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F-35: The Best Fighter Jet on Planet Earth

An F-35 Lightning II flies at the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, Nov. 11, 2022. The NAS Pensacola Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show is one of Pensacola's largest events, attracting 150,000-180,000 spectators during the two-day event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Trenten Walters)
An F-35 Lightning II flies at the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, Nov. 11, 2022. The NAS Pensacola Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show is one of Pensacola's largest events, attracting 150,000-180,000 spectators during the two-day event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Trenten Walters)

F-35: The Best Fighter Jet Today – The question as to which stealth fighter jet is the unrivaled best in the world is tough to decide concisely.

It seems almost unanswerable given how many unknowns there are likely to be when it comes to specific attributes and capabilities of many top stealth fighters. However, there are a few planes that come to mind and a favorite to take the top spot.

Top Fighters

Available information on the F-35 would seem to suggest it is unrivaled by any aircraft in the world when it comes to sensing, computing, and weapons systems, yet the specific extent to which its attributes in these areas compare with Russia’s Su-57 or China’s J-20 and J-31 may be difficult to determine. 

During the Air Force’s famous “Red Flag” Wargame several years ago, a single F-35 showed it was able to target and destroy a large number of enemy fighters from standoff distances where it was itself not seen by enemies. This would suggest that the range and fidelity of the F-35’s targeting sensors are unmatched

This is the central question, meaning if the Chinese J-31 operates with a similar sensor range and targeting precision, perhaps it could rival an F-35. An ability to do this would also require a J-31 to operate with advanced, AI-like “sensor fusion” computing sufficient to process targeting detail ahead of or inside of an enemy’s decision cycle. The answer to this may be difficult to determine in the absence of an actual confrontation unless of course, the U.S. Air Force were somehow able to replicate a J-31’s capabilities. Certainly, a look at the external configuration may offer some indications of relevance related to its stealth properties, yet the speed of the J-31’s computing or fidelity and range of its sensors may be quite difficult to discern

Performance Wins Out

Nonetheless, based on its performance in wargames and high-tech sensing and weaponry, the F-35 may simply be unparalleled.

While an F-35 may not have the speed or thrust-to-weight ratio of an F-22, it has attributes as a multirole fighter, which would likely prove extremely difficult to replicate. An F-35 has a drone-like surveillance capability and a new generation of computing, processing speed, and sensor data integration along with a large arsenal of advanced weapons. 

The F-35’s AIM-9X, for instance, can now be fired “off-boresight,” meaning it can change course in flight to re-direct and destroy targets behind or beneath the aircraft. The weapon does not have to follow a specific or restricted “line-of-sight” targeting path, but can massively widen the envelope with which the F-35 can attack. Along with weapons, the F-35’s computing is likely quite difficult to match, as it flies with an advanced threat data library called its Mission Data Files which enable pilots to instantly find, verify and attack specific enemy targets. 

The most significant margin of difference when it comes to the best fighter jet relates to the upgradeability of the F-35, meaning the extent to which new software integration can expand capabilities.

The Pentagon has by design built the F-35 with open computing standards such that new weapons, sensors, and avionics that can be integrated as new technologies emerge. 

MORE: The F-35 Now Comes in Beast Mode

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Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University

Written By

Kris Osborn is the Military Editor of 19 FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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