While the United States Air Force may have a significantly larger budget than the UK - one that affords them aircraft like the A-10A Thunderbolt II and the hugely iconic F-15C Eagle - the Royal Air Force still has some seriously impressive aircraft over which aircraft enthusiasts can get very excited. In fact, if you take a look at the aircraft that are still actively participating in training missions across various RAF bases in the UK, you'll find some of the most advanced warfare technology and versatile aircraft in the entire world. And with introduction of the F-35 Lightning II to British skies, this profile of the UK's current fighter aircraft is looking more impressive than ever.
The F-35 Lightning II
There is no better position for this aircraft in the article than at the very top. Why is this? Because the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (better known as the Lightning II in all of its 3-variant glory) is simply the most advanced, versatile, and technologically superior fighter jet currently making its way into the RAF. As is rightfully stated on the RAF website, the Lightning II's introduction to the RAF signifies a significant leap forward in fighter-jet technology, not in the least because of the short take-off and vertical landing capabilities of the F-35-B variant, produced, as all three variants are, by Lockheed Martin.
The Lightning II's F-35B variant will form a significant part of the UK's air defence. The aircraft is a 5th generation fighter, meaning it's a supersonic, low-observable, enhanced-data-fusion aircraft that can perform in a variety of roles in all kinds of weather and over many kinds of challenging terrain. The F-35B is an important model for the RAF as in addition to being able to take off from standard runways, its short take-off and vertical landing capabilities (afforded to it by the rotating engine) will allow it to successfully launch and return to the many Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers that are such an important basis of our land, sea, and air defences.
In terms of weapons payload, the F-35 is capable of harbouring a variety of missiles and bombs, but the plan seems to be to arm the F-35Bs with Paveway IVs for air-to-ground strikes, as well as SPEAR, METEOR, and 25mm cannon.
The Tornado GR4
Just because of the relatively recent nature of the F-35, this shouldn't make us forget about one of the most long-serving aircraft in modern-history: the Tornado GR4 has been serving in the RAF since 1980 and is extremely versatile. It has been used in reconnaissance roles throughout its tenure and is also capable of being an attack aircraft capable of delivering precision strikes to ground targets as well as to air-based foes.
The GR4 is a two-seated aircraft designed to operate in all weather conditions and levels of light. Its versatility comes partly from its design, which includes variable-geometry wing positioning to allow it to perform well at various altitudes at subsonic or supersonic speeds.
The weapons of the Tornado GR4 include the Enhances Paveway II, Paveway III and Paveway IV guided bombs, the Mauser 27mm cannon, and the DMS, Legacy Brimstone. Note that the use of the Storm Shadow cruise missile in Iraq was the very first time this weapon had been used in conflict.
Continuing the weather-centric naming tradition of the jets the RAF currently uses is the Typhoon FGR4, an aircraft that began as the primarily air-to-air Typhoon G2 and was developed into the multirole aircraft that it is today. Its versatility allows it to be used as an attack aircraft in intensive combat roles as well as for air support, air policing, or peacekeeping roles.
The FGR4 has a max speed of 1.8 mach and a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet. Its transition from a strictly air-to-air to being an official multirole aircraft came in 2008 - it now possesses the ability to launch regular and enhanced Paveway II bombs as well as the capacity to carry up to 1000lbs of freefall-class weapons. Its Litening Laser Designator Pod allows it to carry out its attacking role as a multirole aircraft with extreme precision when necessary.
Future plans for the GR4 are centred around enhancing its armaments, with plans to introduce the Meteor air-to-air missile as well as Paveway IV bombs and the Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles.