In the US Air Force, some strange things are happening. 11 years ago, the shock, inconspicuous Lockheed F-117 “Night Hawk” shock fighters returned to service. Moreover, four machines were transferred to the Middle East to participate in operations in Syria and Iraq. Even there is information that resuscitated airplanes are already performing tasks for bombing. And one of them made an emergency landing at an Air Force base in Saudi Arabia due to an emergency situation.
From the point of view of the technical condition of the machines, this does not cause big questions. More than fifty of them, who had finished flying and giving way to fifth-generation F-22 Raptor fighters in the sky, were deployed at one of the airbases in a special storage facility in 2008. That is, they were not under the open sky. And their resource also does not cause much concern. These planes were supposed to fly until 2018. But at the same time during storage did not feel the loads on the components and assemblies.
Much worse had to be with the “human factor”. The school that trained the Night Hawks pilots closed in 2006. That is almost 13 years ago. During this time, pilots, being in inaction, largely lose their qualifications.
However, the Americans have provided this moment. Apparently, the combat use of the F-117 in the Middle East in 2018-2019 was planned long ago. This is evidenced by the training flights of several “Night hawks” at a military base in the state of Nevada, which began in 2016. It is quite clear that in this way the qualifications of the former pilots of these aircraft were restored.
So what’s the point of such castling? After all, the F-22 are more advanced machines than the F-117. Why do they need to be replaced by airplanes, which not only belong to the previous generation, but also have been preserved for a long time? Indeed, in addition to the problems of technical condition and the readiness of flight personnel, there are also problems of maintenance of complex systems, which include the Night Hawk.
You can put forward two versions of such a strange decision of the US Air Force Command. And both of them are connected with the peculiarities of the Raptors flying in the Syrian sky.
Despite the fact that the F-22 is considered the best tactical aircraft in service, it has its weaknesses.
Firstly, there is no helmet-mounted indication, which makes it difficult to fly at night. “Raptor” pilots working in Syria complain: “We have to literally turn our heads and look for someone else’s plane that we saw some time ago,” says the commander of the 95th Expeditionary Squadron. “Instead of quietly observing the coordinates of this plane on the helmet.”
This is extremely dangerous when the pilot of another aircraft, the Russian Su-35S, at this moment sees you. Yes, exactly, in spite of, according to the developers, the phenomenal stealthiness of the F-22.
However, the reality, as it turned out, is somewhat different from the declared technical characteristics.
In September last year, a lot of noise was made by a screenshot of the sighting display of the Russian fighter, at the crosshairs of which the American F-22 stealth fighter was clearly visible. The case is small – launch an air-to-air missile of medium range R-77 or short range R-73 and the enemy is shot down. All this is captured in the Syrian sky, where two of these aircraft are quite common in solving various combat missions.
Two things contributed to this sad fact for the American pilot. Firstly, the invisibility of any stealth aircraft is a variable quantity, depending on the angle of view. It is fully manifested only when the radar illuminates only the frontal projection of the Raptor. That is, when the planes go head-on. On the side, above or below, the visibility of the aircraft for the radar station is considerably increased.
Secondly, in addition to the radar, the Su-35S is equipped with an effective optical-location system, for which it makes absolutely no difference whether or not stealth technology was used in building the enemy aircraft. The detection range of the airborne target of the OLS-35 reaches 90 kilometers.
From this it follows that the “Raptor” pilots, if the “partner” has a multipurpose fighter of generation 4 ++, Su-35C feel rather uncomfortable.
Accordingly, experts comment on the appearance in Syria of the F-117. According to a fairly common opinion, the Raptor did not meet the expectations placed on it. And above all, by stealth.
However, there is a counter-question: does the Night Hawk meet all expectations?
The inconspicuous modern “invisible” – this feature is very vague. It is a certain arithmetic mean value between the passport values of the effective area of scattering and the probable real value of the ESR, which the experts expose based on the analysis of geometry and other related parameters. It uses both mathematical modeling and purely speculative considerations. In general, the case is pretty rough. About the visibility of the F-117 can be said quite objectively, if its profile is made public on the display of the aiming system Su-35S.
But if you use only passport characteristics, then the EPR “Night Hawk” is more, that is, it is more noticeable for the radar. 0.01 sq.m. against 0.0002 for Raptor.
Suppose the creators of “Raptor” completely lied, and the designers of “Night Hawk” are too modest. But what about the other parameters, which are much more objective?
We assume that the subsonic speed of the F-117 is irrelevant for the aircraft, which should at night (these aircraft were operated precisely at night) to overcome the enemy’s air defense zone and deliver bombing attacks. To increase the secrecy of the aircraft is devoid of virtually all radiating radio systems. He has no radar. Navigation is carried out by an inertial control system and satellite positioning system. It emits only the laser, briefly used to highlight the target during bombing.
In this case, in the case of the detection of a plane or an enemy fighter, or an air defense system, the F-117 has little chance of escape. Since there is practically no defense system. There are no air-to-air missiles, and there is no complex of electronic warfare. A flight quality is very mediocre. For example, the maximum overload during maneuvers does not exceed 6 g.
It must be said that it is not up to par with the Raptor and its main function is the percussion. The F-117 is capable of taking 2.5 tons of bombs. F-22 – 10 tons. The difference is 4 times.
“Night Hawk” was adopted in 1983. And for 8 years he was considered an absolutely invulnerable aircraft. The myth was dispelled in 1991, when, during Operation Storm in the Desert, Iraqis struck an “invisibility” with the help of the Osa MANPADS. Despite evidence from Iraq, the United States refused to recognize this loss. In 1999, another aircraft was shot down in Yugoslavia with the help of ZRK-125.
Well, now, when the capabilities of the radar to detect aircraft have increased significantly, it is rather strange to rely on the invisibility of the Night Hawk. In this connection, it can be assumed that when laying the F-117 routes, Americans will bypass the air defense zones provided by the operation of modern air defense systems. And they will bomb some absolutely depressive objects. Those where the small gangs of terrorists have dug in, both in Syria and Iraq, are still quite enough. By the way, a small payload “Night Hawk” in the destruction of medium-sized objects is quite appropriate. Undoubtedly, the Americans calculated that using the F-117 to solve such problems is cheaper than attracting the F-22.
As for the fate of the F-22, no one is going to clean them from the Middle East. So, the involvement of the Night Hawks is an extension of the range of weapons.