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F-22 fleet will get better coatings after testing is complete
USAF says coatings don't reduce radar cross section

The USAF has some of the most capable aircraft in the world within its fleet. Many of the aircraft that it fields in any conflict are older and were designed decades ago; but it also has some very capable next generation aircraft like the F-22 and the F-35 that will be coming online in the next few years.

The F-22 and the F-35 are similar in that they are both fighter aircraft that are designed from the outset to have stealth characteristics to make them harder to see by enemy radar. With the F-35 being the newer aircraft, it has more advanced radar-absorbing coatings on the surface than the F-22. Lockheed has announced that it is now integrating some of the more advanced coatings the F-35 uses onto the F-22 fighters coming of the assembly line.

"Some of the [low observables] coatings system and gap-fillers that the F-35 had an advantage on, we have incorporated into the Raptor," said Jeff Babione, vice president and general manager of the F-22 program for Lockheed Martin.

Defense News reports that Babione claims that the new coatings don’t change the radar cross section of the F-22. The coatings according to Babione are simply to reduce maintenance costs. He said, "[The F-35 program] had some more robust materials that were more durable and we were able to pull those back on to the F-22. So our system is better, and the life-cycle cost of the F-22 is reduced."

Analyst Dan Goure said, "It's not going to transform the airplane, but what it's going to really do is make it much cheaper to operate the F-22 fleet, which is terribly important given its small size."

However, some doubt that the new coatings won't improve the radar visibility of the F-22. Goure also noted, "I would be very surprised if this wasn't an improvement in stealth characteristics."

Lockheed had to make some changes to the coatings to be used on the F-22 that the F-35 didn’t require. Goure said, "It's [the F-22] operating at a higher altitude typically and [at] faster speeds, and that would put different stresses on the material."

The only F-22 fighters that are using the new coating for now are the most recent Lot 9 aircraft and other new and improved materials are still in the final qualification phase. Lockheed hopes to roll the coatings out to the entire fleet next year. At that point, all existing aircraft will be retrofitted with the new coating.

The F-22 was recently left out of the fighting in Libya because it was both too advanced and too limited at the same time.

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By AssBall on 4/7/2011 10:53:34 AM , Rating: 3
How good are these coatings anyway? I remember an air force guy talking about the F117 and he says, sure the cross section is the size of a large bird, but how often do you see a 600 MPH bird?

I guess it would have it's main utility in air to air situations though, where on board radars aren't as powerful and every second is a huge advantage.

RE: stealth
By theaerokid on 4/7/2011 11:18:32 AM , Rating: 5
True, there are no 600MPH birds, but the point is that you'll get a very small radar return when you actually get to see it, which is not very often with these low observables. You only get an occasional blip with these LO's, just enough to get a rough location and maybe deduce speed from Doppler shift. If the return is small enough (like a bird's) and/or incoherent due to scattering the radar system's post-processing computer might not be able to make sense of it and even discard it as clutter altogether.

RE: stealth
By Adonlude on 4/7/2011 1:08:32 PM , Rating: 4
Having the radar cross section of a bird isn't important becuase its hard to see a bird, it is important becuase that birds onboard electronic warfare (jamming) equipment needs far less power to manipulate and overpower its true radar reflection for the purpose of fooling the enemy.

You aren't going to see these aircraft unless they want to be seen. That 600MPH bird is going to jam the crap out of everything you point at it. Even its simplest EW techniques can spoof its doppler shift, spoof its headding and walk enemy radar off its true parameters until you are firing missiles at empty space. But it will probably just blind you before resorting to such arcane EW techniques. It can take any signal you send at it and send it back to you alterd as it sees fit. I doubt an enemy has ever seen an F-22, even if it was there.

RE: stealth
By Azethoth on 4/7/2011 6:03:16 PM , Rating: 2
But how often do you see a 600 MPH bird sporting jamming gear?

RE: stealth
By Hyperion1400 on 4/7/2011 7:46:24 PM , Rating: 2
Remember the F117 shot down at Kosovo?

They shot it down by reprogramming their SAM launchers to search for "odd" radar signatures on top of wavelength. Even though they couldn't get a lock on it until it got closer, it clued them in and they tracked until they got a hard lock.

RE: stealth
By SPOOFE on 4/8/2011 1:40:13 AM , Rating: 3
That's a very simplified way of looking at it. They also used a large series of spotters and a huge amount of guesswork to determine flight paths. It also cost them a lot of missiles.

Moral of the story: Taking down a highly advanced vehicle requires a huge dedication of resources and unconventional tactics all smartly coordinated by well-trained personnel.

RE: stealth
By Strunf on 4/8/2011 7:48:06 AM , Rating: 2
"Moral of the story: Taking down a highly advanced vehicle requires a huge dedication of resources and unconventional tactics all smartly coordinated by well-trained personnel."
You don't care about such things when you are at war... you use whatever means you have available to reach your goal.

RE: stealth
By Iketh on 4/13/2011 4:03:16 AM , Rating: 2
WHAT?? Getting ravens and marauders out is impossible without resources.

