Monday, 18 February 2013

Comparison: How the five fighters stack up.

Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

Saab JAS-39F Gripen

Eurofighter Typhoon
Dassault Rafale B
F-18F Super Hornet

PLEASE NOTE:  This table is NOT 100% definitive and it is subject to change.  Combat aircraft performance specifications are not always indicative of their combat ability, and much information is classified.  This information is provided as a "rough guide" only.  Whenever possible, the data provided is based on the manufacturer's specifications.  Otherwise, data in this table has been confirmed with at least two separate sources.

ALSO NOTE:  This table may found elsewhere in this site.  If there is a discrepancy, the table found under the quick link at the top of the page should be considered to be the most current and accurate.

Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IISaab Gripen JAS 39E/FEurofighter TyphoonDassault RafaleBoeing F/A-18E/F/G Super Hornet
Crew11(E), 2(F)1 or 2(Trainer)1(C,M), 2(B)1(E), 2 (F,G)
Power28,000 (43,000 with afterburner)13,000 (22,000 with afterburner)26,000 (40,000 with afterburner)22,500 (34,000 with afterburner)26,000 (44,000 with afterburner)
Thrust-to-weight ratio (with 100% fuel and A2A weapons)0.871.061.070.990.93
Max speed (in mach)1.6221.81.8
SupercruiseNo11.2 (with 2 WVR and 2 BVR missiles)1.3 (with 2 WVR and 4 BVR missiles)1.4 (with 6 WVR/BVR missiles)No
Combat Radius1,100km1,300km (with centerline 290 gallon tank)1,389km1,000+km1000+km
Ferry Range (with external tanks)2,220km (internal fuel only)24,000+km3,790km3,700+km3,300km
Service ceiling:60,000ft350,000ft455,000ft55,000ft50,000ft+
Wing loading (lower = better):91.4lb/ft258lb/ft2464lb/ft262.8lb/ft294lb/ft2
Rate of climb:Classified50,000ft/min462,000ft/min60,000ft/min44,882ft/min
Infrared Search and Track:AAQ-40 EOTSSkyward G IRSTPIRATE IRST, LITENING podSAGEM-OSFIRST mounted in external fuel tank
Helmet mounted display System:HMDS (still in development)Cobra HMDSEurofighter HMSSTopSight HMDJHMCS
Electronic warfare and countermeasures:AN/AAQ/37 DAS missile warning system, AN/ASQ-239 Electronic Warfare system, stealth design resulting in decreased radar and infrared signature.ECM pods, BOL advanced countermeasure dispenser, MAW (missile approach warner), Laser Warning System, towed decoy, internally mounted RF jammers.ECM pods, flares, IR decoy dispenser, chaff pods, radar warning receiver, MAW, laser warning receiver, towed decoy,Thales SPECTRA electronic warfare suiteECM pods, towed decoys, chaff, flares, AN/ALE-165 jammer pod, AN/ALR-67 radar warning reciever
Gun:GAU-22/A 25mm 4-barrelled gatling cannon27mm Mauser BK-27 Revolver cannon (E model only)27mm Mauser BK-27 Revolver cannon30mm GIAT 30/719B autocannon20mm M61 Vulcan gatling cannon
Hardpoints:4 internal, 6 external1013 (4 semi-conformal)1411
Payload:18,000lbs (using external pylons)15,875lbs16,500lbs21,000lbs17,750lbs
“X-Factor”:Stealth, advanced sensorsCan operate from unprepared runways, low operating cost.Legendary air-to-air performance, twin engine.Ground strike ability, naval version available, twin engine.Naval airframe, easy transition, twin engine.
Problems:Troubled development, questionable performance, high operating cost.Smaller design, less payload.Troubled history, high operating cost.Proprietary systems and weapons.Old design, unremarkable performance.

