Late last week, Tom Cruise broke the internet with a single image overlaid with the words, “Feel the need.” The line, of course, alludes to the famous bit of dialogue between Cruise’s Maverick and his Radar Intercept Officer/best friend Goose (“I feel the need — the need for speed!”) but perhaps the most memorable moment from the legendary fighter film had to do with a different kind of communication — the sort you do with your hands, while inverted.

That scene serves not only as a catalyst for the plot, but it introduced the film’s foreign antagonist, the (imaginary) Mig-28. In the film, U.S. military intelligence is still working to better understand the capabilities presented by the advanced MiG, and Maverick’s inverted action provides not only a bit of comic relief, but important intelligence about what the MiG is capable of. While Iceman may seem, at times, like he’s the film’s primary antagonist, the real “bad guys” are those Russians in their capable fighters. All the drama throughout the film, all the training and mock dog fights all revolve around trying to match America’s F-14 Tomcat up against its smaller and more agile MiG competitor.

Some have commented that Top Gun 2 will be an “advertisement” for the U.S. military’s future-workhorse F-35, though Cruise’s photo clearly shows him approaching an F/A-18 Super Hornet — suggesting that the Navy’s current workhorse (which is undergoing a significant series of upgrades currently) will likely be Maverick’s ride.

The question is, what will be the threat Top Gun students will be training to counter? If it’s anything like the original, the movie will include a fair amount of mock-dog fighting with that opponent in mind, and will likely culminate with some kind of combat scenario that forces the film’s cast to take on the threat in a real way. The filmmakers could, of course, follow the trend set by the first Top Gun and simply make up a new aircraft (the Mig-28 was never an actual aircraft and was depicted in the movie by a Northrop F-5) but with so many formidable opponents on the horizon. There are plenty of real aircraft that American aviators, particularly those in 4th generation fighters like the Super Hornet, may find themselves losing sleep over. You know, planes like the;

Russia’s SU-57

Su-57 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Sukhoi Su-57 is Russia’s latest and greatest fighter, and their first foray into the “5th generation” moniker enjoyed by America’s F-35 and F-22. The aircraft itself is far more stealthy than previous multi-role aircraft employed by the Russian military, though the shape of its design likely dictates that it will have a far larger radar cross section than its American competitors. The Su-57 is also capable of achieving incredible speeds, though at the cost of a massive reduction in its operational range — as it still employs engines designed for previous generation fighters. It can actually outrun an F-22 for a short sprint, but the Su-57 will have to dump most of its fuel into the afterburners to do so and won’t be able to maintain that for long. However, when up against the likes of a Block II Super Hornet, the Su-57’s speed and maneuverability could make it a formidable and deadly opponent.

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There are currently only ten Su-57s in existence, but that doesn’t mean the aircraft couldn’t show up in a climactic end-of-film dogfight.

China’s J-20

China’s J-20 (Wikimedia Commons)

Like Russia, China has also recently debuted its own fifth generation fighter, though it’s one that likely looks pretty familiar. The J-20 is widely believed to have been based on stolen plans for America’s most capable dog fighter, the F-22. The J-20 falls short of its American inspiration in terms of both speed and stealth thanks to changes to the body design and China’s reliance on older generation engines like the Russians, but remains what is possible the most capable non-American fighter on the planet — if it lives up to the hype.

Unlike the Su-57, China’s J-20s are said to already be in service despite rumors of ongoing developmental issues. Even with its faults, however, a J-20 would still prove a more than worthy competitor for an aging Super Hornet, and in terms of geopolitics, China represents a far larger threat to global stability than Russia does. However, a bit of Hollywood politicking could be enough to keep the J-20 out of Top Gun 2: China’s role as the second largest movie market on the planet. If the J-20 is featured, it would likely be in a complementary way, if the studios are hoping to be permitted a Chinese release.

Russia or China’s Su-35

Su-35 (Wikimedia Commons)

While the Sukhoi Su-35 is a Russian developed aircraft, both Russian and Chinese militaries are currently fielding the advanced 4th generation fighter. Despite lacking some of the stealth capabilities of its fifth generation competitors, the Su-35 is widely believed to be among the most capable dog fighting platforms on the planet — even rumored to be a match for the stealthy F-22 when the pilots have a visual of one another.

The Su-35, then, would likely make for a tough fight with America’s advanced 4th generation platforms like the Super Hornet — and because it’s being fielded by multiple national militaries, subtle changes could be made during filming for the film’s release in international markets.

Feature image courtesy of Paramount Pictures via Facebook