Why have we not seen an explosion of faceted-stealth aircraft since the US went public with the Stealth fighter in the late eighties? We do know that
the US was not alone in identifying the facet method of radar stealth; MBB in Germany was also working on a stealth fighter independently which used
this principle. But I’m surprised that others haven’t followed the US lead.
With the proliferation and evolution of fly by wire technology (required to allow aerodynamically unstable aircraft to fly), and similarly of computer
aided design, there is a strong argument that F-117 generation stealth technology is no longer beyond many aircraft manufacturers.
Stealth combat aircraft do pose many operational problems and if stealth is omitted from the equation, are almost certainly less combat capable than a
non-stealthy equivalent (weapons load, range, agility etc). Because of emission concerns, ‘total’ stealth technology is easiest employed for
offensive strike or reconnaissance aircraft.
Thoughts on a Stealth Interceptor
The problems would be particularly great for a stealth interceptor aircraft; any use of the fighter’s radar immediately gives it way, as does any
radio transmissions. Therefore the intercept has to be conducted in a purely passive manner, probably ‘listening’ to encoded target data broadcast
by third party radars –itself a risky approach since the enemy can also listen in, creating ghosting, jamming, forewarning and decoding problems.
But once close enough passive optical/IR sensors can be used for interception –which also limits the types of air-air missile that can be used,
probably to short ranged IR homing types, and presenting launch complications (how to achieve a lock-on before launch if the missile is hidden in a
weapons bay etc).
But, even if the stealth interceptor is less intercept-reliable than a conventional design, the fact that it is stealthy gives it a far greater
survivability, surprise and menace factor. By menace factor I mean that the enemy pilots and planners will constantly be chasing shadows and on edge
disproportionately to the physical ‘footprint’ of the aircraft. And even if the enemy enjoyed a high degree of air-superiority over your
territory, the stealth interceptors could still pose a credible threat, picking off just enough enemy to prevent the enemy enjoying air-dominance and
the ease of operations that provides –put another way, a limited but stealthy fighter allows the otherwise weaker air force to stand up to the
I shared my thoughts with an associate and got this nice render of a conceptual stealth interceptor:
It is in part influenced by the MBB stealth fighter project. It has a compound-delta configuration, faceted lines (imagine a sharp blade along its
spine and belly) and a single weapons bay which also houses the forward undercarriage. The weapons bay would house one or two IR missiles such as the
ASRAAM or Python5. It has provision for radar, but would rely on an IR sensor for stealthy intercepts. It would have a single afterburning turbofan in
the 16000lb thrust range, buried in the faceted rear fuselage and fed by a V-shaped air intake with S-bend and similar stealth features.
Although I’m sure there are better configurations, we can immediately see the design challenges. The basic delta configuration, which is the natural
choice for faceted stealth, presents many problems, particularly high stalling speeds (limiting agility) and high take-off and landing speeds. To try
to reduce this I specified small fixed ‘canard’ wings forward and above the main wing, but these complicate the faceting. There isn’t room for a
large or twin engine, unless either the back or belly is made much deeper, or a flat belly/back adopted, compromising the faceted design. Similarly,
there seems little space for fuel and/or weapons.
But we know that aircraft designers all over the world can do far better than me when it comes to designing fighter stealth aircraft (lol, don’t
worry, I don’t take myself seriously), but why haven’t they?