The superpower’s most advanced fighters are being marketed but buyers beware, they are designed with very different air defense doctrines in mind.
According to Asia Times, China, Russia and the United States are locked in a fierce competition to export their fifth-generation fighter jets, a trade war that is important for strategic influence in key countries around the world.
5th generation fighters – namely the Chinese J-20 and FC-31, the Russian Su-57 and Su-75, and the US F-22 and F-35 – offer several advantages compared to its predecessor fourth generation fighter and is therefore in high demand globally.
Those new, high-tech features include low visibility, advanced networking, data aggregation technology, and more.
In the future, China aims to export the FC-31, although it has struggled to sell its fighter jets beyond a small group of customers including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, North Korea, and a few African countries.
Meanwhile, Russia announced the idea of exporting the Su-57 and has negotiated with the UAE to co-produce the more advanced Su-75 “Checkmate”. In contrast, the US has successfully exported the F-35, with 14 countries now using the fighter jet and 10 plus countries involved in its production.
Notably, the fifth generation fighters are all designed according to different air defense doctrines of their respective manufacturers.
Continental powers like China and Russia emphasize their air defense capabilities, their fighters being tightly integrated into their air defense networks. In contrast, expeditionary powers such as the United States emphasize long-range strike capabilities and the ability to
China is attempting to expand on this traditional premise by integrating air power in offensive joint operations, as well in defensive operations for critical infrastructure and to protect ground and naval operations
According to that strategy, China views airpower as integrated with other warfighting arms. Furthermore, Beijing emphasizes air-to-ground operations, as they are considered to be more effective, less expensive and less reactive than air-to-air operations. That can be seen in the machine design. China’s J-20 stealth fighter, which is said to be optimized for long-range attacks on complex air defense environments.
Among its target missions are long-range interception, surface attack and maritime strike. The J-20 can also conduct airstrikes far from air bases in mainland China before retreating into the safe zone of Beijing’s air defense network.
The Russian air defense doctrine follows a three-tiered approach, with a layered system creating an area anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone. The system is based primarily on surface-to-air missiles, with long- and medium-range batteries providing protection against high and medium-altitude air penetration, while the missile system itself is protected. by a short-range point defense system based on guns or missiles.
The Russian 5th generation fighter aircraft is integrated into this layered air defense network to hunt down enemy aircraft seeking to destroy air defenses on the ground and fill in the gaps in the air defenses’ range. radar. This means that Russia’s 5th generation jets emphasize air-to-air combat.
Meanwhile, American doctrine emphasizes joint operations across all regions, in which the air force must overcome geographical limits, strike precisely at critical holes in the heart of the enemy in the air range.
According to American doctrine, air power allows control of operations to its advantage, is used in conjunction with all forms of military power, and is integrated across many domains.
This is reflected in the US preference for a single platform designed to perform multiple roles. The F-35 exemplifies this philosophy, with multiple variants for the US Air Force, Navy and Marines, as different capabilities are integrated into a single original design.
However, this leaves the F-35 without any specialized role to be able to create an ecosystem that supports other capabilities needed to maximize the effectiveness of this 5th generation fighter.
Potential buyers of Chinese, Russian and American 5th generation fighters must harmonize military strategies, air defense doctrines, capacity requirements and specifications of each seller when making a purchasing decision.
Larger political and strategic factors are also important. In addition, country-specific doctrines or capacity requirements may affect the suitability of said fighter types in their particular operating environment.
At the same time, defense budgets vary widely due to underlying national finances and economic situations, which ultimately is often the deciding factor in which great power a buyer chooses to engage.