"you use whatever means you have available to reach your goal"


RE: stealth
By Adonlude on 4/8/2011 1:11:17 PM , Rating: 3
But how often do you see a 600 MPH bird sporting jamming gear?

It dosen't really work that way. There is such thing as "home on jam", see: HARM missle, but when an aircraft is spoofing its flight parameters they simply look like the real parameters. The true parameters can be drowned out "below the noise". Physics makes the possible. See: radar equation. RF signal degrades with the square of its distance. The aircraft only has to deal with D^2 since it is the source firing ECM at an enemy target. That enemy target has to contend with D^4 since it has to fire RF from itself to the aircraft then read a refelction from the aircraft back to itself. An aircraft with the radar cross section of a bird makes the reflection really tiny. That tiny radar cross section coupled with the D^2 advantage of the aircraft makes for a happy F-22 pilot.

RE: stealth
By Zingam on 4/8/2011 3:52:39 AM , Rating: 3
That's why we use Gama radiation radars. It not only sees through the enemy airplanes but it also kills the pilot.

Don't worry! We'll find a way to take those planes down. It's our job and we do it well.

RE: stealth
By waykizool on 4/7/2011 11:19:52 AM , Rating: 2
It's not about see a "bird" flying 600MPH, just the reduced chance that the enemy radar will be able to pick you up.

RE: stealth
By bug77 on 4/7/2011 11:28:34 AM , Rating: 2
Or if it does, a missile will have a much harder time locking on to a bird-sized signal.

RE: stealth
By drycrust3 on 4/7/2011 12:59:03 PM , Rating: 3
Ah ha, don't say I didn't warn you, you're going to be in trouble with then environmentalists when you shoot down a flock of birds.

RE: stealth
By Farfignewton on 4/7/2011 2:14:50 PM , Rating: 3
Those birds were askin' for it, see how they're dressed?

RE: stealth
By marvdmartian on 4/7/2011 3:24:39 PM , Rating: 1
Well, that, and the way those birds keep trying to shoot down the jets by attacking the engine intakes!

Was glad to see this in the article:
"It's not going to transform the airplane, but what it's going to really do is make it much cheaper to operate the F-22 fleet, which is terribly important given its small size."

Especially since I thought for sure that applying anything of this F35 boondoggle to the successful F22 might cause it to perform WORSE! ;)

RE: stealth
By SPOOFE on 4/8/2011 1:41:55 AM , Rating: 2
The only reason the F-35 can be considered a "boondoggle" is because the price-per-plane kept rising. Much like the F-22. Similarly, orders for each plane were slashed significantly.

RE: stealth
By delphinus100 on 4/9/2011 7:55:12 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed, you couldn't be sure if it was a fighter or a cruise missile...

RE: stealth
By nafhan on 4/7/2011 11:47:28 AM , Rating: 5
The USAF needs to genetically engineer a bunch of 600MPH birds and release them into the wild in potential conflict zone, thus increasing the effective ability of the stealth systems aboard current aircraft without modifying the aircraft themselves. Great idea, man! :)

RE: stealth
By MrTeal on 4/7/2011 11:59:29 AM , Rating: 4
If the USAF genetically engineers 600MPH birds, it won't even need the F-22. Just wait to the birds to smash into all opposing troops. It'd be like Fabio, but instead of a bloody nose, they'd be headless.

RE: stealth
By TheNuts on 4/7/2011 12:43:32 PM , Rating: 5
Those would indeed need to be some Angry Birds

RE: stealth
By FITCamaro on 4/7/2011 12:54:28 PM , Rating: 2

RE: stealth
By nafhan on 4/7/2011 1:01:52 PM , Rating: 2
Haha. Yeah, maybe those yellow ones.

RE: stealth
By mindless1 on 4/9/2011 8:45:53 PM , Rating: 2
you answered your own question, something the size of a bird at a few thousand feet up and 600MPH you WON'T SEE even if there are hundreds of them above you right now.

RE: stealth
By inperfectdarkness on 4/11/2011 10:34:22 PM , Rating: 2
i'll fill you in.

the reason why a reduced cross-section is so important is because it reduces the range at which any given radar can detect that aircraft.

let's say hypothetically that an air defense radar has a 10m^2 detection range of 100 miles. however, it only has a 3m^2 detection range of 30 miles. if the radar cross-section can be reduced to 3m^2, then the "threat radius" of that radar has now shrunk by 70%.

this is important in an IADS, because it now creates "holes" through which stealthy aircraft can fly.


let's not forget that our f117's in kosovo were flying the same routes over and over--like vietnam. not a good idea.

Keeping up with the times
By Divide Overflow on 4/7/2011 2:42:00 PM , Rating: 2
It's good to see that they are applying the latest advances to the F-22. Incremental upgrades like this help keep these systems at the peak of performance. Now if only they could get the unit cost down further, we'd be able to afford more of them.

