The Showdown Between the F-35 and the Russian Weapons Built to Stop It Is Finally Here
The F-35 has been a lightning rod for critics during its long, turbulent path to becoming the more expensive warplane in history. In addition to American critics lambasting its capabilities and bloated budget, one source of constant critique has been the Russians, who sell anti-aircraft missiles that, according to Russia, can track and destroy stealth targets. Viktor Ozherelev, a division head at the firm Almaz-Antey, even claimed at a 2007 arms show that “the Americans know their stealth program has failed.”
That’s a bit of hyperbole, but it’s true that the Russians have digitized older systems and installed new seekers into warheads, making older equipment more fearsome.
All of which makes the question of the F-35’s stealthiness a life-or-death matter. Engineers designed the F-22 to be unseen at many wavelengths and from many directions. The Lightning II does not offer many radar returns when the waves strike it from the front. But the F-35 does not have the curves of the F-22 Raptor that mask the plane from radar at all angles. When radar comes from the side, the returns are stronger.
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