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Can China’s New Destroyer Find U.S. Stealth Fighters?

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The first of the People's Army Liberation Navy Type 052D Luyang III destroyer. PLAN Photo

The first of the People’s Army Liberation Navy Type 052D Luyang III destroyer. PLAN Photo

Can China’s new Type 052D Luyang III destroyers successfully see through the stealth of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter?

Maybe.

U.K., Chinese and Russian media report the radar on China’s new destroyer could track and engage the F-35; however it is not clear if such claims have any validity.

Konstantin Sivkov, director of the Russian Academy for Geopolitical Issues, asserted that the destroyer’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system can detect, track and launch weapons against the F-35 at a range of 350 kilometers or about 189 nautical miles, according to a Voice of Russia report.

The Type 052D carries a Type 346 AESA radar and a Type 518 L-band radar paired with the CPMIEC HQ-9B surface-to-air missile defense system. The HQ-9B is thought to have an effective range of about 200 kilometers or roughly 108 nautical miles, according to local press reports.

Doubts are immediately cast upon Sivkov’s claims because of the HQ-9B’s range, but assessment may not be entirely incorrect—particularly if the Type 346 radar is an S-band radar like the Lockheed SPY-1 radar mounted on U.S. Navy Aegis warships.

An image from Chinese media of a H9 missile test shot in 2012.

An image from Chinese media of a H9 missile test shot in 2012.

Tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are by necessity optimized to defeat higher-frequency bands such the C, X and Ku bands as a simple matter of physics. There is a “step change” in a low observable (LO) aircraft’s signature once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect.

Typically, that resonance occurs when a feature on an aircraft—such as a tail-fin — is less than eight times the size of a particular frequency wavelength. Effectively, small stealth aircraft that do not have the size or weight allowances for two feet or more of radar absorbent material coatings on every surface are forced to make trades as to which frequency bands they are optimized for.

However, while there is a step change in a stealth fighter’s radar cross-section when it is operating against lower-frequency radars such as the S or L band, there are many factors that are involved in detecting and tracking a low observable aircraft.

Much depends on the range of the aircraft to the radar transmitter and the strength of the omni-directional return from the target aircraft as a result of the resonance effect.

Even with the resonance effect, there may not be a strong enough return to track a stealth aircraft like the F-35 from a tactically significant distance.

The other problem that the defender must contend with is the fact that the L-band and most parts of the S-band have radar resolution cells that are too large to provide a weapons quality track. Effectively, even if a defender can detect and track an attacking stealthy fighter, that defender may not be able to guide a missile onto that target.

That being said, both the SPY-1 and the forthcoming Raytheon Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) operate in higher frequency portions of the S-band and are able to generate weapons quality tracks. If the Chinese system is similar—and there are indications that it is—it could generate fire-control quality guidance for the HQ-9B missiles.

Further according to industry sources, there may be a way to reduce the size of the large radar resolution cells generated by lower-frequency radars—to include UHF and VHF band systems.

The key is networking, industry sources said. If multiple low-frequency radars are connected via high-speed data-networks, it is possible that the resolution cell could be refined to the point where a missile could be guided onto that target.

Currently, it isn’t known if any potential U.S. adversary possesses a similar capability, but it’s a remote possibility.

However, it is not inconceivable that Russia or China could be working to develop such networked systems. In fact, according to industry sources, both nations are likely to be working diligently to develop such capabilities.

  • http://www.usmc.mil @notrizzo

    Well here is a seperate problem for our Chinese friends, while thy are trying to get a targetting track on the theoretical F-35C they will also have to deal with jamming from the EA-18G Growler, making their job much more difficult, but even more important. By the time the Destroyer is able to get any kind of return on the attacking aircraft they have already been within strike range with Anti-Radiation Missiles and a swarm of Harpoon missiles. In fact for attacking that destroyer the F-35 can sit back and provide the targetting info to F-18E/Fs from the strike group who can each carry 4+ harpoons , launch them from all around the compass and then let’s see how the Chinese AAW systems deal with the Aegis nightmare scenario.

    • Gregory Dittman

      The F-35 has true pass off weapon technology that can be linked to several different weapon systems automatically including drones, submarines and destroyers. If the enemy is close to shore, even land based weapons could be used. The F-35 could sit back and let other weapon systems attempt to sink the ship.

