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Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

As of late, there have been attempts to question the value of stealth

Posted by altandmain on November 27, 2019

An article was recently posted that was quite an improvement over the typical articles that we see in the mainstream media. Although I may not agree with all of the assertions here, the article was well written.

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/how-good-stealth-f-22-and-f-35-anyway-82791

Let’s go through some of the key points in greater detail.

While virtually any plane can be equipped to fire long-range missiles, stealth airframes are built using radar-absorbent materials and engineered precisely to minimize reflection of radar waves. This constrains their load-carrying abilities, as external weapons or drop tanks could increase their visibility on radar. The United States fields two stealth fighters, the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II.

There seems to be an attempt here to make a serious discussion about the trade-offs of stealth technology.

 

Stealth aircraft are optimized to be difficult to observe on the precise X-Band radars used on modern fighters: while some radars have better resolutions than others, most will only be able to track a stealth fighter at shorter distances. An F-22 is claimed to have the radar cross section of 0.0001 square meters in certain aspect—the same as that of a marble.

Low-bandwidth radars are more effective at detecting stealth aircraft. These are typically used by ground installations and ships, but also found on specialized aerial platforms such as the E-2D. However, they come with a major limitation: they can reveal only the general location of a stealth fighter and are too imprecise to be used to target missiles—though they can indicate to an X-Band radar where to look.

Infra-Red Search-and Track (IRST) systems offer another means of detecting stealth aircraft, but their range is generally limited. The latest IRST system on the SU-35 has extended the range up to 50 kilometers, whereas its radar has detection range of up to 200 kilometers. Just like low-band radar, IRST doesn’t give a precise track and can’t be used to lock on weapons. Stealth fighters include features designed to minimize heat signature, but they are far from completely effective.

Of course, a stealth fighter can be seen within visual range, and is vulnerable to heat-seeking missiles.

 

I’m glad to be seeing a serious discussion about how stealth can be possibly defeated.

One factor that is difficult to calculate is how likely long-range missiles are to hit. Extrapolating from past usage of radar-guided missiles is problematic, both because missile technology has advanced considerably since its inception (early radar-guided Sparrow missiles had a less than 10 percent kill probability in the Vietnam War), and the conflicts in which radar-guided missiles have been more successful (Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Gulf War) involved poorly trained opponents lacking effective countermeasures.

It’s safe to say that long-range missiles will have lower hit rates than short-range missiles like the AIM-9 Sidewinder and the Russian R-73—modern versions of which have chalked up a roughly seventy percent probability of kill.

One of the recurring themes that Picard has always emphasized is that BVR radar guided air missiles are not going to have the kill ratios that they had in simulations.

This is also why shorter range IR missiles and guns are going to remain relevant today.

 

But referring back to the Battle of Britain can reveal a limitation of this strategy. The British hit-and-run attacks succeeded in inflicting deadly attrition on German bombers over time until they were forced to call off the air offensive. But they rarely prevented the German formations from hitting their targets. The German simply had too many aircraft.

At first, this was a problem: the Germans relentlessly pounded British airfields, degrading the Royal Air Force’s ability to fight in the air. But then the Germans switched to bombing civilian targets in London. While this inflicted many civilian casualties, the raids did not degrade the RAF’s ability to fight back. The British fighters could sustain their advantageous rate of attrition versus the German Luftwaffe until the latter was forced to tap out.

 

One thing I do like is that the author of this article is very well versed in aviation history.

 

Let’s consider what would happen when American fighters encounter a much larger force of fighters based on the coast. The American fighters could fire their long-range AIM-120D missiles from more than one hundred kilometers away—four from each F-35 and six on the F-22. Soaring at Mach 4—twice the maximum speed of the aircraft that launched it—an AIM-120 can traverse eighty kilometers in one minute.

The radar-warning receivers on their targets would light up as they detect the incoming attack. The further away the target, the more time it has to evade the missile. Therefore, BVR missiles may be fired at well below their maximum range to ensure a higher probability of a kill, particularly when engaging maneuverable fighter aircraft.

 

Presumably in this case, the author is referring to China.

One thing the author does not discuss is that a stealth heavy fleet means lower numbers. It means higher acquisition costs per plane, higher costs per hour of flight, and higher flight to maintenance ratios, which means less aircraft for a given amount of money.

