Raytheon has warned against overreliance on stealthy platforms alone in future air combat. Despite their low radar cross-sections (RCS), fifth-generation fighters such as the F-35 can be detected by modern air defense systems. To defeat these defenses, air forces should take full advantage of the latest sensors and weapons that can be carried on less stealthy aircraft, the company said.
“We have lost sight of what stealth really means,” Michael Garcia, a senior business development manager for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, told The Fighter Conference in London last November. He said that overreliance on low RCS is a myopic strategy. “We must understand that stealth can be implemented in other ways,” he continued.
Garcia noted that today’s potent, infrared search-and-track sensors; other optical sensors; and low-frequency ground-based detection radars, are negating RCS reductions. Moreover, stealth aircraft designs “are time-stamped with the ex-factory date.” They cannot really be improved, whereas avionics and radar technology continue to advance. “Our platforms require more flexibility to become truly stealth,” he added.
That flexibility can be achieved by carrying weapons that can be launched before the platform is detected, such as the AGM-154 Joint StandOff Weapon (JSOW), and by deploying counter-air defense devices such as the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy-Jammer (MALD-J). Both are made by Raytheon but Garcia’s argument about bringing “longer sticks and better deception to the fight” is equally valid for equivalent systems from other manufacturers.
The Raytheon manager described “the game of circles” where the relative engagement zones of friendly (Blue) and enemy (Red) forces expand and shrink depending on the sensors employed and the range of the weapons carried. Although stealthy fifth-generation aircraft reduce the engagement zones of surface-to-air missiles, “it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate lethal threats,” Garcia contended. But although the Red force still threatens Blue’s aircraft, Blue can expand its sensor and weapons bubbles, while shrinking and chopping Red’s.
Other assets and techniques that the Blue force might employ include electronic protection (EP) of combat aircraft; electronic attack (EA); stand-off surveillance aircraft with powerful radars passing threat data to combat aircraft via Link 16; anti-radar missiles; and unmanned systems.
In support of his argument, Garcia quoted Admiral Jonathan Greenert, who wrote in the U.S. Navy’s Proceedings journal: “We need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms–with their built-in capabilities–toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.”