Program history and military-industrial complex
F22 program is a prime example of bad management – large developmental and production costs meant reduction in number of planes procured; that, in turn, increased per-aircraft cost even more, and led to further cuts. Result was that original number of airframes was cut from 750 to 680 during H. W. Bush’ administration. In 1993-94, Clinton Administration cut number further, to 442 planes; 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review cut number to 339 aircraft – about three wings worth, althought it did leave option of buying two more wings if air-to-ground capability was introduced into F22. In 2002, there was another attempt to cut numbers further, but it did not pass, but in 2003, number was cut to 279, and in 2005 to 178 aircraft. Later, four aircraft were added to procurement plan.
In 1990s, Air Force cancelled program to develop multi-role replacement for F16, and, along with the navy, begun a new effort – Joint Advanced Strike Technology program, or JAST, which led to development of F35 Joint Strike Fighter. Marine Corps also joined in.
In December 2010, Program Budget Directive, pushed by Rumsfeld, slashed 10 billion USD from F22 procurement, leaving it at anemic levels of only 183 planes, number later raised to 187.
Here is how number of F22s to be procured changed over time:
1986 – 750 F22s
1991 – 648
1993 – 442
1997 – 339
2003 – 279
2005 – 178
Lt. Gen. Daniel Darnell estimated that, by 2024, USAF will be short of its 2250 fighters requirement by some 800 aircraft (it must be noted that US policy had its military ready for two major theater wars – however, it is unlikely that either Russia or India will join China in the even of US-China far; actually, opposite is far more likely, especially in case of India). Problem is even worse since air superiority is crucial element of all US military plans.
Major problem was abandonment of competetive prototyping policy introduced with F16 program, where designers would build full-technology, combat-capable prototypes based on skeleton requirements, test them, redesign and fix what needed, and then test them again, meaning that bugs were being discovered during production; same mistake is being repeated with F35. Prototype was tested, but it had little in common to finished plane – it did not have stealth skin, and was lighter than finished F22. Even shape was very different, and there was no demonstrative dogfight – in Pentagon, it was called “paint job with shape of F22”. Prototypes were selected in 1986, and flyoff between YF-22 and YF-23 was in 1990, and after YF-22 was selected, it went right back to the drawing table, and was heavily redesigned – F22 has nothing except shape in common with YF-22. For example, loaded weight was increased from 22 680 kg to 29 300 kg. Also, low-level production made it difficult to cancel outright, problem increased by fact that main goal of F22 program was to get money to contractors. Production also started in 1997, despite the fact that, by then, less than 4% of testing had been complete.
Capabilities also changed – in 2002, limited ground attack capacity was added, earning it designation of F/A-22, which was in 2005 changed to F-22A.
Whereas F15 entered service 5 years after development started, F22 waited full 24 years. One of reasons for that is permanent war economy in the US, which caused a merger of previously separate government and corporate managements. That has caused a proliferation of useless projects, whose only purpose is to make money for contractors, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors.
However, military-industrial complex does have support in United States due to number of jobs it creates. F22 project itself was divided among 1 150 subcontractors in 43 states and Puerto Rico, employing 15 000 people, for precisely that reason – to make it difficult to get rid of. When accounted for local economies, 160 000 jobs were put at risk. Same trick was tried with Nike-Zeus missile defense program, and failed.
From 1990 to 2000, US Government spent 2 956 billion USD on the Department of Defense. In 2002, 35 million people do not have secure supply of food due to living in poverty, 1,4 million more than in 2001, and 18 000 out of over 40 million people without health insurance died due to lack of treatment. Two thirds of all public schools have troublesome environmental conditions.
Cost of Vietnam war was 676 billion USD. Current US military budget draws 10 % of US GNP. Actually, in 1952 – which saw highest level of defense spending during Cold War – US defense budget was 589 billion in FY2008 USD. In 2008, it was 670 billion USD. And these figures are based on Pentagon’s own data, and therefore lowered, as you will see below. CIAs 2007 World Factbook estimated 400 billion USD defense spending for rest of the world combined. In 2008, China and Russia had defense budgets of 81 and 21 billion USD, respectively. In 2010, number was 178 billion USD for China; however, as with US 500-billion-USD number, both numbers for 2008 included “base” spending only.
Real US defense spending in 2010:
- 534 billion “base” spending
- 6 billion “mandatory” appropriations (mostly personell-related expenses)
- 130 billion for financing war in Iraq and Afghanistan
- 22 billion for nuclear weapons (to Department of Energy)
- 106 billion to Department of Veterans
- 43 billion to Department of Homeland Security
- 49 billion for UN peacekeeping operations, aid to Iraq and Afghanistan and gifts to Israel plus other costs of State Department
- 28 billion to Department of Treasury, to help pay for military retirement
- 57 billion to pay for Pentagon’s share of interest on debt
Additions to the flow of capital funds from the Pentagon are welcomed. One example is the pulley puller for the F-16 fighter – essentially a steel bar two inches in length with three screws tapped in. In 1984, this small item was sold to the DoD by General Dynamics for $8,832 each. If the same equipment were custom ordered in a private shop it would cost only $25.
It is typical that weapons cost three times or more than initial cost estimates. F22s flyaway cost has increased from 35 million USD originally projected – 60 million in FY 2009 USD – to 250 million USD, or 412% of initial estimated cost. One of causes are misrepresentations of costs – as John Hamre, Pentagon controller from 1993 to 1997 said, military-industrial complex knew that plane would cost more than projected, but costs were misrepresented at Capitol Hill in order to secure the project. Policy of cost misrepresentations is still in effect – more about it below.
Another telling fact is that, between 2001 and 2005, 16 out of 17 major weapons systems did not meet required specifications – not one was stopped, or delayed in production, as result.
US, with its permanent war economy, is basically a militarized state capitalism..
One part of it is administrative staff. French designed and built the Mirage III with a total engineering staff of fifty design draftsmen. The Air Force’s F-15 Program Office alone had a staff of over 240, just to monitor the people doing the work.
As a result, US budget is larger than that of rest of the world combined. Over 27 000 military contractors are evading taxes and still continue to win new business from Pentagon, owing an estimated 3 billion USD at end of 2002 fiscal year. It is made worse by fact that only things that limit cost increases are external – US Congress, Government and taxpayers. Current US military spending per year is, as seen above, around 1 trillion USD.
During 2002, Boeing had received $19.6 billion in government contracts. In support of such results, the Boeing management spent $3.8 million for lobbying of various sorts and made campaign contributions to members of Congress amounting to $1.7 million.
Military itself is penalized by receiving unreliable equipment that is too complex, requiring hard-to-find skilled maintenance talent, and prone to malfunction. In 2010, there have been claims that Chinese shot down F22 with a laser; most likely in order to fund more research into exotic weapons (YF-1984?). Another possibility is that US is also pressurizing China into revaluing its currency, or simple propaganda as a goal of racheting up Chinese fear factor, as it was doing in last decade or so. Reason it became popular is due to all the hype F22 received.
Moreover, US wants to sell F22 to other coutries, and does it with other weapons systems – effect it creates is that US is in constant arms race with itself. Meanwhile, money expended on hardware means that US pilots’ training is suffering.
One of main problems with US weapons manufacturers is that these corporations cannot convert to civilian production (as William Anders, General Dynamics’ CEO said in 1991 – “… most [weapons manufacturers] don’t bring a competitive advantage to non-defense business,” and “Frankly, sword makers don’t make good and affordable plowshares.”), and are constantly and consistently eating away scarce resources that still remain avaliable to other sectors. Two relatively small wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had put a cosiderable pressure on US military budget, even more than Vietnam war, while Military-industrial-Congressional complex grows in power and influence – exactly what President Eisenhower warned against in his farawell adress.
Cold War itself served as an excuse to keep money flowing into MICC. By 1991, it was so well established that shutting it down became nigh impossible; still, it began creating a series of wars and false dangers – Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, the first and second Gulf wars, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, the war on terror, etc. – to justify its continuing survival (going by some analyses, it is entirely probable that even 2001 attacks were orchestrated by elements inside US to justify a continuing stream of wars and ever-increasing defense budget, as well as reductions in personal freedoms. Even if that is not the case, however, attacks were still masterfully exploited in pushing for those goals).
