Defeating Stealth

Canopy of VEGA 31, shot down over Serbia on March 27, 1999.

Canopy of F-117A Nighthawk "VEGA 31", shot down over Serbia on March 27, 1999.

Stephen Trimble of The DEW Line links to a thought-provoking article by Lieutenant Colonel Arend G. Westra, USMC, in this month’s Joint Force Quarterly.  LTC Westra argues that the era of stealth dominance is fading, brought about by the rapid improvement of passive radar systems that can detect, track and eventually target stealthy platforms.  This will have rather familiar implications for US warfighting.

This article posits that an ongoing race between stealth and counterstealth is emerging, in which technology will provide only incremental advantage to a combatant until a new counter is found. This assertion does not mean that there are no further opportunities to leverage stealth advantages, but that advances in stealth will be more evolutionary than revolutionary. The future of stealth and counterstealth will more closely resemble the technological one-upmanship that occurred during World War II and the Cold War than the order of magnitude advantage the United States enjoyed during the Gulf War and the two decades that have followed. Against a passive radar adversary, air superiority will likely only be achieved at significant cost. Forcible entry and amphibious operations will accordingly prove much more challenging. Once again, the defensive form of warfare asserts itself.

— Westra, Arend G. (Lt. Col, USMC).  “Passive Radar and the Future of U.S. Military Power.” Joint Force Quarterly, 4th Quarter 2009.

The colonel argues for more US spending on passive radar and counterstealth technologies, to better understand what sort of countermeasures and tactics an adversary is likely to employ. In other words, better to find out now in peacetime, than to have the first wave of door-kickers shot down on Day One of a conflict.

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