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The proposition that innovation is critical in the cost-effective design and development of successful military aircraft is still subject to some debate. RAND research indicates that innovation is promoted by intense competition among three or more industry competitors. Given the critical policy importance of this issue in the current environment of drastic consolidation of the aerospace defense industry, the authors here examine the history of the major prime contractors in developing jet fighters since World War II. They make use of an extensive RAND database that includes nearly all jet fighters, fighter-attack aircraft, and bombers developed and flown by U.S. industry since 1945, as well as all related prototypes, modifications, upgrades, etc. The report concludes that (1) experience matters, because of the tendency to specialize and thus to develop system-specific expertise; (2) yet the most dramatic innovations and breakthroughs came from secondary or marginal players trying to compete with the industry leaders; and (3) dedicated military R&D conducted or directly funded by the U.S. government has been critical in the development of new higher-performance fighters and bombers.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    The 1920s to the 1950s: the Long Road Toward U.S. Leadership in Fighter R&D

  • Chapter Three

    The Supersonic Revolution

  • Chapter Four

    The 1960s and 1970s: Acquisition Reform, Doctrinal Ferment

  • Chapter Five

    Revival of the Air-Superiority Fighter

  • Chapter Six

    The 1970s to the 1990s: the Stealth Revolution

  • Chapter Seven

    Concluding Observations

  • Appendix A

    Database Description

  • Appendix B


Research conducted by

The research reported here was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph report series. The monograph/report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1993 to 2003. RAND monograph/reports presented major research findings that addressed the challenges facing the public and private sectors. They included executive summaries, technical documentation, and synthesis pieces.

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