Chinese Radar May Pierce F-35 Stealth Armor: Report

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Increasingly sophisticated radar in China and Russia may soon be able to pierce the stealth armor on F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, according to a news report.

The stealth coating on the U.S.-made fifth-generation fighters shields the aircraft from high-frequency radars operating in the Ku, X and C bands and some of the S band, but not from low-frequency systems utilizing L, UHF and VHF wavelengths, according to an article by Dave Majumdar at USNI News.

China and Russia are now working to develop low-frequency radars with more computing power designed to track stealth aircraft with more precision — enough to target them with a missile, according to the report, citing an unnamed former senior U.S. Navy official.

“Acquisition and fire control radars are starting to creep down the frequency spectrum,” the official told USNI News. “I don’t see how you long survive in the world of 2020 or 2030 when dealing with these systems if you don’t have the lower frequency coverage.”

To be sure, the Defense Department is aware of the increasing sophistication of enemy air defenses, known in military parlance as anti-access, area-denial, or A2-AD, environments.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report to Congress on military and security developments in China notes the country is continuing its military build-up and views defense against stealth aircraft and drones as “a growing priority.”

The People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, has long sought to control the flow of information in the event of war to thwart data-hungry adversaries such as the U.S. It considers the strategy of “information dominance” a critical form of defense against countries that it views as “information dependent,” according to previous assessments.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, sent an uninvited spy ship, probably the type 815 Dongdiao-class intelligence collection vessel Beijixing (pennant number 851), to this year’s Rim of the Pacific exercise, according to an article by Sam LaGrone of USNI News.

China is participating in the event — the world’s largest naval exercise, held off the coast of Hawaii — for the first time this year, with four vessels.

The head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel Locklear, this week described the presence of the surveillance ship as “a little odd,” though it “hasn’t created any difficulties in the exercise,” which ends Friday.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

45 Comments on "Chinese Radar May Pierce F-35 Stealth Armor: Report"

  1. This report is probably about 5 years late.

    But hey, late is better than never.

    It will shine some light on the incredibly ignorant and ill-informed defense magazine writers (more like BSers) across the country.

  2. Told many the Russians and Chinese have radars that make the much vaunted stealth fighter visible. Take the JSF w/o stealth its slower carries less and less maneuverable than the F-16 it was meant to replace. More of a reason we need to keep F-15s and F-22s who can be more maneuverable and can carry alot of missiles in service and cut this billion dollar mistake off.

  3. I view this as good news. Your forcing the two largest adversarial countries in the world to spend money on developing new systems to counter yours. In effect they're admitting that their current systems do not work against our current (arguable, I know) threats. The same systems which they've proliferated throughout the world to smaller adversaries. So while China and Russia will quickly (a few years) field a way to counter the F-35, it will be some time before smaller states can acquire similar systems. It's the natural cycle of defense development. No system goes unchallenged. Hell, even the SR-71 was being countered by the Soviets after a while.

  4. Hell, you'd think stealth was the first improvement in military technology to come along ever. The sword existed before the gun. Should we go back to swords because now we have tanks and you can't hurt a tank with a rifle?

  5. Low Frequency radars are notorious for emitting too much to hide. Any system with one will be jammed or shot at with HARMs. You might be able to see us, but we will see you too.

  6. LetsLobRob | July 31, 2014 at 2:12 pm |

    Back to the drawing board.

  7. Could it be that's why the US has invested in small super stealthy drones? To loiter waiting for the anti-stealth radars to turn on in order to take them out first? Nah, the defense establishment are all just big stupids.

  8. nick987654 | July 31, 2014 at 2:43 pm |

    Upgrading the F-35 airframe for more low-frequency stealth may eventually be a good idea for the future. Maybe it could be possible to turn it into a tailless delta with the latest advancements in aerodynamics.

    The new variant could be common for the AF and Navy (except for the landing gear and arresting hook), which would reduce production costs. It would probably be much faster than the F-35C, which is a good thing.

    That new variant could be put in production after the F-35B production has finished, say around 2028.

    If it were possible, around half of the F-35s produced would be more stealthy and faster ( especially with a variable cycle engine) for the long term. For around 5 billion in development it could be a good deal if it were possible.