It also should be noted that unit number reductions, contrary to what DoD apologetics say, are not a cause of a growing costs in either F22 or F35 – or most other US programs. Rather, they are a symptom, just like F22 itself is just a symptom of broblems in modern-day US – and, generally, Western – society; namely, that money and technology can solve any problem, and that people should not stay in way of profit.
F22 is, as it is obvious to everyone who knows something about it, very costly airplane to both produce and use. But, what are real numbers?
F22 is perhaps more famous for its perpetual increase in costs than for its hyped abilities. There are many resons for such increase, such as false cost estimates made by Lockheed Martin, reduced orders and problems with aircraft itself. Official numbers are 150 million USD as a flyaway cost, and 350 million USD as unit procurement cost. However, these numbers are outdated.
Unit and modernization costs
In 2011, one F22 had a flyaway cost of 250 million USD and unit procurement cost of 411,7 million USD per plane. In first half of 2012, it was 422 million USD per aircraft.
Developmental costs have increased due to many patch-ups (such as structural strenghtening of rear fuselage) and fixes. As for flyaway cost, full half of it goes on stealth coating – generally, it takes 30 minutes to make sure that single rivet is installed in accordance to stealth requirements – and just F22s fuselage midsection has around 60 000 rivets – and most of them are either exposed to radar, or in hard-to-get locations. Moreover, aircraft are not produced anymore – they are built, individually, like in a locomotive factory. (In World War 2, United States tanks were produced, on assembly line, like cars. German tanks were built in aforementioned fashion, which increased complexity of process, greatly reducing factories’ output).
Discrepancy between official and real costs are logical, considering that all DoD cost estimates are based on Lockheed Martin’s internal documentation – cost control is utterly nonexistent.
F22s electronics components are not federated – they are designed to work only with another component of same design, thus any electronics upgrade would see replacement of entire electronics system. Computer chips are already outdated – F22 uses 32 bit 25 MHz chips, that are outdated even by civilian market.
Maintenance and operating costs
F22 is supposed to replace F15 fleet, but operating costs of brand-new F22s are already greater than F15s – namely, F22’s operating cost was 63 929 USD per hour in 2010; compare that with operating cost 30 000 USD per hour for F15C, and F22s own 44 259 USD per hour operating cost in 2009. It did fall down to 61 000 USD per hour in 2012.
When we compare that to promises of Lockheed Martin about F22s lower operating costs when compared to F15, it becomes obvious, not only that Lockheed Martin cannot be trusted (that much already is obvious) but that military-industrial complex desperately wants to protect Cold War status quo, which allows them to get richer – by downplaying future consequences of current decisions, they can continue loading defense budget with even more costly and complex weapons.
Here, I will not put cost of most fixes until now – beacouse I don’t know it – but rather a list of technical problems F22 has encountered so far (some may have been fixed in meantime):
- leaky fuselage access panels, leading to corrosion problems
- four largest aluminium panels replaced by titanium ones; each titanium panel costs at least 50 000 USD
- bad quality control
- fatigue problems
- structural quality problems
- titanium booms connecting wings have structural failures that could result in loss of airplane; problem “solved” by increasing inspections over the life of the fleet, with expenses mostly paid by Air Force
- 30 F22s were badly glued
- defective VLO coating
- Lockheed knowingly used defective coatings
- cracks in airframe
- small parts require frequent reglueing – and glue can take more than a day to dry
- problems with life support systems
- oxygen problems limited planes to maximum altitude of 7 600 meters, as opposed to official maximum altitude of 19 800 meters
- in 2011, OBOGS failure meant that pilots were breathing a mixture of oxygen, anti-freeze, oil fumes and propane, and F22 fleet was grounded.
- 2012 OBOGS problems apparently caused by OBOGS sucking evaporating steath coating along with air – many simptoms that both pilots and ground staff displayed are typical of neurotoxins
All of that, especially given large number of potentially safety-threatening problems, points towards conclusion that F22 was approved for production before it was ready for it, much like later F35. So far, three F22s have been lost – two in accidents, one due to faulty life support systems – leaving United States with 185 aircraft.
Effects of numbers
Effects of numbers are various. First, fewer planes means that these same planes have to do more tasks and fly more often, therefore accumulating flight ours faster and reaching designed structural life limit faster. Also, smaller force will attrite faster; more flight hours per plane will mean less time avaliable for proper maintenance as well as greater wear and tear put on planes, further reducing already limited numbers.
In combat, side capable of putting and sustaining greater number of planes in the air will be able to put a larger sustained pressure on the enemy. Until advent of F16 and F18, USAF and USN were constantly worried about being outnumbered – for a good reason. Yet, small numbers of F22 are now, somehow, desireable.
F22, even assuming all promises made by USAF and Lockheed Martin are actually true, will not have numbers to make impact. In that, it is similar to Me262 Sturmvogel, German jet fighter from World War 2. Like F22, it was designed as a technological wonder; and unlike F22, it actually used technology that was not used in any other fighter plane before it. Yet, it was defeated by superior numbers of Allied technologically inferior fighter planes. While it did cause some alarm, its ultimate effect on course of war was negligible.
F22s shortcomings – force size and quality
To stop aging of its fighter inventory, USAF should have had acquired 2500 fighter planes between 1998 and 2013. In contrast, only 187 F22s were produced, and even fewer F35s. Only low cost option is to restart production of F16 – for one F22, one can get four F16s; seven, if we go with F22s unit procurement cost.
Acquiring only 180 aircraft means that USAF will use 80 planes for training and home defense, 50 for European and 50 for Pacific theater. When these numbers are combined with low maintenance readiness, owing due to its complexity and stealth coating, it will reduce F22s operational avaliability and strategic impact to insignificance – in 2009, its avaliability was 55 – 60 %. It also had serious maintenance problems, such as corrosion. It could also fly on average 1,7 hours between critical (mission-endangering) failures, and from 2004 to 2008, its maintenance time per hour of flight increased from 20 to 34 hours, with stealth skin repairs accounting for more than half the maintenance time. In 2009, number was 30 hours of maintenance per hour of flight, while in 2011, F22 required 45 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air. In 2012, only 55,5% of all F-22s were avaliable at any given time.
As is obvious from this, and “Maintenance and operating costs” section, all F22s maintenance trends have been negative for years. Moreover, only 130 of these planes are combat-coded.
187 F22s in inventory can, at best, generate 60 combat sorties per day, which is pathetic number against any serious enemy – whereas F16s bought for same cost would generate 1000 combat sorties per day, F22s presence likely will not even be noticed in strategic sense. Number of sorties will also become even lower as combat attrition and increased maintenance take its tool. There is also fact that per-unit maintenance costs for new F22s are, as seen previously, far larger than those for 30-year-old F15s, and will increase as time passes.
Also, while simulators may be good for cockpit procedures training, they misrepresent reality of air combat; as such, F22s unreliability also harms pilots training.
(Note: Out of 187 F22s that have entered active service, 3 have crashed, bringing number down to 184. It is still not large enough change to cause major effect on numbers noted above. It is unknown to me wether all of crashed F22s were combat-coded)
Effects of training
As US commander in Gulf War said: “Had we exchanged our planes with the enemy, result would have been the same”. Even best hardware on planet will not help if pilots are undertrained – and F22 pilots are on way to become that, due to F22s high maintenance requirements. When Israeli Air Force swept Syrian MiGs from sky in invasion of Lebanon in 1982 with exchange ratio of 82-0, Israeli Chief of Staff made same comment.
Between 1970 and 1980, instructors at Navy Fighter Weapons School, who got 40 to 60 hours of air combat manouvering per month, used F5s to whip students, who got only 14 to 20 hours per month, in their “more capable” F4s, F14s and F15s. US pilots in Vietnam complained that 20 – 25 hours of training per month is inadequate. Currenly, F22 pilots get only 8 to 10 hours of flight training per month.
Israeli pilots in 1960s and 70s got 40 to 50 hours of flight training per month. US Congress, meanwhile, cut 400 million USD from pilot training in 2008, to help pay for F22s.
