The last time the U.S. Navy fielded a pure air-superiority fighter it was the F-14 Tomcat. But since the service retired the plane in 2006, replacing it with the F/A-18 series, the Navy now has a substantial gap in its combat capabilities. During the Cold War the F-14 was considered better than any peer aircraft from the Soviet Union (or China, for that matter), and was clearly more capable than follow-aircraft in terms of air superiority. Neither the F/A-18 nor the F-35 were built purely for air superiority — in addition to that role, they also serve a strike aircraft. But now that adversaries are beginning to field aircraft that can challenge the F/A-18, especially, Navy brass are waking up to the fact that they focused too long and too hard on long-range strike capability and not enough on fighters being fighters. “Another type of new aircraft required is an air superiority fighter,” says a recent Hudson Institute report. “Given the projection of the Joint Force’s increased demand for carrier-based fighter support, this capability is critical.” [source]
Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.