Key point: The F-117 Nighthawk was ahead of its time but was retired due to costs and because it was getting out-of-date. However, it still can prove useful on the battlefield.
With the U.S. Air Force considering the future makeup of its force structure, it is a good time to look at the evolution of stealth starting with the Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawk. That aircraft was retired in 2008, but would the F-117 still be useful today?
The answer is that against most mid-range threats like Iran, absolutely. But against higher-end threats like Russia or China, not so much. Technology has advanced since engineers first dreamed up the F-117 “stealth fighter” concept.
Developed in the 1970s and declared operational in complete secrecy in 1983, the F-117 ushered in a new era that would enable the United States to dominate warfare for decades to come. Ironically, the equations that ultimately enabled the United States to develop the Nighthawk have their origins in the Soviet Union with a paper titled Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction. An obscure Russian scientist by the name of Pyotr Yakovlevich Ufimtsev wrote the paper in 1962. While the Soviet Union more or less dismissed Ufimtsev’s work as being wildly impractical, Lockheed Skunk Works engineer Denys Overholser saw potential in the Russian physicist’s equations.