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.
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
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."