China’s recent military parade included the rollout of several new weapons systems and a flyover by the J-20, a stealth jet that many think incorporates stolen US stealth technology into a design purpose-built to destroy weak links in the US air force.
Russia has also been testing a stealth jet of its own that integrates thrust vectoring technology to make it more manoeuvrable, which no US jet can match.
But the US has decades of experience in making and fielding stealth jets, which creates a gap that no amount of Russian or Chinese hacking can bridge.
“As we see Russia bring on stealth fighters and we see China bring on stealth fighters, we have 40 years of learning how to do this,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Barrett told Defence News’ Valerie Insinna at a Mitchell Institute event.
While China’s J-20 seeks to intercept unarmed US Air Force refuelling planes with very long range missiles, and Russia’s T-50 looks like a stealthy reboot of its current fleet of fighters, a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft for a US defence contractor told Business Insider that other countries still lag well behind the US on making planes hidden to radars.
The scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the classified nature of their work, told Business Insider the J-20 and T-50 are “dirty” fighters, since the countries lack the precision machine tools necessary to painstakingly shape every millimetre of the planes’ surfaces.
“There are a lot of stuff hanging outside of these aeroplanes,” Barrett, the retired Air Force general, said of China and Russia’s stealth attempts. “All the aeroplane pictures I’ve seen still have stuff hanging from the wings, and that just kills your stealth.”
Additionally, the US has stealth fighter tactics down, while China and Russia would have to develop a similar playbook over the course of years.
Meanwhile, the US overcomes the issue of external munitions blowing up a plane’s radar signature by having internal weapons bays and networking with fleets of fourth generation aircraft.
Because the F-35 and F-22 can communicate with older, non-stealth planes, they can fly cleanly without weapons hanging off the wings while tanked up F/A-18s, F-15s, or F-16s follow along laden with fuel, bombs, and air-to-air missiles.
The F-35s and F-22s can make sure the coast is clear and dominate battles without firing a shot, as older planes fire off missiles guided by the fifth-gen fighters.
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