F22 shortcomings – other
One of shortcomings of F22 is very simple – it requires large, very visible runaways in order to even get into air. Not only such runaways will be prime target – and hardened shelters aren’t protection against new weapons, while concrete runaway can be easily disabled for a relatively long span of time – they are also in danger of “goal tending” – enemy aircraft, with larger fuel fraction and lower wing loading, can simply go ahead of returning F22 force and shoot them down while F22s are trying to land. And with low numbers of F22s, this danger is very real. In short, if air defenses of base are disabled or destroyed, a pair of biplanes with air to air missiles could hover near base and not let anyone take off.
Also, hardened shelters USAF uses can be penetrated by modern munitions designed specifically for that use.
In World War 2, last major war United States have fought, such airfield vandalism was always a danger – even when US had air superiority. So, how US solved it? It didn’t – it simply produced airplanes at faster rate than enemy could destroy them – one airplane per hour. F22s complex design, aside from making it very difficult to produce and maintain, also makes it very vulnerable. What on legacy fighters would be counted as cosmetic damage, can force costly repairs on F22 – stealth skin is prime offender.
Also, unlike most other aircraft, F22 is not designed to be upgraded over time. It might get new versions of old electronics, but nothing new – such as IRST, which it badly needs. As F22 is designed to rely on technology to overcome enemy, and not on airframe performance as F16 was, such lack of upgradeability will be especially painful.
Since development of first BVR weapons, each new generation of fighters would make someone declare that “dogfighting is a thing of past”. Invariably, they have been wrong. In 1960, F4 Phantom was designed without gun – and then Vietnam happened.
US went into Vietnam relying on a AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missile. Pre-war estimated Pk was 0,7 – Pk demonstrated in Vietnam was 0,08. Current AIM-120 has demonstrated Pk of 0,59 in combat do this date, with 17 missiles fired for 10 kills. However, that is misguiding.
Since advent of BVR missile until 2008, 588 air-to-air kills were claimed by BVR-equipped forces. 24 of these kills were by BVR missile. Before “AMRAAM era”, four out of 527 kills were by BVR missile. Since 1991, 20 out of 61 kills may have been done by BVR missile, while US itself has recorded ten AIM-120 kills. However, four were NOT from beyond visual range; Iraqi MiGs were fleeing and non-manouvering, Serb J-21 had no radar, as was the case with Army UH-60 (no radar, did not expect attack), while Serb Mig-29’s radars were inoperative; there was no ECM use by any victim, no victim had comparable BVR weapon, and fights involved numerical parity or US numerical superiority – in short, BVR missile Pk was 50% against “soft” (non maneuvering with no ECM or sensors) targets. Also, 16 BVR missile kills in Desert Storm are far from sure – it says that “sixteen involved missiles that ‘were fired’ BVR”, meaning that these could have WVR kills prefaced with BVR shots that missed. Five BVR victories are confirmed, however – one at 16 nm (and at night), one at 8.5 nm (night) and three at 13 nm, which more than doubles number of BVR victories; most kills were still within visual range.
In Vietnam, Pk was 28% for gun, 15% for Sidewinder, 11% for Falcon, 8% for Sparrow, and essentially zero for Phoenix. Cost of expendables per kill was few hundred dollars for gun, 15 000 USD for Sidewinder, 90 000 USD for Falcon, 500 000 USD for Sparrow, and several millions for Phoenix – costs here are given in 1970 dollars. Overall cost for destroying enemy with BVR missiles – including training, and required ground support – has never been computed.
AMRAAM itself costs 500 000 USD per missile, and USAF was forced stop buyng Sidewinders in order to afford AMRAAMs. In fact, towards end of UN military intervention in Bosnia, US military started to report shortages of BVR missiles required to equip its fighters.
In Cold War era conflicts involving BVR missiles – Vietnam, Yom Kipuur, Bekaa Valley – 144 (27%) of kills were guns, 308 (58%) heat-seeking missiles, and 73 (14%) radar-guided missiles. Vast majority of radar-guided missile kills (69 out of 73, or 95%) were initiated and scored within visual range. In true BVR shots, only four out of 61 were successful, for a Pk of 6,6 %, and all four were carefully staged outside of large engagements in order to prove BVR theory (two were in Vietnam, and two by Israeli Air Force after US pressured Israel into establishing BVR doctrine).
In Desert Storm itself, F15s Pk for Sidewinders was 67% as compared to Pk for BVR Sparrow of 34%. However, Iraqi planes did not take evasive actions or use ECM, while there was persistent AWACS avaliability on Coalition part – none of which can be counted at in any serious war.
Post-Desert Storm, there were 6 BVR shots fired by US during operation Southern Watch – all missed. As recently as Operation Iraqi Freedom, Allied aircraft were lost to friendly fire, despite usage of IFF systems, AWACS, NCTR and relatively orderly war.
There are other examples of radar missile engagements being unreliable: USS Vincennes shot down what it thought was attacking enemy fighter, and downed Iranian airliner, while two F14s fired twice at intruding Lybian fighters, missing them at BVR with radar-guided Sparrows and shooting them down in visual range with a Sparrow and Sidewinder.
BVR combat cannot – for obvious reason – fulfill critical requirement of visual identification. IFF is unreliable – it can be copied by the enemy, and can be tracked; meaning that forces usually shut it down. As such, fighter planes have to close to visual range to visually identify target. Moreover, presence of anti-air anti-radiation missiles, such as Russian R-27P, was shown to be able to force everyone to turn off radars – possibly including AWACS. Radar signal itself can be detected at far greater range than radar can detect target at – even when it is LPI – meaning that enemy has ample time to use countermeasures and/or maneuver away from incoming missile. Uplinks to AWACS can be jammed, and if AWACS is shot down/scared away, it means that some F22s, with far weaker uplinks, will have to act as spotters for other F22s.
While modern IRST can identify aircraft by using its silhouette, range for such identification is low (~40 km for PIRATE).
In Desert Storm, US forces fired 48 WVR missiles, achieving 11 kills, for Pk of 0,23. However, historically, Pk for IR missiles was 0,15, and 0,308 for cannon. While F16s fired 36 Sidewinders and scored zero kills, at least 20 of launches were accidental, due to bad joystick ergonomy, which was later modified.
While missiles have become more reliable, countermeasures have advanced too; as such, while IR missiles may be aircraft’s main weapon, gun kill remains most reliable way of getting rid of enemy.
Effects of numbers
In WVR, numbers are usually decisive. Thus, F22 relies on a (flawed, as shown above) concept of decisive BVR engagement to compensate for larger numbers of enemy fighter planes it can be expected to engage.
However, even in BVR, numbers do matter. Lanchester square criteria, which holds that qualitative advantage of outnumbered force has to be square of outnumbering force’s numerical advantage, is even more applicable for BVR combat than for WVR, due to lack of space constrains. Thus, due to Su-27s costing 30 million USD, as opposed to F22s 250 million, F22s would have to enjoy 70:1 qualitative advantage just to break even – which is extremely unlikely. Historically, 3:1 was usually a limit of when quality could no longer compensate for enemy’s quantitative advantage, in both BVR and WVR.
Superior numbers also saturate enemy with targets, and cause confusion. USAF itself has always depended on superior numbers to win air war.
In short, F22 supporters have to learn to count.
F22s shortcomings in air combat
For beginning, four major characteristics were not met – one, 26 per cent increase in weight has led to wing loading and thrust-to-weight ratio slightly inferior to those of F15C; meaning that, for reasons of physics, there was no increase in manouverability – from outstanding, F22s manouverability was reduced to ordinary, except when it comes to air show tricks, that invariably bleed off energy. Weight increase also led to decrease in fuel fraction, from 0.36 to 0.28, which is too low even for a supercruise fighter – fuel fractions of 0.28 and below yield subcruisers, 0.33 provides quasi-supercruiser and 0.35 and above gives combat-useful supercruise performance. Simply put, supercruise characteristic has failed – 50 year old F104 can match F22s supercruise radius, and F15C, to which F22s supercruise rainge is usually compared, is one of worst fighters in terms of supercruise range. This means that F22 has to rely on subsonic cruise in combat – and that despite the fact it was designed for supersonic cruise, therefore worsening its already bad aerodynamical performance. Stealth itself was not achieved because F22 is, due to its size, is very visible in visual, infrared and acoustic spectrum, and its radar can be sensed by advanced RWRs, as demonstrated by Eurofighter Typhoons at China Lake – or by anti-radiation missiles, which Russians have, and aren’t afraid to sell them. With regards to visual detection, F22 is some 25 to 30 per cent larger than F15, and can be detected visually from order of 10 miles, or 16 kilometers head on, or 25-35 nm (46 to 65 km) from side. Avionics system itself is outdated. Moreover, when cruising supersonically, loud sonic boom betrays its location.
