Sunday, November 18, 2012

Does Russia Have the Top Stealth Fighter?

We in the West are sinking fortunes into 5th Generation, stealth warplanes that are supposed to have an enormous advantage over non-stealth, 4th Generation fighters.    The idea is that our Gen V warplanes will be able to dominate enemy held and enemy defended airspace.   We're stealthy, they're not, so we'll either be able to avoid them or, if need be, shoot them out of the sky before they'll ever know we're there.   Or so the sales brochure claims.

Well, maybe not.

Sukhoi T-50

Those same, let's call them potential adversaries, ("enemies" is such a loaded word) seem willing enough to play the same game.   The Chinese have flown not one but two stealth fighters.  The Russians, in cooperation with India, are fielding the Sukhoi T-50 and it might just be better than America's F-22 Raptor and light years better than the substantially inferior F-35 Lightning we're being pressed to buy.

One Russian advantage is what [Australian analyst Dr. Carlo]Kopp calls “extreme plus agility” — a consequence of the T-50′s “advanced aerodynamic design, exceptional thrust/weight ratio performance and three dimensional thrust vectoring integrated with an advanced digital flight control system.”

The second advantage: “exceptional combat persistence, the result of an unusually large 25,000-pound internal fuel load,” Kopp writes. The T-50 could keep flying and fighting long after the F-22 and F-35 have run out of gas.

Moreover, the T-50 will dodge certain radars better than others, according to Kopp — and U.S. sensors are among the worst at detecting the T-50′s unique shape, he contends. Kopp’s breakdown of T-50 RCS by radar type shows Chinese “counter-VLO radars,” specifically designed to spot American stealth planes, detecting the T-50 best.

The next best sensors to use against the Russian fighter is the UHF radar aboard the U.S. Navy’s E-2 early-warning planes. American fighter radars, including those aboard the F-22 and F-35, are of middling effectiveness against the T-50, Kopp asserts.

Kopp says the Russian prototype still needs work, including the addition of radar absorbing materials around the engines.   America's (and our) potential adversaries, however, have already pilfered a lot of America's stealth secrets hacked via the internet and gleaned from the Lockheed RQ-170 stealth drone captured by Iran roughly this time last year.   That little treasure should give our potential adversaries most of what they need to know about the latest in radar absorbing materials and stealth electronics.

It's a bit mind-numbing trying to figure out whether Russian and Chinese stealth technology now means that the F-35, with its enormous flaws in payload, range, speed, climb rate, agility and reliability, is a waste of money or is somehow oddly essential.  We might actually be better off trying to get the T-50, not that the Russians would want to equip a charter member of America's Aerial Foreign Legion with their latest and greatest.  Oh well, oh dear.


Purple library guy said...

And that's not even getting into their deployment of different-frequency radar which detects stealth fighters just fine.
Frankly, if it were me procuring, I'd say to hell with stealth it isn't going to work anyway and it's way too damn expensive, both up-front and in maintenance.

Anonymous said...

I asked why we weren't going with the Sukhoi back in 2011. It's better and costs less and all the projections shows it will beat the snot out of any American jalopy.
I reckon that an objective decision will have to wait until we have a PM who isn't so beholding to Lockheed Martin so as to have an exec in the PMO.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well, Harebell, I think if we're not rid of Harper soon, the F-35 contract will be a done deal. His recent RCAF pick for Chief of Defence Staff, a total F-35 booster, was the writing on the wall. Canada, however, doesn't have the cojones to order Russian right under the noses of the Pentagon.

I'm with PLG. Something along the lines of the latest F-18 would probably be best or even Boeing's sort of stealthy F-15 upgrade. With coatings, electronic gear and a few design tweaks there's a lot you can do with either A/C to reduce its radar cross section.

Those choices, however, might mean giving up Canada's admission ticket to America's aerial Foreign Legion.