  9. Problem:
    'Increasingly sophisticated radar in China and Russia may soon be able to pierce the stealth armor on F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, according to a news report."

    Our solution:
    "China is participating in the event — the world’s largest naval exercise, held off the coast of Hawaii — for the first time this year, with four vessels."

    The U.S. is naive if not ignorant of their intent. This is grade school logic.

  10. Can I ask a question? Forgive me for this but I am very stupid and ignorant, but please waste some of your precious time helping me. So why is it that if stealth technology is so overrated and easy to counter China and Russia are spending billion in building a stealth aircraft 20 years after F-22's first flight?

  11. When the Chinese downloaded all of the details of the F-35 I was worried something like this might happen.

  12. Here's a consideration, sheer power can over any stealth a/c.

    Land based radar system has the advantage of potentially unlimited power output. You throw enough power out there and you can get a return on anything, then you can simply disable it with microwave bursts.

  13. Countering stealth with long wavelength radars is a pipe dream. Here's why:

    UHF, VHF, and to a lesser extent, L band radars are better able to counter fighter shaped aircraft because they work at longer wavelengths. The intrinsic trade-off is that wavelength inversely proportional to frequency, so longer wavelength = lower frequency.

    When you go lower in frequency, you're on a direct collision course with Moore's law, because modern digital signal processing systems are so fast, that they can actually sample, fully deconvolute and actively cancel incoming radiowave via active means. This can effectively turn the aircraft invisible until it is so close to the radar that the reflected signal overwhelms the emitting power of the onboard EW systems.

    The X-band is not nearly as vulnerable because it's about 10-100x as fast but the VHF, UHF, and L bands are now comparatively slow compared to modern equipment.

    Of course, no one in the public knows if the F-35 or the F-22 actually have such systems on board, but the Rafale does have such a system, and it was designed in the 80s and 90s. Since then, technology has advanced, so if Rafale's systems can pose a challenge for radars, one could hardly imagine what modern systems can do.

    Stealth is not magical, but it is by no means easy to defeat. Not all elements of stealth are readily apparent from the shaping of the aircraft. Not all elements of stealth are passive. Those who say that EW is incompatible of being carried onboard stealth aircraft simply have ZERO understanding of EW. EW is ENHANCED by stealth.

    This is why both our adversaries and our allies are so desperate to develop stealth aircraft of their own. We would be fools to throw away our lead in this area.

  14. In a shooting war I wonder how long big fat stationary high power radars are gonna last? Like about 2 seconds would be my guess.

  15. I think one of the Scandinavian countries (Finland or Sweden) did it by having a "node" network of radars working together. Not bigger, stronger radars. Just a few lines of central computer code. This is nothing new.

    We should stop with the F-35, while we're behind(it will never be the modern F-4) and put this money into whoever Kelly Johnson's modern day counterpart is an keep it in the black (as best as possible).

  16. Real or Fake story?

    F-22 shot down by China's J-10 and both sides have kept tight lips over the incident. Pictures of the F-22 wreckage allegedly appeared on Chinese websites but were promptly removed, allegedly by internet monitors.

    The English is barely readable. No idea about the author and the translator. FWIW.

    http://armies.blogspot.nl/2013/03/f-10-shot-down-

  17. They may be able to detect them but low frequency radar looks at a very small piece of sky and it is nearly impossible to get it to work with a fire control system. Oh and it picks up tones of clutter on the radar scope. So we should be good right now.

  18. captain obvious | July 31, 2014 at 11:01 pm |

    Do you all understand the course of war? You arent sending in a shit ton of JSF, bombers, and escorts on day 1 to go up against a fully functioning air defense system. Who gives a shit about what radars they have, it’ll be the primitive radars that are more easily hidden that will get chip shots on the jets. Just like during the Persian Gulf. Those S300 & S400 systems can detect stealth but not when they are risking being picked up by SIGINT and a rain of JSOW and HARMS is coming down to piss them off. Not to mention state of the art jamming technology that isnt released yet until that zero hour comes. Do you think we are ever going to show our ace in the hole when the time isnt right for it? Why display a technology so the enemy can start countering it? You all may fail to understand that this is also a public display to get arm chair commanders in debates about things will be irrelevant if we were ever to get into a conflict with china or russia.

