Russian plasma stealth fighters

First developed by the Russians, plasma stealth technology is also known as “Active Stealth Technology”. Plasma stealth is a proposed process that uses ionized gas (plasma) to reduce the radar cross section (RCS) of an aircraft. A plasma stream is injected in front of the aircraft covering the entire body of the aircraft and absorbing most of the electromagnetic energy of the radar waves, thus making the aircraft difficult to detect.

There are few experimental studies of plasma’s effect on RCS. One of the most interesting articles was published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 1963 and described the effect of plasma on the RCS of aircraft. The article entitled “Radar cross sections of dielectric or plasma coated conducting spheres and circular cylinders” was based on the data offered by Sputnik, the first artificial satellite launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957.

While trying to track Sputnik it was noticed that its electromagnetic scattering properties were different from what was expected for a conductive sphere. This was due to the satellite travelling inside of a plasma shell.While Sputnik was flying at high velocity through the ionosphere it was surrounded by a naturally-occurring plasma shell and because of it there were two separate radar reflections: the first from the surface of the satellite itself and the second from the plasma shell. If one of the reflections is greater the other one will not contribute much to the overall effect. When the two reflections have the same order of magnitude and are out of phase relative to each other cancellation occurs and the RCS becomes null. The aircraft becomes invisible to radar.

In January 1999, the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS published an interview with Doctor Anatoliy Koroteyev who talked about the plasma stealth device developed by his organization. Doctor Koroteyev was the director of the Keldysh Research Center. There have also been claims that in 2002 the Russians tested a plasma stealth device on board a Su-27 and RCS was reduced by a factor of 100.

The Keldysh Research Center has created a plasma generator that weights no more than 100 kilos, thus making it possible to be fitted on board most tactical aircraft. Current stealth technology uses radar absorbent materials (RAM) and angled surfaces that don’t reflect radar waves back. This constitutes as a main drawback, since an alteration of the airframe has negative effects on the flight characteristics of these aircraft. The third generation stealth technology F-22 Raptor seems however to be an exception since it is both a fast aircraft and very manoeuvrable.

By using a plasma generator the aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft do not suffer which in term means that the payload is increased making it more effective. The use of this technology offers the benefit of not having to carry the payload internally to be able to fool enemy radar. The Sukhoi Su-35 and the MiG-35 (both upgrades of Su-27 and MiG-29) are the first to benefit from this technology.

One of the most interesting Russian fighters to benefit from the plasma stealth technology is the MiG 1.42/1.44 also known as the MFI (Mnogofunktsionalny Frontovoi Istrebitel - Multifunctional Frontline Fighter). This new aircraft is a fifth generation air-superiority fighter, a rival for the American F-22 Raptor. Both aircraft have the same super-cruise capability as well as thrust vectoring for super-manoeuvrability (a capability to fly at supercritical angles of attack, at increased level of sustained and
available g-loads and high turn-angle rate, which require a greater thrust-to-weight ratio and improved wing aerodynamic efficiency). This aircraft may prove to be a milestone in aviation, as so many Russian aircraft were before.

Having greater agility and range than the F-22 the aerodynamically superior MFI will have a top speed of Mach 2.6 versus Mach 1.7 for the F-22 Raptor, and the MFI will be able to cruise supersonically for a longer period. To reduce RCS it sports a heavy coating of RAM, S-shaped compressor channels, internal weapon storage, LO airframe geometry, and maybe an active radar cancellation system (RCS) or a plasma cloud stealth (PCS) system making it stealthier than the F-22 as MiG MAPO claims. Two three-dimensional thrust-vectoring Saturn/Lyulka AL-41F turbofans, capable of 44,100 lb of thrust in afterburner power the MiG 1.42. The key to the MiG-1.42 is its new Phazotron N-014 phased array fire control radar and rear-facing N-012 radar system operating in in air and ground modes simultaneously with ground mapping, search-and-track of moving targets, synthetic aperture radar and terrain avoidance it is capable of detecting any stealth aircraft without a special radar.

Armaments: Everything in VVS fighter weapons inventory, including R-77 missiles.
MFI would also have some special weapons, like ultra-long-range AA missiles (Novator).

Radar Equipment: Forward and rearward facing radars; forward-facing radar N-014 phased array with electronically-scanned antenna - simultaneous tracking of 40 and engagement of up to 20 targets; effective range against a fighter-sized target: 420km, extended AS capability, ground mapping capability; rearward-facing radar N-012.

Stealth Features: Composite RAM, S-shaped compressor channels, internal weapons storage, LO airframe geometry, perhaps an active radar cancellation system or a plasma cloud stealth system.