You cannot know the players without a program. Fighters have become so sophisticated and complex that those interested in things military simply avoid reading about them. When air combat was Spitfires against Me-109s, it was relatively easy to figure out which had the advantage. The prime variables were speed, maneuverability, the type of guns or automatic cannons, and pilot skill. Now, there is far more to it. You have to consider the quality of the radar; the range, reliability, and lethality of the homing missile; and the radar avoidance qualities of the plane, just to name a few of the crucial elements with all those considerations, why get involved?
Mike Spick, however, has made it easy to comprehend. The Ultimate Guide is written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. He begins with a onepage introduction that sets the scene by discussing the two fighter-development patterns that have emerged in recent years: beyond-visual-range combat and super maneuverability. The first, of course, hinges on the qualities of the fighter’s on-board radar, homing missiles, and stealth capabilities. The second has to do with what was learned thirty-five years ago when American fighter bombers were daily dodging Soviet SA-2 missles over Hanoi.
Next, the book provides a thirty-three page, beautifully illustrated primer on modern fighter characteristics, tactics, and construction. The author then has a short section on fighter generalities. For example, he describes the growing ambiguity of the term “fighter,” citing the U.S. Air Force’s insistence on calling the F-117 Nighthawk a fighter. Since that stealth aircraft has no capability to conduct air-to-air combat, Spick logically categorizes it as a bomber, not a fighter.
Descriptions of sixteen current fighters and three potential candidates that could be flying in a few years constitute the heart of the book. The sixteen include the Chinese Chengdu F-7MG, Beijing’s delta configured Shenyang F-8, the European Panavia Tornado F-3, and the EF 2000 Typhoon Eurofighter. French aircraft descriptions include the Dassault Mirage 2000 and Rafale. The Russian planes discussed are the Mapo MiG-29, MiG-31, and the Sukhoi Su-27, 35, and 37. The Swedish IG JAS 39 Gripen is included along with Taiwan’s AIDA A-1 Ching Kuo. American fighter descriptions include the Grumman F-14D Tomcat, Boeing F-15C Eagle, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the BoeingF/A-18 Hornet. Other aircraft discussed are the F-22 Raptor, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the Sukhoi S-37 Berkut.