The missile lock warning on an F-117, one of the so-called “invisible” aircraft, indicated that it was not, after all, invisible to the Serbian Air Defense network equipped with Russian radar and SAMs. This incident busted the myth of stealth fighters and proved that it’s all hype and no substance.
The word ‘stealth’ in military parlance conjures up a vision of Hollywood star Kevin Bacon going invisible during a scientific test in the film Hollow Man released in 2020, or Hollywood actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen acquires the ability to go invisible in the 2022 film Invisible Man.
The invisible man idea is fine for being stealthy as a fiction or entertainment story. But is ‘stealth’ valid in reality, with specific reference to an aircraft being invisible to the ground or the airborne radar?
Major powers have already spent billions of US dollars, viz China, Russia, and the US, towards R&D in this field and producing operational aircraft. USA took the lead by manufacturing F-117, F-22, F-35, and B-2 and to-be inducted strategic bomber B-21. China and Russia have miles to go.
As of now, neither country has a truly stealthy flying machine. All so-called stealth flying machines fall in the category of ‘Low Observables.’ J-20 of China and Su-57 of Russia might not be in the low observable category.
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While we focus on designing a stealthy airframe, we must not lose sight of advancements in radar technology. Experimental Quantum Radar, if and when it becomes a reality, might change the stealth concept forever.
The pace of development of radars and sensors already incorporated in Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) and Air-to-Air Missiles (AAM) is perhaps faster than the stealth design development of modern fighters.
The stealth capability or quality of a flying machine can be divided into the physical attributes of stealth and the technological requirements of a stealthy machine.
An attempt will be made to discuss the entire spectrum of stealth technology, its operational advantage, and the cost of producing a stealthy flying machine without entering into complex technological jargon and principles employed.
Some pictures show Gen Kenneth S. Wilsbach, a US Air Force Commander, flying Russia’s ‘Top Dog’ Su-30 Fighter Jet, thanks to the Indo-US joint exercise with the Indian Air Force.