It was a really good bet in the 1980s and a pretty good bet in the 1990s, but is stealth the way to go in the 2020s? After all, it has been around for some 40 years and – so far, at least – hasn’t made much of a dent in the world’s fleet of jet fighters.
Stealth is a means of making an aircraft significantly less visible to radar. It got its start, in a way, in World War II. With Britain vigorously defending its homeland, it deployed a novel coastal radar system called Chain Home that gave British fighters and anti-aircraft systems advance notice of any Nazi attack and told where it was coming from.
To find a way around Britain’s protective system, an upstart aircraft maker called Gothaer Waggonfabrik in Nazi Germany came up with an aircraft designated the Horton H-229. Basically this was a flying wing that was powered by two Junkers turbofan jet engines. While it never flew a real combat mission, many engineers thought that it was radar-evading, and Northrop made some tests using a scale model based on the frequencies of the British coastal radar. In fact the Horton had a significantly reduced radar signature.
If, in fact, it was the Germans’ intention to penetrate Britain’s radar shield, the Horton would turn out to be the first aircraft capable of doing that.
If the US goes ahead and buys the full, planned fleet of F-35s, the program will be the costliest in modern aviation history, with a lifespan cost of around US$1.5 trillion and counting
Stealth design information is a collection of closely guarded secrets, but even with special measures in place it is becoming apparent that much of that guarded information has leaked. Russia is at work on a fifth-generation fighter, the PAK -50, which incorporates stealth features in its design. And the Chinese already are flying two stealth fighters – the Chengdu J-20, a fifth generation fighter that entered into service this year; and the Shenyang J-31, which looks spookily like the F-35 JSF. The J-31 has not yet entered service.
Stealth has two primary uses in fighter aircraft. It allows aircraft to get around air defense radars and enemy fighters because the radars can’t see the stealth aircraft. And it makes it easier for a stealth aircraft to detect and kill a non-stealth aircraft because it can strike before the other one knows it is even “there.”
For the most part, stealth has not played a big role in military operations. The US did use the now-mostly-retired F-117 in the Yugoslav war (where one was lost and one was damaged) and in the Gulf wars. And it used the F-22 over Syria and Iraq, but mostly for show since it was not needed in either place.
Essentially, what this tells us is that stealthy aircraft are valuable in strategic scenarios, but in typical tactical environments they play a small role.
Even so, the US has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in stealth fighter aircraft, with more investment to come if it actually goes ahead and buys the full, planned fleet of F-35s – more than 1,700 aircraft. In that scenario, the F-35 program will be the costliest in modern aviation history, with a lifespan cost of around US$1.5 trillion and counting.
Does it make sense?
If one thinks in strategic terms, neither Russia nor China will have any quantity of stealth aircraft for decades. But the US thinks it “needs” large quantities of planes to replace the F-16s, F-15s and F-18s in its current fleet since many of them are worn out from continuous use in largely peripheral conflicts such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
In exchange, they will get a more capable aircraft in some respects in the F-35, but the F-35 is not so stealthy that it can evade even today’s modern air defense systems such as the Russian S-400. It will need the F-22 to make the first holes in an enemy’s air defense, which is not an easy task given that air defense systems such as those made by the Russians are extremely mobile and sophisticated.
In addition, even that important punch could be compromised as radars and other sensors are improved against stealth platforms. Here the Russians and Chinese are hard at work, exploiting different radar frequencies, techniques for triangulating multiple search radars and using novel sensors, including electro-optical sensors, that appear to be effective. Also emerging are passive systems, such as the Czech VERA system which, it is claimed, can locate stealth aircraft by using the radars and transponders of aircraft heading toward an air defense zone. The Russians are also exploiting VHF frequencies and the L-Band radar sets that are being built into the leading edge of some fighter aircraft.
The US decided stealth was more valuable than close-in capability, yet maneuvering may be one of the best ways to avoid being hit by a very fast-moving anti-aircraft missile
Interesting, all of this has led to a shift in the aircraft game. Where previously the emphasis was on point-type engagement against targets, now the emphasis is shifting to beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air weapons. BVR means that you can hit another aircraft some few hundred miles away, provided you can find the target. BVR missiles must be able to maneuver and fly very fast. The Russians have some advantage because their latest fighters can “supercruise” – that is they can fly supersonically without using afterburners, meaning much greater operating range and time, and the ability to launch missiles at very high speed.
