Key point: Beijing is working hard on many new technologies, but it may not be a game-changer.
Chinese scientists claim they have developed a new kind of material for making aircraft less detectable by radar.
But the development probably is not the breakthrough that some observers claim it is.
Prof. Luo Xiangang and colleagues at the Institute of Optics and Electronics, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Chengdu, said they had created the first-ever mathematical model to precisely describe the behavior of electromagnetic waves when they “strike a piece of metal engraved with microscopic patterns,” according to South China Morning Post.
The newspaper cited a statement Luo’s team posted on the academy’s website on July 15, 2019.
“With their new model and breakthroughs in materials fabrication, they developed a membrane, known as a ‘metasurface,’ which can absorb radar waves in the widest spectrum yet reported,” South China Morning Post reported.
At present, stealth aircraft mainly rely on special geometry – their body shape – to deflect radar signals, but those designs can affect aerodynamic performance. They also use radar absorbing paint, which has a high density but only works against a limited frequency spectrum.
In one test, the new technology cut the strength of a reflected radar signal – measured in decibels – by between 10 and nearly 30dB in a frequency range from 0.3 to 40 gigahertz.
A stealth technologist from Fudan University in Shanghai, who was not involved in the work, said a fighter jet or warship using the new technology could feasibly fool all military radar systems in operation today.
Luo’s claims and breathless comment on their implications do not constitute a major change in the way companies develop stealth warplanes or the military balance of power among operators of such aircraft.
That’s because the metasurface Luo is working on is just one example of type of metamaterial that has been the subject of research all over the world. It’s not terribly new. If and when it begins to appear in front-line aircraft, it could improve stealth qualities in a wide range of aircraft on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.