Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

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The Eurofighter can tuck it’s long range air-to-air missiles into recesses in the skin of the aircraft (carry them ‘conformally’). Front on at least its RCS is little more than double that of the F117, and far less than other fighters.

http://www.aviationspectator.com/files/images/Eurofighter-Typhoon-006.preview.jpg

Regular fighters have radar cross sections over over a metre squared, with more modern, technically non stealth designs getting down to around 0.5m^2; like the Rafale for example. The next level down, less than a 1/10 of a square metre, are the F117 and the Eurofighter. Then finally with RCS’s below a 1/100 of a square metre you have the stealth aircraft. The figures I give are not official designations, but are hoped to give some idea in relative terms.

The Eurofighter wasn’t designed to be designated stealthy, but that doesn’t means it’s easy to detect as it approaches. It does have stealth design elements to it, like that engine air intake. And it is painted with radar absorbing finishes.

However. With improving technology infra red cameras can detect the heat of air passing over an aircraft skin now; and at ever increasing ranges. Not to mention the many hundreds of degrees of heat an engine pumps out. The knack is writing software that can spot a distant and faint aircraft heat trace against a background of billions of stars (even in daytime). This is getting very good indeed with some sources looking to pick up an approaching fighter engine 100km away. The actual figures are classified however but will be between 50km and 100km; if not further.

There is also a vast improvement in missile visual identification of targets these days. They can identify the target and, for each aircraft design, hit it where it’s programmed to. Being as big and darkly painted as the Raptor and Lightning II makes them visible long before the Eurofighter.

One of the most visually or infrared stealthy fighters the Gripen. It’s tiny and single engined. It’s not so radar stealthy however. But when radars are switched off or jammed, the little gripen can get pretty close before being spotted.

To combat being detected by infrared scanning, to maintain fast missile releases so they go further, and to preserve aircraft range, fighter designs seek to achieve supercruise; supersonic flight without using reheat (afterburners). Currently the F-22, Eurofighter and latest mark of the Gripen can supercruise. This means they can fire missiles sooner than same missile on a slower aircraft for example.

Perhaps just as importantly as stealth, the Eurofighter and Gripen also have, or are set to have, side scanning AESA radars. These physically scan as well as electronically, broadening their scan arc to 100 degrees either side of straight ahead. This maintains the scanner at an angle, so it doesn’t itself reflect enemy radar back to source, but thereafter pans mechanically. There is a significant advantage in being able to fire a missile and still guide it to target whilst turning away to the side to avoid being detected. The Eurofighters nose cone is bigger than the Gripens and will accept a bigger, more capable unit.

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