5 Most Lethal U.S. Warplanes on the Planet

American aircraft are the greatest on earth. Here are the cream of the crop.

Since at least the end of World War II, America has usually boasted the most advanced warplanes in the world. Indeed, the Soviet Air Force often built planes in response to new U.S. variants, and these were almost always inferior.

American designs are still some of the most sought-after around the world, as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has demonstrated. Moreover, several U.S. aircraft—such as the F-22 Raptor and the B-2 Spirit—are without peer in active service. After years of service, reliable designs like the multirole F/A-18 Hornet and the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper still promise to give opponents a run for their money.

Here are the five most lethal warplanes in America’s arsenal:

F/A-18 Hornet

Recognizable to many Americans as the jet used by the Blue Angels performance squad, the F/A-18 Hornet is a McDonnell Douglas/Boeing Northrop designed all-weather multirole aircraft. The Hornet is notable for its versatility, and is used by the U.S. Navy and Marines, as well as by Canada, Australia, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain and Switzerland.

F/A-18’s dispatched from an array of military bases and from U.S. aircraft carriers boast a combat radius exceeding 900 km. This makes the Hornet an especially potent instrument with which to project American power. Twin F404-GE-402 turbofan engines allow the Hornet to achieve speeds above Mach 1.7. At times it has flown at supersonic speeds.

The F/A-18 can be fitted with a variety of weapons systems to conduct both fighter and attack missions. For air-to-air combat, the Hornet can be equipped with Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. Raytheon’s Paveway laser-guided bombs are used for attack missions. The accuracy of laser-guided bombs launched from Hornet aircraft is enhanced by the F/A-18’s forward-looking infrared sensor systems.

F-22 Raptor

Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor represents a major achievement in American military technology. No other country actively flies an aircraft that can match the Raptor. Entering service in 2005, the F-22 is a fifth-generation multirole air superiority stealth fighter. The qualitative edge the F-22 grants the United States is so valuable that America imposed an export ban on the aircraft.

The Raptor’s stealth technology allows it to slip into combat zones relatively undetected. Though the F-22 is 62 feet long and has a wingspan of 44.5 feet, it has the radar signature of a bird. Two F119-PW-100 jet engines propel the F-22, allowing it to achieve speeds of Mach 1.8.

The F-22 is notable for its clean configuration: all of its weapons systems are stored internally. This improves the Raptor’s stealth capabilities and reduces drag, making the plane more aerodynamic.

In addition to these impressive systems, the Raptor is equipped with a range of weapons that make it a formidable instrument of both air-to-air combat and air-to-ground operations. AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles and Sidewinders give the F-22 a robust air-to-air potential. It also is equipped with a short-range M61A2 20mm cannon, allowing the Raptor to excel in dogfighters. For air-to-ground attacks, the F-22 can carry two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions or eight 250-pound GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs.

In September 2014, the F-22 engaged in its first combat mission. American pilots flew the Raptor alongside allied Arab air forces in Syria while conducting sorties against the Islamic State.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the Lightning II, is a Lockheed Martin designed fifth-generation multirole stealth fighter. The Joint Strike Fighter program is primarily funded by the United States, with support from the Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway. Washington will use F-35s in the Air Force (starting 2016), Navy (2018), and Marine Corps (2015) as a replacement for aging F-16 and F/A-18 variants. Subject to controversy in the United States for its immense cost, the F-35 nevertheless promises to be a powerful tool for the American military and allied forces.

Like the F-22, the F-35 is a stealth aircraft with a reduced radar signature. The JSF can store weapons externally. Alternatively, the plane can fly with a clean configuration, improving its aerodynamics and enhancing its stealth capacity. Powered by Pratt and Whitney’s F-135 engine, the JSF has a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 and a combat radius of over 1,100 km.

One of the advantages (or determinants, depending on who you ask) of the JSF is that a number of variants are being built, such as a carrier model and a version with Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capability. For air-to-air combat, the F-35 is equipped with an array of weapons like the AIM-120 AMRAAM and a General Dynamics GAU-22/A 25mm cannon. To strike surface targets, the F-35 can carry Paveway IV laser guided bombs and small diameter bombs. Unlike the F-22, the F-35 can carry the B61 nuclear bomb.

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