Unconventional Weapon

What we learned about stealth technology from the combat career of the F-117

Staff Sergeant Robin Walker (left) reports no foreign objects in the inlets to Staff Sergeant Greg Slavik piror to takeoff from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. (Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald/USAF)
Air & Space Magazine

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According to the program, new missile radars could “easily” detect stealth aircraft. Some of this may be posturing, but there is no doubt that radars have improved. For instance, it has long been theorized that radar could benefit from a “track before detect” technique, in which radars see targets so small they would normally be eliminated as noise.

The problem with this approach is that it requires looking at patterns in the noise over time, and there was simply not enough computer memory to do it. No longer: As computer memory increases, this tracking-before-detection capability becomes more robust.

It’s much too early to write the obituary for stealth technology, and every military aircraft under development today incorporates it to some extent. In that way, at least, the legacy of the F-117 will endure, since that airplane was the first to take stealth from the laboratory to the battleground. The Nighthawk fought the way it was designed—leading the way for the rest.


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