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Stealth Technology

Published on Dec 17, 2015


Stealth or low observability (as it is scientifically known) is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted concepts in military aviation by the common man. Stealth aircraft are considered as invisible aircraft, which dominate the skies. With an additional boost from Hollywood action movies, stealth is today termed as the concept invincibility rather than invisibility.

Though, the debate still continues on whether stealth technology can make an aircraft invincible it was found that stealth aircraft are detectable by radar.

The motive behind incorporating stealth technology in an aircraft is not just to avoid missiles being fired at is but also to give total deniability to covert operations. This is very much useful to strike targets where it is impossible to reach. Thus we can clearly say that the job of a stealth aircraft pilot is not to let others know that he was ever there.

In simple terms, stealth technology allows an aircraft to be partially invisible to Radar or any other means of detection. This doesn't allow the aircraft to be fully invisible on radar. Stealth technology cannot make the aircraft invisible to enemy or friendly radar. All it can do is to reduce the detection range or an aircraft. This is similar to the camouflage tactics used by soldiers in jungle warfare. Unless the soldier comes near you, you can't see him. Though this gives a clear and safe striking distance for the aircraft, there is still a threat from radar systems, which can detect stealth aircraft.

The Russian 1R13 radar system is very much capable of detecting the F-117 "Night Hawk" stealth fighter. There are also some other radar systems made in other countries, which are capable of detecting the F-117. During the Gulf war the Iraqis were able to detect the F-117 but failed to eliminate its threat because of lack of coordination. The most unforgettable incident involving the detection and elimination of a stealth aircraft was during the NATO air-war over Yugoslavia. This was done by a Russian built "not so advanced" SAM (possibly the SA-3 or SA-6). The SAM system presumably used optical detection for target acquisition in the case.

The concept behind the stealth technology is very simple. As a matter of fact it is totally the principle of reflection and absorption that makes aircraft "stealthy". Deflecting the incoming radar waves into another direction and thus reducing the number of waves does this, which returns to the radar. Another concept that is followed is to absorb the incoming radar waves totally and to redirect the absorbed electromagnetic energy in another direction. What ever may be the method used, the level of stealth an aircraft can achieve depends totally on the design and the substance with which it is made of.

RAS or Radar absorbent surfaces are the surfaces on the aircraft, which can deflect the incoming radar waves and reduce the detection range. RAS works due to the angles at which the structures on the aircraft's fuselage or the fuselage itself are placed. These structures can be anything from wings to a refueling boom on the aircraft. The extensive use of RAS is clearly visible in the F-117 "Night Hawk". Due to the facets (as they are called) on the fuselage, most of the incoming radar waves are reflected to another direction. Due to these facets on the fuselage, the F-117 is a very unstable aircraft.

The concept behind the RAS is that of reflecting a light beam from a torch with a mirror. The angle at which the reflection takes place is also more important. When we consider a mirror being rotated from 0o to 90o, the amount of light that is reflected in the direction of the light beam is more. At 90o, maximum amount of light that is reflected back to same direction as the light beam's source. On the other hand when the mirror is tilted above 90o and as it proceeds to 180o, the amount of light reflected in the same direction decreases drastically. This makes the aircraft like F-117 stealthy.

Radar absorbent surfaces absorb the incoming radar waves rather than deflecting it in another direction. RAS totally depends on the material with which the surface of the aircraft is made. Though the composition of this material is a top secret. The F-117 extensively uses RAM to reduce its radar signature or its radar cross section.

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