Military supersonic planes are the epitome of speed, agility, and power. These high-speed aircraft are seemingly the stuff of science fiction to most people, but they’re very real. From the legendary and record-setting Lockheed Martin SR-71 to the sleek and cutting-edge F-35 Lightning II, these planes easily break the sound barrier, covering great distances in a short amount of time — feats that make them invaluable to the military.
In this article, we will explore all the different in-service military supersonic planes that we know about, their capabilities, and their contribution to the world of aviation. So, suit up and get your gear ready as we dive into the world of supersonic military flight!
Air Superiority Military Supersonic Planes
Air superiority is the ability of a military force to gain control over an enemy’s airspace and deny them access to it. This can be achieved through a variety of means, such as air-to-air combat, electronic warfare, or even cyber warfare.
To achieve this goal, militaries rely on high-performance supersonic aircraft, such as the ones we’ve discussed below. Designed for speed and agility, these aircraft will easily outmaneuver opponents in aerial dogfights. Advanced avionics systems enable pilots to quickly identify targets even in the most strenuous positions.
The F-22 Raptor is a legendary US fighter jet designed for air-to-air combat missions. This fifth-generation aircraft is equipped with two powerful Pratt & Whitney F119 engines, which allow it to achieve supersonic speeds without the need for afterburners.
The Raptor can cruise at Mach 1.5 and reach Mach 2.25, making it one of the fastest fighter jets in the world and the fastest active tactical plane. Its advanced stealth technology also makes it incredibly difficult to detect on radar, giving pilots a major advantage in combat scenarios.
One of the most impressive features of the F-22 Raptor is its superior maneuverability. With advanced flight control systems and aerodynamic design, the Raptor can evade and outmaneuver most enemy aircraft.
Its weapons system is also top-of-the-line, with advanced avionics, radar, and targeting systems that allow it to track and engage multiple targets at once. The Raptor is truly a force to be reckoned with in the skies. Interestingly, the F-22 Raptor came about as a replacement for the F-15 Eagle as the US Air Force’s primary air superiority fighter.
The Sukhoi Su-57 is a Russian fighter jet that packs a punch in both air-to-air combat and ground attack. Developed primarily for air superiority missions, it’s also great for close air support and reconnaissance operations.
The thrust vectoring nozzles equip the jet to provide unmatched agility at supersonic speeds. This feature enables the aircraft to outmaneuver its opponents with ease. Its powerful radar system can detect targets from hundreds of kilometers away, giving pilots plenty of time to prepare for a strike.
With a maximum speed of Mach 2 (about 2,450 km/h), this plane is capable of outrunning just about anything, including other military supersonic aircraft. Due to the plane’s unique design, which reduces its radar cross-section by using composite materials and special coatings, it’s stealthy and nearly undetectable.
The advanced avionics and sensors in the cockpit provide pilots with real-time information about their surroundings, including threats and potential targets. Additionally, the Su-57 carries a variety of missiles and bombs, making it one formidable and mean machine overall.
The J20 stealth fighter jet has a design for aerial superiority missions and can perform strike missions when called upon. China developed it as its inaugural 5th generation fighter jet. Its internal weapons bay can hold multiple medium-range missiles or bombs.
Two WS10 turbofan engines power the J20, providing it with a maximum speed of Mach 2. This speed gives Chinese pilots an edge over their opponents in aerial combat scenarios, allowing them to outrun and outmaneuver other aircraft in the sky.
The J20’s design focuses on stealth and maneuverability, allowing it to enter enemy airspace undetected and engage in aerial combat with ease. Its advanced avionics and weapons systems make it a formidable opponent in any combat scenario.
Initially developed for NATO members, countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and South Korea have all invested in this versatile aircraft for its impressive performance characteristics.
The fighter jet has advanced avionics systems that enable it to fly at sustained supersonic speeds without using afterburners. This makes it an ideal choice for many nations that want high-end capabilities from their fighter jets, especially when combined with its supercruise capability.
With a max speed topping out at Mach 1.8, few planes can match its performance. It’s also incredibly agile, with advanced flight control systems that allow it to perform tight turns and maneuvers with ease.
This agility makes it a formidable opponent in aerial combat scenarios. Additionally, it boasts an advanced weapons system that includes precision missiles and bombs.
Primarily designed as an interceptor, this Chinese 4th generation multi-role aircraft doubles up as a ground attack fighter. The current version is powered by one turbofan engine, which provides speeds of up to Mach 2.2.
Compared to more expensive 5th-gen fighters, this plane offers good value while still delivering great performance characteristics. It ensures that its pilots remain competitive against enemies equipped with higher-end equipment.
