You must have noticed this thing that fighter jets ammunition is very low? Like the F-35 carry only 180 rounds of ammunition for its 25 mm cannon, the European Eurofighter Typhoon carry only 150 rounds of ammunition for its 27mm gun, the Russian Su-30 also carry 150 rounds for its 30mm autocannon, the Swedish Gripen carry only 120 rounds of ammunition. But why do modern fighter jets carry very less ammunition whereas the fighter’s of World War II used to carry hundreds of rounds of ammunition!
In this article i will explain why jets ammunition is very low and why jets still carry a gun in this missile age.
The destructive power of autocannons
Modern Fighter aircrafts carry autocannons instead of machine guns, autocannon simply means a fully automatic rapid-firing gun which fire large explosive shells, autocannons fire large explosive or armor-piercing rounds at very high rate of fire, so although modern jets carry fewer rounds, but comparing the size of the big autocannon rounds with smaller machine gun rounds, big rounds have more penetrating power, more explosive filling, and more kinetic energy as compared to multiple .50-caliber machine guns, plus autocannons fire control and targeting systems are a lot more advanced and more accurate as compared to other types of guns. A few seconds of burst fire is very much effective on light skinned warmachines (fighter jets, drones, etc are the definition of light skinned warmachines). It doesn’t take many rounds to destroy a jet, only a few rounds are enough.
The cannon of a fighter aircraft is a secondary weapon when it comes to deal with enemy jets, modern jets mostly engage in Beyond visual range combat, so a cannon is used under very special conditions and it is usually not considered the first option when dealing with an enemy aircraft. Fighter pilots prefer to use short range or long range air-to-air missiles in air-to-air combat. Also modern jets have highly advanced radars which detect the enemy jet from hundreds of kilometers away, and can simply shot it down by firing a missile. So if you are going to shot down the enemy jet by using a missile, why to carry extra weight of cannon rounds inside the aircraft when you are not going to use them?
The ability of a Fighter jet to engage enemy targets from long distances is very much improved now
World War II era fighter aircraft’s have a limited capability to engage enemy targets from a distance, but with the development of advanced radars and long-range missiles now it is possible to destroy a enemy target from long distances, so that is why guns serve as a secondary weapon of choice in modern jets, while during World War II machine guns mounted on aircraft’s served as a primary weapon both in dogfights and while attacking ground targets. Advanced long-range air to surface missiles such as the French Storm Shadow are capable of destroying enemy targets from a distance of upto 560 kilometres.
Guns have advantage over missiles in Jamming Environment
In a heavy jamming environment, missiles are going to lose its chances to hit the target. Autocannon rounds cannot be fooled by using chaffs, flares or other jamming equipments, so guns are going to work in a jamming environment and save the day for the pilot.
Guns work effectively in Missile Minimum Operating Range
All air-to-air missiles have a Minimal Operating Range (Minimum Kill Range), so cannon is highly effective in that type of situation. The cannon can save the pilot and its aircraft during dogfight within Minimum Kill Range. A one-second burst fire from the cannon of a F-35 or Su-35 will fire dozens of large High Explosive rounds towards the enemy aircraft, more than enough to completely destroy the enemy jet within a few seconds.
Cannon gives the aircraft limited ground attack capability
A fighter aircraft may have to attack ground targets sometimes. A cannon gives a fighter a ground attack capability, guns are useful while engaging ground targets such as attacking enemy armoured vehicles or artillery guns, etc.