5031Stealth: Separating Substance from Superstition
- Nov 11, 2013STEALTH IS EXPENSIVE
STEALTH REQUIRES DESIGN COMPROMISES
STEALTH ISN'T MAGICAL CLOAKING DEVICE
Much has been said about the F-117's combat effectiveness. What isn't always mentioned is how meticulously planned its missions were. Flightpaths were chosen to avoid enemy radar, radio silence had to be kept at all times, care had to be taken to avoid wet weather (the F-117's major weakness), and all flights took place after dark to avoid visual detection.Even in more modern stealth aircraft, care must be taken. Radar use is kept to a minimum. Ideally, radar lock would be achieved by one aircraft, while a closer aircraft uses a data link for targeting information. Even basic manoeuvres must be kept to a minimum to avoid exposing part of the aircraft that is not-so-stealthy, such as a metal engine nozzle, or altering the shape of the aircraft by moving its ailerons and elevators (this is one of the reasons why the F-22 has vectored thrust nozzles). Manoeuvring also increases the aircraft's heat signature, enabling it to be detected by infrared.
STEALTH IS FALLIBLE
In March of 1999, a F-117 was shot down over the former Yugoslavia with an antiquated 1960s era S-125 "Neva-M" surface to air missile. Reports state that the S-125 was able to detect the F-117 by using a longer wavelengths than the typically used (but more accurate) X-band radar. This was enough to fire two missiles at the F-117, with one exploding close enough to the aircraft to knock it down.At an airshow, a EA-18G was displayed showing rather surprising "kill" artwork on its fuselage. When asked, the pilot stated it was there "Because this is the EA-18G that killed an F-22". What the details of the story are is anybody's guess, but it seems telling that an aircraft that focuses on electronic warfare rather than direct combat could get the jump on an aircraft said to be far superior to any other jet fighter in service.What is interesting, however, is the tale of a German Luftwaffe pilot describing the F-22's weakness when it comes to WVR (within visual range) combat. The big, hot F-22 was considered "Raptor Salad" by the smaller, tighter turning and faster accelerating Eurofighter Typhoon, which was able to take advantage of its IRST (infrared search-and-track) and helmet mounted sight to keep the F-22 in its sights.Given lesson's learned over Vietnam, where the missile-only equipped F-4 was supposed to own the skies over its more primitive dogfighting opponents, it would seem that technological superiority doesn't always win battles.