Before we proceed, it’s worth noting that some of these planes can perform multiple roles, but these groupings are based on their primary roles. The F-22 and Su-57, for example, while being primarily air-to-air fighters, also have ground attack capabilities.
Ground Attack Military Supersonic Planes
Ground attack planes provide close air support against enemy forces on land and sea. These planes typically feature powerful engines providing speeds up to Mach 2, allowing pilots greater flexibility when engaging enemy forces during ground attack operations. They often have weapon-carrying capacity, sometimes carrying up to 8 missiles, giving them great versatility during ground attack missions.
F-15E Strike Eagle
The American twin-engine all-weather ground attack aircraft, F-15E Strike Eagle, replaced the aging F-111 Aardvark and supplemented the aging F-16 Fighting Falcon in the USAF service.
It’s powered by two Pratt & Whitney F100 engines providing a record speed of Mach 2.5. It has a range of over 3,000 kilometers, making it ideal for long-distance missions such as strike operations against enemy targets on land or at sea. Its advanced avionics suite allows pilots to identify targets quickly, even under difficult conditions such as night or bad weather.
Also, the Eagle’s impressive payload capacity makes it capable of carrying up to 16 air-to-ground missiles plus additional bombs, if needed, giving it great flexibility when engaging in combat scenarios.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, also known as the “Rhino” by its fans. Boeing designers created this lethal and agile plane primarily for naval aviation. However, it can also operate superbly on land. Its twin General Electric F414 turbofans give it some serious thrust and allow it to hit speeds of up to Mach 1.8.
While it may not be as flashy as some of the 5th-gen fighters out there, the Super Hornet still packs a punch. Its internal weapons bay can carry up to 8 air-to-air missiles, giving pilots plenty of options when it comes to engaging enemy aircraft.
Plus, it’s a relatively affordable option compared to some of its more high-end counterparts. The Super Hornet has proven its worthy time and time again, serving in conflicts all over the world and earning a reputation as a reliable workhorse.
F-35 Lightning II
The US, Britain, Italy, Netherlands, and Australia jointly developed the F-35 Lightning II. It’s a next-gen single-seat stealth fighter jet that made its maiden flight in 2006. Its versatility in performing a range of missions has earned it the nickname “flying Swiss Army Knife.”
Its advanced avionics systems and powerful radar make it capable of detecting and engaging targets at long ranges. The F-35 also features a helmet-mounted display system, giving pilots much-needed situational awareness and allowing them to aim their weapons just by looking at the target.
Topping out at Mach 1.6, the F-35 Lightning II’s pace may not be as impressive as some other fighters, but it makes up for it with its agility and stealth capabilities. Tack on that the fact that its combined weapons capacity clocks in at more than 18,000 lbs, and you have a formidable jet that gives pilots flexibility in choosing their weapons for a mission.
Interestingly, the F-35 has the capability to work in conjunction with unmanned aircraft systems. This enables it to share information and coordinate with other aircraft for more effective missions.
Pakistan and China jointly developed this 4th generation fighter primarily as an interceptor. However, due to modern upgrades over time, it now features ground attack capabilities. This allows pilots to engage enemy forces on multiple fronts, if necessary.
Powered by a Guizhou WS-13 or Klimov RD-93 turbofan, it can fly at speeds of up to Mach 1.6 and reach a 50,00 ft altitude. This versatile platform is equipped with modern avionics systems. It can also carry up to 6600 lbs of payload including missiles, bombs, rockets, and laser-guided munitions.
Strategic Bombing Military Supersonic Planes
Strategic bombers are long-range heavy bombers capable of delivering large amounts of ordinance over vast distances. They often feature advanced tracking systems that allow pilots to identify targets on-the-fly. To increase mission success rates significantly, most of them are supersonic. This is because they need to reach their targets before they take any defensive measures.
The B-1B Lancer is an absolute unit of an American supersonic strategic bomber, initially designed to replace the now vintage B-52 Stratofortress. Built around four General Electric F101 engines, it’s no slouch in the speed department either, clocking in at a max speed of Mach 1.25.
This bomber has an astonishing range of almost 12,000 kilometers, which is just about enough to fly from Los Angeles to London and halfway back. It’s something of a globetrotter.
The B-1B Lancer can carry up to a whopping 75,000 lbs of ordnance — both conventional and nuclear. It’s also no stranger to combat, having seen action in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also been used for humanitarian aid drops, so it’s got a bit of a softer side, too.
