WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is experiencing a “Stealth deja vu” it wishes it had never experienced even the first time.
German entrepreneurs, using experimental radar, tracked two U.S. F-35 stealth jets for almost 100 miles after positioning their radar in a pony field from under the route of the aircraft.
The F-35, each costing roughly $100 million, is touted as being almost invisible to radar.
The Air Force is downplaying the report, which mirrors a similar revelation by another ally when the U.S. was first developing Stealth aircraft in the late 1990s.
Then the Pentagon was selling the yet to be acquired aircraft to Congress as “invisible” to radar. That claim was busted following revelations that the Australian military — creating a unique radar system for their Southern Hemisphere area — picked up testing of the first U.S. Stealth aircraft.
The Australian system, know as Jindalee – the Aboriginal word for “over the horizon (OTHR)” — veered from traditional radars that were limited by the line of sight. The Jindalee high-frequency radar used the ionosphere above the earth’s surface to beam high-frequency radio signal waves skywards from a transmitter and refract them down from the ionosphere to find an intruder.
After that revelation, the Pentagon had to walk back its claims to Congress about Stealth being invisible to radar.
“As a standard we don’t discuss stealth capabilities/characteristics, however the F-35, and all of our aircraft supporting air shows, regularly fly with transponders on and in a configuration that allows Air Traffic Control to know where they are,” Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokesperson, told TMN and others in a statement. “We remain confident that the F-35 is the world’s greatest fifth-generation fighter.”
The German radar, called TwInvis, reportedly tracked two F-35s for 93 miles, according to reports.
Radar works by sending out radio waves, then studying the waves that reflect off flying objects. That gives radar operators the ability to determine such things as an aircraft or missile’s speed, altitude, bearing and direction.
Stealth aircraft are designed with a shape and contour to minimize the bounce a radar will get from the aircraft. That slices the information available for detection.
The system focuses on studying electromagnetic emissions in the atmosphere -, such as radio station signals, cell phone tower signals, and commercial radars — and then detects aircraft by reading how those signals bounce off the flying object.
There were some extenuating circumstances that helped the TwInvis system track the F-35s. Radar operators knew when the F-35s were coming and were able to use the signals from the jets’ ADS-B transponders to help identify them.
Neither of those would be likely in wartime.
There is some irony in German scientists developing a radar that could detect Stealth aircraft. It was German scientists that developed the Ho-229 fighter/bomber during World War Two, whose low signature as well as its top speed of 375 mph made it tough to track on radar.