1Unofficially, the F-35 can supercruise at mach 1.2 for a distance of 241km.
2External fuel tanks are planned for the F-35, but none have been flight tested yet.
3The F-35 has only been tested to 43,000ft so far.
4Gripen C information, Gripen E data is unavailable

So how do the F-35, Gripen E, Typhoon, Rafale, and Super Hornet compare to each other?  As you can see, some of the specifications are quite close, others have very obvious differences.  It must be stated, however, that this comparison doesn't look at the complete picture.  There are other performance parameters, like instantaneous turn rate, sustained g performance, and acceleration that are just as important, but harder to research.  

This information was as accurate and as current as I could find.  Some data on the F-35 is still "classified", while other figures are specified, but not yet tested.  The Gripen E has a similar issue, but some information is confirmed thanks to the Gripen NG demonstrator aircraft.  The Gripen E will have a higher weight than the C model, but has a substantially more powerful engine to compensate.

Some things to note:
  • The F-35's wing loading and thrust-to-weight ratios aren't even close to the others.
  • The Gripen, Typhoon, and Rafale are quite similar, performance wise.
  • The Gripen's small size keeps it from carrying heavier payloads (it carries as much as the current CF-18), but otherwise, its performance is very similar, if not superior, to the others.
  • Despite its greater payload capability, the F-35 is limited by its 10 weapon hardpoints, the same as the much smaller Gripen.
  • The Rafale's supercruise performance seems...  Optimistic.
  • The Super Hornet really doesn't improve much on the classic CF-18 Hornet as far as performance goes.  It does hold more payload and has a lot more advanced gear though.
  • The F-35 does not have a 2 seater variant suitable for training or advanced combat roles (weapons officer, UCAV command, etc).


  1. There's also the fact that the Gripen has the lowest initial procurement cost as well as the lowest operating cost. This could, in turn, free up funds to purchase additional units, providing a numerical advantage. I think there's something to be said for strength in numbers. You could buy two Gripen Cs for the cost of one Eurofighter. So even though the Gripen doesn't have the per-plane-payload capacity of the Eurofighter or Rafale, you'd have money left over to have more Gripens in the air. If I were a pilot, I think I'd appreciate having a few extra wingmen as backup.

    1. I intentionally left out the price per unit. Mainly because cost estimates are incredibly varied and likely unreliable. I also wanted to show how well the Gripen compared regardless of price. It is generally agreed that the Gripen would be likely be the cheapest to procure and operate, with the Super Hornet being affordable to procure, but expensive to operate.

      I agree that purchasing additional units is far preferable, along with procuring "force multipliers" like UAVs and air launched cruise missile (ALCMs). Moreover, the Gripen's substantially lower operating cost would allow increased sortie rate, training hours, and allow extra funding for future upgrades.

  2. I have different data. The nominal thrust to weight ratio:

    Typhoon: 1.18
    Rafale: 1,04
    Gripen NG: 0.94
    F-35A: 0,88

    Nominal means that the planes are filled up with jet fuel but do not carry rockets or external fuel tanks.

    Given that both Gripen and typhoon use the same air-to-air weapons (IRIS-T and METEOR), the relative difference in terms of thrust/weight and wing loading should remain the same in any equivalent air-to-air setup.

    In terms of nominal wing load, this is what I get:

    Typhoon: 310 kg/m²
    Rafale: 322 kg/m²
    Gripen NG: 353 kg/m²
    F-35A: 522 kg/m²

    1 lb/ft² = 4.88 kg/m², for anyone who wishes to convert the figures.

    So, in terms of wing loading, the F-35A really falls apart. The euro-canards are fairly close together. If you start adding external payload to your data, then you begin to fudge the numbers.

    1. Hi there bhigr!

      As I mentioned below, odds are that the Gripen will end up with more than 98 kN thrust, possibly up to 120 kN (& ofcourse the E version is likely to weigh less than the Demo aircraft aswell), so the t/w for Gripen will probably increase.

      Further, with regards to wing loading & comparing these aircraft, it should probably be noted that Gripen & Rafale use a Close-coupled Canard Delta design (though not identical in setup) leading to greater lift generation at their respective wingloadings, which sort of complicates compairsions.. ;) How much difference that actually makes the probably don't want to tell us though.. But the effect is probably greater for the Gripen than the Rafale, due to the relative size of the canards vs. airframe.

