China showed off what it claims is an anti-stealth radar system at this month's Zhuhai Air Show. If true, the radar threatens to undo hundreds of billions in U.S. spending on stealth warplanes.
China showed off two anti-stealth radars at Zhuhai. The first, the JY-27A 3-D long-range surveillance/guidance radar, is a Very High Frequency (VHF) radar that, according to Shephard Media, is the Chinese military's first active-phased array radar. VHF radars, with their longer wavelengths, are more likely to detect stealth aircraft, and it's been known that China has been working on them for some time now.
Phased-array radars, unlike traditional "dish" radars, are flat panels composed of hundreds of smaller transmit/receive panels. While traditional radars are like turning on a flashlight in a dark room-everyone can see where the beam of light is coming from-phased array radars are more difficult to detect. They're also less susceptible to jamming.
The article states "There are unverified claims that the radar can pick up hostile stealth fighters at ranges of up to 500km (310 miles.)" If so, that would out-stick American stealth aircraft, revealing them before they could get into a fight.
Another anti-stealth radar on display at Zhuhai was the JY-26 Skywatcher-U. This radar works in a broader bandwidth, in VHF and Ultra-High Frequency bands. According to Shephard Media, it has a range of 310 miles and can track up to 500 targets at once. Intriguingly, it claims that while under development in Shandong, China it was able to track American F-22 Raptors flying over South Korea.
If this is true, the U.S. military could be in big trouble. The Pentagon has spent hundreds of billions on stealth technology over the past thirty years, on everything from the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter to the B-2 bomber and the F-22 Raptor. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project is estimated to cost everyone involve more than a billion dollars. All of those planes could have been a lot cheaper if not for the hard work of making them stealth, and if that advantage turns out to be useless that is a ton of money mostly wasted.
While China's claim of detecting the F-22 sounds impressive, there is one awfully big caveat to go along with it. F-22 Raptors did briefly visit Osan Air Force Base in South Korea on February 17th, 2016. However, they were fitted with external fuel tanks that allowed them to easily make the trip from Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa to Osan. Large drop tanks hanging off their wings would have ruined their stealthy profile, making them much more visible to radar, so it's not entirely surprising that a radar would have detected them.
Does this mean stealth is dead? Not every radar is a VHF radar, and stealth is still useful against radars that are not VHF. Stealth also likely decreases the range at which radars such as Skywatcher can acquire targets. Stealth is part of the package of essential features of a modern combat aircraft, as important as electronic countermeasures, radars, or and defensive systems. Stealth, whether anyone likes it or not, is here to stay.
Source: Shephard Media
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