Also, to fully exploit its stealth advantages, F22 has to remain passive, even with its LPI radar; due to its lack of IRST or other passive sensors (with exception of RWR, which only work if enemy uses radar), it is limited to being fed data by friendly aircraft, usually AWACS (while other fighters may do it, it is questionable they will be able to penetrate jamming). Such planes can be shot down, effectively forcing F22 to choose between radiating in EM spectrum or fighting blind when compared to IRST-equipped fighters. Moreover, stealthy aircraft are only stealthy at night, whereas air superiority is primarly daylight mission – and F22s large size means that it will be spotted first. Large size is partly because of requirements for radar stealth – shapes required for achieveing radar VLO are very volume-ineffective. It is also very visible to sensors not based on active radio emissions, such as IRST.
F22 is also supposed to fight at high altitudes, around 20 000 meters. At such altitudes, both IRST, IR missiles’ seekers and missiles themselves will have greatly increased range.
F22s shortcomings in WVR combat
In WVR combat, F22 is pretty much very observable fighter – it is very large, which does not serve purpose of stealth. As noted above, its wing loading is comparable to that of F15C, although, being unstable design, it will be more maneuverable. Also, usage of gun doors and weapons bays increase response time, making snapshots within brief optimal “windows” a wishful thinking. While it is superior to F15 and F35, it is inferior in manouverability to F16A, and is inferior in physical size to all current US fighters; as TopGun saying goes: “Largest target in the sky is always first one to die” – a fact proven by actual combat: most planes were shot down unaware, from the rear.
That fact has been proven in exercises – whenever “Red” aircraft entered visual range, F22 invariably died (so far, list of F22 WVR “killers” contains F16, F18. Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale). Even thought in one such instance, F22 managed to “destroy” three F16s out of four, fight in question started in BVR; when last F16 got to WVR, F22 died – fact that it is the largest fighter in US inventory certainly helped.
Also, missiles have minimum weapons engagement zone; usually around a mile or little less, as missile’s warhead takes time to arm, and depending on missile’s g-capacity (AIM-9B has minimum range of 930 meters when fired from straight behind at sea level at Mach 0,8). Thus, gun is often only remaining option – option which, in F22s case, is unsatisfactory, due to usage of Gattling design in combination with gun doors; both of that mean that F22 is unable to perform crucial split-of-second shots, due to combination of gun spin-up time and requiring doors to open increase time between press on a trigger and first bullet leaving barrel to around a second – whereas, to score a kill and survive during mass dogfight, pilots would have to launch missiles quickly at multiple targets and then leave – tactic appropriately called “launch and leave”.
While missiles can perform 30-g manouvers, they move far faster than fighters, which means both increased turn diameter as well as increasing possibility of missile to miss target for no clear reason, even when target is not manouvering or using ECM. This, combined with probability of fighter simply running out of missiles – which is, with F22s low numbers, very likely – means that gun combat is far from outdated; and in it, F22 is handicapped.
Thrust vectoring itself is mostly useless for aerodynamically well-designed aircraft – which F22 is not, due to heavy tradeoffs required for stealth – in majority of combat scenarios. While thrust vectoring improves maneuverability in certain flight regimes – namely, it enables post-stall maneuvers, and improves maneuverability at a) very high speeds and very high altitudes (>12 000 meters), where air is too thin for classic control surfaces to be utilized efficiently (which is main reason for TVC in F22 and Eurofighter Typhoon, as they are designed primarly as high-speed, high-altitude BVR interceptors; furthermore, at supersonic speeds, aircraft becomes statically stable), and b) very low speeds (under 150 knots) and very low altitudes, where ait flow over control surfaces is not fast enough. These particular regimes of flight are either mostly useless (extreme altitude) or outright dangerous (low speed, post stall) in majority of combat scenarios – at low speed, aircraft is defensless against competent opponent, and its life span can be measured in seconds, while only a small part of air combat happens at high altitudes and speeds, given unreliability of IFF in combat. Moreover, extreme energy loss caused by use of thrust vectoring can leave even aircraft that has started from good energy state vulnerable to enemy missiles and gunfire after some time. In other flight regimes, TVC-equipped aircraft are no more maneuverable than traditional aircraft – or even less, in case of various canard configurations. Specifically, using TVC means that aircraft continues to fly in one direction while nose points in completely another, with tremendous loss of energy; and to turn, aircraft still requires excess lift from wings in order to pull it around. Moreover, it takes time for aircraft to start executing a turn, during which aircraft itself rotates, rear end of aircraft drops and aircraft itself sinks – a perfect opportunity for a gun shot. While it can be useful in one-on-one gunfights (which are generally carried out at low speeds, where TVC does improve maneuverability for a time, until loss of energy becomes too great) if pilot knows how to use it, it is far from perfect (it should be noted that even despite that, Rafale managed to have one win and 5 draws against F22 in exactly such situation).
While post-stall maneuvers look cool at exercises, they are dangerous in real combat as they leave plane vulnerable to enemy due to lack of energy required to evade missiles; therefore, only useful things that TVC adds are safety, by providing two more control surfaces; and engine efficiency, by allowing aircraft to position itself better relative to air flow, thus improving range and decreasing fuel usage – very important in peace time. F22, having 2D and not 3D TVC nozzles, may be lacking in former when compared to 3D TVC-equipped aircraft – although, as F15 has proven, loss of one engine doesn’t require TVC for compensation. TVC can also be used as a propaganda/marketing trick, to fool the gullible.
In short, thrust vectoring is dangerous for plane using it if pilot doesn’t know how to use it (requires lot of training) and does not entirely compensate for airplane’s size and weight – so you can forget the prospect of F22 outmaneuvering, say, Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale, at any combat-useful speed. To turn at combat speed, aircraft still requires lift from wing – that is, low wing loading.
According to some sources, F-22 allegedly has sustained turn rate of 28 degrees, while other sources put it at 23-24 degrees per second. As 28 degree per second sustained was made by an USAF colonel who wasn’t even F-22 pilot, it most probably was a mistake – possibly intentional; thus, second figure is more reliable (28 degrees per second is probably instanteneous turn rate). For comparasion, Typhoon has instanteneous turn rate of over 30 degrees per second, and sustained turn rate of 23 degrees per second, and Rafale has instaneteneous turn rate of over 30 degrees per second, and sustained turn rate of 24 degrees per second. These figures, however, are most likely for corner speed; due to lack of energy aircraft faces at such speeds, turn rate figures presented here are, as opposed to wing loading and thrust-to-weight ratio figures, of questionable utility.
F22s shortcomings in BVR combat
First, short supercruise range due to small fuel fraction does not allow F22 to pursue enemy or reliably avoid being jumped and/or pusued itself. While F22s supercruise range is superior to F15C, which is easily the worst supercruiser in USAF, it will be inferior to aircraft with higher fuel fraction, better aerodynamics (Eurofighter Typhoon) or both (Dassault Rafale).
Second, it is not stealthy at all. Stealth is measured against five signatures – infrared, sound, visual, and radar footprint as well as electronic emissions. Visual, by definition, is not important for BVR combat; but sound and infrared signature are impossible to lower enough for plane to be VLO, especially when supersonic. While it is not a shortcoming by itself, legacy fighters not even making any effort to lower it, it becomes one when coupled by its low numbers and maximum of six BVR missiles carried in VLO configuration – essentially necessitating use of 2 F22s to kill a single target. And even if it was, it is not equipped with IRST (although it can be mounted), thus necessitating F22 to emit signals – radar (it is equipped with both UHF and VHF radar antennas, in addition to normal engagement radar) plus IFF or (jammable) uplink to another plane (with IFF) – to detect enemy, which defeats entire purpose of stealth, and allows enemy anti-radiation missiles to home in on F22s powerful radar.
That problem is worsened by the fact that all US fighters emit in area of 10 000 Mhz in order to get all-weather capability – meaning that enemy only has not to emit in that area in order to solve IFF problem. In combat, enemy equipped with ARMs can force everyone to shut down radars, returning combat squarely into visual range.