    2. One of the great things about the Typhoon is that it carries four BVR missiles (Sparrow or Meteor) semi-conformally. This tucks the missiles into the fuselage, reducing their drag and radar cross-section, not to mention improving the aircraft's centre of gravity with the missiles loaded.

      You can see what I mean here:

      One of the biggest arguments for the F-35's low wing loading numbers is that, since it carries weapons internally (just four), its performance doesn't suffer when loaded with weapons. But when you compare it with the others, it's still terrible. The Typhoon holds 4 BVR missiles semi-conformally, with 2 WVR missiles on wingtip pylons, resulting in minimal drag. The Super Hornet holds 2 AMRAAMs semi-conformally, with two AIM-9s on wingtips (again minimal drag). Both the Gripen and Rafale both use standard pylons for BVR missiles with wingtip pylons for WVR missiles.

      It must be noted that the F-35 cannot mount WVR missiles like the AIM-9 Sidewinder internally.

      I prefer to display the thrust-to-weight ration with air-to-air weapons as this would be the most relevant number. A combat aircraft without weapons doesn't pose much of a threat.

      Looking at the numbers and weapon load outs, the Typhoon is clearly the superior fighter of the bunch. Whether or not it is worth the price premium over the Gripen is one for the bean-counters to decide, but considering the Gripen's operating cost is less than a third that of the Typhoon, it makes you wonder if the extra capability is worth the price, especially if it comes at the cost of pilot training or proper maintenance.

    3. Umm... slight correction though, Typhoon doesn't carry WVR missiles on witgtip pylons, it uses pods on its withtips..

    4. Well look at that. Sorry. Thanks for pointing that out! I always thought it had a similar pod+rail setup to the Gripen or Rafale.

      Thanks for that!

    5. "As I mentioned below, odds are that the Gripen will end up with more than 98 kN thrust, possibly up to 120 kN " O.K. I didn't know that. ;-)

      This would increase the Gripen's maximum thrust to weight ratio to 1.15 - virtually identical with typhoon and better than Rafale.

      "One of the biggest arguments for the F-35A's low wing loading numbers is that, since it carries weapons internally (just four), its performance doesn't suffer when loaded with weapons."

      Yes, I read about that too. However, lockheed martin fails to mention that the F-35A has a penalty in terms of drag from the get go, because the fuselage of the F-35A is so much fatter than the rest of the lot. We haven't even factored that in yet. In this regard the Gripen is probably the best plane, because it is somewhat smaller than the typhoon or rafale.

      The standard configuration of a typhoon or Grippen in the air superiority role carries 8 missiles, for example 4 medium range radar guided missils (meteor) and 4 short range infrared guided missiles (IRIS-T).

      The F-35A's internal storage can only compensate in part for the F-35A's disadvantage in terms of drag.

      In terms of bang for the buck, the Gripen definitely has the edge. The worst aircraft in this regard - by a huge margin - is the F-35A.

      If Canada wants to develop a super arrow within 15 to 20 years, then the Gripen would definitely fill the void and later on serve admirably in bombing missions and close air support next to the super arrow.

      I recently visited the super arrow page and it seems to me that the designers are getting their priorities right:

      "The Super Arrow is a large bird. She has a 17m wing span and is designed for a multi-role platform. She is an interceptor first, fighter/bomber second and is also designed for close air support for our troops on the ground." - See more at:

    6. About "One of the great things about the Typhoon is that it carries four BVR missiles (Sparrow or Meteor) semi-conformally".

      - Gripen E will carry 3 Meteors semi-conformally under the hull and up to 4 non-conformally BVR on the wing pylons of standard type. No BVR on the wingtips, only WVR missiles.

  3. Got a few updates & notes for you:

    1) The 414G engine; the power output will probably go up a bit, since GE now already has production of F414-GE-INS6 that should be of at least EDE type. Since GE lost the 136 engine for F-35, they'll probably be extra motivated ;) So, up to 120 kN (EPE version) is very possible, though a lower than 120 kN output is probably more likely, while getting increased duarability in return. Another benefit of the newer generations of the 414 engines would be somewhat reduced fuelconsumption -> lower flight hour cost & increased range. This also relates to the Super Hornet, naturally..

