When discussing Tactical Surface Fighters designs both in and out of universe perspective, we have two points that we have to notice that absolutely breaks the previously discussed basis for the core ideas of TSF designs. These two points are the early first generation TSFs and late third generation TSFs. We’ll concentrate on first generation TSFs and direct descendants of the F-4 lines that share similar design points this time and return to late Third generation and F-5 line at a later date.
The first mass produced Tactical Surface Fighter, the F-4 Phantom, is an awesome, heavy piece of shit that set the standard in which its immediate predecessors would follow. This is due to TSF being mainly one line of design that branches off to multiple directions rather than multiple lines of designs you see e.g. in Mobile Suit Gundam with its Zakus and GMs. That’s where the argument that TSFs look the same falls short and has some basis at the same time, as the TSF tech tree is more comparable to GM or Zaku tech tree than the whole variety of designs from multiple points.
The early TSFs mirror this very well. The F-4 is a basis the rest 1st Generation Surface Fighters simply modify. The Soviet Union MiG-21 Balalaika and Japanese Type-82/F-4 Modified Zuikaku are good examples how the basic design of the F-4 was taken a step further while still basically using the same core frame and design. This is also why, to certain degree, the discussed observable rules of TSF design does not apply to them fully. The exceptions here are F-5 Freedom Fighter and the line it gives birth to. This is to give a consistent line of evolution to the tech tree. We are ignoring plane elements in this post, as the focus is set how all and any early First generation designs we may get in the future has to adhere to certain things F-4 has laid down, except if it follows the F-5 line.
While the F-4 essentially has a whole family of variants that look different only in weapon loadout and paint on the chassis, the Soviet’s spun their versions, the F-4R , into development of MiG-21. In real world the fighter was only nicknamed Balalaika, but here it seems to hold as its official name for whatever reason. Anyway, the MiG-21’s design stands very close to the progenitor F-4 while streamlining some components. The MiG-21 was designed to enter and exit combat at higher speeds than the F-4 as well as engage in melee combat. As such, the MiG-21 follows multirole ideology for a surface fighter rather than just sticking the American doctrine to shoot or nuke everything that moves from afar.
Needless to say, it tickles some funnybone I have to think how Russian and Chinese TSFs have direct elements from F-4 because of all this.
While the silhouettes between F-4 and MiG-21 are similar, the key differences are in the aforementioned smoother design. The head has seen mostly changed from chin up. The grooved sides have been replaced with much more low-key sides, whereas the top has an additional communications antennae. MiG-21PF has a different antennae found in the forehead and a smaller rudder-like at the back of the head. This versions was produced in more limited numbers and was designed to function where heavy metal clouds would interfere with communication. We’ll be seeing some of this unit in Schwarzesmarken.
The torso and shoulder units between F-4 and MiG-21 govern both Surface Fighter’s to a large extent and the two are basically the exact same. The only difference the arms have is the change in the angle of the knife housing, the so-called Blade Sheaths. Outside that the two could be switched without anyone noticing the difference outside paint application.
Legs are the point where you can see designers dropping the first heavy armouring the F-4 has. The smoother and more streamlined legs also mean that the weight has been distributed higher in the Surface Fighter, a trend that would continue with most mainline designs, at least visually. There’s few interesting points going on with the F-4’s feet with those additional support pieces both sides of the calves, something that no other new design that wasn’t a direct F-4 variant didn’t use. We can assume that this is both a slight remnant of YSF4H-1, the prototypical test piece that was developed into F-4. That, and the fact that F-4 was most likely heavy enough to warrant these pieces to need additional weight distribution.
J-8 being a MiG-21 variant shares the same body, it just has a new head. The J-8 was also optimised for close combat and thus the Type-77 Close Combat Battle Halberd was born. The J-8 doesn’t strike as a close combat unit, but combined with the Type-77’s heavy topped cleaver it could easily strike down even a Fort-Class. Whereas the Type-74 PB Blade Japanese use should be mainly used with two hands as per the whole katana thing it has going on, the Type-77 CRBH’s heaviness allows a good striking power with just one hand. The recovery time is worse thou due to the very same reason, but it is a preference between power and balance. I can see a J-8 doing TSF kung-fu and doing precise strikes to take down any and all BETA with one large swing. Then again, the the Type-74 PB Blade is depicted to go through BETA like knife through hot butter, so we can assume Type-77 CRBH does that, just better with heavier swings.
The MiG-23 spun the MiG line to its own unique direction with elements fusing elements from the F-4’s line, especially from F-18 Hornet and F-15 Eagle, leaving Zuikaku as the last unit that uses clear elements of the F-4 line. Whenever we get to Su-37 Terminator in the TSF comparisons, we’ll have to take account similarities with the F-15.
However, let’s return to Zuikaku for now. TSF Type-82 Zuikaku is essentially a variant of F-4J Gekishin, a variant of F-4 Phantom itself. As such, Zuikaku is essentially just a modified piece of a modified piece and it shows. Zuikaku’s design follows the F-4 nicely with new twists. The head unit is still the same with additional rudder shoved at top back of its head and rabbit ear winglets at the sides.
The torso is overall the same, with the hole replaced with a line on its chest. I haven’t seen any explanations what these are, but seeing how TSF cockpits are closed with no windows, they’re most likely just interesting pieces of design to break the monotony on the chest. Zuikaku also has additional intakes just below and before its armpits.
Zuikaku’s shoulders overall follow the F-4 line. However, there’s some extra armouring to hold thrusters. Outside that, the overall design is the same. The energy indicators are of different design, but that’s a small change. Arms still use the stock F-4 pieces with slightly elongated Blade Sheaths, but then again they are the lightest and most effective pieces F-4 had. It’s interesting to notice that Second generation TSF have relatively lightly designed arms, and the Third generation then returns to the heavy handed designs.
The F-4 line always had thunder thighs for legs, and Zuikaku follows the suit. While the Zuikaku strips some bells and whistles off from the F-4, the most important change is with the lack of extra supports in the calves. This would signify to us that Zuikaku is lighter than the rest of the F-4 line. This is due to Japanese being unable to realize their own original design and had to opt to take combat data from European Fronts from the late 70’s, and modify existing units to emphasize close combat similar to J-8. Naturally, the output was also higher, allowing the Zuikaku follow the set Japanese doctrine of hack n’ slash with some shooting in there. However, despite it being a good upgrade over the base F-4, it still suffers from being based on that heavy frame. Shiranui and Fubuki are early Third Generation TSFs, and it took Japanese that long to realize their own design that would serve them as they saw fit. During that time the Americans and Soviets had produced their own designs by large loads, while Europe mostly opting to importing those and making modifications to those as needed.