Despite longstanding technical delays and budget-busting cost overruns, there’s a valid argument that today’s F-35s, also commonly referred to as Joint Strike Fighters, are the most successful stealth aircraft in history.
With more than 890 F-35s delivered to date, there are more of these advanced fighters flying for nations around the world today than all other stealth aircraft on the planet... combined.
America’s stealth monopoly ended in 2017
Although the world’s first stealth aircraft to enter operational service, the F-117 Nighthawk, began flying four decades ago now, the number of different stealth platforms in service today remains relatively small. Prior to 2017, the United States has maintained a three-decade-spanning monopoly on home-grown stealth aircraft in service, with China finally breaking that streak in 2017 with its first stealth fighter, the Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon. Russia soon followed suit with Sukhoi’s Su-57 Felon, bringing the total number of unique stealth fighters around the world to four, with America’s F-22 and F-35 included.
To date, America continues to maintain a monopoly on stealth bombers, with 19 B-2 Spirits in service and its replacement, the more advanced B-21 Raider, currently in active development; bringing the total number of different stealth aircraft in active service around the world to a total of five.
Of course, that’s not to say that the stealth race isn’t continuing to heat up. Today, there are no fewer than 12 new stealth platforms in disclosed developmental programs around the world, including nine fighters and three new bombers — Russia’s PAK DA, China’s H-20, and America’s aforementioned B-21 Raider.
Related: Just how good would an F-22/F-35 Hybrid Fighter really be?
The mistake we make when comparing stealth jets
In media and popular discussion, we have a habit of comparing the five in-service stealth aircraft in a one-to-one sort of way, sizing up capability sets against one another in an effort to determine which is the most capable. But the truth is, this method of comparison hides the most significant stealth advantage America and its allies retain over Russian and Chinese opponents: volume.
The United States still maintains the largest stealth fleets in the world, with more than 450 F-35s, around 150 F-22s, and 19 B-2 Spritis in active service. When compared to China’s entire stealth fleet of a bit north of a reported 250 jets, and Russia’s paltry 21 (including 10 non-operational prototypes), it becomes clear that America may not be the only show in town when it comes to stealth aviation… but it’s still the clear frontrunner in this race.
But this advantage by volume becomes all the more pronounced when you consider the F-35s now flying in service for American allies, adding literally hundreds of stealth fighters to the tally and not only overshadowing Chinese and Russian efforts, but eclipsing them by a factor of four or more. In fact, America currently has more stealth bombers, reportedly ringing in at some $2 billion a piece, than Russia has total stealth fighters in service.
Related: Can the F-35 dogfight? The truth behind the infamous report
There are about twice as many F-35s today than all other stealth aircraft combined
And leading the stealth fleet-count charge is none other than the consistently lambasted Joint Strike Fighter — a program that has long suffered from cost overruns and technical setbacks to the point that its problematic acquisition process has come to define the fighter in the minds of many. But as we’ve determined through our research and the first-hand accounts of flying it, the F-35 is more than the most advanced tactical fighter ever to fly… it’s also among the most successful production fighters of all time, at least in terms of production and sales (and that’s all before entering full-rate production).
Here are the tallies of stealth aircraft in service today, from most to least:
- Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: 890+
- Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon: 250+
- Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor: 150+
- Northrop B-2 Spirit: 19
- Sukhoi Su-57 Felon: 1-15
Read more from Sandboxx News
- Germany’s F-35 order will field a stealth fleet twice the size of Russia’s
- Just how good would an F-22/F-35 Hybrid Fighter really be?
- Unborn baby clocks 9 hours in supersonic bomber after Air Force policy change
- How the F-35 flies the line between failure and success
- Can the F-35 dogfight? The truth behind the infamous 2015 report
f35s are good but i personally like f22s because its a gem fighter plan US ever built but unfortunately it does not fulfill US air force needs.
they should built a fighter which is combat proven like f16s