New weapons: 5G aircrafts

Although 5G represents the newest generation of jets and the mass production is starting in three great powers, they are still steered by human pilots. Perhaps the 5G will be the last humanly managed jets and the future belongs to autonomous, unmanned vehicles.

The US has been and will be, at least in the next few years, a prominent leader in this sector, both in fighter jets, bombers as well as in the essential top technologies involved.

Now that Russia and China have developed their fighter jets into production phases and new bombers designed, the counter-stealth ability, now only in possession of the US, will be the next development target in Russian and Chinese 5G aircrafts.

Both Moscow and Beijing have most of the elements needed to develop and field counter-stealth technologies similar to those possessed by the US Navy and Boeing using a combination of the powerful DTP-N processor, TTNT high-speed IP-based data-network and the long-wave Block II Infrared Search and Track (IRST) pod. Given that both the Russians and the Chinese possess the individual elements of all the required technologies to replicate the US Navy’s capabilities, it is only a matter of time before Moscow and Beijing start to field similar counter-stealth abilities.

Once either China or Russia (or both) manages to put together a long wave IRST, high-speed data-links, and the computers and algorithms for multi-ship sensor fusion, the ability of US fifth-generation fighters to operate independently will diminish dramatically.

The US and 5G-capability

The first 5G fighter jet in service was the American air dominance jet F-22 Raptor entered service in 2005.

The US government canceled the Raptor production in 2011 and the amount of produced jets was left 187. Even though it was a critical part of the USAF (the United States Air Force), the rising development and maintenance costs, lack of air-to-air missions put an end to the production of the jet. Lockheed delivered the last Raptor to the USAF in 2012. Nevertheless, the F-22 was a pioneer. It was the first fighter jet to combine super cruise, super maneuverability, stealth and sensor fusion. During last three years an intensive upgrade and development work (e.g. Link-16 datalink) seems to help survive the present stock of F-22  at least for the next ten years.

The second 5G jet was the air superiority multi-role strike fighter / fighter bomber F-35 from 2016 on. 

United States Air Force introduced the newest fighter jet in 2015. The F-35 has three main variants, with differences in their landing capabilities. The estimated cost of the F-35 program is several hundred billion dollars. The US government spent a massive $1.5 trillion on the fighter jet. But on the other hand, Lockheed projects that the USAF will utilize the fighter jet until 2070. Although the F-35 has its critics, it is the most advanced fighter jet currently in the air. The amount of produced aircrafts exceeded 500 jets in early 2020 but there are still a lot of teething problems and faults to be fixed and upgraded. The US Government has planned F-35 to be the major fighter jet in the air forces of NATO-family and other allies worldwide.

The Northrop B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American heavy strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is a flying wing design with a crew of two. The B-2 is the only acknowledged aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration. It entered in service in 1989 but due to massive costs its production cancelled in 2000, total number of bombers in service is 20 today.

The future of the Air Force’s bomber fleet will be the B-21 Raider, the new stealth bomber now under development, and a heavily modified version of the Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortress, Lt. Gen. David Nahom, deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, told lawmakers in the beginning of 2020.

Russia and 5G-capability

The Su-57 is Russia’s first 5th-generation aircraft, designed to be an air superiority aircraft with cutting-edge new weapon systems. It is normally expected to carry weapons in its internal bays, to reduce radar cross-section and avoid compromising its stealth capabilities but larger missiles may be carried externally.

The Russian air force announced to purchase 76 Su-57 fighters in the spring 2019 which makes the contract as the biggest in Russia’s post-Soviet history. The Russian paper Kommersant has told the contract will come in at 170 billion rubles. At current exchange rates that comes to a pitiful $2.6 billion or $35 million per operational plane. The comparable “flyway” price of F-22 is $150 million, so how is Russia able to manufacture a supposedly comparable plane at a fraction of the cost.

The Russians definitely drive a harder bargain with their arms industry. Moreover, the F-22 developed and implemented the same technologies a decade ago. Most importantly however, comparing costs at exchange rates is of an extremely limited value. Adjusted for purchasing power parity the 2.25 billion rubles flyaway cost of a Su-57 is the equivalent of what 90-100 million dollars buys in the US.