The Tu-160 Blackjack is a beast of a bomber. Russia developed this supersonic strategic bomber, which is one of the most powerful bombers in the world, clocking in at over 88,000 pounds of payload weight. It can reach speeds up to Mach 2.05, making it one of the fastest bombers out there, too.
Not only is it incredibly quick, but incredibly dangerous as well; its payload capacity includes nuclear bombs and cruise missiles, which make it an essential part of Russia’s military strategy. The aircraft was introduced into service in 1981.
It has undergone multiple upgrades since then, including new avionics systems, engines, navigation equipment, and other features designed to improve performance. With such impressive capabilities on display here, there’s no doubt that this bomber will likely remain a key player within Russian forces for years to come.
Multi-Role Military Supersonic Planes
Multi-role supersonic planes are designed to combine air superiority capabilities with ground attack roles into one versatile package. This allows pilots to engage enemy forces effectively in any type of scenario.
Developed primarily for ground attack missions, it also features air-to-air capabilities and is considered a fighter bomber, making it a versatile and deadly aircraft. It was designed to operate from China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier, which is no small feat.
With a whopping 9-ton capacity for weapons and equipment, it’s perfect for those long-range missions where you need to bring the big guns (literally).
It may not have the advanced stealth technology that some of the other supersonic strategic bombers boast, but the Xi’an JH-7 more than makes up for it with sheer speed. With its trusty Xian WS-9 Qinling turbofan engines, it can hit speeds of up to Mach 1.75 — faster than a speeding bullet from a typical handgun.
The MiG-29 is a supersonic powerhouse. Designed to dominate the skies, this twin-engine, multi-role fighter jet is a formidable force. With its thrust vectoring nozzles and supersonic speeds, this aircraft is as agile as a cat and just as deadly. Plus, its powerful radar allows pilots to detect targets from hundreds of miles away.
The aircraft is versatile and can serve as a fighter jet, as well as for ground attack missions. Ground attack missions include close air support and reconnaissance operations. It can carry up to 6 air-to-air missiles in its internal weapons bay, giving pilots the flexibility they need to engage opponents and take them down with ease.
The Su-35 aircraft is versatile and can serve as both a fighter jet and a ground attack aircraft. It is capable of performing operations, such as close air support and reconnaissance It’s a 4++ generation aircraft, meaning it has advanced avionics, thrust vectoring, and super maneuverability. This makes it one of the most capable air superiority fighters in the world.
Its radar system is capable of tracking multiple targets. Its internal weapons bay and external hardpoints can carry up to 8,000 kg of weapons and can deploy air-to-air missiles against enemies from up to 300 kilometers away.
With a range of up to 3,600 kilometers and a high altitude maximum speed of Mach 2.25, this plane can reach far-flung targets and take them out with deadly precision. Such incredible capability makes the Sukhoi Su-35 popular. Besides Russia, several countries around the world, including China, Indonesia, and Egypt, bank on it.
The Dassault Rafale is a French-made multirole fighter jet that has been in service since 2001. It’s an impressive aircraft, capable of performing both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with equal proficiency. Its twin engines give it the power to reach speeds up to Mach 1.8 and climb as high as 50,000 feet in altitude.
The Rafale is not only fast and agile but also has a formidable armament. With 14 hardpoints situated around its fuselage, it can carry over 9 tons of weapons, including missiles, bombs, and rockets. It’s also renowned for its advanced avionics suite, which includes an integrated electronic warfare system.
Designed by Thales Group and dubbed SPECTRA, the system provides 360° protection against radar-guided threats like missiles or enemy fighters.
The Dassault Rafale has seen action in multiple conflicts around the world, including Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, where it was used for reconnaissance missions and precision strikes against targets on the ground.
Military Supersonic Planes, Recapped
Supersonic military planes are essential to modern military operations, providing unparalleled speed, maneuverability, and firepower. From air-to-air combat fighters like the deadly F-22 Raptor to ground attack planes like the F-15 E Strike Eagle, these supersonic planes will tactfully outmaneuver and outgun their opponents.
Multi-role aircraft, such as the MiG-29 and Dassault Rafale, bring both air superiority and ground attack capabilities into one package, allowing pilots to engage enemies on multiple fronts. These planes are capable of providing the speed and power required to accomplish any mission.
Strategic bombers, like the B-1B Lancer and the Tu-160, are capable of delivering a significant amount of ordinance over long distances, and with great accuracy. This makes them extremely useful for long-range missions.
These and other military supersonic planes continue to revolutionize the way militaries fight, providing the most well-equipped and formidable edge in aerial combat. Their continued development and deployment will remain critical to military strategy and defense for years to come.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Mike Mareen/Shutterstock.com.