What we learned about stealth technology from the combat career of the F-117.
- By Bill Sweetman
- Air & Space magazine, January 2008
Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald/USAF
(Page 8 of 10)
Another F-117 mission was carried out when the rules of engagement demanded that harm to surrounding people and buildings be kept to an absolute minimum. The F-117, with its ability to deliver a 2,000-pound warhead with precision, could also hit tougher targets and sturdier bunkers than any missile.
One of the 1990s avionics upgrades had included time-over-target control, or four-dimensional navigation. If the requirement was to have the bomb go off at a precise moment, the F-117 could do it.
But the final blow against the future of the F-117 was dealt by expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Struggling to maintain its budgets and protect pet projects like the F-22, the Air Force has targeted older aircraft like B-52s, U-2 spy airplanes, and F-117s for retirement.
In 2006, the Air Force announced that the Nighthawk would be gone by 2008. New Mexico’s Congressional delegation complained briefly, but was placated with the promise of an F-22 wing at Holloman. This time, the F-117 could not hide from its foes.
Compared head-on, the F-117A and the F-22 don’t look very similar. But turn one picture upside down and the relationship is suddenly very clear.
Lockheed’s original Advanced Tactical Fighter design was very closely based on the F-117—or, to be more exact, what a second-generation F-117 might have been, with curved wing and tail surfaces, rounded edges, and new, lighter radar-absorbing materials. In turn, Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II, intended to be the linchpin of both U.S. and allied fighter forces for much of this century, is clearly a cousin of the F-22. These designs reflect a philosophy that remains unique to the Air Force: that a fighter should be designed primarily around stealth.
The U.S. Navy and European air forces have elected to build fighters (the Boeing Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, and the Eurofighter Typhoon) that use stealth technology to render hostile radars less effective, but are basically conventional, with weapon carriages and electronic jamming systems located outside the aircraft.