Multirole combat aircraft

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A Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a type of multirole fighter, on a mission in 2013.

A multirole combat aircraft is a jet powered 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 Panavia Tornado program was historically the first bearer of such a designation.

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).

Although the term "multirole aircraft" may be relatively novel, certain airframes in history have proven versatile to multiple roles. In particular the Ju 88 was renowned in Germany for being a "jack-of-all-trades", capable of performing as a bomber, dive bomber, fighter, night fighter, and so on, much as the British de Havilland Mosquito did as a fast bomber/strike aircraft, reconnaissance, and night fighter. The USAF 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 newest fighter jet to actually meet the definition of 'Multi-role' is the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It can perform ground and naval strike, and fighter roles. The Growler variant of the Super Hornet is also electronic warfare capable, jamming the enemy's radar.


The term 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. Multirole has also been applied to one aircraft with both major roles, for example:

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).

The main motivation for developing multirole aircraft is cost reduction in using a common airframe.


Some aircraft 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]



Country Manufacturer Aircraft Introduced Variants
 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 J-10a zhas.png
Shenyang J-11B 2008 J-11B/S/H Chinese-j-11.jpg
J-15 2012 J-15, J-15S
J-16 2013 J-15, J-15S
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 070412-N-8157C-542.JPEG
 India HAL HAL Tejas 2015 Tejas Mark 2 Tejas Aero India-2013.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 Light Combat FA-50 Fighting Eagle.jpg
 People's Republic of China
JF-17 Thunder/FC-1 Xiaolong 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 Peruvian Air Force MiG-29 SDLP.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-30 inflight.jpg
Sukhoi Su-30MKK 2000 Su-30MKK/MKV/MK2/MK2V Tni-au su-30 1.jpg
Sukhoi Su-35 2008 Su-35/Su-35S Su-35 in flight. (3826731912).jpg
Sukhoi/HAL Su-30MKI 2000 Su-30MKI/SM/MKM/MKA SU-30MKI-g4sp - edit 2(clipped).jpg
 Sweden Saab JAS 39 Gripen 1997 39A/B, 39C/D, 39E/F Gripen ag1.jpg
 United Kingdom
Panavia Tornado IDS 1979 Tornado 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

See also