 

What if the U.S. fighters close to short range after expending their long-range armaments, rather than prudently disengaging? If both sides are closing upon each other at maximum speed at high altitude, the distance between them would diminish at a rate of 60-80 kilometers a minute. Even if the AIM-120s were fired at maximum range, the opposing aircraft could close that distance in one or two minutes.

In short-range engagements, surprise, pilot training and flight performance will determine the victor.

The F-22 is a superb dogfighter. The F-35…not so much, though ithas its defenders. Both aircraft can carry two Sidewinder missiles and fire shells from their onboard cannons.

 

While I question the F-22’s value as a dogfighter, the author does have a very important point. Training, surprise, and flight performance will be decisive factors. One problem with stealth fighters in that regard is that pilots will have to spend more time in simulators rather than real world aircraft.  The higher costs per flight hour force this.

 

Why? The hostile aircraft didn’t have trouble detecting the tankers supporting the U.S. forces. Unlike the F-22s and F-35s, tankers have neither the speed nor stealth to evade a determined attack.

If the tankers get shot down, it doesn’t just force the U.S. fighters to abandon the fight. It could force them to crash into the ocean, without enough fuel to make it back to base. In effect, a tanker would be a high-value target that U.S. air-superiority fighters would need to defend to the last.

A similar problem exists while defending an aircraft carrier from attack. Unlike the resilient city of London in the Battle of Britain, a carrier is a vulnerable and militarily consequential target that must be defended at all costs. A lost carrier consigns its fighters to the ocean as well.

A final consideration is that opponents may field limited number of their own stealth fighters, such as the J-20 or the Sukhoi T-50. Even a small number of stealth fighters would be effective at sneaking into the range of the tankers and AWACs aircraft and taking them out before the U.S. aircraft could evade or retaliate. Very long-range missiles such as the R-37 and the PL-13 could also assist in the anti-tanker mission.

 

First, one concern is that there is a trade-off between stealth and aerodynamics. The second is that the tankers and AWACs are themselves not stealthy. Making tankers stealth would be costly and mean less money for fighter aircraft.

AWACs simply cannot be made stealthy. It will remain vulnerable to anti-radiation missiles.

 

Already, many theorists believe that carriers would be forced to remain far away from hostile shores. The survivability of airbases in the event of a mass surface-to-surface missile attack is also open to question. One possibility is that no large-scale air battles would materialize.

The two key limitations are logistical: lack of internal fuel to operate without support, and insufficient missiles to tackle superior numbers. For the time being, there is no obvious fix to the fuel problem: the latest U.S. fighters, the F-22 and F-35, are simply going to depend on tankers. Some suggest that the Navy should deploy light-weight low-observable drones from carriers that could potentially operate further afield.

 

In the case of aircraft carriers,  submarines might also prove to be a threat. So might land fired anti-shipping missiles.

Another issue is that rough field operation is a big deal for modern war – fixed airbases provide fixed targets for enemy forces.

 

The U.S. military is a big proponent of networked warfare. In theory, if one airplane detects an enemy, it could pass on that data to friendly ships and aircraft—and through Cooperative Engagement Ability, even potentially allow those friendlies to shoot at that target from far away. One potential tactic is to use a vanguard of stealthy fighters to identify incoming enemy aircraft and send targeting data to ships or non-stealth fighters, which can carry heavier weapons loads. The F-35’s excellent sensors and datalinks could make it effective in this role.

There is even an idea being kicked around to mount large numbers of missiles on a B-1 or B-52, which would be fired off hundreds of kilometers away from the battle. Of course, such an “arsenal plane” would be vulnerable if enemy fighters broke through the accompanying line of F-22s and F-35s. The tactic would likely require even longer-range missiles than the U.S. currently employs.

 

I’m not at all convinced this would work – keep in mind that an aircraft that is stealthy would have to transmit to the friendly aircraft information. That may be detected and it may be possible to reveal the locations of enemy aircraft.

Longer range missiles are likely to have an even lower probability of kill ratio, except against targets that don’t have the agility to defeat them.

 

Concluding thoughts

While I may not agree with all of the points in this article, I am happy to see someone who is asking questions about the limitations of stealth.

