Electronic Weapons: October 9, 2003


"Stealthiness" (the ability of aircraft to hide from radar) is very popular these days. But it's an effort that's been going on for sixty years, and the radar is still winning. The reason the race continues is that stealthiness may not make you invisible to radar, but it will make you less visible, and this is a real advantage in combat. If an enemy radar takes too long to confirm that you are out there, you have enough time to get the first shot off (of an air-to-air or air-to-ground missile.) So being "invisible" to radar is not as important (and has proven impossible) as making enemy radar less effective. 

The earliest attempts used carbon based materials that absorbed radar signals instead of bouncing them back to the radar station. These efforts never made it past the testing stage, but in the 1950s, the U.S. U-2 recon aircraft used ferrite (iron impregnated) paint to reduce the aircraft's detectability. It was found that slightly changing the shape of some aircraft parts also reduced radar effectiveness. These techniques were carried over to the 1960s SR-71. But something else was discovered as well, that the Russians could improve their radar to overcome much of the stealthiness. It was a race, between the stealthy construction techniques and improvements in radar. In the 1970s and 80s the U.S. developed the F-117 (which depended more on the shape of the aircraft to bounce radar signals away from the transmitter that sent them) and the B-2 (which used shape and more radar absorbent materials.) Going into the 1990s, European nations are devoting more effort to electronic methods (sending out a signal that cancels the radar signal.) 

If you use a stealth aircraft against an opponent who has not got the latest "counter-stealth" radars, your aircraft will be pretty stealthy. But you have to prepare for the worst, and Russia has established itself as the purveyor of counter-stealth radars. Russia has been working on stealth for 60 years. Never very successful in that department, they learned in the 1950s, when confronted with the stealthy U-2s, that adding more frequencies and computer assistance to their radars that they could overcome much of the stealth effect. Thus Russian surface-to-air missile systems are now selling not just because they are cheap, but because they are the best on the market for detecting stealthy aircraft. Or so the Russians say. Technical details of how stealth, and counter-stealth work are kept as secret possible. So far, the Russians have not had any opportunity to put their counter-stealth radars up against stealthy American aircraft. But it's only a matter of time.


Article Archive

Electronic Weapons: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close