Stealth fighters, submarines and aircraft carriers could become ordinary weapons

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The nuclear-powered submarine. Ultra-advanced stealth bombers and fighters. These all represent the most lethal, sophisticated and expensive weapons in the US military’s mighty arsenal—and they might soon all be close to obsolete.

The aircraft carrier, stealth fighters and submarines will still be useful but they will have new vulnerabilities that will limit operations (especially against well funded militaries like Russia and China). The US will also be able to exploit these against the same weapon systems for China and Russia. It could cause a shift to different more cost effective weapons.

* new technology could allow stealth planes to be detected at longer ranges
* submarines
* Aircraft carriers are very vulnerable to new missiles and pervasive satellite detection

Operating the carrier in the face of increasingly lethal and precise missiles will thus require the United States to expose a multibillion-dollar asset to high levels of risk in the event of a conflict. A saturation attack of missiles against the carrier from a variety of platforms and directions would be difficult—if not impossible—to defend against.

Exposing Submarines

The ability of submarines to hide through quieting alone will decrease as each successive decibel of noise reduction becomes more expensive and as new detection methods mature that rely on phenomena other than sounds emanating from a submarine. These techniques include lower frequency active sonar and non-acoustic methods that detect submarine wakes or (at short ranges) bounce laser or light-emitting diode (LED) light off a submarine hull. The physics behind most of these alternative techniques has been known for decades, but was not exploited because computer processors were too slow to run the detailed models needed to see small changes in the environment caused by a quiet submarine. Big Data processing enables advanced navies to run sophisticated oceanographic models in real time to exploit these detection techniques. As they become more prevalent, they could make some coastal areas too hazardous for manned submarines.

New sensors and related improvements to torpedo seekers could enable completely new approaches to finding and attacking submarines. Today short range detection requires difficult and time and resource intensive submarine hunting.

New sensor and seeker capabilities could instead enable a “fire and forget” approach in which ASW (anti-submarine warfare) forces detect a submarine at long range and apply computer processing to obtain enough precision for an attack using long-range missiles with torpedo warheads. This kind of attack may not sink the submarine, but would likely compel it to at least evade, breaking its initiative and making it more detectable.

Stealth planes detection

National Interest Defense Editor, Dave Majumdar describes the situation.

China appears to be building a new high-frequency radar on an artificial feature in the Spratly Islands that could allow Beijing to track even the stealthiest American warplanes, including the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and even the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit.

HF radars actually operate on low frequencies relative to the VHF, UHF, L, S, C, X and Ku bands, which are more typically used by military radars. These low frequencies have waves that are several meters long and, consequently, most stealth aircraft show up on HF radar. In order to defeat low frequency radar, a stealth aircraft has to eliminate features like fins, which is why the flying-wing shape is the best way available to avoid detection. That is because there is an omnidirectional resonance effect that occurs when a feature on an aircraft—such as a tail-fin—is less than eight times the size of a particular frequency wavelength. As a result, there is a step change in radar cross section once that threshold is exceeded. Since every stealth aircraft currently in America’s fleet exceeds that threshold—even the B-2 is not large enough to avoid most HF radars—every U.S. aircraft would show up on the Chinese radar. Indeed—all stealth aircraft will show up at some frequency.