Video Above: Why is Advanced Stealth Still "Very Hard to Hit?"
A new Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies report says “stealth is the cost of entry into any modern battlespace” as part of a sweeping, integrated plan for the Air Force’s fighter force moving into the future.
The report, called “Future Fighter Force Our Nation Requires,” makes a number of key recommendations which seem to center upon a steadfast belief in the need to preserve, improve and maintain stealth platforms.
The Significance of Stealth
Several key findings in the study reflect this belief in the significance of stealth, such as the call to cancel the F-15EX, increase F-35s and even launch a “new start” program to build another next-generation stealth fighter to replace the F-16.
Much of the belief in stealth, as described in the report, relates to the widely discussed belief that even the most advanced and upgraded 4th-generation platforms simply cannot survive against new Russian and Chinese air defenses.
Extending this point, the study not only argues for the preservation and improvement of stealth technologies but advocates for continued innovation aimed at engineering new generations of stealth. This may already be apparent to a certain extent by virtue of what various industry 6th-generation design renderings look like.
“The physical shaping, which accounts for a large portion of an aircraft's signature, is eminently achievable with modern computing and processing. As the Air Force moves even more into digital design, designing for stealth should become even easier,” the study says.
External configurations wherein blended wing-body shapes, embedded engines and air ducts, internal weapons bays and heat dissipating exhaust pipes are all visible indications of stealth technology.
Less visible, yet equally impactful variables include the use of radar absorbent materials and heat signature reducing thermal management techniques. All of these, as cited by the report, can be explored, assessed and advanced through digital engineering, a process which has already produced significant results in the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
Digital engineering in this program, which undoubtedly contributed to the development of what may be a new generation of stealth technology, enabled the Air Force to massively accelerate the program.
The success of digital engineering when it comes to stealth innovations with the 6th-generation effort may be providing the kind of inspiration necessary to discover new, paradigm-changing stealth technologies. The promise of more future stealth-related innovations, coupled with the success stealth platforms have had thus far is likely a key reason why the Mitchell report is so adamant and the need to evolve stealth.
“The service should not procure less than a full stealth capability. If the Air Force pursues its next clean-sheet design as less than a stealthy fifth-generation airframe purely as a means to achieve affordability, it will miss a key opportunity to build the force it needs,” the Mitchell report says.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.