It is certainly an improvement over the fawning, and often uncritical coverage that stealth aircraft have received.

 

Posted in technology | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The return of a light tank

Posted by picard578 on April 25, 2018

Adapted from https://hrvatski-vojnik.hr/menu-2018-godina/item/4067-povratak-lakog-tenka.html

US Army is seeking a new light tank. Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) is a new vehicle which will significantly strenghten US Army infantry brigades. The vehicle will be component part of Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and will provide direct fire support. Tank will be used in conditions where distance, terrain or time constraints prevent deployment of heavy armour, essentially fulfilling the role of Stryker MGS.

Light tank will provide infantry with ability to counter enemy armour, fortifications, and to provide freedom of maneuver. Previous concept of light tank, M551 Sheridan, was a failure because of a low-pressure gun intended to fire guided missiles, which turned out too unreliable.

New tank has to be air mobile, with at least C-17 and if possible C-130 being able to carry it. As such, it has to have mass of no more than 32 tonnes. Main armament will be gun of either 105 or 120 mm calibre, capable of destroying armoured vehicles from motion, in all weather conditions. MPF must also be able to traverse obstacles, particularly in urban terrain; as such vehicle will be tracked. Vehicles within ICBT have to be able to operate for 24 hours without refuelling, and armour has to protect against small arms fire and shrapnel. As there are no existing vehicles fulfilling the requirements, new vehicle will have to be developed.

After prototypes are tested, two final choices will enter EMD (Engineering and Manufacturing Development). Each manufacturer will deliver 12 preserial production vehicles, and production should begin in 2022. Production is planned at 26 vehicles in 2022., 28 in 2023., and 50 vehicles per year from 2024. to 2032. First operational unit should receive MPFs in 2025. Price should not be above 6,4 million USD per vehicle.

Candidates are BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) and Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC). BAE Systems is going forward with modernized M8 AGS. Basic vehicle has aluminum armour and, with combat weight of 19,5 tonnes, could be parachute-deployed from aircraft, and 3 to 4 can fit into C-17. Level 2 protection against light cannons mass is 23 tonnes, and with protection against calibres up to 30 mm mass is 25,5 tonnes. General Dynamics will likely base vehicle on Griffin demonstrator, with 120 mm gun and ASCOD / Ajax chassis. SAIC vehicle is based on chassis from Singaporean NGAFV IFV and turret from Belgian CMI Defence company. NGAFV in IFV variant has mass of 29 tonnes, and remotely controlled turret with 30 mm Bushmaster cannon and 7,62 mm coaxial machine gun. Crew is 3 plus 8 infantry, with 70 kph top speed, 24,5 HP/t. MPF would have 105 mm turret Cockerill 3105 with protection up to STANAG 5 level. NGAFV with Cockerill turret would weight 32,5 tonnes.

Posted in news, technology, weapons | Tagged: , | 11 Comments »

Why variable sweep wings or “swing wings” for fighter aircraft are not effective at air superiority

Posted by altandmain on August 19, 2017

Why not another variable sweep fighter?

There seems to be a lot of F-14 nostalgia around. While it may have had a great deal of impact on how the US Navy conducted fleet defense, we have to consider the effectiveness of the concept of variable sweep aircraft. It is human nature to always want to look up to the past.  The other reason may very well be that people find the F-14 to look visually attractive and want similar proposals.

The reason why we will not see future variable sweep fighters however is because there are very serious drawbacks compared to fixed wing aircraft.

Short Background

Variable sweep wings, known as “Swing wing” evolved as a solution for early jet engines. Experiments were being made as early as WW2 with wings that could change their sweep on the ground, such as the Messerschmitt P.1101.

Back then jet engines produced less thrust because they ran at lower inlet temperatures and were overall more primitive. Wings with a sharp sweep were desired for high top speed, but that left the aircraft vulnerable in dogfights, which as Vietnam revealed still happened, and also led to high take-off and landing speeds. High take off and landing speeds are less safe, which would result in increased number of crashes. They also led to long runways, limiting off  road mobility and making it easier to disable for enemy forces, as there would be a far larger airport to protect.