    2) I belive both EF Typhoon & Gripen E/F should have a + after their mach 2 figures..

    3) Supercruise, I'd recommend phrasing it >1.2 mach for the Gripen, especially since it's likely to end up with more thrust when in production..

    4) Those combat radius figures would all be based on internal fuel I beleive?.. so perhaps you should mention that? With external fuel all 3 canard planes would probably be capable of 1000+ Nautical miles, ie. 1852+ km.

    5) Ferry Range for Gripen E/F is publicly referred to as >2200 Nautical miles, ie. >4074.4km. See for exemple the official gripen blog, Eddy De La Motte's presentation.

    6) IRST for Gripen is Skyward G, from SELEX Galileo :

    7) Payload for Gripen NG stated to be 7 200 Kg = 15874 lb (ref. Gripen blog as above)

    8) X-factor; you should probably add Gripens data-link aswell. While being link-16 compatible, SAAB's own data-link is of a different type, & sort of "in a different league".

    9) Problems; about EF Typhoon, I've seen notes that it's not very found of cold weather..? Might be worth looking into if it's to be considered for use in Canada..

    1. For the most part, I was going on Saab's numbers from it's Farnborough presentation of July 2012.

      1)I've been reading up on the EDE engine, but I didn't want to list it as it hasn't yet been officially confirmed, however likely. If so, the Gripen will simply perform that much better!

      2)I think so to, but I'm only going by the info I been able to find, preferably with numbers that have more than one source.

      3)I've seen supercruise for the Gripen listed at both 1.1 and 1.2. Since the 1.1 listing included A2A weapons, I listed that to keep it equal to the others. Saab's Farnborough presentation mention "> M 1.2", but doesn't mention weapons.

      4)Combat radius is with internal fuel only, I will update the chart to clarify this. Again, I wanted to make sure all the aircraft were being compared equally (the F-35 doesn't have external tanks yet) as well as provide a contrast to the higher "Ferry Range" numbers.

      5)I will make the change!

      6)I was going with the older version on the C/D models. I will make the change.

      7)I was using older data for this, I will make the change.

      8)The Gripen does have a good data-link, but so does the F-35 and Typhoon as well. For a modern fighter, I think an excellent data link isn't so much a feature as a "must have".

      9)I haven't seen any specific issues about the Typhoon in cold weather, but I will look into it. As an aside, I don't believe the F-35 has even been tested in cold weather yet.

  4. Btw, it seems to be something wrong with your "Saab's Gripen NG presentation to The Netherlands (PDF file)" link, so I'll give you a fresh one here:

    1. Thanks for looking out. I'll make the change!

    2. I also added a link to the Farnborough presentation.

  5. Another very important factor is each systems operational availability at any given time. It's nice to have a big fighter fleet on paper, but if the reality consists of only half of them ready to go, those numbers are meaningless. Both the Gripen, the Typhoon and the Rafale have flown for some years now, do we have any comparable data on this?
    The F-35 can probably use the data from the F-22, at least as a hint to how it will perform in the future.

    1. The Typhoon has been slammed in the media for availability problems in the past, and some parts had to be cannibalized from other aircraft for the Libya mission.

      The Rafale seems to have done quite well, as has the Gripen in terms of availability. Both did well over Libya, and the Rafale is doing well over Mali.

      The F-35 is certainly an unknown as far as availability. It was designed from the outset to be much easier to service than the F-22, but issues with its stealth coating peeling off at high speed and dodgy computer coding certainly don't look promising.

    2. Btw, related to the Libya op, did you notice this quote?;

      “The Gripens have a strategic importance for the operation.
      They have a spectacular capability.”

      Lt Gen Charles Bouchard,
      Commander of Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR

      Another thing worth noting is that although it's mentioned that there were 8 Gripens (C's) used in the Libya op, in reality that was the case only during the first 3 months. Due to political bickering amongst politicans in Sweden, the deployed Gripen force was reduced to 5 planes. The Swedish Airforce however solved this by increasing sortie rate with the planes available. As I recall it they eaven increased flight hour production somewhat, although having the available fleet reduced considerably.

