Stealth Technology in the Air Force

흥신소 Stealth technology is any military technology that makes vehicles and missiles invisible to radar detection. The first aircraft designed specifically with stealth in mind was the YF-12A Have Blue, built by Lockheed Martin.


Many people think of stealth as one technology, but it actually refers to a collection of overlapping technologies, design traits, materials, production methods, and combat tactics that reduce an aircraft’s radar (RCS), thermal, and acoustic signature.

The F-117 Nighthawk

The F-117 Nighthawk was the first operational fighter to use low-observable stealth technology. Its unique design and capabilities created a tectonic shift in combat aircraft design. Its minuscule radar signature allowed it to enter heavily defended enemy airspace undetected and strike high-threat targets with precision. It was retired from active service in 2008, but the Air Force Test Center continues to fly them for limited research purposes.

The Nighthawk was developed in 1975, when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency held a competition for new stealth technology. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ entry, Have Blue, won the competition and the contract that would lead to the F-117. The development process was kept secret, and the airplane went from concept to prototype in record time.

Despite being labeled as an attack aircraft, the Nighthawk was capable of carrying various kinds of ordnance. It could carry two 2,000-pound GBU27 laser-guided bombs in twin bomb bay compartments on trapeze racks that resembled wishbone automobile suspension members turned vertically. It also had the capability to carry AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-surface missiles.

Although it never carried onboard radar, the Nighthawk could feasibly operate infrared-guided weapons to engage Soviet airborne early warning and control aircraft (AWACs) in air-to-air combat. It wasn’t designed 흥신소 to do so, however, and operational pilots were never trained for that role.

The F-22

The F-22 Raptor is the most sophisticated stealth fighter in service. It entered service in 2005 to replace the F-15 and boasts a blend of stealth, speed and agility that has no match.

Its body is made of a combination of titanium alloys and composites, with special radar absorbent material incorporated in critical areas. Even its air intakes are hidden. The jet’s contours and zigzag edges are designed to break up radar returns and an overall coating reduces the aircraft’s infrared signature. Unlike previous stealth fighters, the F-22 doesn’t need special maintenance or protection from weather to retain its low radar cross section.

One of the most distinctive features on the aircraft is a pair of horizontal fins at the rear of the fuselage that help hide the jet engines and reduce the plane’s infrared signature. This helps the F-22 deceive heat-seeking missiles that track the heat of an airplane’s engines to find and target it.

Another trick the F-22 does is carry its missiles inside its body, rather than on external pylons like other fighters. This enables the plane to fly into heavily defended areas without risking the missiles’ exposure to enemy radars. It also means that the F-22 can be refueled and armed on the go, something that wouldn’t be possible with other fighters. The F-22 is also a testbed for new technologies that will be adopted on other platforms as part of the next-generation Air Force (NGAD) initiative.

The SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71 Blackbird was an incredible aircraft, even by today’s standards. It could fly at speeds of up to Mach 3.2 and reach altitudes of up to 85,000 feet. Even at these incredible speeds, the SR-71 was extremely maneuverable and could easily evade enemy fire. In fact, no Blackbird was ever shot down by enemy fire, though a high number were lost to accidents and other causes.

The Blackbird was designed to be a top-secret reconnaissance aircraft and it was the fastest jet in the world when it was first launched. It was a member of the “Black Projects” family of top-secret military projects, along with the A-12 and YF-12A prototypes that preceded it. These aircraft were developed under intense secrecy by Lockheed’s Skunk Works division, and all of the people involved in the project were under 24-hour surveillance by the CIA.

During the development of the Blackbird, the Skunk Works team made several attempts to reduce its radar cross section. They added a special paint that was formulated to absorb radar signals, radiate some of the aircraft’s internal heat, and act as camouflage against the dark sky at high altitudes.

The Air Force retired its fleet of SR-71s in 1990 due to budget cuts and the increasing ability of other technologies to perform the same kinds of missions that the Blackbird was capable of. It was also very expensive to operate and maintain.

The Tomahawk

A variant of the cruise missile used by a variety of military forces, the BGM-109 Tomahawk is designed to carry various types of warheads and strike land targets such as air defense and communications sites. It is also capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and delivering a second strike on a secondary target.

Unlike traditional aircraft, cruise missiles are not restricted by limited fuel supplies and can fly at low altitudes to avoid enemy radar systems. This means they can attack multiple targets and provide a much more effective strike than a single aircraft flying alone.

The Tomahawk’s onboard computer can be reprogrammed during flight to attack a new target if the commander receives fresh GPS coordinates, and the missile uses its onboard camera to transmit battle damage assessment data back to the command center. It can also loiter for a short time after its initial target, until it is given a new mission to complete.

The Tomahawk has been deployed in several conflicts, including the Gulf War of 1991, where it was launched from surface ships and submarines. It is also the main strike weapon for the UK’s fleet of nuclear-powered Astute-class submarines and was launched from those subs during the 2000s Afghanistan War and the Libyan Civil War. The Dutch Ministry of Defence in 2023 confirmed its plan to acquire 65 ship-launched and 60 submarine-launched Tomahawks to strengthen the country’s De Zeven Provincien-class (LCF) air defense and command frigates, as well as two of its four in-service Walrus-class submarines.