In Europe, there were two key projects, the Panavia Tornado, which entered service as a mult-role interceptor/bomber, and the Dassault Mirage G, which never entered production. The US would build the F-111, which was a very heavy variable sweep multi-role aircraft. The famous F-14 was derived from the F-111. The USSR made several variable sweep designs, most notably the  Mig-23 and the Su-24.

Bomber designs were also made by the US and USSR. The B1 Lancer from the US, along with the Tu-22 and Tu-160 from the USSR. All 3 bombers remain in service.

What do swing wing aircraft bring?

Their main advantage is that they can use that variable sweep wing to find the optimal wing swing angle (within their sweep limits) for a given airspeed.  This can allow for fuel savings on the climb and landing during a fighter sortie.

On aircraft carriers, they have the advantage of having very low sweep on take-off and very high sweep when bursting with full afterburner. Variable sweep wings can also be folded for compact storage without compromising wing’s structural integrity (as is the case with folding wings like on F-18E).

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On an aircraft carrier, deck-space is always going to be a bottleneck. While a carrier may look very large to an untrained eye, deck space is always at a very big premium.

So why not on fighter aircraft?

To achieve variable sweep aircraft, that requires a large gearbox in the fuselage of the aircraft. This gearbox adds a great deal of mass and makes the fuselage larger, causing drag. This means that fuel fraction on such aircraft is lowered a great deal.

In a dogfight, this heavy gearbox would mean that compared to a fixed wing, it would result in an unfavorable thrust to drag, even if the pilot could switch to what they felt was the optimal sweep right before combat. Switching the wing sweep during a dogfight would be risky, as it could cause a loss of energy.

This would mean:

  1. Higher wing loading due to mass of gearbox
  2. Faster fuel consumption due to gearbox
  3. Lower transient performance (very important in a dogfight)

This gearbox would also lead to lower G limits as well. On the F-14D, the symmetric limit at 50,000 lbs was 6.5G. The F-16  and F-15 were both capable of 9G. Navalized versions of the F-18 were capable of 7.5G, while certain land based variants of the F-18 could also perform 9G. For a comparison, Dassault Rafale can do 11G, with an ultimate limit of 16.5G.

The gearbox lowered the aircraft’s fuel fraction. An empty F-14D has a mass of 43,735 lb ( or about 19,838 kg) and can take on 16.200 lb of fuel. This results in a fuel fraction of 0,27, which is below 0,30 fuel fraction required for sufficient combat persistence.

Jet engines have become far more powerful than their 1960s and 1970s counterparts, allowing for much higher thrust to weight ratios. As such, they can achieve lower take distances, even more so on an aircraft carrier with a catapult. This fact somewhat negates swing-wing’s main advantage of high low-speed efficiency.

Modern computer control surfaces too have played a role in rendering variable wing sweep obsolete as they can adjust wing shape and size very rapidly, without the weight penalty.

Complexity and reliability problems

The more complex a system is, the more risk there is for failure.

When the US Navy opted to retire the F-14 in favor of the F-18, a big reason that was given was the appalling flight to maintenance ratio.

The decision to incorporate the Super Hornet and decommission the F-14 is mainly due to high amount of maintenance required to keep the Tomcats operational. On average, an F-14 requires nearly 50 maintenance hours for every flight hour, while the Super Hornet requires five to 10 maintenance hours for every flight hour.

I’ve been told that a newer F-14 would likely require 40 to 1 and on average, the F-18 requires 8 to 1, which is in line with the USN’s claims of 5-10 to 1. So in that regard, the F-18 would be able to generate much higher sortie rates. Keep in mind that the 50 to 1 is with after  the General Electric F110 engines were put on the F-14. Early F-14s suffered from an unreliable TF-30 engine that was prone to flame-outs.

Compounding the problem, the  high flight to maintenance ratios mean that there’s a good chance you will not have enough F-14s available when you need them the most (ex: if an enemy launches a surprise attack on your carrier battle group, you may need to scramble the aircraft very quickly).

There were other points of failure. Sometimes when one side of the gearbox worked properly and the other did not, it could lead to an “asymmetric wing sweep”.

f-14-asymmetricWhile the aircraft could fly in such a situation and land with some difficulty, this leaves a point of failure. This could also be a weakness in combat, as the hydraulics could be damaged.

