We’ve probably all seen Tony Scott’s movie, Top Gun, and if you didn’t, then you might just wait until 2019, when Top Gun 2 comes out. That sequel will be updated so it more realistically represents a modern air force. This means a lack of dog fights, lots of drones, and also fifth generation fighters. The storyline is yet to be revealed, but an “us against them” narrative combining Russian Su-F35s, American F-35 Lightning IIs and perhaps China’s Chengdu J-10 is not inconceivable. In 2016, a Russian fighter pilot even mimicked Top Gun by giving a NATO pilot the middle finger mid-air. There’s certainly a battle of egos when it comes to air force dominance, and according to National Interest, four countries have the most to boast about: the U.S., Russia, China and Japan. Today we’ll focus on the top two:
The U.S. air force started in 1907 when an Aeronautical Division was formed to take “charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines, and all kindred subjects.” The first test of a U.S. air force plane didn’t exactly go according to plan. It crashed, and one of the pilots died. The planes improved, as did the pilots, and by 1913 the 1st Provisional Aero Squadron was formed. In 1915, as war was raging in Europe, the U.S. military aviation arm had 44 officers, 224 enlisted men, and 23 airplanes. This was nothing compared to what they had over in Europe. Nonetheless, the U.S. poured money into military aviation, and once the second world war had started, the air force was pretty much free to ask for anything from the government. According to Military.com, the U.S. air force went from having “26,500 men and 2,200 aircraft in 1939, to 2,253,000 men and women and 63,715 aircraft in 1945.” This pretty much cemented the US as a global power, and in 1947, the U.S. air force became a department unto itself.
Over in Russia, leaders in 1911 ordered the “development of aeronautic business in the Russian Army.” During the First World War, Russia had 36 squadrons dedicated to the air, with a fleet of 263 flying machines. Between wars, Russia began developing better aircraft, introducing 1930s fighter planes such as the Polikarpov I-15 and the Tupolev SB. By 1941, 363,900 people served in the Air Forces of the Soviet Red Army. It was during the Cold War when the Soviet Air Force became a force to be reckoned with, and in 1980 it became not only the largest airforce in the world, but a highly advanced one, too. But was it any match for the U.S. and its top-guns? As we know, the Cold War was a race to supremacy, and every time one country developed a new aircraft program, the other started its own program to match it. Things haven’t really changed. The actual Russian air force as we know it today was formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It’s debatable if it was as powerful as the U.S. air force, but today’s show is also about now. So, what do these countries have in terms of power?
According to the U.S. air force website, it requested a budget of $132.4 billion for 2018. This would go to the modernization of its current inventory but also towards 502,000 personnel, which is an increase of 4,100 active personnel and 1,700 Guard and Reserves.
The U.S. certainly has a lot of cash to spend, as Russia’s entire military budget was only about $69.3 billion in 2014 when it was high – almost half of America’s air force budget. There are differing opinions on the Russian defense budget today, but military site Janes reported recently that it might drop to 47.13 billion in 2018. This doesn’t bode well for Russia in our comparison. Nonetheless, just about every analyst out there puts Russia’s air force as the nearest contender to the U.S. air force.
In terms of men and women on the ground, or in the air, Russia has 148,000 personnel – far fewer people than the U.S. has. In total it has 3,794 aircraft according to Global Fire Power. This is compared to the 13,763 aircraft in the U.S. One major difference is that the U.S. fleet is almost half helicopters, although the U.S. still has more than half the number of Russian fighter aircraft. But as the saying goes, it’s quality not quantity.
The USA’s most advanced machines are its fleets of F-22 Raptors, F-35s, and F-16 fighters. These are certainly a powerful force, but the fact it has 195 of the first, 71 of the second and about 450 of the third (currently being updated) is very impressive. It means quality AND quantity, and according to National Interest the U.S. plans to build another 1,763 F-35s. The U.S. also has scores of older planes as well as some new technologically impressive ones. This includes the X-37B space plane, a secret long distance aircraft that zips around the Earth unknown to anyone but a few people. It also includes A-10 Thunderbolt tank destroyers as well as manned or unmanned Long-Range Strike Bombers.
Like the U.S., Russia owns a lot of oldies but goodies, tried and tested aircraft that have also seen upgrades. Some of these are the best aircraft ever to be made, and as you may have seen from our other comparison videos, they are as good as if not better than many American-made planes. Maybe the best of the bunch is Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35, of which there are currently 64 units. In fact, we cannot discredit any of the Sukhoi range of attack and multirole fighters, and Russia has hundreds of them. Generally the F-35 and Raptor are said to be better, but that’s debatable and the websites that favor American planes are almost always American. After the Su-35, pundits usually say Russia’s next best aircraft is the MiG-29, the Su-27, and the MiG-31.
If the U.S. has an outlandishly large fleet of F-35s in the pipeline, what is Russia building? Well, that’s its own 5th generation plane in the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA stealth fighter, which National Interest has said, “could prove to be a formidable competitor to American fifth-generation combat aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35.” A U.S. Air Force intelligence chief did indeed say after seeing it in action that it definitely competes. Russia is also working on a next generation strategic bomber, the PAK-DA. As for manned or unmanned aircraft, Russia has reportedly built a plane it calls “the Ghost”. This is the Su-57 stealth fighter, which Russia claims can cruise at 1516 mph (2,440 kph), compared to the F-35s 1199 mph (1930 kph). It can be flown like a drone or manned if need be. The prototype is out, and Russia expects full production to begin in the next year or so. It was also reported that Russia is going to sell them to South Korea.
What has the U.S. got up its sleeve? While some of that big budget will be eaten up by all those F-35s, there has to be more going on in the garage? Well, of course that is the sixth-generation jet fighter. These should appear on the scene sometime between 2025 and 2030, according to the U.S. air force. It’s developed under the program, “Next Generation Air Dominance”. These planes will defy detection, have integrated self-protection, directed-energy weapons, advanced air defense systems, and will even be able to mount cyber-attacks. The U.S.’s current 6th generation plane currently being developed is the Boeing F/A-XX and Russia’s is the Mikoyan MiG-41.
So, which air force do you think is superior – Russian or American? Let us know why in the comments!