Issue Vol. 28.3 Jul-Sep 2013 | Date : 10 Sep , 2013
Northop Grumman B-2 Bomber
In the never ending rivalry between offence and defence, there will be a continuing race in development between stealth technology and detection devices of air defence systems. In future, stealth technology will be extended to transport aircraft, rotary wing and unmanned serial platforms. While stealth technology will undoubtedly play an increasingly critical role in air operations in the future, radar systems of the future will also have far greater capability to defeat stealth. The future holds even greater challenges for human ingenuity and the capability to innovate.
Stealth technology really matured with the development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the F-22 Raptor…
During the Cold War era of the 1950s, the Lockheed U-2 spy planes of the United States of America (USA) were undertaking photo reconnaissance missions regularly with impunity in the airspace over the Soviet Union. Tasks assigned to these aircraft included monitoring the progress in the development of missile test sites, key infrastructure, nuclear installations, military establishments and communications facilities.
Even while flying at extremely high altitudes well in excess of 100,000 feet above sea level, the U-2 spy planes were visible to the ground-based air defence establishments in the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that these spies-in-the-sky aeroplanes were not flying at very high speeds, they were still relatively immune to enemy action as they remained well outside the operational envelope of Soviet interceptor aircraft and the surface-to-air missile batteries.
However, the US was fairly certain that the Soviet Union would soon catch up and develop the capability to intercept and shoot down the high flying American spy planes. Hence, the foremost challenge before the American defence scientific community was the urgent need to develop a technology to reduce the vulnerability of military aircraft first by reducing the possibility of their detection by enemy radar while operating in hostile airspace.
Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
Thus, it was that in the late 1950s, defence scientists in the US embarked on the development of “stealth technology” as was relevant to airborne military platforms to obviate the possibility of detection of the aircraft by ground-based air defence radars. But the endeavour was somewhat late to take off and the pace of development of this new technology was initially very slow.
Consequently, disaster struck on May 01, 1960, when a Lockheed U-2C that had got airborne from a secret airbase near Peshawar in Pakistan for an espionage mission over the Soviet Union, was successfully intercepted and brought down by a salvo of first of the newly developed SA-2 Guideline (S-75 Dvina) surface-to-air missile system fired by the Soviet air defence establishment. Also shot down along with the U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers, a pilot employed by the Central Intelligence Agency of the US, was a Soviet MiG-19 fighter aircraft that was sent up to track and pursue the U-2. Undoubtedly, downing of the U-2 was not only embarrassing but also traumatic for the US, a sentiment that provided further impetus to the US effort at the development of stealth technology.