August 14, 2016

F-35 heat signature: Chink in its Emission Armor - One

The Global Hawk sized (and altitude) Chinese Divine Eagle UAV (above) can look (with broad spectrum radar and infrared cameras) at long range for approaching US stealth aicraft. This UAV could in future be armed with air-to-air missiles to deal with such aircraft.

The chink that China has detected in the LM F-35's armor is heat signature. Detectable by a great wall of cheap unmanned aerial vehicles with high gain infrared cameras that China can deploy.

It has been many years since Lockeed Martin's (LM's), customers (including the US taxpayer) started to fund LockMart's US$100,000,000s per year F-35 commercial risk. LM's grand vision to gain revenue from customers a decade before delivery was faultless, in a US Power Sell, sense. 

However, advancing (Russian-Chinese) detection technology is now gradually negating stealth assumptions. Technically LM's focus on radar-stealth (as a replacement to the 1980s-2008 F-117 radar signature minimisation) has suffered what will amount to 2 decades of delay. The F-35 with its cannon and other software delays will only be truly operational for foreign customers in the 2020s.

If the superior 2 engined F-22 had been available to non-US customers from its 2005 operational commencement foreign customers would have F-22s that would have superiority over detection technology. The delay to field the F-35 in 2025 will mean F-35s will have fallen behind (Russian and Chinese) detection even before the F-35s are fielded.

Detection Technology

Unlike radars (which require high electrical power) infrared can be miniaturized and only require low power - so can be mounted on a mass basis on cheap to build and field UAVs.

China's rising ability to mass produce UAVs covers:

-  low (up to 1km) altitudes (infrared camera)

-  medium 15km altitudes Reaper sized (radar and infrared), and

-   up to 25km Divine Eagles (SubMat article) high altitudes (infrared camera and broad frequency

China is developing its own high-tech detectors and can increasingly buy technology from Russia (that needs the money due to low oil/gas revenues). High power distributed radar on the ground and manned aircraft will complement to Russian and Chinese UAV detectors.


Defense World reports, August 12, 2016:

“Stealthy F-35 Is Visible To Thermal Imagers”

The much-touted ‘stealth’ features of the Lockheed Martin F-35 making it nearly invisible to radar, could be negated by a pronounced ability to be detected by infrared devices.

The heat signature released by the aircraft engines and other power consumption devices such as the radar could negate gains main by its stealthy characteristics aimed at remaining invisible to radar.

Fighter aircraft add-on devices such as the infra-red scan and track (IRST) sensor which several European and Russian aircraft are equipped with for certain missions, can easily detect the F-35 in beyond-visual range engagements, a defence website said.

A video released by FLIR Systems which specializes in the manufacture of infra-red sensors shows the heat signature of the plane in clear detail. The sensor used is the FLIR Star SAFIRE 380-HDc and tracking the heat signature has been done from a rather close range.

Nevertheless, it could be a potential chink in the armor for the US Air Force and other countries which have put billions of dollars in buying the F-35 whose main USP is its stealth capability."



Josh said...

IR detection suffers from issues of weather, shorter range, and also the problem of actually determining range to a target for a weapon delivery grade track. If the Chinese want to invest in an IR based system that involves dozens of drone tracks supported by four drones each, I'm all for it.

A bigger problem is perhaps UHF and VHF radars which the Chinese are already fitting to their ships. That said, forcing your opponent to use a lower frequency and have a more vague target track is still worth while and in particular fighter radars pretty much have to operate in the frequencies that the F-35/22 are designed to avoid. Though notably the E-2D uses a UHF radar while also using some kind of clever computer analysis to give weapons grade tracks and offload that to anyone in the data link. J-20 has a much more uphill fight than even F-35. One assumes eventually the Chinese will have a similar solution, though I couldn't guess how long that will be.

The delays with the F-35 seems largely software related and not due to the low RCS materials it is made from. The project was drastically ambitious compared even to the F-35 in that sense - not only are the ESM, IR, and radar expected to create a single picture of the environment, the later blocks of software are intended to combine the picture of other platforms with the local data. Cute trick if you can get it to work. The US tends to go for perfection instead of 'good enough'; the DoD ends up paying 100% more for that last 10% improvement on performance in my opinion.

Vigilis said...

Hi Pete,

Very interesting Foreign Weapons Evaluation (FWE) topic, and now I know, thanks to Google, what "USP" means.

The lingering question I still have is why you concluded, "Nevertheless, it could be a potential chink in the armor...".

What could diminish the gravity of IR detection vulnerability? For instance, even launching heat decoys becomes highly impractical over long detection ranges. F-35 engine design particularly exacerbates the heat detection flaw. This F-35 seems an FWE (flying white elephant).



MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

I hope Australia will not buy more F-35. Main problem: the F-35 is a bad aircraft.

You can add features to old aircraft but a bad airframe will stay what it is.

Still operational and active over Syria. The ECRs cleared the way for the F-117 by clearing out the SAMs over former Yugoslavia. Nearly faster at sea level than F-35 at optimal height.

Phantom II:
Still operational for Japan and other nations. Better acceleration and top speed than F-35!

Operational until ~1995. You might remember this aircraft with the tiny wings.
The F-35 has higher wing loadings except for empty tanks! Top speed ...

The F-35 suffers from the B-version with its lift fan. The lift fan dictates many disadvantages for all F-35 versions. The lift fan is a big machine that does not provide forward thrust. A normal engine providing thrust does not add to the surface rule at Mach speeds. That leads to a big frontal surface for all F-35 variants.

F-35's engine provides 191 kN thrust with afterburner the F-104 just used 71 kN!

In my opinion the biggest disadvantage is the need to use just one engine to power the lift fan (gear box is not a real option...). No internal weapons bay between one engine!

Look at the two engined Chinese copy of the F-35! Small frontal surface and weapons bay between the engines.

Back to the fat nose of the F-35. Something that slows you down converts thrust provided by the fat engine into something very common: heat through air friction.

Many people think the F-35 is a big fat IR target from the back side due to the engine so a F-35 trying to run away will get something into it.

- - - Not only that!!! - - -


Australia should first buy an aircraft and at second place a computer game.


P.S.: No, I don't recommend the Eurofighter for Australia. Australia needs something less expensive and simple: SAAB Gripen.

MHalblaub said...

I missed to mention a few things about stealth.

The F-35 is only partial stealth at X-band. That is a rather short band used by common fighter aircraft to get a firing solution for missiles.

For rather long waves systems like the British Chain Home the whole effort is rather useless. You can expect that any enemy may have such a system because Chain Home was used during Word War II. Today better systems like SMART-L are available for ships:
detection range 65 km (35 nmi) against stealthy missiles.
(Does the Australian AWD has such a radar?)

Many claim long band radar is inaccurate. For a single fighter may be but not for a distributed net of observers. It works in principle like this:

Recipe to kill an F-35:
- long wave radar to detect
- IR missiles to hunt it down

The F-22 has a far better change to outrun an incoming missile than the F-35.
"Can't turn, can't climb, can't run..."


Ztev Konrad said...

Thats funny, another takes the eaxct opposite view as the the F35 thermal image

"While the video highlights the extremely hot air exhaust during vertical hovering, it also shows the striking low thermal contrast of the skin, canopy and engine bay, against the sky, which testify to the Lightning II’s effective thermal masking. While the aircraft and exhaust are clearly visible against the sky background in the flypast, it is clear that such image is taken with maximum gain, which isn’t likely to be useful for normal operation.."

"low thermal contrast of skin canopy engine bay against sky' and 'Low contrast objects would be less detectable by thermal imagers, at long range."

They seem to have drawn the complete opposite conclusions and nad backed them up with reasons not relying on a high gain picture

brett 1 said...

yes this endless spinning myth the JSF is a 5th gen 'stealth' platform is again, part of the LM spin job the suits in their PR Dept have sold for over a decade now and Howard then PM signed us up after a PowerPoint LM presentation, and the comp to replace the RAAFs fighter fleet went out the window.
This platform 'may' in time be excellent, as many have penned, much more qualified than myself, this is an immature platform predicated [to function to it's max capabilities] on so many variables, IT and endless cabling among them.
The RAAF IMHO and both sides of politics have been inherently dishonest with the nation over this dud, the lies, the spin, the promises, when stripped back the JSF is essentially both a 'sexed up F17' and a 'bomb truck' with a pathetic max mach 1.6.
Christ our Supers can do mach 1.8, the Flankers/F22 mach 2.2 plus.
And this obsession with 'beyond visual range'? Well how about putting the JSF up against the 400 series the SAM brilliance of the Russians?
Too late now to back out - too much Australian investment, in SMEs, and geo strategic dynamics.
Stuff a Royal Commission into a biased leftist 4 Corners stacked TV show. A R Commission should be held into 'why' we selected this platform.
It will be blown out if the sky.
And Pete - LOIVE your blog. Will be in touch soon with some added 'juice' to help cos given the plethora of Defence sites available, nothing like supporting your own.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh, Vigilis, MHalblaub, Ztev and brett 1 (thanks for the praise :)

I've responded to many of your comments in the next article - of August 15, 2016.