While the United States and its allies continue to spend huge amounts of money on stealth aircraft, China and Russia are developing anti-stealth tech.
The U.S. F-35 stealth aircraft is billions of dollars over budget and far behind schedule, receiving huge amounts of criticism for both its cost and its poor performance. Now it appears that when it finally makes it into operational service, it may be rendered obsolete by Chinese and Russian anti-stealth drones.
Russia And China working on anti-stealth drones
According to Zarchary Keck writing in The National Interest, China and Russia are working on unmanned aerial vehicles specifically designed to detect and possibly eliminate stealth vehicles.
China’s version is known as the Divine Eagle, and experts believe that it is adapted to counter enemy stealth aircraft far from Chinese territory. According to Popular Science, the drone has “long range anti-stealth capabilities can be used against both aircraft, like the B-2 bomber, and warships such as the DDG-1000 destroyer … the Chinese air force could quickly intercept stealthy enemy aircraft, missiles and ships well before they come in range of the Mainland.”
The drone employs multiple radar systems such as X/UHF low band. Such systems are useful for tracking stealth aircraft, which are designed to evade high band radar, over long distances. The Divine Eagle would thus negate one of the key advantages of stealth aircraft technology.
China is reportedly working on reducing the Divine Eagle’s infrared signature in order to improve the UAV’s own stealth capabilities, and Russia is also working on a stealth-detection drone.
Economic and scientific issues holding back development
According to Flight Global, Russian military subcontractor KRET unveiled a stealth drone prototype in August. The drone has not yet been named, but will also feature UHF and X-band radar systems used to detect stealth aircraft.
Similar to the Chinese design, Russia’s drone will also boast stealth capabilities of its own which make it difficult to shoot down with air-to-air missiles. Should Moscow and Beijing be able to prove the viability of such technology in combat situations, the U.S. will have to rethink its reliance on stealth technology.
While such an eventuality would certainly be worrying for the U.S., it may not be time to panic just yet. Both Russia and China have a history of overstating technological advances.
At the same time China often bases its military technology on designs stolen from other countries, which may indicate a lack of domestic research and development capabilities. Widespread corruption in the military also causes difficulties.
Existence of technology cause enough for concern
Although Russia has repeatedly spoken of its ambitious military strategy, such plans may be curtailed by a deepening economic crisis in the country. President Vladimir Putin has promised to spend $400 billion to modernize the armed forces, but falling oil prices, the struggles of the ruble and the impact of Western economic sanctions mean that Russia may simply not be able to afford to upgrade its equipment.
Despite the much heralded development of the Armata tank, hailed as one of the most technologically advanced in the world, Russia has had to cancel the majority of its construction plans due to high costs. The proposed development of a 5th-generation bomber may also have to be cancelled, and the same fate may await the stealth drone.
Due to these factors the threat may not be an immediate one, but the potential for anti-stealth drones should be food for thought among U.S. military figures. If an adversary can successfully develop anti-stealth technology, then stealth aircraft and warships would suddenly lose a huge part of their worth.
Pentagon aware of limitations of stealth technology
Concerns have already been raised by some at the Pentagon. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert spoke out on the limitations of technology a few months ago: “You can only go so fast, and you know that stealth may be overrated,” Greenert said. “Let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air, disrupts molecules and puts out heat — I don’t care how cool the engine can be, it’s going to be detectable. You get my point.”
Economic and scientific limitations may help the U.S. to maintain an advantage in the immediate future, but the existence of anti-stealth technology is worrying. Although China is widely accused of stealing designs from other countries, and is also suffering an economic wobble of its own, it has placed huge priority on modernizing its military.
A parade will be held on September 3 in Beijing, at which hundreds of new pieces of domestically produced military hardware will be unveiled. It will be the first event of its kind during the rule of President Xi Jinping, who has also launched a crackdown on corruption.
His aim is to make the military more capable, and if he can do so it could be worrying for the U.S. and its allies in Asia.
Source: National Interest