  19. Chinese Radar May Pierce F-35 Stealth Armor: In other news. F-35 Stealth Armor might defeat Chinese Radar. Stay tuned for more provocative headlines.

  20. I know quite a bit about Radar so let me boil this down for you. We are making our aircraft harder to spot. The Chines are putting on coke bottle glasses and trying to spot us anyway. Don't expect this contest to stop anytime soon.

  21. The know-it-all comments following this article mostly seem to assume that Russia and China will eventually want to make war on the US. This is paranoia (and a trap set by defense-spending promoters). China, for ex., has one–yes, one–aircraft carrier, and that is a cast-off one bought used from France.

  22. Having a huge highly advanced Radar emplacement that MIGHT get a fix on F35 isnt really much good. Because you need to get that into the missle too. Otherwise your standard missle will just not see the plane and well… miss.

    LO ( low observability ) makes everything more difficult for an adversary on every level. It is not and never has been about some fictional 100% invisibility.

    But making it just that more difficult to get a lock and for any weapon to reliably hit. Whilst our weapons will lock and hit every time will make the ultimate difference.

  23. THIS is why you don't get rid of your EW assets. The Marines plan on dumping the Prowler by 2019 and replacing the majority of their aircraft with F-35s which by the time they REALLY show up will most likely already be vulnerable. So you'll have spent over $300 Million a copy to have fewer aircraft on the flight line that wind up being just as vulnerable to SAMs as the AV-8s and F/A-18s they replaced but now you won't have any aircraft to provide them electronic coverage. And SOMEONE in leadership thinks this is a smart idea.

  24. The point of the story is to say that stealth is effective against current air defense radar bands, but can be detected with lower frequencies. The WWII radars started at the lower frequencies, but had range problems. The indicates that stealth will still be a valuable asset even if it can be detected at some range (giving the enemy air defenses alot less time to react). The sophistication of air defenses will give rise to strike drones to deal with them prior to any manned aircraft entering the area.

  25. Anyone who thinks that stealth is the main asset of the F-35 is mistaken in my opinion. It's AESA is it's main asset, not just as a detection tool but also for ESM, ECM, and electronic attack … stealth only helps it do its job better by being harder to detect by radar, not invisible. It means that the opponents radar is going to have to work a lot harder, making it easier to destroy, damage, manipulate, or disable that radar.

  26. We've known for decades that stealth is weak against low frequency radars and that Russia/China/North Korea/etc have always been running low frequency radars. This is decades old news.

    The F-35 and F-22 aren't "stealth" they are low observable and more difficult to spot, but they can be spotted.

  27. We need to get to work on a jet so stealthy the Chinese can not download all of the design files.

  28. Michael Shatto | August 1, 2014 at 1:45 pm |

    ….
    Easy if you can get the specifications off the internet or hack the manufacturer's and Pentagon computers for it.
    Of course, the conspiracy crowd think this is "Military-Industrial Complex" propaganda to get funding for the next generation of stealth airplanes.

  29. Oh yeah! It was going to stop radar insignia, and the costs were going to be well worth it, they said. What a big waste!

  30. This is what happens when it takes 20+ years to field a new weapon. Gives them plenty of time to come up with a counter to it.

  31. The low frequency transmitters are located hundreds of miles away from targets. The low frequency radar receivers are located near the target. The materials and coatings of stealth cannot easily deflect or absorb the low frequency signals. On the other hand, these low frequency radar transmitters use extremely high power and large antennas — a radar transmitter unit would be large and not easy to hide.

  32. Trillions spent on this F-35 turkey and the designers missed this one?? Now the AF wants the Millennium Falcon as their next aircraft!! These guys need to fight the next war tomorrow, not in 10 years!!

  33. It clear that the F-35 will not be an internationally competitive aircraft. But that doesn't matter. As the US moves into its post superpower role its military doesn't need to be internationally competitive anymore.

    Contractors have adjusted to this fact by realizing that the competitor to the F-35 is not the euro-fighter the T-50 the Su-35 or the J-20 its the super hornet and the F-15.

  34. Most likely the US itself was the one who fed this countries how to track their stealth features. In a first place whom they are doing their stealth business? Don't be cheap!!!.. Those classified information should ONLY be done here inside USA and for exclusivity.
    Any product once it was sent to China for manufacturing – that's it!!! DONE DEAL.

