In a fight against other airplanes, the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor's stealth capabilities are useless, claims noted fighter designer Pierre Sprey, since the Raptor must radiate to detect the enemy, thus announcing its location to everyone in the vicinity with a Radar Warning Receiver.Under these circumstances, a Raptor is no better than any late-model fighter such as the Sukhoi Su-27 series, which is considerably cheaper.Not so, said the Raptor jockeys of the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia."I'm going to be able to see him before he sees me," Captain Phil Colomy assured me. He was refering to radar detection, not visual.How so? I asked. If you radiate, everyone's going to know where you are. To use Sprey's analogy, it's like using a flashlight in a dark room. Sure, you can see the bad guy, but he can see you too.Colomy just smiled. 1st Fighter Wing commander Brigadier General Burton Field spoke up:"Enemy RWR can't detect radiating F-22s," he said. "We haven't had a problem with that."I asked if that had something to do with the Raptor's Raytheon APG-77 Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which uses many tiny nimble radar beams instead of one big, slow beam.Field just smiled. This is classified, but widely known to be true.Basically, here's how it works. RWRs are like any sensor: they operate at a certain fidelity lending a certain degree of dependability. If you radiate only briefly or only a little, RWRs aren't going to be able to pin you down. A small, smart, well-directed beam -- such as that from any new AESA -- is too fleeting for a firm fix. It's like using a flashlight in a dark room, but snapping it on then off in a fraction of a second.One day RWRs will catch up to the new AESAs. But for right now, the radars have the advantage. What this means is that the F-22 can use its radar without entirely sacrificing stealth. That's on top of the other advantages of the AESA.--David Axe
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