Meanwhile, US did make effort to develop ARM in 1969, but it was cancelled due to possibility of it threatening radar missile development as well as F15 and F14 programs. French are also selling advanced ARMs all over the Third World, meaning that US might find itself in a trouble in next war.
Moreover, as soon as F22 manouvers, it is going to blow its – already limited – radar stealth. It is only VLO within 20 degrees off the nose, and its reported radar signatures only take frontal aspect versus high-frequency radars into consideration.
In IR spectrum, F22 simply cannot hide, especially when supercruising – fighter moving at supersonic speeds generates shock cones of hot air; a feature impossible to hide to IRST.
It also seems (3) that AMRAAM does not even work in cold environment – exactly where F22 is supposed to carry out its interception missions. Also, at ranges stealth is effective at, BVR missiles have already expended fuel and have extremely low Pk.
To make matters worse, EW countermeasure suite can be as effective as stealth in BVR, as demonstrated when EF-18 “Growler” defeated F22 in one-on-one BVR engagement, and when IAF MiG-21 equipped with jamming equipment managed to get to merge with F-15 in exercises.
While datalinks are touted as allowing one F22 to do the targeting and another to launch BVR missile, mid-flight update can only be done by platform that launched the missile – a safety measure preventing enemy from hacking into uplink and sending missile back to fighter that launched it.
Comparasion with other fighters
“Fifth generation fighter” label has been coined as PR trick by Lockheed Martin. In fact, Lockheed Martin officials claim that fifth-generation fighter should have ALL following characteristics to qualify:
- supersonic performance focus
- extreme agility
- high-altitude ops
- missile load-out for fighter performance
- integrated sensor fusion
- net-enabled ops
F-22 has all except net-enabled ops, and Eurofighter Typhoon lacks only VLO. Dassault Rafale also lacks supersonic performance focus, however, its supersonic performance is very good.
Su-27 family of planes are large planes with even larger radomes – Russian radar manufacturer Phazotron is developing a Flanker-sized powerful radar – Zhuk ASE – which will outclass every single radar in US inventory except for that of F22.
However, IRST carried by Flankers is far greater problem, as explained in “counter-stealth” section.
Su27 family of planes are also very manouverable, despite their size.
In 1992, Su27 could see F22 from 15 kilometers. In 2000-2008, Flanker family’s radar performance has doubled – meaning that by 2016, Flankers should be able to detect F22 from distance of 45 kilometers.
As explained above, F15C is equal to slightly superior in regards to F22 in most basic characteristics: thrust-to-weight ratio, wing loading and fuel fraction. It is superior to F22 in rearward cockpit visibility, as well as fact that no gun doors and externally mounted missiles allow for split-of-second snap-shots critical for dogfight. Its similarity to F22 in dogfight was also acknowledged1 by its pilots to Everest Riccioni, retired USAF Colonel and member of Fighter Mafia.
F15 is also faster (Mach 2,5 vs Mach 2,2) and carries 940 rounds for its cannon, as opposed to 480 rounds for F22. Each F15 can also fly 1 sortie per day (USAF numbers, Israeli managed 3 – 5 sorties per day), as opposed to one sortie every 2-3 days for F22.
F16 costs 60 million USD in plane, and has operating cost of 4 600 USD per hour. Whereas 180 F22s can only generate 60 combat sorties per day, F16s bought for same cost can generate 1728 combat sorties per day (number of combat sorties = aircraft for equal cost x sortie rate; latter is 1,2 for F16 and 0,7 for F22) if we use unit procurement costs, or 900 combat sorties if we use unit flyaway costs. (It should be noted that these are USAF numbers – surge numbers for F16s in Israeli service are far greater – 7 – 9 sorties a day).
Original version of F16 would cost 30 million USD per plane, when adjusted for inflation. It also had better manouverability – while F22 weights almost 30 000 kg – even more, when latest fixes are counted – F16 weights bit over 18 000 kg. Original versions were half that weight.
Eurofighter Typhoon is another plane famous for its cost overruns. Currently, Tranche 2 Typhoon has unit procurement cost of 142 million USD per plane, and unit flyaway cost of 118 million USD per plane. Tranche 3’s costs are 199 million USD per plane unit procurement, and 122 million USD per plane flyaway cost. Its operating cost is 18 000 USD per hour.
Typhoon’s thrust-to-weight ratio is 1,14, while its wing loading is 312 kg/m2. F22s thrust-to-weight ratio is 1,09, while its wing loading is 375 kg/m2 (all figures for loaded aircraft). At 50% fuel, with 2 Sidewinders and 4 AMRAAM, Typhoon’s TWR will be 1,28 and wing loading 277 kg/m2; F22s values are 1,28 and 318,8 kg/m2. (weight 24 882,6 kg)
Also, both F22 and Eurofighter Typhoon have top speeds around Mach 2 (Mach 2 for Typhoon and Mach 2 – 2,2 for F22, as it has fixed inlet); F22 also can achieve Mach 1,5 while supercruising in AtA configuration, while Typhoon is limited to Mach 1,21 supercruise in AtA configuration (2 WVR, 4 BVR missiles + center drop tank). Clean-configured, numbers are Mach 1,7 for F22 and Mach 1,5 for EFT. Both can reach altitude above 50 000 ft (15 000 meters).
There are reports that Typhoons engaged and defeated F22s in a mock dogfights at China Lake; with Typhoon’s DASS suite allowing it to close range to F22 and enter a dogfight in which Typhoon was superior, due to its better manouverability – as all wins Typhoon had over F22 were by missiles, not by gun, dogfights were likely carried out at high subsonic speeds where F22s TVC is useless. Similar thing repeated itself at Farborough air show; however, Typhoons that fought with F22s at latter exercise were Luftwaffe ones, which were not equipped with IRST or HEA helmet which permits off-bore shots and thus had to point nose at F22 to get a “kill” (F22s themselves were not equipped with helmet mounted cueing system either). While some people claim that F22s were handicapped by pilots not having vests of their anti-G suits, that claim is untrue – order to remove vests due to oxygen problems came only a week after sorties between Typhoons and F22s were flown, with highly demanding maneuvers undoubtably used by F-22s when fighting Typhoons possibly highlighting problems with vests. As for Typhoons, while they were “slicked off as much as possible”, that probably means they did not have missiles or fuel tanks – Typhoon’s clean configuration is with 2 IR and 4 radar guided missiles.
In general, Typhoon has demonstrated better sustained and instanteneous turn rate than F22 at subsonic speeds. Addition of LERX has potential to improve its already excellent turn rates by 10%, and TVC, when added, will give additional boost to its low-speed maneuverability, as well as to its supersonic maneuverability. It will also allow aircraft to get itself out of stall. At supersonic speeds, both aircraft can pull up to 7 G.
Typhoon’s PIRATE IRST has shown ability to track stealth aircraft just by heat generated by stealth airplane’s skin friction (it tracked B2 stealth bomber at air shows from over 40 nm (74 km) (1) ). Maximum range is claimed (2) to be up to 150 kilometers (50 to 80 km for sure), which fits wth my calaculation of its range against tail-on subsonic targets in next paragraph. It also can identify targets at over 40 kilometers.
(Now for little calculation: Typhoon’s PIRATE can detect subsonic head on airborne targets from 90 kilometers. Russian OLS-35 can do the same from 50 kilometers (tail-on, range is 90 kilometers; so PIRATE’s range in such situation is probably ~160 km, although this is a guess). Su-35 can also detect missile launch from 93+ km, and Mach 4 AMRAAM from 83 km – meaning that Typhoon should be able to do it from 167+ and 149 kilometers, respectively. AMRAAM at Mach 4 requires 1 minute 50 seconds to cover that distance. Meanwhile, unclassified range for F22s radar has range of 200-240 km against 1m2 target, and AIM-120D AMRAAM has range of 180 km. As Typhoon’s frontal RCS is 0,25 – 0,75 m2, it means that F22 can detect it from 141 – 223 km. Of course, Typhoon’s RWR will detect any radar transmission from far longer range, and as jammers of same generation generally shave off 2/3rds of radar range, it means that F22 will not be able to lock on to Typhoon until it is at disrance of 47 – 74 km when clean, or 67 – 80 kilometers if Typhoon is in air-to-air configuration. F-22s RCS should be between 0,0001 and 0,0014 m2, which means Typhoon’s CAPTOR radar, which has reported range of 185 km against 1m2 target, should be able to detect it from 18 to 35 kilometers.)
