Stealth technology is an American invention, and thanks to choosing the right R&D strategy, the United States has gone further than any other country in this field. However, Russia and China are not to be outdone, so the list of hardest-to-detect fighter jets does not include only American aircraft.
Making a fighter jet difficult to detect is a difficult problem. After all, the main characteristic of fighter jets is their high speed. Using the afterburner can achieve significant acceleration and maneuverability.
The F-117 Nighthawk
However, once the fighter pilot turns on the afterburner, the aircraft is immediately exposed to the enemy ground and air radar threats. Arguably the earliest stealth fighter was the American attack aircraft, the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, which is now retired, but the F-117 was successful in many military conflicts from 1983 to 2008.
The aircraft was designed according to the flying-wing aerodynamic scheme, with a V-shaped tail grille. The straight lines of the wings, the flat fuselage, and the flat trapezoidal and triangular panels can reflect the electromagnetic waves of enemy radar well. This airframe concept is known as faceted.
The F-117 Nighthawk has no external hardpoints; its weapons are located inside the fuselage. Both flat trapezoidal and triangular panels are good at reflecting electromagnetic waves from enemy radars. This airframe concept is called faceted, without any protruding parts.
Superior static composite materials and coatings that absorb radio waves are widely used in aircraft design. Metal alloys only made up 10 percent of the F-117’s airframe. The upper part of the fuselage is covered with a material that absorbs radar waves. The bottom panel is finished with heat-absorbing ceramic tiles to reduce visibility in the infrared range.
The F-117 Nighthawk has no aerial radar, theoretically making it vulnerable to enemy fighter interceptors. The second disadvantage is its subsonic speed, which means that the F-117 cannot survive if detected.
However, America’s first stealth fighter always showed its virtues. The F-177 Nighthawks logged approximately 220,000 flight hours in all operations, with seven aircraft lost. That’s only ten percent of the total F-117 fleet. Only one of them was shot down by an enemy missile.
The rest crashed either for technical reasons or a pilot error. On March 27, 1999, during the Kosovo war, an F-117 was shot down by a missile fired by the S-125 Neiva air defense missile system.
Yugoslav anti-aircraft gunners noticed Nighthawks flying along the same route simultaneously. The air defense system was only on for a few minutes, which was enough to locate and lock on to the target at the desired location.
Luckily, the pilot managed to survive a direct hit from a rocket launch. Despite such accidents, the military career of the F-117 Nighthawk can be considered a success. The F-117 became a more popular American brand than Cadillac or Coca-Cola for a while. F-117 operations are scheduled to extend into 2018.
As I said before, it is not just the United States that has been working hard. The Russian Aerospace Forces believe that its stealth fighter is the least detectable fighter. The performance of the Russian fighter is significantly greater than that of the US f-35 Lightning 2.
According to tradition, the Su-57 has incredible speed and maneuverability, a family trait shared by Sukhoi aircraft of all classes. The Su-57 has a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.97, which is 50 greater than the f-35.
The Russians see their fighter as a direct competitor to the f-22, but unlike the American aircraft, the Russian Su-57 has only existed in one war so far, and the combat use of the Su-57 has significant limitations that have yet to be discovered. It was seen over Syria, but the Su-57 did not take part in combat operations for fear of losing their only 5th generation of fighters.
The main disadvantage of the Su-57 is considered to be the lack of stealth, which is well known, but the Su-57 is the best stealth fighter for the Russian Aerospace Forces. But Russia has little experience with stealth technology, and the development of modern materials and electronics is hampered by current sanctions related to its aggression against Ukraine.
According to Chinese experts, the fifth generation of the Chinese fighter Chengdu J-20 is more successful in its technological development.
The J-20 is equipped with Russian al -31f engines mounted on the s-27 and its offshoots, which means that the Chinese aircraft can be expected to have good speed and maneuverability.
But How stealthy is it? The extent of its stealth is not fully known outside of Russia, and no one has shared its stealth technology with China; however, cooperation between Russia and China in this field has been limited, and whether the J-20 has good stealth performance is still a question. An open question.