What is a Fifth-Generation Air Force?

The Air Force Strategy outlines Air Force's intention to become a fifth-generation Air Force.

Fifth-generation means the latest technological evolution of aircraft. While the different aircraft generations traditionally refer to fighter jets, Air Force needs our people, working with all aircraft and systems, to achieve a fifth-generation force.

A fifth-generation Air Force is a fully-networked force that exploits the advantages of an available, integrated and shared battlespace picture to deliver lethal and non-lethal air power.

A fifth-generation Air Force provides the necessary strength to win against the increasingly complex and lethal threats of warfare in the Information Age.

Aircraft Generations

First-Generation

Generally refers to subsonic fighter jets, first introduced in late World War II. Examples include the Meteor and Sabre.

Second-Generation

Considered to be the mid 1950s to early 1960s, when afterburning turbojet engines entered production. Examples include the Mirage.

Third-Generation

The 1960s to approximately 1970 produced aircraft with increased manoeuvrability and ground attack capabilities, combined with the introduction of guided missiles. Examples include the Phantom.

Fourth-Generation

Between approximately 1970 and the mid-1990s, aircraft were characterised by their multi-role configurations and equipped with sophisticated avionics and weapons system. Examples include the F/A-18A/B Hornet.

Four-and-a-half Generation

This generation of aircraft from the 1990s until 2005 are often modified fourth-generation aircraft, with significantly enhanced capabilities. They are commonly identified by signature reduction, helmet-mounted sights, GPS guided weapons, and highly integrated systems. Examples include the F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Fifth-Generation

From 2005 onwards, fifth-generation fighter aircraft are characterised by very low-observability including internal weapons bays, and vastly improved situational awareness through a network-centric combat environment. Examples include the F-35A.

Because fifth-generation aircraft operate in a network-centric combat environment, the entire Air Force must be optimised in order to gain full advantage.