Interesting to note is that F22 has 8 internal and 4 external hardpoints, which give it total of 12 hardpoints – same as much smaller Typhoon (Typhoon technically has 13 hardpoints, but center one is reserved for fuel tank). Standard air superiority outfit is 6 AMRAAM + 6 ASRAAM, as compared to F22s 6 AMRAAM and 2 ASRAAM.
Moreover, it is planned for Typhoon’s AESA radar to have ability to detect enemy aircraft completely passively, by relying on radio emitters from outside; that way, it can detect even stealth aircraft from large distance.
Dassault Rafale’s blended wing-fuselage design, relatively small size and light weight result in comparably low wing loading – even smaller than it can be calculated by simply dividing weight by wing area. Latter method results in wing loading of 306 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,1 at loaded weight. Its close-coupled canards also help it maintain lift at high angles of attack, as well as to create dynamic instability; however, its close-coupled canards improve maneuverability mostly at lower speeds and altitudes, similar to F22s thrust vectoring, meaning that it should have similar maneuverability to F22. (Rafale was also able to outmaneuver Typhoon at lower altitude, but higher up Typhoon had the advantage). At Al Dhafra, Rafale and F-22 fought six 1-vs-1 gun-only dogfights, which means that both Rafale’s close-coupled canards and F-22s TVC could be used to full effect due to slow speeds these engagements were likely fought at. Rafale won once, and remaining five engagements were draws. (4, last image. Both OSF and gun targeting data are clearly visible in upper set of photos, showing that Rafale was in position for a gun shot against F-22.)
Rafale is also capable of supercruise, and its relatively high fuel fraction in most versions (0,33 for C, 0,32 for B and 0,32 for M) as opposed to low fuel fractions of F22 and Eurofighter Typhoon (0,29 Typhoon, 0,28 F22) allow for greater persistence and range.
Rafale M costs 90,5 million USD flyaway, 145,7 million USD unit program cost. Operating cost is 16 500 USD per hour.
Stealth versus classical radar
Su-27s radar performance has doubled over past 8 years, and by 2020 Flanker family radars will be able to detect VLO targets at over 46 kilometers. Also, US stealth planes fly mission with same radar jamming escorts that accompany legacy platforms.
During the Gulf War, the British Royal Navy infuriated the Pentagon by announcing that it had detected F-117 stealth fighters from 40 miles away with 1960s-era radar. The Iraqis used antiquated French groud radars during that conflict, and they, too, claimed to have detected F-117s. The General Accounting Office, Congress’ watchdog agency, tried to verify the Iraqi claim, but the Pentagon refused to turn over relevant data to GAO investigators.
Also, even modern VLO planes have to operate alongside jamming planes, such as EA-6B or EA-18, when performing ground attack, confirming that even legacy radars are far from useless against VLO planes.
Main way to reduce plane’s radar signature is shaping – stealth coating simply deals with last few percetages. Which means that F22 is going to blow its radar stealth as soon as it maneuvers, and it is physically impossible for airplane to present its reduced nose-on or side-on RCS to all radars.
Moreover, target RCS is determined by 1) power transmitted in direction of target, 2) amount of power that impacts the target and is reflected back, 3) amount of reflected power intercepted by radar antenna, and 4) lenght of time radar is pointed at target. While normal procedure was to slave IR sensor to radar, advent of IRST makes it possible to slave radar to it.
That is not only solution. In a series of tests at Edwards AFB in 2009, Lockheed Martin’s CATbird avionics testbed – a Boeing 737 that carries the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s entire avionics system – engaged a mixed force of F-22s and F-15s and was able to locate and jam F-22 radars, according to researchers. Raytheon X-band airborne AESA radar – in particular, those on upgraded F-15Cs stationed in Okinawa – can detect small, low-signature cruise missiles.
While VLO planes are optimized to defeat S- and X- -band radars, VHF radars offer a good counter-stealth characteristics.
Simply put, RCS varies with the wavelenght beacouse wavelength is one of inputs that determines RCS area.
VHF radars have wavelengths in 1-3 meter range, meaning that key shapings of 19-meter-long, 13,5-meter-wide F22 are in heart of either resonance or Rayleigh scattering region.
Rayleigh scattering regios is region where wavelength is larger than shaping features of target or target itself. In that region, only thing that matters for RCS is actual physical size of target itself.
Resonance occurs where shaping features are comparable in wavelength to radar, resulting in induced electrical charges over the skin of target, vastly increasing RCS.
However, their low resolution and resultant large size means they are limited to ground-based systems.
Russians and Chinese already have VHF radars, with resolution that may be good enough to send mid-flight update to SAMs. Also, it is physically impossible to design fighters that will be VLO in regards to both low power, high-frequency fighter radars, and high-power, low-frequency ground-based radars. Such radars can, according to some claims, detect fighter-sized VLO targets from distance of up to 330 kilometers (against bombers like B2, their performance will be worse, but such planes have their own shortcomings – namely, IR signature and sheer size). Manufacturers of Vostok E claim detection range against F117 as being 352 km in unjammed and 74 km in jammed environment.
Also, RAM coatings used in many stealth planes are physically limited in their ability to absorb electromagnetic energy; one of ways RCS reduction is achieved is active cancellation – as signal reaches surface of RAM, part of it is deflected back; other part will be refracted into airframe, and then deflected from it in exact opposite phase of first half, and signals will cancel each other on way back. However, thickness of RAM coating must be exactly half of radar’s frequency, meaning that it does not work against VHF radar for obvious reasons – no fighter plane in world can have skin over half a meter thick.
There is one detail that apparently confirms this: in 1991, there was a deep penetrating raid directed at destruction of VHF radar near Bagdad; radar, which may have alerted Saddam at first wave of stealth bombers approaching capital. Before US stealth bombers started flying missions, radar was destroyed in a special mission by helicopters. Also, during fighting in Kosovo, Yugoslav anti-air gunners downed F117 with Russian anti-air missile whose technology dates back to 1964, simply by operating radar at unusually long wavelengths, allowing it to guide missile close enough to aircraft so as to allow missile’s IR targeting system to take over. Another F117 was hit and damaged same way, never to fly again.
These radars, being agile frequency-hopping designs, are very hard to jam; however, bandwidth avaliable is still limited.
Also, while bombers like B2 may be able to accomodate complex absorbent structures, it is not so with fighters, which are simply too small.
Another benefit is power – while capacity of all radars for detecting VLO objects increases with greater raw output, it is easier to increase output of VHF radars.
It is also possible for VHF radar to track vortexes, wake and engine exhaust created by stealth planes.
Another advantage of low-frequency radars is the fact that they present poor target for anti-radiation weapons, making them harder to destory. Moreover, new VHF radars are mobile – Nebo SVU can stow or deploy in 45 minutes, while new Vostok-E can do it in eight minutes.
All Su-27 variants, as well as most modern Western fighters, carry IRST as a part of their sensory suite. Russian OLS-35 is capable of tracking typical non-afterburning fighter target from head-on distance of 50 km, 90 km tail-on, with azimuth coverage of +-90 degrees, and +60/-15 degree elevation coverage.
Fighter supercruising at Mach 1,7 generates shock cone with stagnation temperature of 87 degrees Celzius, which will increase detection range to 55 km head-on. Not only that, but AMRAAM launch has large, unique thermal signature, which should allow detection of F22 and missile launch warning up to 93+ kilometers, while AMRAAM moving at Mach 4 could be detected at up to 83 kilometers. Modern IRSTs are sensitive enough to detect missile release from its nose cone heating.
Integrating Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector technology greatly increases performance – Eurofighter Typhoon already has one with unclassified detection range for subsonic head-on airborne targets of 90 kilometers (with real range being potentially far greater).
Infrared imaging systems (like Typhoon’s or Rafale’s) provide TV-like image of area being scanned, which translates into inherent ability to reject most false targets. Also, while older IRST systems had to be guided by the radar, newer ones can do initial detection themselves. Given that stealth planes themselves rely on passive detection in evading targets, using passive means in detecting them is logical response for fighter aircraft. Missiles themselves can use infrared imaging technology, locking on targets of appropriate shape.