Much like this F-14, under Australian service, the F-111 did encounter a similar incident, and the B1 did once as well. I suspect that under Warsaw Pact service, Soviet variable sweep designs may have too.

Conclusions

The cons simply outweigh the pros when it comes to variable wing sweep. There are very significant penalties in terms of mass, cost, and complexity for variable sweep wings. While they may bring some advantages in the take-off and can have the “optimal” sweep for each scenario, the drawbacks outweigh these to the point where we are not seeing variable wing sweep aircraft on modern aircraft.

They are simply a dead end as far as aircraft design goes. While they may have seemed like a good idea on paper, when implemented in combat aircraft, they carried significant drawbacks that outweighed any advantages they brought.

 

Posted in technology, weapons | Tagged: , , , , | 18 Comments »

Unconventional fast ships

Posted by picard578 on May 16, 2017

Overview

Modern conventional fast ships rarely go over speeds of 30 knots, simply because conventional hull forms do not allow higher speeds without unacceptably powerful and complex powerplant (a la LCS), which then means less volume and displacement avaliable for other necessities. High speeds are also very rarely necessary, which means that most ships can sacrifice high speed in exchange for greater firepower, survivability, or endurance. However, combat and peacetime operations have always required ships capable of achieving high speeds, for purposes such as reconnaissance, surprise attacks and combat in general, especially in littoral waters where small hulls dominate and enemy can appear from basically anywhere. High speed is also desireable for deployment of rapid-response forces as an answer to an unexpected crisis, and as airlift is of limited capacity, high-speed sealift is desireable. This means balancing out requirements for high speed, range and high payload.

In conventional ships, developing ships with higher length-to-beam ratio allows installation of more powerful powerplant for a miniscule increase in drag, thus allowing both longer range and higher top speed. Conventional hull form also has major advantages in range, and in that they can be of basically any size. However, they cannot economically achieve very high speeds, which is why specialized – unconventional – hull forms are required for ships that have such requirement. In all these, the goal is to minimize contact with surface of the water. Hull forms can be divided into: Read the rest of this entry »

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Modern artillery munitions

Posted by picard578 on April 16, 2017

Introduction

Munitions are used for fulfilling the primary task of artillery, which is destruction or neutralization of enemy army, as well as enabling or supporting the ground maneuver by suppressing enemy defenses. First munitions were spherical stone projectiles, launched from ballistae and catapults. Identical projectiles were also used by first gunpowder artillery. Those were typically around 8 cm in diameter. French navy used basalt, which has higher density and hardness, to achieve increased hitting power; those projectiles could penetrate ship’s wooden sides at 200 meters. Stone projectiles were also used as incidendiary projectiles by coating them with lime, followed by resin. These were superseded by lead, which was easy to shape due to low melting point. In early 13th century (cca. 1221.), Chinese were using explosive ceramic projectiles, launched from catapult or a cannon. These were filled either with gunpowder, or a combination of gunpowder and metal shrapnel. In Europe, projectiles from bronze or iron were also used. These could be homogenous, or filled with gunpowder; earliest percussion fuzes – using flint to create the spark – appeared in 1650. Another type of shot was canister shot, which was used against combat for infantry at close range, and was particularly effective against linear formations of Middle and early New Ages. But when linear formations disappeared after American Civil War, canister shot was replaced by shrapnel, which utilizes time fuze and detonates in the air. During the 19th century, two main types of fuzes were used, time delay and impact fuzes. Time fuzes were combustion types, consisting of a burning fuse train, ignited upon firing. There were various designs, but all were only accurate to approximately the nearest 1/2 or 1/4 sec at best. Read the rest of this entry »

