Has Radar Stealth Been Fatally Compromised?

F-35A in flight
Credit: Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie/U.S. Air Force

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Has radar stealth been fatally compromised? On page 52 of the July 27 print edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology, you show an F-35A with six external pylons and two laser-guided bombs. A following page shows two F-35As each carrying an AIM-9 on the left wing. We have been told that the next conflict could be with a “near-peer” nation with real air combat capability. So why then is the F-35 being flown as if its next opponent will have the air-to-air capabilities of the former Islamic State group?

Defense Editor Steve Trimble responds:

When minimizing radar cross-section (RCS) is not required for a mission, the F-35 can carry weapons externally. Not every mission requires minimizing the RCS profile. It is true that the F-35 would be unable to use AIM-9s in stealth mode, but it can carry four (and after 2023, six) Amraams internally on such missions.

Yes, AIM-120s are medium-range missiles. But, as the F/A-18E shoot-down of a Syrian Su-22 in 2018 showed, they are also capable of short-range intercepts—if necessary. The F-35 also has demonstrated the ability to employ laser-guided bombs from inside the weapons bay, so that is not an issue in stealth mode.

F-35 pilots have to train to be proficient in all potential air combat scenarios, which include operations against lightly defended or undefended targets.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.


1 Comment
Short answer: Not unless Maxwell's equations have been trashed.