US Stealth Aircraft
Russian Stealth Aircraft
Indian Stealth Aircraft
Chinese Stealth Aircraft
South Korean Stealth Aircraft
Japanese Stealth Aircraft
One common misconception is that stealth aircraft are totally invisible. Although not invisible, stealth's low observability allows it to penetrate an integratpd air defense system (IADS) by reducing the effectiveness of the three basic air defense functions -- surveillance, fire control, and target destruction. Its reduced radar return weakens the defensive system's ability to consistently detect, track, and engage stealth aircraft, thereby enhancing their survivability.
Radar, an acronym for "Radio Detection and Ranging", systems was originally developed many years ago but did not turn into a useful technology until World War II. One component of a basic radar system is typically a transmitter subsystem which sends out pulse of high frequency electromagnetic energy for a short duration. The frequencies are typically in the Gigahertz (GHz) range of billions of cycles per second. When such a pulse encounters a vehicle made of conducting material (such as metal), a portion of the energy from the incoming pulse is reflected back. If this reflected energy is of a sufficient magnitude, it may be detected by the receiver subsystem of the radar. The computer subsystem which controls the radar system knows when the pulse was transmitted and when the reflected pulse is received. This computer is capable of calculating the round-trip time, t, between the transmitted and received pulses of this electromagnetic energy. These pulses travel at roughly the speed of light, c, which is approximately 186,000 miles/sec (299,999 km/sec).
This apparent size of the target at a given radar wavelength (or frequency) is referred to as the "Radar Cross Section" or RCS. All other things being equal, it is the RCS that dictates the strength of the reflected electromagnetic pulse from a target at a specified distance from the radar transmitter. From a practical standpoint, the RCS is the sole characteristic of the target which dictates whether the target is detected or not.
The current generation of Stealth technologies relies on five elements used in combination to minimize the size of the RCS of a target: Radar Absorbent Material (RAM), Internal Radar-Absorbent Construction (IRAC), External Low Observable Geometry (ELOG), Infrared Red (IR) Emissions Control, and Specialized Mission Profile
- The Radar Absorbent Material (RAM) approach to Stealth incorporates the use of coatings containing iron ferrite material which basically transforms the electric component of the incoming radar wave into a magnetic field. Consequently, the energy of the incoming radar wave is allowed to dissipate. This is an undesirable outcome of the RAM approach.
- The Internal Radar-Absorbent Construction (IRAC) approach creates special structure known as "re-entrant triangles" within the outer skin covering the airframe of the Stealth aircraft. These structures capture energy from the incoming radar wave within spaces that approximate the size of the wavelength of a particular radar frequency. The problem with this approach is that the triangles can only protect against a particular radar frequency, so that multiple triangles are required or the aircraft can be detected by different frequencies.
- The External Low Observable Geometry (ELOG) approach is what gives Stealth aircraft the characteristic angular geometry clearly visible to even a lay observer. This flat, angled shape allows incoming radar waves to reflect or "skip" off the external geometry in all directions. Such a geometric design limits the design possibilities for the aircraft.
- IR emissions control techniques deal with the heat (IR) signature of vehicular engine output but this requires a different control technique for each different engine signature.
- The combination of the above four techniques is highly effective in reducing the RCS of Stealth aircraft in their own right. Additionally, each Stealth mission is carefully laid out so as to present only the minimized RCS to threat detection radars which have been identified and located prior to the mission. Thus a very specific and well-choreographed flight profile incorporating altitude, airspeed, angle-of attack and other flight parameters is flown by Stealthy aircraft on each and every mission. This causes complication of the mission so that improvements are desirable.
The SR-71 was an example of where designers took the aerodynamic design and then added some radar absorbing material to the airplane to make it slightly stealthy. The first generation stealth airplanes focused the low observable technology in the front quarter at certain frequencies on the radar spectrum, mostly in the target tracking or X-band area. That's the area that SAMs normally do their target tracking in on airplanes like a MiG-29 or an F-15 have their air to air radar in. And there's a slight degradation in the capability of that SAM as that airplane is coming toward it. However, in the back, it's about the same area.
The second generation of airplanes, the F-117, was designed essentially from the bottom up to be stealthy. With an airplane such as the F-117, designed from the bottom up and used shaping optimally to lower its signature, there is a significantly reduced signature. It's not invisible. It never has been invisible. Radars can track our stealthy airplanes. They can sometimes find them. The key is that that zone of detectability or lethality is shrunk by orders of magnitude, but it's still not invisible. It was crude technology. It was developed at a time when designers didn't have the modeling and computer power needed to make the kind of aerodynamic design that they would have liked, but it was very stealthy. And of course, the night that Desert Storm opened the quote from Col. Al Whitley still is famous in the Air Force: "Boy, I hope this stuff really works." And of course, it did [that isn't exactly what he said].
The third generation of stealth airplanes was represented by the B-2. By that time, there were the modeling tools and the design tools and the computing power to make an aerodynamic design that was optimum. And this airplane is a much higher altitude, much better performing airplane than the F-117. Designers were able to eliminate a lot of the radar absorbing material from the structure. And by the fourth generation, designeres were able to add supersonic speed, the agility of an F-15, F-16 class airplane and do that with no degradation to the stealth. In addition to that, designers were able to add a number of apertures, in other words, openings in the airplane's surface for antennas, radars and other sensors. And in the F-22, as an example, there are over a hundred of those apertures on the airplane, where back a couple of generations to the F-117, there are essentially a couple of aperture openings and the rest of them were hidden when it went into combat.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|