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Air combat and stealth

Posted by picard578 on March 11, 2017

Introduction

For a long time, visual detection was the only type of detection possible. But in World War II, two significant advances appeared: radar, as well as radar- and IR- -guided missiles. Until 1970s, these were defeated through jamming and decoys. Early German attempts at building LO aircraft – Ho-229 – never got anywhere, albeit their RAM paint utilization at snorkels and aircraft was noted. In United States, first attempt at reducing the radar signature of aircraft was on U-2, by utilizing RAM paint, but it was not very successful. First actual stealth aircraft appeared in early 1960s – SR-71 Blackbird, which utilized shaping such as canted surfaces to reduce radar signature. In 1970s a second generation of stealth aircraft appeared with B-1A, and also began a programme of development of VLO aircraft. Result of that was diamond-shaped F-117, to soon be followed by B-2. All these aircraft successfully performed against enemy air defenses, but in the case of B-1A and later aircraft, their performance against air defenses was similar or identical to performance of conventional aircraft they were deployed alongside. Fourth generation of stealth aircraft are F-22, F-35, PAK FA, J-20 and J-31. While still stealth aircraft, they sacrifice stealth characteristics for the sake of better flight characteristics, allowing them to match conventional fighters in terms of maneuverability. However, their stealth requirements make them larger and heavier than comparable conventional aircraft, thus sacrificing kinetic performance for the sake of stealth.^1 Read the rest of this entry »

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Infrared (IR) sensors in naval use

Posted by picard578 on November 1, 2016

While they are mostly associated with fighter aircraft, IRST sensors are also used by surface forces, including navies. In naval use, IR sensors are used primarily as early warning devices, which means that shipboard IRST is integrated with ship’s self defense / point defense system. IRST detects targets and sends data to weapons systems, which then engage targets based on pre-determined priorities. In naval use at least, IRST will not replace radars because high humidity at sea level significantly reduces its range. However, it is still an important sensor, especially during the times of radar silence (e.g. threat from anti-radiation missiles). Also of importance is IRST’s immunity to jamming and passive operation, which makes them extremely important in electronically degraded environment. IRST’s shorter operational wavelength means greater resolution, and thus far greater ability to detect small targets as well as to distinguish between the low-flying targets and the background clutter. For these reasons, IRST and IR targeting systems are already in widespread use in air forces for purposes of both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Read the rest of this entry »

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PAK FA vs F-22

Posted by picard578 on October 11, 2015

Introduction

This article will compare upcoming Russian PAK FA with US F-22, since both air single-purpose heavyweight air-to-air fighters. However, since PAK FA is still in a prototype stage, article will by its nature be incomplete. I should also note that while some use the term “Raptorski” for PAK FA, it is entirely inaccurate. In fact, while the F-22 clearly draws its basic design from its F-15 predecessor, utilizing some aerodynamic advances introduced by the F-16 (such as aerodynamically unstable design and LERX), PAK FA in the same measure draws its basic design from Su-27. F-22, like the F-15, has two closely set engines, air intakes on sides of the cockpit and classical wing-tail surfaces with shoulder-mounted wing. Both have standard armament of eight missiles and M61 20 mm rotary gun. Su-27 and PAK FA on the other hand both utilize large LERX, wing-body blending and spaced podded engines. They also have basic standard armament of six missiles and 30 mm revolver cannon. If comparison should be drawn, then F-22 can be described as a stealth!F-15, and PAK FA as a stealth!Su-27, as neither presents clear design departure from their predecessor that the F-16 did. They are also both hugely complex to produce due to their stealth designs, and as a result both US and Russia have decided to supplement them with large fleets of 4,0 (and, in Russia’s case, 4,5) generation fighters.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Airborne IRST properties and performance

Posted by picard578 on June 16, 2015

Introduction

IRST is a sensory device which uses IR (infrared) radiation for detection and targeting purposes. IR radiation has wavelength of 0,75 to 1.000 microns (micrometers), longer than wavelengths of color red in the visible spectrum (visible spectrum ranges from 0,39 to 0,7 microns, with violet at 0,4 and red at 0,7 microns). It is given off by all objects above absolute zero, though objects that are below average temperature of their surroundings will absorb far more IR radiation than they will give out. Unlike FLIR which is a targeting device, IRST can be used for initial detection as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fighter aircraft engine comparision

Posted by picard578 on December 6, 2014

Introduction

This article will compare several engines used in modern fighter aircraft: EJ200 (Typhoon), M88 (Rafale B/C/M), RM-12 (Gripen A/B/C/D), F-135 (F-35A/B/C), F-119 (F-22A), F404-GE-402 (F-18C/D), F-414-400 (F-18E/F, Gripen E/F), AL-31F (Su-27, Su-30, J-11). Read the rest of this entry »

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