Ahead of the dawn of sixth-generation fighter jets including Britain’s “Tempest”, US’ secret fighter under NGAD program, and proposed Russian and Chinese next-gen fighters, most of which would be capable of flying at hypersonic speeds, there are a few fighters currently operating with a “need for speed”.
While the United States along with Russia have set the pace and the bar for the development of sophisticated new-age fighters, many of which are still futuristic despite being built decades ago, speed ultimately remains one of the key factors in distinguishing a fighter jet from a diesel-powered propeller plane.
And thereby, the question arises as to which country is the top-dog when it comes to building warplanes capable of not just being stealthy and manoeuvrable but also being the fastest.
US’s Blackbird SR-71 spy plane was undoubtedly the fastest aircraft in the world and still holds the record for attaining the maximum speed for a non-rocket aircraft, however, it still wasn’t a fighter jet.
Having realized that, the Soviet Union initiated work on a fighter which could be used as an interceptor for the Blackbirds. However, they needed to match the SR-71’s speed in a bid to counter it, and as a result, on came the MiG-25 Foxbat in 1964.
According to David Axe, writing for the National Interest, a Washington-based international affairs magazine – “In 1964, the Soviet Union’s awesome MiG-25 Foxbat jet fighter flew for the first time. Specifically designed to intercept the U.S. Air Force’s spy planes, the MiG-25 could routinely reach Mach 2.8—nearly three times the speed of sound.”
As reported by the Business Insider, while the Foxbat can sustain a cruising speed of Mach 2.8, it possesses the ability to kick it into overdrive with a top speed of 3.2.
Designed by Soviet Union’s Mikoyan-Gurevich bureau, the supersonic interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft was among the fastest military aircraft to officially enter service in 1970. The fighter jet is one of the few warplanes built primarily out of stainless steel and was the last plane designed by MiG founder, Mikhail Gurevich before his retirement.
As the competition goes, while one is on the top, the other cannot rest and it goes the same for Russia and the United States, with the Pentagon realizing the need for developing a fighter jet which would prove its superiority over the MiG fighter.
In the 1980s, US aerospace giant McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) began working on designs for a fighter which would serve just the purpose and the F-15E Strike Eagle was born. The all-weather multirole strike fighter while having its first flight in 1986 was officially inducted into the US Air Force in 1989.
The fighter, which was developed for long-range, high-speed interdiction without the reliance on escort or electronic-warfare (EW) aircraft, could fly at a top speed of 3,017 miles per hour, significantly redefining the ability of US’ existing squadrons of fighters.
The F-15 heavy fighters are still held in a high regard despite the presence of F-35s and F-22 Raptors, two of the most advanced fighter jets in the world, who are now trained to complement the Raptors on the battlefield.
“For nearly three decades, the F-15 Eagle fighter was considered the undisputed king of the skies. Until the debut of its replacement, the F-22 Raptor, the F-15 was the U.S. Air Force’s frontline air superiority fighter.
Even today, a modernized Eagle is still considered a formidable opponent, and manufacturer Boeing has proposed updated versions that could keep the airframe flying for the better part of a century.” said defence writer Kyle Mizokami, while writing for the National Interest.
Boeing is keen to sell its advanced F-15s to India termed as F-15 EX jets to India. The F-15EX jets have also been contenders for the Indian MMRCA contract and competing against Rafales, SU-35s, F/A 18 Super Hornets & F-21s and the Swedish Gripen. Even the US Air Force recently gave Boeing a go-ahead worth nearly $1.2bn for eight F15EX combat aircraft, which talks about its immense capability.
The F-15Es stand tall along with its fellow American contemporaries F-22s and F-35s due to their technological advancements in aerial combat, the Russian Foxbats, also codenamed as the “Blackbird Killers” still remain the fastest military aircraft in the category of fighter jets, be it the fourth or the fifth-generation, despite being almost half-a-century-old.