Best fighter jets in the world ranked as UK-Russia incident surfaces

US: Pentagon briefs after shooting down high-altitude object

This week, dozens of Pentagon documents were leaked revealing sensitive, classified information including the US’s assessments of the war in Ukraine. Included in the documents were new details on an incident that took place in September between a British spy plane and two Russian fighter jets. The “dangerous” accidental interaction amounted to a “near-shoot down”, but the altercation, which took place over the Black Sea near Ukraine’s coast, was played down by Defence Minister Ben Wallace at the time. It has now emerged that a missile was fired from one of the Russian SU-27 fighter jets, a vehicle that the Kremlin previously said it had deployed to Ukraine. The news has renewed a conversation about the world’s fighter jet capabilities, and here, looks at some of the deadliest aircraft on offer.

In December, the AeroTime revealed some of the most advanced fighter jets of 2023 from around the world.

Only jets that had flown were included, meaning the likes of Russia’s Sukhoi Checkmate, which is due to have its maiden voyage this year, and India’s HAL AMCA, which is still being designed, did not make the cut.

The aircraft were evaluated on a range of aspects including engine strength, radar, electronic performance, weapons, computer systems, and stealth.

At the bottom of the top ten list is the Sukhoi Su-35S, the “ultimate” version of several similar Russian and Chinese jets.

The Russian-built jet has all the latest electronic systems with its signature characteristic being the thrust-vectoring engine nozzles which make it easy to manoeuvre, meaning it does not need canards — small winglike projections attached to an aircraft to provide extra stability.

Next up is the Dassault Rafale. The French jet was developed to be highly agile, and thanks to its close-coupled canard, it also has high manoeuvrability.

The Eurofighter Typhoon came in at number eight, but don’t let its name fool you, it is now used in the Middle East too, such as in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

In Europe, it is used by the British, German, and Italian air forces. It is one of the most advanced and powerful fourth-generation jets with its latest variant using the newest technologies. The UK has this year toyed with the idea of sending the Eurofighter to Ukraine, investigations into which are ongoing.

Boeing F-15EX Eagle II has an impressive track record: it is the only fighter jet in the world to score more than 100 air-to-air kills while also having experienced no air-to-air losses.

The next generation of the fighter jet, which is more than 50 years old, carries 12 underwing missiles, a new radar and weapon systems. It was developed for the US with Boeing asked to build hundreds for the airforce.

China’s Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon comes in at number six and although little is known about the extent of its capabilities, images reveal a new canopy and a redesigned engine housing.

There are only a very few of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 stealth jets, with several issues cropping up during its development. But it still comes in at number five thanks to its low-speed manoeuvrability and stealthy characteristics, such as its sensors.

In June, Russian state-owned media RIA Novosti reported in June that four Su-57 fighter jets had been deployed to destroy air defence systems in Ukraine. However, the SU-57 had been flying the jets against but not over Ukraine, the British Ministry of Defence announced earlier this year, meaning the jets were being used but from inside Russia’s borders.

At number four is the KAI KF-21 Boramae, the newest jet on the list, its maiden voyage only happening in July of last year. The jet, which has a stealthy design, is set to undergo improvements before it is delivered to the South Korean military in 2026.

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Third place is taken by the Lockheed Martin F-22 which is only used by the US air force as it was deemed “too advanced” to be given to another country.

Its sensors give it scope beyond visual range and its thrust-vectoring engine edges it over its competitors when it comes to close-range fighting.

China’s Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon is as powerful as it sounds. Although it is not as manoeuvrable as the others, its design is “incredibly advanced”. While further details of its characteristics are classified but it is well known that China is constantly upgrading it.

In first place is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, which is one of the jets used by the Royal Air Force.

It holds the world’s most powerful engine as well as the most advanced radar systems, with pilots using an augmented reality helmet when flying it, giving them “unprecedented levels” of situational awareness.

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