No Cloaking Device Here: F-22 Stealth Fighters Can Be Tracked

Dave Majumdar
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Bryan Myhr)

Dave Majumdar

Technology, Europe

And China might have figured out how to do it.

No Cloaking Device Here: F-22 Stealth Fighters Can Be Tracked

“Does the mission require a cloaking device or is it OK if the threat sees it but can’t do anything about it?”

State-run Chinese media is claiming that the People’s Liberation Army has been able to track the U.S. Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighters over the East China Sea. While the Chinese report might be easily dismissed as propaganda—it is not beyond the realm of possibility. In fact—it’s very possible that China can track the Raptor. Stealth is not a cloak of invisibility, after all. Stealth technology simply delays detection and tracking.

(This first appeared in 2016.)

First off, if a Raptor is carrying external fuel tanks—as it often does during “ferry missions”—it is not in a stealth configuration. Moreover, the aircraft is often fitted with a Luneburg lens device on its ventral side during peacetime operations that enhances its cross section on radar.

That being said, even combat-configured F-22s are not invisible to enemy radar, contrary to popular belief. Neither is any other tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft with empennage surfaces such as tailfins—the F-35, PAK-FA, J-20 or J-31. That’s just basic physics.

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