  6. Regarding datalinks, I came across this old article by Bill Sweetman, reposted at a forum, about the Gripen datalink:

    Originally Posted by Bill Sweetman
    The TIDLS can connect up to four aircraft in a full-time two-way link. It has a range of 500 km and is highly resistant to jamming; almost the only way to jam the system is to position a jammer aircraft directly between the two communicating Gripens. Its basic modes include the ability to display the position, bearing, and speed of all four aircraft in a formation, including basic status information such as fuel and weapons state. The TIDLS is fundamentally different from broadcast-style links like Link 16. It serves fewer users but links them more closely together, exchanging much more data, and operating much closer to real time.

    TIDLS information, along with radar, EW, and mapping data, appears on the central MFD. The display reflects complete sensor fusion: a target that is being tracked by multiple sources is one target on the screen. Detailed symbols distinguish between friendlies, hostiles, and unidentified targets and show who has targeted whom.

    Today, Sweden is the only country that is flying with a link of this kind, and will retain that status until the F-22 enters service. The Flygvapnet has already proven some of the tactical advantages of the link, including the ability to spread the formation over a much wider area. Visual contact between the fighters is no longer necessary, because the datalink shows the position of each aircraft. Leader and wingman roles are different: the pilot in the best position makes the attack, and the fact that he has targeted the enemy is immediately communicated to the three other aircraft.

    A basic use of the datalink is "silent attack." An adversary may be aware that he is being tracked by a fighter radar that is outside missile range. He may not be aware that another, closer fighter is receiving that tracking data and is preparing for a missile launch without using its own radar. After launch, the shooter can break and escape, while the other fighter continues to pass tracking data to the missile. In tests, Gripen pilots have learned that this makes it possible to delay using the AMRAAM's active seeker until it is too late for the target to respond.

    But the use of the link goes beyond this, towards what the Swedish Air Force calls "samverkan," or close-cooperation. One example is the use of the Ericsson PS-05/A radar with TIDLS. An Ericsson paper compares its application, with identical sensors and precise knowledge of the location of both platforms, to human twins: "Communication is possible without explaining everything."

    "Radar-samverkan," the Ericsson paper suggests, equips the formation with a super-radar of extraordinary capabilities. The PS-05/A can operate in passive mode, as a sensitive receiver with high directional accuracy (due to its large antenna). Two PS-05/As can exchange information by datalink and locate the target by triangulation. The target's signals will often identify it as well.

    The datalink results in better tracking. Usually, three plots (echoes) are needed to track a target in track-while-scan mode. The datalink allows the radars to share plots, not just tracks, so even if none of the aircraft in a formation gets enough plots on its own to track the target, they may do so collectively.

    Each radar plot includes Doppler velocity, which provides the individual aircraft with range-rate data. However, this data on its own does not yield the velocity of the target. Using the TIDLS, two fighters can take simultaneous range-rate readings and thereby determine the target's track instantly, reducing the need for radar transmission.

    1. Well, The TIDLS system is an old system today, still better than the L16, but it will be replaced by a new much better system. Compare it as a broadband multi user system instead of the today system. It will do very accutate passive target sharing and preparation for your partners to do unorthodox missile launch and at the same time sending reconnisance photos relayed between the Aircrafts and to the ground. It is only computer Power that makes the limitations in the future. To handle all this, the a/c has to have an advanced mission support system to help the pilot.

  7. Cont. from above:

    In ECM applications, one fighter can search, while the wingman simultaneously focuses jamming on the same target, using the radar. This makes it very difficult for the target to intercept or jam the radar that is tracking him. Another anti-jamming technique is for all four radars to illuminate the same target simultaneously at different frequencies.

    This is from a brief summary of TIDLS capabilities, from an older JEDOnline article.

    Imagine what funktions & abilities might have been added since then, & what further development may be in store..

    Btw, TIDLS is a beamed/directional datalink, hence the difficulty to jam/intercept it's tramsmissions.