RE: Keeping up with the times
By FITCamaro on 4/7/2011 3:48:48 PM , Rating: 2
The unit cost is high because they are building so few of them. They spread out the cost of the plane over 187 instead of the over 700 initially proposed.

RE: Keeping up with the times
By rcc on 4/7/2011 4:02:06 PM , Rating: 2
It would be interesting to see what the unit cost would be if they ordered another 18, or 180.

RE: Keeping up with the times
By Azethoth on 4/7/2011 6:10:09 PM , Rating: 2
The unit cost would be the economic destruction of the USA as we buy obsolete planes we no longer need to fight a war that China will not be ready for for at least another decade or two. Assuming we ever do fight the Chinese that is. Because all we need to contain China is friendly relations with the largest democracy and soon largest country (by population) on the planet: India. Meanwhile we are better of messing with the unit cost of the F35.

RE: Keeping up with the times
By rcc on 4/7/2011 6:50:32 PM , Rating: 2
blah, blah, unrelated, yeah, got it.

The point being, with the R&D written off on the first 180, I'd like to know what the unit cost drops to. There would be some offset due to restarting the line, and greed, so you have to wonder, what would the unit cost be. Think of it as an exercise in economics. Unfortunately, we can only guess.

RE: Keeping up with the times
By SPOOFE on 4/8/2011 1:47:24 AM , Rating: 2
The unit cost would be the economic destruction of the USA

Yeah, with a 1.5 trillion deficit, it's gonna be a couple billion dollars that causes "destruction".

Hint: We could scrap the entire military and it won't even cover HALF of what we're overspending.

RE: Keeping up with the times
By Zingam on 4/8/2011 4:08:53 AM , Rating: 1
I think that in future USA has no chance in fighting China if they continue the rapid development. China has much more human potential than USA. USA is infiltrated by Chinese from bottom to top and the infiltration will only grow over time. And last but not least the Chinese study so much and so hard engineering while Americans all want to be lawyers and doctors to make quick money on other peoples' perils. There is quite good chance that China will leap over USA technologically in a few years.

So basically continuing to be a world-wide bully, war monger and paranoid the USA will kill themselves at the end just like Soviet Union killed itself by being overly militaristic. In the Eastern Block standard normal goods were often difficult to find just because the whole economy was concentrated on a single goal to fight the Western Imperialism. That war never happened. So everything was for nothing! Thanks God!

Well, I actually think that the Eastern Block never really had the intention to wage war against the Capitalism sometime after Stalin. It was just to keep the masses controlled and the communist rulers in power so they could enjoy lots of the benefits that the West produced but that were available only to them and not to the working classes.
In fact communism/socialism weren't at all what they were supposed to be theoretically.

So militarization basically serves to suppress the masses of their own countries in benefit of the Chosen Ones regardless of political/economic system.

I am really surprised to see how much the Americans fear non-existing, non-real external enemies all the time. Especially Russia is of no threat to USA at all I think but in USA public it appears to be one of the top adversaries still. My opinion is that all Putin cares for are his own earnings and doesn't care about Russia being a super power that will rival USA. That's so history now!

RE: Keeping up with the times
By FITCamaro on 4/8/2011 9:26:41 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think they'll overtake us until after the baby boomer generation dies.

Once that happens, yeah. Because you're right. Hardly anyone goes for engineering anymore. But that's largely due to government policy. Engineering has moved overseas where it can be done cheaper. Most engineering done here is subsidized by the federal government. Or to where there's fear of intellectual property being stolen. Like with Intel.

Weight of paint
By Mclendo06 on 4/7/2011 2:49:43 PM , Rating: 2
Paint is heavy (planes have a lot of surface area). The improvements in the coating probably have more to do with how thin and consistently the coating can be applied, since reducing the thickness of the coating will reduce the weight of the aircraft (potentially by hundreds of pounds or more). As I recall this was something that LM worked pretty hard on with the F-35. Also, there certainly can be cost savings by standardizing the coatings on the two aircraft. In any case, no one at LM (or the Air Force) is going to publicly say anything about the LO characteristics of one coating versus another as such information isn't meant for public consumption.

RE: Weight of paint
By beerhound on 4/7/2011 4:50:04 PM , Rating: 3
I wouldn't know about the new generation of coatings, but on the F117, it most definitely wasn't paint. The stuff was roughly the thickness and flexibility of linoleum floor covering. Then it was painted. It was also very labor intensive because many of the access panels that maintainers had to get into were covered by it. To get to the stuff you needed to work on, you had to make cuts with a carpet knife and then chip it away with a mallet and paint scraper. When the work was done, you would cut replacement pieces to precise shapes and glue it back onto the airframe and finally seal the gaps.

Now compare an F117 to a conventional fighter of similar size like the F15. 90% of the improvement in Radar Cross Section was due to the shape, the coatings only accounted for the last 10%. So what the first gen coatings accomplished was to add about 2000 lbs of weight and loads of extra man hours of work in exchange for a 10% better RCS.

Making the new coatings less labor intensive is the biggest thing they could improve on.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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