth generation fighter is primarily multifunctional. It can replace vehicles of different classes, both land and sea-based. This technique is equally well suited for intercepting targets, and for conducting air combat, and for strikes against ground, surface and underwater targets. This means that entire classes of aviation technology are doomed to extinction.
In addition, the fifth generation aircraft are unified. They have the same engines, avionics, and electronic components. This reduces the cost of building aircraft, simplifies their maintenance and facilitates the training of technicians.
But the electronics that make fifth-generation fighters so sophisticated can play a trick on them. It is electronics that transforms manned aircraft into an endangered form of technology.
The pilot becomes a passenger
The exchange of data between command centers, ground forces, satellites, radar observation stations and aircraft on-board systems is so fast that the pilot does not physically have time to track information flows. Electronics controls everything: the flight parameters of the car, the acquisition and tracking of targets, the choice and use of weapons.
Moreover, modern electronic systems are capable of replacing the pilot at every stage of the flight: takeoff, climb, flight at a given level, descent and landing can occur without human intervention. Computers can control vehicles and weapons in combat. In practice, computers do this, since a modern medium-range air-to-air missile can be launched from a distance of several tens of kilometers.
The pilot has actually turned into a passenger who can take control in a critical situation or make an important decision. However, intervention in the operation of electronic systems is required less and less, and the decision can be made by a remote operator.
The pilot does not help a modern aircraft much. But it can interfere significantly. The pilot takes up precious space, requires life support systems on board. The pilot is sensitive to overload, lack of oxygen and vibration. A man aboard a fighter plane is the most expensive, vulnerable and weakest component of the combat system.
Having got rid of the person, the fighter of the next generations will become more perfect and versatile. But this will be a completely different class of technology.