Multirole combat aircraft

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United States Air Force F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multirole stealth fighters

A multirole combat aircraft (MRCA) is a combat aircraft intended to perform different roles in combat.[1] A multirole fighter is a multirole combat aircraft which is, at the same time, also a fighter aircraft; in other words, an aircraft whose various roles include, among others, the role of air-to-air combat.


The term "Multirole" had originally been reserved for aircraft designed with the aim of using a common airframe for multiple tasks where the same basic airframe is adapted to a number of differing roles. The main motivation for developing multirole aircraft is cost reduction in using a common airframe.

More roles can be added, such as aerial reconnaissance, forward air control, and electronic-warfare aircraft. Attack missions include the subtypes air interdiction, suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), and close air support (CAS).

Multirole has also been applied to one aircraft with both major roles, a primary air-to-air combat role, and a secondary role like air-to-surface attack. However, those designed with an emphasis on aerial combat are usually regarded as air superiority fighters and usually deployed solely in that role, even though they are theoretically capable of ground attack. A good example is the F-14 Tomcat versus the F/A-18 Hornet; the F-14 was envisioned originally for air superiority and fleet interception defense with some variants later receiving secondary ground attack capability, while the F/A-18 was designed from the onset for air-to-surface strikes with a limited capacity to defend itself from other aircraft. In another instance, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale are classified as multirole fighters; however the Typhoon is frequently considered an air superiority fighter due to its higher dogfighting prowess while its built-in strike capability has a lighter bomb load compared to contemporaries, compared to the more balanced Rafale which sacrifices air-to-air ability for a heavier payload.


Some aircraft[specify] are called swing-role, to emphasize the ability of a quick role change, either at short notice, or even within the same mission. According to the Military Dictionary : "the ability to employ a multi-role aircraft for multiple purposes during the same mission."[2]

According to BAE Systems, "an aircraft that can accomplish both air-to-air and air-to-surface roles on the same mission and swing between these roles instantly offers true flexibility. This reduces cost, increases effectiveness and enhances interoperability with allied air forces".[3]

"Capability also offers considerable cost-of-ownership benefits to and operational commanders."[4]


The Panavia Tornado program was historically the first bearer of such a designation.

Although the term "multirole aircraft" may be relatively novel, certain airframes in history have proven versatile to multiple roles. In particular, the Junkers Ju 88 was renowned in Germany for being a "jack-of-all-trades", capable of performing as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, and so on, much as the British de Havilland Mosquito did as a fast bomber/strike aircraft, reconnaissance, and night fighter.

The US joint forces F-4 Phantom II built by McDonnell-Douglas also fits the definition of a multi-role aircraft in its various configurations of the basic airframe design. The various F-4 Phantom II configurations were used in air-to air, fighter bomber, reconnaissance, and suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) mission roles to name a few.

The first use of the term was by the multinational European project named Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, which was formed in 1968 to produce an aircraft capable of tactical strike, aerial reconnaissance, air defense, and maritime roles.[citation needed] The design was aimed to replace a multitude of different types in the cooperating air forces. The project produced the Panavia Tornado, which used the same basic design to undertake a variety of roles, the Tornado IDS (Interdictor/Strike) variant and later the Panavia Tornado ADV (Air Defence Variant). By contrast, the F-15 Eagle which was another fighter aircraft of that era was designed for air superiority and interception, with the mantra "not a pound for ground" (although the F-15C did have a rarely-used secondary ground attack capability), but that program eventually evolved into the F-15E Strike Eagle interdictor/strike derivative which retained the air-to-air combat lethality of earlier F-15s.

The newest fighter jet that fits the definition of 'multi-role' is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II/Joint Strike Fighter, designed to perform stealth-based ground/naval strike, fighter, reconnaissance and electronic warfare roles. Like a modern-day F-4, 3 variants of this aircraft fulfill the various strike and air defense roles among its joint service requirements: the standard variant is intended to eventually replace the F-16 and A-10 in the USAF and other Western air forces, a STOVL version intended to replace the Harrier in US Marine Corps, British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy service, and a carrier variant intended to eventually replace the older F/A-18C/D for the US Navy and other F-18 operators. The F-35's design goal can be compared to its larger and more air superiority-focused cousin, the F-22 Raptor.



Country Manufacturer Aircraft Introduced Variants Image
 Canada McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet 1983 CF-18A, CF-18B CF-188A BANKING.jpg
 China Chengdu J-10 2003 J-10A, J-10S, J-10B 150px
Shenyang J-11B 2008 J-11B/S/H Chinese Su-27.JPG
J-15 2012 J-15, J-15S 150px
J-16 2013 J-16, J-16D
Xian Xian JH-7 1992 JH-7, JH-7A, JH-7B Jh-7a naval yt.png
 France Dassault Mirage 2000 1982 N/D Mirage.2000d.3-im.arp.jpg
Rafale 2001 B/C/M Rafale - RIAT 2009 (3751416421).jpg
 India HAL HAL Tejas 2001 Tejas Mark 2 IAF Tejas full size (32941198511).jpg
 Japan Mitsubishi F-2 2000 F-2A/B Mitsubishi F-2 landing.JPG
 South Korea KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle 2011 T-50, TA-50 RoKAF T-50 Golden Eagle.jpg
Chengdu/PAC JF-17 Thunder 2007 Block I/II Pakistan Air Force Chengdu JF-17 Gu.jpg
 Soviet Union
Mikoyan MiG-29 1983 MiG-29/MiG-29OVT/SMT/M/K Russian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29S Naumenko-1.jpg
Mikoyan MiG-35 Yet to enter service MiG-35MiG-35D Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 MAKS'2007 Pichugin.jpg
Sukhoi Su-30 1996 Su-30/Su-30K/MK/M2 Sukhoi Su-30SM in flight 2014.jpg
Sukhoi Su-30MKK 2000 Su-30MKK/MKV/MK2/MK2V PLAAF Sukhoi Su-30MKK at Lipetsk Air Base.jpg
Sukhoi Su-35 2008 Su-35/Su-35S Su-35 in flight. (3826731912).jpg
Sukhoi/HAL Su-30MKI 2000 Su-30MKI SU-30MKI-g4sp - edit 2(clipped).jpg
 Sweden Saab JAS 39 Gripen 1997 39A/B, 39C/D, 39E/F Saab JAS 39 Gripen at Kaivopuisto Air Show, June 2017 (altered) copy.jpg
 United Kingdom
Panavia Tornado 1979 IDS, ECR,ADV Panavia Tornado GR4 05 (4827995363).jpg
 United Kingdom
Eurofighter Typhoon 2003 Tranche 1,2 Typhoon f2 zj910 arp.jpg
 United States General Dynamics
(Lockheed Martin)
F-16 Fighting Falcon 1978 A/B, C/D, Özgür, Sufa, N, QF F16 SCANG InFlight.jpg
McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet 1983 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, C/D FA-18-NAVY-Blue-Diamond.jpg
McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F-15E Strike Eagle 1988 I, K, Advanced Eagle, S/SA, SG, QA F-15E Strike Eagle.jpg
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II 2015 F-35A/B/C, F-35I F-35A flight (cropped).jpg

See also


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