While there are materials that can supress IR signature of a plane, most of these are highly reflective in regards to radar waves, thus making them unusable for stealth planes, and other ways of reducing IR signature are not very effective. Moreover, these systems do not adress fact that air around aircraft is heating up too – whereas, as mentioned, shock cone created by supercruising aircraft is up to 87 degrees Celzius hot, air temperature outside is between 30 and 60 degrees Celzius below zero.
Moreover, Russian Flankers use IRST together with laser rangefinder to provide gun firing solution – althought that is redundant, considering that any modern radar can achieve lock on F22 at gun-fighting ranges. Historically, Soviet MiG-25s have been able to lock on SR-71 Blackbird from ranges of over 100 kilometers by using IRST. Fortunately, order to attack was never given.
IRST can also provide speed of target via Doppler shift detection – IR sensors used in astronomy can detect velocity of star down to 1 meter per second, whereas fighter travelling at Mach 1,1 moves at 374 meters per second. Laser ranger can also be used to determine range to target.
Passive radar does not send out signals, but only receive them. As such, it can use stealth plane’s own radar to detect it, as well as its IFF, uplink and/or any radio traffic sent out by the plane.
Also, it can (like Czech VERA-E) use radar, television, cellphone and other avaliable signals of opportunity reflected off stealth craft to detect them. Since such signals are usually coming from all directions (except from above), stealth plane cannot control its position to present smallest return. EM noise in such bands is extensive enough for plane to leave a “hole” in data.
However, simply analyzing and storing such amount of data would require extreme processing power as well as memory size, and it is prone to false alarms. It is also very short-range system, due to amount of noise patterns being required to detect, map and store.
Similar in principle to passive radar, two RWR-equipped aircraft could use uplink to share data and triangulate position of radiating enemy aircraft.
Infrared doppler LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging; doppler LIDAR senses doppler shift in frequency) may be able to detect high altitude wake vortices of stealth aircraft. While atmospheric aerosoils are not sufficient for technique to work, exhaust particles as well as contrail ice particles improve detectability to point that aircraft may be detected from range well beyond 100 km; exhaust particles themselves allow for detection of up to 80 km.
Wake vortices are byproduct of generating lift, and are, as such, impossible to eliminate – aircraft wing uses more curved upper and less curved or straight lower surface to generate differences in speed between two airflows. As result, upper airflow is faster and as such generates lower pressure when compared to airflow below the wing, generating lift. That, however, has result of creating vortices behind the trailing edge of the wing.
In that mode, radar does not look for stealth plane itself; instead it looks for background behind stealth plane, in which case sensory return leaves a “hole” in data. However, that requires radar to be space-based; or, if stealth plane is forced to fly at very low altitude due to defence net, radar can be airborne too.
Another possibility is using surface-based radio installations to scan the sky at high apertures and with high sensitivity, such as with radio telescopes.
As it is known to radio-astronomers, radio signals reach surface uninterrupted even in daytime or bad weather; and since map of stars is well known, it can be assumed that any star not radiating is eclipsed by an object, such as stealth plane. And as with very snsitive radio-astronomical equipment, every part of sky is observed as being covered with stars. It is also doable by less sensitive detecting equipment, simply by serching for changes in intensity of stars.
Over-the-horizon radars invariably operate in HF band, with frequencies around 10 Mhz and wavelengths of 30 meters, beacouse it is band in which atmospheric reflection is possible. Also, at that point, target will create some kind of resonance and shaping will be largely irrelevant, as will be RAM coating, as explained above.
However, lowering frequency of radar means that size of radar aperture has to grow in proportion to radar wavelength to maintain narrow beam and adequate resolution; other problem is that these bands are already filled with communications traffic, meaning that such radars are usually found in early-warning role over the sea.
Such systems are already in use by US, Australia (Jindalee), Russia and China.
Bistatic / multistatic radar
Since VLO characteristics are achieved primarly by shaping airframe to deflect radar waves in other direction than one they came from, and thus make it useless to classic systems. However, such signal can be picked by receiver in another position, and location of plane can be triangulated.
While every radar pulse must be uniquely identifiable, that feature is already present in modern Doppler pulse radars. What is more difficult is turning data into accurate position estimate, since radar return may arrive to transmitter from variety of directions, due to anomalous atmospheric propagation, signal distortion due to interference etc.
Planes are noisy, engines in particular but also airflow over surface. In former case, bafflers are added, while in latter, noise is reduced by shaping plane so as to be more streamlined. However, internal weapons bays, when opened, create a great amount of noise.
Ultra-wide band radar
UWB radar works by transmitting several wavelengths at once, in short pulses. However, there are problems: 1) it is more effective to transmit power in one pulse, 2) UWB antenna must work over factor of ten or more in wavelength, 3) it would offer numerous false clutter targets. In short, if, for example, UH frequency and VH frequency were used, such radar would combine UHF’s and VHF’s advantages AND disadvantages.
Also, it is very hard to make RAM that would be effective against multiple frequencies.
Cell phone network
Telephone calls between mobile phone masts can detect stealth planes with ease; mobile telephone calls bouncing between base stations produce a screen of radiation. When the aircraft fly through this screen they disrupt the phase pattern of the signals. The Roke Manor system uses receivers, shaped like television aerials, to detect distortions in the signals.
A network of aerials large enough to cover a battlefield can be packed in a Land Rover.
Using a laptop connected to the receiver network, soldiers on the ground can calculate the position of stealth aircraft with an accuracy of 10 metres with the aid of the GPS satellite navigation system.
IR illumination – famed “black light” of World War 2, used in Do 17Z-10 and Bf 110D-1/U1 night fighters – works on exact same principles as radar, with only difference being EM radiation’s wavelenght, which is in IR range.
Since it is active technique, it also betrays location of emitter, and thus cannot be relied on for regular use by combat aircraft – althought it can be fitted instead of radar – but can be used by air defense networks.
Detecting LPI radar
F22s radar uses frequency hopping to counter radar recievers. However, it can only use relatively low spread of frequencies, and can be detected by using spread-spectrum technology in RWRs.
Another way to hide radar signal is to include spread-spectrum technology; it is intended to reduce signature of radar signal and blend it into background noise. However, such radar still emits a signal that is 1 million to 10 million times greater than real-world background noise, and each component of radar signal must be thousands of times stronger than background noise of same frequency in order for radar to work. It is relatively simple to build spread-spectrum passive receiver that can detect such radar at distance four times greater than radar’s own detection range.
There are other ways of making radar LPI: 1) make a signal so weak that RWR cannot detect it, and increase processing power, 2) narrow the radar beam and 3) have radar with far higher processing gain than RWR. Option one is impractical for already mentioned reasons – radar must be far stronger than background noise. Option two does not affect target being “painted”, and option 3 is only viable for few years.
F22 proponents use exercises in which numerically inferior F22 force swept skies clear of enemy fighters as a proof of its supposed effectiveness. However, exercises are preplanned, unrealistical and designed to play at F22s strengths while ignoring its weaknesses as well as reality of air combat.
What is missing from claims of F22s superiority could fill a Bible. First, exercises assume fighters charging head-on at each other with identities clearly known, like medieval knights; then, F22s use their radars to detect adversary aircarft – which are not equipped with modern radars or any radar detectors – and launch computerized missiles which rarely miss. Second, all kills were made from beyond visual range, with positive identification of “enemy” aircraft.
Adversaries, meanwhile, were simulating very simple OPFOR tactics (“Damn the AMRAAM, full speed ahead!”), equal fleet costs and fleet readiness were not represented in fights. Forgotten is the possibility of assymetric response – such as IRST, anti-radiation missiles or radar warning devices, all of them very basic measures that most potential opponents F22 might be used against have. Forgotten is unreliability of BVR missile shots. Forgotten is unreliability of BVR identification – utterly impossible if forces shut down IFF (which they do, so as not to be tracked).
That was also shown by ATF predecessor of F22 – whereas, at first, stealthy ATFs were very successful, very soon adversary (“red”) pilots created tactics which allowed them to use their numbers to unmask stealth planes. To supress Red Force’s unanticipated and undesirable mounting successes, Air Force altered exercises until tests lost all semblance to reality. Successful adversary tactics and undesirable results went unrecorded, and were not reported to superiors; by virtue of “script”, ATF – and therefore F22 – survived.