      • rogerinflorida

        Which is one of the reasons why any military conflict with PRC will go nuclear immediately.

        • Gregory Dittman

          The Chinese generals have said for years that a war with the U.S. would be a nuclear war, that is if their nuclear weapons actually work. That could be the reason why some of the first radar tracking video was of the F-35 tracking ballistic missiles.

          As of 2012, China still didn’t have ICBMs, but it is suppose to have nuclear armed submarines. China plans to have up to 6 Type 94 and one Type 92 submarine. Those submarines will be it’s naval nuclear arm fleet. Note that these submarine mission service length is 90 days. That means it can go 27,000 miles before going back to port. China has lost one Type 92 submarine already.

          Another thing China has to worry about is corruption and nuclear safety systems. The captain of a Type 94 could sale to Iran and the crew could end up being very rich. That’s one of the reasons China does not send its military anywhere. It is too afraid the troops would defect or just walk away. There is no patriotic loyalty for the Chinese government.

    • david_alman

      Yeah and then as soon as the EA-18s light up the jammers the Chinese send up some passive anti-radiation missiles to kill the Growlers. It’s not like the US is just going to walk over a modern, capable force. Plus you have to remember that more than likely this Chinese DDG isn’t going to be operating independently in the Blue water. It’s going to be within the First Island Chain or in the South China Sea supported by a land based integrated air defense network and fighters. And if those F-18E/Fs are within strike range, then that CVBG is also going to be in range of DF-21s, ASCMs, etc. There is a LOT more going on here.

      • http://www.usmc.mil @notrizzo

        While I agree there is a “lot more going on here” I do have an issues, what is this “passive anti-radiation missiles” bit coming from? Exactly what range do you think these theoretical missiles have? And I’ve never heard of a surface to air anti-radiation missile with Home-On-Jam capability. The technological challenges (and the range issue I mentioned) of this system would be daunting.

        • Cocidius

          There are variants of the S-300/S-400 SAM systems that have passive seeking capability. If the radar seeker is being jammed the missile will switch to passive mode and home on the nearest jamming source.

          • http://www.usmc.mil @notrizzo

            Range is still an issue, the jammers and Harpoon launching aircraft can still operate well outside the engagement envelope of the Destroyer’s defensive systems. Without CAP those destoryers are sitting ducks, no matter if they can get a track on the F-35 or not.

        • david_alman

          This is one that I found: http://missilethreat.com/defense-systems/ft-2000/

          Also, it ties directly into China’s “3 attacks, 3 defends” strategy.

          Plus, why do you say it would be so daunting? An AIM-120 has its own active radar seeker. A passive homing missile only needs to receive, much like an AIM-7. So range wouldn’t be an issue. And if it was an issue, you just mount whatever guidance system it uses onto a missile with long enough range. As long as you have a sensitive enough receiver then you can get it in to the general vicinity of the target and at that point if your RF based homing isn’t robust enough, switch to IR or to an active seeker. But honestly, there shouldn’t be a problem with having a robust enough RF based seeker. Think about antennas that track onto satellites…same principle.

      • Phantom_Vapor

        Seems the majority of people here are forgetting about submarines! Torpedoes/mines will blow you clean out of the water!

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Is it me, or does that ‘new destroyer’ look an awful lot like our
    “Arleigh Burke” class?

    • Timothy Choi

      You must be new to these parts – they looked like that in their previous Type 052C, too.

      But really, you either have the arrays below (as here and the Burkes) or above the bridge (as with the European designs), and either clustered (as Aegis and European APARs) or distributed (as the Japanese DD-115s). In any case, all have already been done, so there’s bound to be some visual similarity with existing designs.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        I guess that’s the reason why their most ‘modern’ fighters look like ours as well, huh?

    • Erik W.

      China is a nation of thieves. You should never be surprised when something they “develop” looks like something that already exists in the west. Such as their new stealth fighter that looks exactly like the F-22.

  • 2IDSGT

    Click bait…

  • Schnauzerdash

    Most are on the ground not flying and they are not allowed to fly at night.
    They should be easy enough to find.

  • Western

    Well, can the F-35 issue multiple tweets while in stealth mode?

  • Michael Flower

    - Prove It First!

