Fifth-generation air warfare is a beguiling concept. It offers the promise of making the use of air power in future wars significantly more effective and efficient. And this is not some inward-looking perspective. Chinese and Russian military thinkers also consider fifth-generation ideas offer real promise.
Even so, fifth-generation air warfare concepts push the boundaries of current technology. This is a remarkably complicated way to make war with real engineering challenges both in hardware and software. Moreover this incredibly intricate way of war is meant to function to a high efficiency within an environment where adversaries are trying very hard to defeat it. It is understandable that some may have doubts about the compatibility of fifth-generation air warfare with war—a violent act waged in a chaotic environment where friction, ambiguity and uncertainty are endemic.
Some may also ask about the preceding generations of warfare that makes this the fifth. Many authors have attempted to simplify humanity’s long history of making war down into well-defined epochs but none of these constructs are widely accepted. Furthermore, it is true that the term ‘fifth-generation air warfare’ originated as an aerospace company marketing slogan. This all might suggest that ‘fifth-generation air warfare’ is a somewhat vacuous term. Taking this position though would be a grave error of judgment.
As this paper shows, there is now a great deal to the concept of fifth-generation air warfare. The term has come to encompass and combine several important ideas, in particular: network-centric thinking, the combat cloud operational construct, multi-domain battle and fusion warfare. Fifth-generation air warfare is now a multifaceted concept with real underpinnings.