Stealth Aircraft and Technology
B-2 Spirit stealth bomber of the U.S Air Force
Stealth aircraft are aircraft that use stealth technology to avoid detection by employing a combination of features to interfere with radar as well as reduce visibility in the infrared, visual, audio, and radio frequency (RF) spectrum. Development of stealth technology likely began in Germany during World War II. Well-known modern examples of stealth aircraft include the United States' F-117 Nighthawk (1981–2008), the B-2 Spirit, the F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II.
While no aircraft is totally invisible to radar, stealth aircraft prevent conventional radar from detecting or tracking the aircraft effectively, reducing the odds of a successful attack. Stealth is the combination of passive low observable (LO) features and active emitters such as Low Probability of Intercept Radars, radios and laser designators. These are usually combined with active defenses such as chaff, flares, and ECM. It is accomplished by using a complex design philosophy to reduce the ability of an opponent's sensors to detect, track, or attack the stealth aircraft. This philosophy also takes into account the heat, sound, and other emissions of the aircraft as these can also be used to locate it.
Most recent fighter designs will at least claim to have some sort of stealth, low observable, reduced RCS or radar jamming capability, but as of yet there has been no actual air to air combat experience against stealth aircraft.
The general design of a stealth aircraft is always aimed at reducing radar and thermal detection. It is the designer's top priority to satisfy the following conditions; some of which are listed below, by using their skills, which ultimately decides the success of the aircraft:
Reducing thermal emission from thrust
Reducing radar detection by altering some general configuration (like introducing the split rudder)
Reducing radar detection when the aircraft opens its weapons bay
Reducing infra-red and radar detection during adverse weather conditions
Development in the United States occurred in 1958, where earlier attempts in preventing radar tracking of its U-2 spy planes during the Cold War by the Soviet Union had been unsuccessful. Designers turned to develop a particular shape for planes that tended to reduce detection, by redirecting electromagnetic waves from radars. Radar-absorbent material was also tested and made to reduce or block radar signals that reflect off from the surface of planes. Such changes to shape and surface composition form stealth technology as currently used on the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit "Stealth Bomber". The concept of stealth is to operate or hide without giving enemy forces any indications as to the presence of friendly forces. This concept was first explored through camouflage by blending into the background visual clutter. As the potency of detection and interception technologies (radar, IRST, surface-to-air missiles etc.) have increased over time, so too has the extent to which the design and operation of military personnel and vehicles have been affected in response. Some military uniforms are treated with chemicals to reduce their infrared signature. A modern "stealth" vehicle will generally have been designed from the outset to have reduced or controlled signature. Varying degrees of stealth can be achieved. The exact level and nature of stealth embodied in a particular design is determined by the prediction of likely threat capabilities.
The possibility of designing aircraft in such a manner as to reduce their radar cross-section was recognized in the late 1930s, when the first radar tracking systems were employed, and it has been known since at least the 1960s that aircraft shape makes a significant difference in detectability. The Avro Vulcan, a British bomber of the 1960s, had a remarkably small appearance on radar despite its large size, and occasionally disappeared from radar screens entirely. It is now known that it had a fortuitously stealthy shape apart from the vertical element of the tail. In contrast, the Tupolev 95 Russian long range bomber (NATO reporting name 'Bear') appeared especially well on radar. It is now known that propellers and jet turbine blades produce a bright radar image; the Bear had four pairs of large (5.6 meter diameter) contra-rotating propellers.
Dielectric composites are more transparent to radar, whereas electrically conductive materials such as metals and carbon fibers reflect electromagnetic energy incident on the material's surface. Composites may also contain ferrites to optimize the dielectric and magnetic properties of a material for its application.
Radar-absorbent material (RAM), often as paints, are used especially on the edges of metal surfaces. While the material and thickness of RAM coatings can vary, the way they work is the same: absorb radiated energy from a ground or air based radar station into the coating and convert it to heat rather than reflect it back.
By Moore's law the processing power behind radar systems is rising over time. This will erode the ability of physical stealth to hide vehicles.
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