Northrop Grumman FB-23 Condor
The fifth generation was ushered in by the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor in late 2005. Currently the cutting edge of fighter design, fifth-generation fighters are characterized by being designed from the start to operate in a network-centric combat environment, and to feature extremely low, all-aspect, multi-spectral signatures employing advanced materials and shaping techniques. They have multifunction AESA radars with high-bandwidth, low-probability of intercept (LPI) data transmission capabilities. The Infra-red search and track sensors incorporated for air-to-air combat as well as for air-to-ground weapons delivery in the 4.5th generation fighters are now fused in with other sensors for Situational Awareness IRST or SAIRST, which constantly tracks all targets of interest around the aircraft so the pilot need not guess when he glances. (Requires software upgrade on the F-22.) These sensors, along with advanced avionics, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted sights (not available on F-22), and improved secure, jamming-resistant LPI datalinks are highly integrated to provide multi-platform, multi-sensor data fusion for vastly improved situational awareness while easing the pilot's workload. Avionics suites rely on extensive use of very high-speed integrated circuit (VHSIC) technology, common modules, and high-speed data buses. Overall, the integration of all these elements is claimed to provide fifth-generation fighters with a "first-look, first-shot, first-kill capability".
The AESA radar offers unique capabilities for fighters (and it is also quickly becoming a sine qua non for Generation 4.5 aircraft designs, as well as being retrofitted onto some fourth-generation aircraft). In addition to its high resistance to ECM and LPI features, it enables the fighter to function as a sort of "mini-AWACS," providing high-gain electronic support measures (ESM) and electronic warfare (EW) jamming functions.
Other technologies common to this latest generation of fighters includes integrated electronic warfare system (INEWS) technology, integrated communications, navigation, and identification (CNI) avionics technology, centralized "vehicle health monitoring" systems for ease of maintenance, fiber optics data transmission, and stealth technology.
Maneuver performance remains important and is enhanced by thrust-vectoring, which also helps reduce takeoff and landing distances. Supercruise may or may not be featured; it permits flight at supersonic speeds without the use of the afterburner a device that significantly increases IR signature when used in full military power.
A key attribute of fifth-generation fighters is very-low-observables stealth. Great care has been taken in designing its layout and internal structure to minimize RCS over a broad bandwidth of detection and tracking radar frequencies; furthermore, to maintain its VLO signature during combat operations, primary weapons are carried in internal weapon bays that are only briefly opened to permit weapon launch. Furthermore, stealth technology has advanced to the point where it can be employed without a tradeoff with aerodynamics performance. In contrast to previous stealth efforts, attention has also been paid to reducing IR signatures. Detailed information on these signature-reduction techniques is classified, but in general includes special shaping approaches, thermoset and thermoplastic materials, extensive structural use of advanced composites, conformal sensors, heat-resistant coatings, low-observable wire meshes to cover intake and cooling vents, heat ablating tiles on the exhaust troughs (seen on the Northrop YF-23), and coating internal and external metal areas with radar-absorbent materials and paint (RAM/RAP).
The expense of developing such sophisticated aircraft is as high as their capabilities. The U.S. Air Force had originally planned to acquire 650 F-22s, but it now appears that only 187 will be built. As a result, its unit flyaway cost (FAC) is reported to be around $140 million. To spread the development costs and production base more broadly, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program enrolls eight other countries as cost- and risk-sharing partners. Altogether, the nine partner nations anticipate procuring over 3000 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters at an anticipated average FAC of $8085 million. The F-35, however, is designed to be a family of three aircraft, a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) fighter, a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter, and a Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) fighter, each of which has a different unit price and slightly varying specifications in terms of fuel capacity (and therefore range), size and payload. Other countries have initiated fifth-generation fighter development projects, with Russia's Sukhoi PAK-FA anticipated to enter service circa 20122015. In October 2007, Russia and India signed an agreement for joint participation in a Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft Program (FGFA), which will give India responsibility for development of a two-seat model of the PAK-FA. India is also developing its own indigenous fifth generation aircraft named Medium Combat Aircraft. China is reported to be pursuing multiple fifth-generation projects under the western code name; J-XX, while Japan is exploring their technical feasibility to produce fifth-generation fighters.