Military aircraft are far superior to the competition for their platforms since they come in all sizes and types. Since the 1780s, airplanes had evolved, and the military had a proven record of adopting the latest innovations and designing aircraft that could help it achieve its objectives. In the beginning, hot air balloons and hydrogen balloons were the means of transportation. Military aircraft differ from commercial or private aircraft in their designs and functions.
Military fixed-wing aircraft can perform for both combat and non-combat missions. The weapons on combat aircraft aim to destroy enemy equipment. In non-combat planes, there are weapons to defend themselves. All military fixed-wing aircraft fall into one of these categories. The bombers are heavier and less maneuverable craft that drop bombs and missiles on surface targets. The round-attack or ground-support aircraft fly at a lower altitude than bombers. To transport weaponry, supplies, and troops over long distances, tanks, and cargo planes have large bodies and plenty of interior space.
Fixed-wing fighter aircraft are used in combat primarily to destroy enemy aircraft while they are in the air. These aircraft employ equally defensive and offensive counter-air operations, but some fighters can also deal with ground strikes. These aircraft are equipped with machine guns, rockets, bombs, cannons, and guided missiles, among other weapons, depending on the mission. Today’s fighters can engage the enemy from a great distance, often before the adversary detects or sees them. Some of the more well-known military fighter aircraft include the F-15 Eagle, Su-27, and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. Fighter aircraft must possess superior maneuverability, speed, and a smaller size than other types of fixed-wing combat aircraft.
A military bomber is a fixed-wing aircraft that is larger, heavier, and less flexible than a fighter aircraft. In addition, these aircraft carry a variety of military weapons, including cruise missiles, bombs, and torpedoes. Military bombers primarily target the ground for ground attacks. They lack both swiftness and agility to confront the enemy directly.
Military bombers might have a single-engine and a single pilot, or they might have two or more engines and a large crew. Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit, for instance, is a combat bomber with stealth capabilities. As a result, hostile radar cannot detect them. Other examples of these planes are the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-17 Flying Fortress from World War II. There are several types of bombers, including light, medium, and heavy bombers, torpedo bombers, and dive bombers. Junkers Ju 88 and Tupolev Tu-16 Badger are other examples.
In the military, fixed-wing transport aircraft primarily transport other aircraft, equipment, and troops from one location to another. Pallets assist in loading and unloading easier. Sometimes, cargo is dropped from planes via parachutes, eliminating the need for planes to land. Aerial tankers are planes that refuel other planes while in the air. Transport aircraft include the C-17 Globemaster III, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain from World War II, and the KC-135 Stratotanker.
Multi-role fixed-wing aircraft are capable of performing multiple missions, including combat and bombing. Their exact role depends on the mission requirements, and they are common in today’s armed forces. As well as forward air control, aerial surveillance, and even electronic warfare, these multi-role aircraft can also perform other missions. Despite being able to attack from the ground, most fixed-wing aircraft are used primarily for air attacks.
Military multi-role aircraft include the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen, and Junkers Ju 88. Multi-role aircraft are also known as swing-role planes because they can change roles rapidly within the same mission, often with little to no notice. These include air interdiction, close air support (CAS), and suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD).
The United States Air Force has maintained its force structure at around 5,500 aircraft despite a steep decline from 2002 to 2009. By allowing the average ages of aircraft to increase to 29.2 years, the Air Force has kept its inventory in check. Some fleets are in good shape. The modernization of older fleets is underway, but it has stalled, is expensive, and may take years to complete. As a result of the acquisition of C-17s and C-135, the transportation fleet has an average age of 21 years, and the special operations fleet has an average age of 12 years.
The United States Air Force purchases new aircraft every year, including F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, KC-46 tankers, and T-7A trainers. The procurement level for FY 2021 is substantially too low to maintain the Air Force’s current inventory. In the fiscal year 2021, the Air Force will buy 106 aircraft. It is possible to service 3,180 aircraft over 30 years. Currently, there are 5,387 assets in inventory. To maintain such quantities, the number of aircraft purchased annually must roughly double. The United States Air Force is developing a new stealth bomber under the B-21 Raider program. In 2018, an evaluation of the B-21 program. Northrop Grumman is currently building the first B-21 bomber, which will be ready in 2022. The US Air Force plans to buy at least 100 B-21 bombers, with a procurement program of record size.
The KC-46 will replace the Air Force’s 58- and 35-year-old KC-135 and KC-10 tanker fleets. Because the airframe derives from Boeing’s 767, the program is low-risk. Nevertheless, the program has faced delays from the outset, with the first shipment arriving three years late in January 2019, and further delays continue to occur.
The KC-46 program is still in development, so the current fleet of KC-10s and KC-135s are expected to be in service for a long time. In general, the United States Air Force has plans in place to modernize its fleets, but these plans are being delayed and taking time, which means today’s aging fleets will continue to operate for a long time. The conditions of each fleet are unique and require individual attention.
One of the top goals of the Defense Department’s modernization roadmap is to maintain US battlefield superiority through hypersonic systems. Hypersonic aircraft travel at speeds approaching or exceeding Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. In the upper atmosphere, up to 200,000 feet in altitude, the Department of Defense can maneuver unexpectedly using aerodynamically controlled vehicles. Currently, the Department of Defense is investing in its industrial base, personnel, and supporting technologies.