On June 23, the Valdai Club hosted a discussion dedicated to the release of the new Valdai Paper “There’s a Country for Old Planes: Why Cold War-Era Fighter Jets Do Not Retire and Are Set to Share the Skies With Drones”.
Military history knows many periods when rapid technological progress was accompanied by the preservation of individual systems and solutions for many decades. Today, a similar situation is developing in fighter aviation. In the arsenal of the leading powers, aviation systems developed in the 1970s are preserved and even prevail. Their deep modernisation, due to the impressive progress of avionics and other components, will make these systems relevant for several decades to come. At the same time, there is demand for fundamentally new aviation platforms, and the so-called “fifth generation” created after the Cold War risks becoming “a lost generation”.
In January of this year, Norway became the first country to completely retire the main symbol of the global success of the fourth generation of fighters –the F-16 Fighting Falcon –and replace it with the F-35 Lightning II. However, this is unlikely to be the beginning of a widespread rejection of fourth-generation fighters: there is news about the re-launch of the conveyor and new export contracts. Later modifications of the F-15, after a twenty-year break, again began to be purchased for the US Air Force. A similar situation is developing with other fourth-generation platforms: in Russia, the descendants of the Su-27 fighter (Su-30 and Su-35) are produced for export and for the domestic market; the MiG-29 is exported. According to some estimates, platforms developed in the 1970s can survive in service at least until the 2050s, or even until the 2070s.
Why did such a situation arise? How does this fit in with the production of fifth-generation fighters and the development of new machines, already proclaimed by journalists and marketers as the “sixth” generation? How will active technological progress affect the development process? Participants of the discussion answered these and other questions.
Aleksei Bulatov, Deputy Chief Designer of the Su-75, PJSC United Aircraft Corporation (UAC)
Ilya Kramnik, Researcher, Center for North American Studies, IMEMO RAS
Sameer Patil, Senior Fellow, ORF Mumbai (India)
Alexander Yermakov, Military Analyst, Expert of the Russian International Affairs Council (author of the paper)
Working languages: Russian, English.