In spring 2018, Russia has announced that tests of new cutting-edge cruise missiles have been successfully conducted using Su-57 jets in Syria. The new air-to-surface missile was a modification of Kh-59 Ovod projectile equipped with an inertial guidance system and a bunker buster or cluster warhead. The other new missile R-37M for Su-57 is an upgraded version of the old Soviet missile from 1985. The updated missile’s main feature is its extended range, which is reported as 300km. The costly missile is meant to take down equally important targets like AWACS planes but with Mach 6 speeds and an active-seeker homing system taking over during the terminal phase, it poses a threat to more agile targets like fighter jets. There is a wide range of new weapon systems in testing for SU-57 including hypersonic missiles, laser weapon, counter-stealth capability etc.

The extended range was made possible by using a two-stage composition, with a wider powerful first stage quickly boosting the smaller second stage. Interestingly, China is reportedly developing a similar two-stage extended-range missile for its J-20 stealth fighters. By deploying missiles with an even greater range, Russia and China would essentially double down on this strategy, threatening valuable US assets from a safe distance.

The Tupolev PAK DA 5G stealth bomber is expected to replace the aging line of Tu-95 and Tu-160 bomber types for the Russian Air Force in late 2020s. The new bomber – designated under the project name of “PAK DA” (“Perspective Aviation Complex – Long-Range Aviation”) – will be a true flying wing, lacking any vertical tail surfaces, and operate as a subsonic aircraft utilizing modern stealth methods to reduce radar signatures (perhaps with some resemblance to the American Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber). At this stage of development, there remains little official information on the PAK DA. Details of this aircraft will change as the program gains steam.

For the interim, the Russian Air Force will continue use of the Tu-160 and Tu-95 platforms – though in heavy modernized forms that will have them serve into the 2020s. As for its specifications, the PAK-DA is expected to have an operational range of around 12,000 kilometers and be able to remain airborne for up to thirty hours. It would carry a payload of 30 tons, ranging from long-range cruise missiles, both nuclear and conventional, including the upcoming hypersonic Kinzal missile.

China and 5G-capability

In 2017, China has finally rolled out its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jet which some have compared to the United States’ F-22 Raptor.  The new jet is rumored to have already been deployed to the South China Sea to take part in a joint combat patrol over the region. The J-20 was designed for stealth and maneuverability and is powered by two jet engines, giving it extra power as well as the ability to survive engine failure, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. The US Naval Institute said the aircraft was likely to be a serious threat to US aircraft, ships and bases, because the PLA might be able to put mass production in going.

Senior analyst at the Australia Strategic Policy Institute, Malcom Davis, told that the J-20 is a “fundamentally different sort of aircraft than the F-35”. Davis characterized the J-20 as “high-speed, long-range, not quite as stealthy (as US 5G aircraft), but the Chinese clearly do not see that as important.” According to Davis, the J-20 is not a fighter but an interceptor and a strike aircraft that does not seek to contend with US jets in air-to-air battles. Instead, the Chinese are recognizing they can attack critical airborne support systems like AWACS and refueling planes. Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula stated “The J-20, in particular, is different than the F-22 in the context that, if you take a look and analyze the design, it may have some significant low-observable capabilities on the front end, but not all aspects — nor is it built as a dogfighter,” adding that the biggest concern is its design to carry long-range weapons.

The engine issues preventing J-20 stealth fighter aircraft from entering mass production have been remedied now when a new engine W-15 has been accepted for production, the South China Morning Post reports in September 2018. Mass production of the aircraft will start in 2019. The US will maintain some 200 to 300 F-35 aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region by the middle of the next decade, leading China to desire a J-20 fleet of at least 200. Beijing sees the J-20 as one of its most capable jets, one that can compete with US F-35s and F-22s, according to South China Morning Post.

In October 2018, China’s Hong-20 (H-20) stealth bomber is preparing to make its first trial flight after more than a decade of development. However, the milestone of the first flight signals that Aviation Industry Corp of China has concluded tests of the aircraft’s avionics, hydraulics and electronics, China’s Global Times reported. The H-20’s design is mirrored off of the US Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The H-20’s specifications include a range of 8,000 kilometers without a refueling session and a weapons bay that can carry more than 10 tons of munitions, including thermonuclear weapons.