Stealth always requires trade-offs in the design of an aircraft. The US decided stealth was more valuable than close-in capability, yet maneuvering may be one of the best ways to avoid being hit by a very fast-moving anti-aircraft missile. The S-400 can launch one missile that flies at over 11,000 miles an hour and can pull turns at 15 times the force of gravity, almost double what can be achieved in a manned aircraft. Assuming more progress in radars and sensors, there is a possibility US aircraft could penetrate close to a target only to be greeted by one of these missiles.
Meanwhile, stealth as an asset will continue to lose value as techniques develop to counter stealth platforms. Perhaps the US should be thinking about a potent conventional aircraft that can fight off enemy air defenses.
The German prototype, stealth fighter/bomber was called Horten Ho 229.
" Perhaps the US should be thinking about a potent conventional aircraft that can fight off enemy air defenses."
In other words: USAF ( and world vassals ) totally screwed up. Mr. and Mrs. US ( and vassals ) Taxpayer, be ready for the next blood bath.
As to the S400, S500, pls see the other article of the same author, and expect the same conclusions… Right, make america great again… loosers
Yes, with an ‘e’. Perhaps the author was thinking of Edward Everett Horton, the narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales?
Fight together or die alone
"Betting the Farm on Stealth" would be relying on stealth and not imporving anything else in the F-35. It would be like making a stealth version of the F-4 and using it today.
That is not what the F-35 is. It’s avionics are the most advanced flying today and it’s combat range on internal fuel is greater than any fighter currently flying.
A stealth aircraft will always win a BVR encounter with a non-stealthy aircraft. In addition it is rediculous to believe that the F-35 cannot destroy Russian S-400 installations. The F-35 has a much lower frontal RCS than the F-22 because it uses diverter free engine air intakes. That six inch gap between the F-22’s air intakes and its fusilage is berhaps the largest must never do in the design of a stealth aircraft. Nowhere else on the F-22 will will you find such a feature. And no the air intakes do not qualify as such a feature because the interior of those twisted passages are coated with RAM.
The author also obviously did not consult with someone familiar with the math that defines a RCS. If someone does not understand those physics principles how can they write an article on the effects of stealth?
This is a silly article…sorry.
Dav. What makes you think so?
Actually stealth was developed from the work of Pyotr Yakovlevich Ufimtsev, a Russian scientist in the 1960’s. Lockheed used the Russian science to produce stealth aircraft.
Wizzy Oguegbe Because, as stated, they AREN’T betting the farm on stealth and never were. It is an additional capability to get the high performance platforms – which they still are designed to be – to their objective with a much reduced risk. The platforms themselves are still high performance aircraft, so nobody is "betting the farm" on anything – just improving their performance, survivability and effectiveness. This is readily apparent on eve cursory consideration. Hence, this article is silly in its point and its very conception.
In between ufo using different tech for stealth.One kind of secruity level around the ufo,in many documented cases we found that radar catch only metalic object but nothing seen in when aircraft flying to intercept it.So thats why our tech is not ten percent comapre to ufos.
আমি চাই রাশিয়া পৃথিবী নেতৃত্ব দিবে
The disadvantage the US faces is that all its preparation are for aggressive war whereas Russia and China only need to prepare for defensive war, which is much cheaper.
A cheaper third stealth aircraft should be built to replace the shitty expensive one.
The US’s technological innovativity days are gone, the US opted to give away industry and technology in exchange for financial control and a "service economy" as that stupid smily face puppet Reagan stated back in 1980’s.
Unfortunately true, the farm is lost to the greed of a few large government contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and GE as well as the higher ranking pentagon fat cats.
When they see lobbyist bribes and goody bags they sell their sole for a condo in Hawaii or a scholarship for their kid at one of those ivey league schools and a chance for an ivory tower lifestyle or much less.
Not always not even often any longer. Electronics and now photonics and laser technology and a combination of lower and higher frequency detection, sound, laser methods a stealth aircraft can be uncovered on the cheap.
Comments are closed.