  35. Czech Republic has "radar", able to pierce any stealth airplane since late 80ties. It was called "TAMARA" and it was a passive receiver – i.e. cannot be hit by anti-radar missile. Now the third generation is available. Unfortunately nobody from NATO or DARPA had interest. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VERA_passive_sensor

  36. I'd like to stop the 'HARM can deal with it' assumptions here.
    AFAIK:

    AGM-88 HARM is reputed to cover 0.5-20 GHz. 0.5 GHz ~ 1.5 mm up to 60 cm

    In other words; HARM could not engage the English Chain Home radar stations of 1940 Battle of Britain fame (12 m wavelength) or Germany's counterpart, the Seetakt radar (81 cm wavelength).

    Such extremely long wavelengths allow detection of LO/VLO aircraft, and this is the reason why A-12 and some other 'stealth' aircraft designs used a flying wing delta (trianguar) layout; maximization of the wavelength to which the design is susceptible.

    The long wavelengths also make it difficult to use small receiver or transmitter antennas – hence the difficulty to create an ARM or AAM seeker that fits.

    These long wavelengths are not only difficult to use (bulky antenna), but they also don't give very accurate info on detected objects.

    As a result, these radars tend to serve as early warning devices only, and other radars or IR sensors can then be focused on the spot where something was detected, increasing their odds of detecting and locking on something very much.

    Stealth/VLO/LO in aircraft and ships is still going to make life hard for radar missile seeker development. That's part of why we keep hearing more and more about IR sensors in anti-aircraft missiles. The Russians with their dual R-27 seeker strategy and the French with theirs for MICA did what they did for a reason or two.

  37. Let's suppose that there is a way to detect the LO planes from a distance with a low frequency radar. How are you going to engage these targets? You cannot fit a low frequency radar on a missile. Moreover the future of IR missiles is questionable given the vullnerability of its sensors to DIRCM/directed energy weapons, like the ones under development for F35.

  38. And this is why the Russians and the Chinese are trying to duplicate US stealth technology.

    I bet their radar is about a sophisticated as my old Nintendo.

  39. stpaulchuck | August 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm |

    the F-35 is another overpriced white elephant

  40. Who cares? The F-35 is a piece of expensive junk anyhow. Still wonder how the American taxpayer got saddled with that POS that is incapable of doing almost anything.

  41. Brian B. Mulholland | August 6, 2014 at 8:31 pm |

    One of the posts above made reference to cost control of the FA/XX by design discipline.
    That implies that DoD can forgo an institutional habit of constantly tweaking the specs, and trying to incorporate each new possible technology as it comes within reach (or appears to.) I can believe that engineers can do anything, but I can't believe that the institutional culture of DoD can change that much.

  42. Mark, E8 Ret | August 7, 2014 at 8:23 am |

    weelllllll, if the enemy didn't know what to pursue between this guy and the press publishing it….

    Guess they never heard of loose lips sin ships.

  43. Stealth is only a method to DELAY detection, to try to make the time between spotting a jet and acting against it as short as possible…

  44. I seem to remember another Aircraft with an extended gestation period back in the 60's that attracted IMMENSE criticism from all and sundry. Too heavy, wings fall off, can't manouvre, not designed for the job it was to do etc. That aircraft turned out to be The AMAZING F-111 – the fastest bomb-truck at low level in the world. Nothing could catch it when it was down in the mud – NOTHING!! Not bad for an airframe originally intended as a Carrier-borne launch platform for the AIM54 Pheonix.
    The F-111's initial performance, reliability wise, was dreadful BUT when it came into service and the bugs were sorted it turned out to be a WONDERFUL weapon of war.
    My point is that the days of designing, testing and getting into service a warplane in under 6 months (P-51 Mustang) are OVER and the F-35 family will no-doubt end up being the standard by which future warplanes will be judged. I also think Australia will eventually buy/lease the F-35B's for the new Flat-tops (eventually). :-)

  45. the f-35 and f-22 are only 2 of the wasteful defense contractor welfare programs. drones have made manned aircraft obsolete. americans are now anti war because of the total cost associated with wars of choice and resulting in mostly unintended negative ends.
    we should provide kurds and others all that military gear that went to police forces across the country. we don't need much more than WWII surplus to fight the jihadis we created.

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