While F14D Tomcat was equipped with primitive IRST, later replaced by more modern IRST-TSC set, it never participated in exercises against ATF or F22.
There are many alternatives to procuring F22 until a replacement can be designed and put into service. One is restarting production of F15C. Other possibilities include buying Dassault Rafale or Eurofighter Typhoon.
F22s maximum achieved production rate of 36 per year and high cost mean that it would take 7 years and 63,5 billion USD to replace all F15s (254) in service (currently there are 195 F22s built for 80,145 billion USD, 187 operational; replacing F15s would bring number to 441, 60 more than USAF stated minimum requirement. Actual requirement of 762 planes would bring cost to 290 million USD per plane, and total cost to 221,4 billion USD). USAF also has to acquire at least additional 1500 combat planes, which would, with F22, take 42 years and 375 billion USD.
F16 would give 1500 planes for 90 billion USD, within 9 years, and as such would be excellent stopgap measure until a new, non-stealthy, super-agile dogfighter could be designed.
While F35 is touted by USAF as good way to increase numbers, that is not true – first, F35 is a ground attack plane, not a fighter; second, with unit flyaway cost of 207 million USD and unit procurement cost of 305 million USD, it simply cannot give sufficient numbers without dealing death blow to already fragile US economy.
When USAF chief of staff was aked wether he really believes claims he makes about F22, answer was “I express opinions about F22 that I am told to express.”.
All of the above means that:
- F22 cannot get a jump at enemy – at WVR, it will get detected by IRST or visually; at BVR, either plane or missile launch/missile itself will get detected by IRST; and since it has to radiate to find targets, it is at disadvantage in radar area of detection too. It is based at wrong premises and cannot be relied on to secure air superiority, air supremacy, or even air dominance
- When ambushing enemy fails, it will be forced into close-in, manouvering dogfight, and killed
- F22 is too costly to operate in numbers large enough to win air war. Thus, converting it to fighter-bomber and using it to attack advanced SAMs that are proliferating would be far smarter move, until VHF radars become advanced and numerous enough to completely deny it aerospace
- F22 can be easily countered by combining VHF radars and IRST-equipped fighters; with radars handling first detection and then guiding fighters close enough to VLO target for their IRST to acquire it.
F22, is, therefore, literal silver bullet – extremely expensive and less effective than ordinary lead bullet. As can be seen, loyalty to the F22 that some people show does not hold under scrunity – most likely, it is simply emotional attachement to overly hyped and quite sexy airplane. But even Fallen Madonna with Big Boobies that Lt. Gruber obsessed about cannot win a battle, much less war.
RCS size vs detection range
Target – RCS size in m2 – relative detection range
Aircraft carrier – 100 000 – 1778
Cruiser – 10 000 – 1000
Large airliner or automobile – 100 – 1000
Medium airliner or bomber – 40 – 251
Large fighter – 6 – 157
Small fighter – 2 – 119
Man – 1 – 100
Conventional cruise missile – 0,5 – 84
Large bird – 0,05 – 47
Large insect – 0,001 – 18
Small bird – 0,00001 – 6
Small insect – 0,000001 – 3
Effective range is calculated by formula (RCS1/RCS2) = (R1/R2)^4, where RCS = radar cross section, while R=range.
RAM coatings can be dielectric or magnetic. Dielectric works by addition of carbon products which change electric properties, and is bulky and fragile, while magnetic one uses iron ferrites which dissipate and absorb radar waves, and are good against UHF radars.
One of most known RAM coatings is iron ball paint, which contains tiny spheres coated with carbonyl iron or ferrite. Radar waves induce molecular oscillations from the alternating magnetic field in this paint, which leads to conversion of the radar energy into heat.
The heat is then transferred to the aircraft and dissipated.
A related type of RAM consists of neoprene polymer sheets with ferrite grains or carbon black particles (containing about 30% of crystalline graphite) embedded in the polymer matrix. The tiles were used on early versions of the F-117A Nighthawk, although more recent models use painted RAM. The painting of the F-117 is done by industrial robots with the plane covered in tiles glued to the fuselage and the remaining gaps filled with iron ball paint. The United States Air Force introduced a radar absorbent paint made from both ferrofluidic and non-magnetic substances. By reducing the reflection of electromagnetic waves, this material helps to reduce the visibility of RAM painted aircraft on radar.
Foam absorber typically consists of fireproofed urethane foam loaded with carbon black, and cut into long pyramids. The length from base to tip of the pyramid structure is chosen based on the lowest expected frequency and the amount of absorption required. For low frequency damping, this distance is often 24 inches, while high frequency panels are as short as 3-4 inches. Panels of RAM are installed with the tips pointing inward to the chamber. Pyramidal RAM attenuates signal by two effects: scattering and absorption. Scattering can occur both coherently, when reflected waves are in-phase but directed away from the receiver, and incoherently where waves are picked up by the receiver but are out of phase and thus have lower signal strength. This incoherent scattering also occurs within the foam structure, with the suspended carbon particles promoting destructive interference. Internal scattering can result in as much as 10dB of attenuation. Meanwhile, the pyramid shapes are cut at angles that maximize the number of bounces a wave makes within the structure. With each bounce, the wave loses energy to the foam material and thus exits with lower signal strength. Other foam absorbers are available in flat sheets, using an increasing gradient of carbon loadings in different layers.
A Jaumann absorber or Jaumann layer is a radar absorbent device. When first introduced in 1943, the Jaumann layer consisted of two equally-spaced reflective surfaces and a conductive ground plane. One can think of it as a generalized, multi-layered Salisbury screen as the principles are similar.
Being a resonant absorber (i.e. it uses wave interfering to cancel the reflected wave), the Jaumann layer is dependent upon the λ/4 spacing between the first reflective surface and the ground plane and between the two reflective surfaces (a total of λ/4 + λ/4).
Because the wave can resonate at two frequencies, the Jaumann layer produces two absorption maxima across a band of wavelengths (if using the two layers configuration). These absorbers must have all of the layers parallel to each other and the ground plane that they conceal.
More elaborate Jaumann absorbers use series of dielectric surfaces that separate conductive sheets. The conductivity of those sheets increases with proximity to the ground plane.
Iron ball paint has been used in coating the SR-71 Blackbird and F-117 Nighthawk, its active molecule is made up by an iron atom surrounded by five carbon monoxide molecules.
Iron ball paint (paint based on iron carbonyl) a type of paint used for stealth surface coating.
The paint absorbs RF energy in the particular wavelength used by primary RADAR.
Chemical formula: C5FeO5 / Fe (CO)5
Molecular mass: 195.9 g/mol
Apparent density: 76.87 g/cmc
Molecular structure: An Iron atom surrounded by 5 carbon monoxide structures (it takes a balllike
shape, hence the name)
Melting point: 1536° C
Hardness: 82-100 HB
It is obtained by carbonyl decomposition process and may have traces of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. The substance (iron carbonyl) is also used as a catalyst and in medicine as an iron supplement however it is toxic. The painting of the F-117 is done by industrial robots however the F-117 is covered in tiles glued to the fuselage and the remaining gaps filled with iron ball paint. This type of coating converts the radar wave energy into heat (by molecular oscillations), the heat is then transferred to the aircraft and dissipated.
Ideal fighter plane
Ideal fighter plane should be a small, cheap, single-seat single-engine plane. It should have a limited RCS reduction – as much as can be achieved without sacrificing performance or increasing cost too much (no RAM), no active sensors, good visibility and excellent manouverability, and should rely on IR missiles as its main air-to-air weapon.
In real world – we don’t live in Lockheed Martin’s fantasy world, after all – raids at airfields are always a danger – even when you have air superiority. Now, with long-range cruise missiles, more than ever. This means that plane must be capable of flying from hastily-prepared and hastily-repaired airfields, as well as using underground bases and underground runaways.
- http://www.bmlv.gv.at/truppendienst/ausgaben/artikel.php?id=807(by Google Chrome translate software)
Saab Gripen Analysis
Eurofighter Typhoon analysis
Dassault Rafale analysis
Value of stealth aircraft
Is the F-22 really superior to all other fighter aircraft
F-22 fact spinning on USAF website