    Anybody can make a claim? Making a claim is the Easy Thing, Proving the claim is Not! Prove it First!!!

  • Diogenes

    There sure are some optimists reading today! Got our Growlers and F-35s seriously kicking some Chinese tail. Kind of like reading Captain America. And who says our next enemy is the Chinese? We have lots of enemies.
    One only has to look at the Marines’ pre-WWII Brewster F2A Buffalo for a corollary. It was perhaps the worst of many bad airplanes the US bought to defend America before the realities of WWII got in the way. The Marines wanted a fast monoplane fighter that could bomb, fly from carriers, and be a rugged competitor. They got the Buffalo, which they soon called a “flying coffin” and not without good reason.

    Its failure was a terrible surprise to the trusting public and more than a few Marine pilots who found themselves totally outclassed. Another case of somebody believing their own BS. Although it did journeyman service in Finnish hands against Russian A/C during their ugly Winter War it was junk outclassing worse junk.

    Nobody else had anything like it, Brewster promised when it was selling it to the American public. It was true. Nobody in the world wanted it except a few battered allies willing to buy anything that flew. The Buffalo was a slow, heavy, underpowered, mediocre, high maintenance warplane when the US needed much better. Boy does that sound familiar! Maybe the F-35 should be rechristened the Lockheed Martin F-35 Buffalo II instead of the Lightening II.

  • Rex Burgos

    Have they been TESTED in combat. its comparing apples and oranges if if we will compare it to the Arleigh Burke.. We don’t even know if they are effective in tracking Gripens or the latest F-18 or F-16..

  • TargettedForDeletion

    With modern digital signal processing, RADAR returns can be decluttered through oversampling and tiny, tiny returns can be tracked. This leap in back-end processing means the entire stealth programme is redundant. Stealth aircraft are aerodynamically compromised for nothing, The F-35 in particular is a slow cumbersome plane – with no hope of fending off any dedicated twin-engined fighter in the same airspace – the limited payload (for stealth) means you require more planes – which is self-defeating – if the lack of (hideously expensive) F-35s forces you to carry external weapons then the already appalling performance is worsened and any pretence to stealth given up. If your rules of engagement require a visual ID of your enemy (almost certainly) then F-35 is a sitting duck and F-22 has an old limited version of sidewinder and no off-bore visual cueing system like the Typhoon (Striker is now fully operational), Rafale (rubbish WVR A2A weapons) or Mig-29.

    Unless you’re in a total war situation you will not be fighting beyond visual range – even if you are – F-22 has a huge heat signature which is trackable passively by (unblockable) modern IRSTs. To remain competative F-22 must upgrade it’s WVR weapons to improve off-bore acquisition and provide helmet mounted cueing, BVR they should swallow their pride and abandon AMRAAM for METEOR, the US banked on F-22 being “invisible” and neglected to keep AMRAAM leading edge (block E is just a sticking plaster – AMRAAM is no longer competitive) – this decision will come back to haunt them – In short, the holes in F-22’s armoury are glaring – F-35 is just a waste of time and money. The US should have kept on developing AIM-54.

    • Dogosse_Giar

      Could you elaborate as to why the US should have kept developing the AIM-54?

      • TargettedForDeletion

        In a word, range. Yes I know there were many problems with the final stage manoeuvrability of AIM-54 but I’m sure modern technology could have fixed those.

        • Dogosse_Giar

          I see, because the current gen of AMRAAMs are still out-ranged by the old AIM-54.

          • TargettedForDeletion

            Indeed they are – I suspect the range for the D variant of AMRAAM is rather over-stated for political reasons – You don’t double the range of a missile with a handful of tweaks! The US will be forced to buy METEOR since they inexplicably cancelled JDRADM and they are having trouble funding FMRAAM – it’s only a matter of time. Of course the other issue is the US’s premier air superiority fighter (the F-22) can only fire block C AMRAAM! Oops – a bit of an oversight!

  • Secundius

    We to mu knowledge only one under strength Marine Corps F/AV-35B LIGHTNING II squadron posted in Japan. And of those planes, none have encountered either PLAAF or PLAN forces. So how the Chinese can make the claim, the their new destroyer design can counter the F/AV-35B defenses is beyond my understanding.

  • Richard5877

    Didn’t know China used our ( English) numbers……..

  • Secundius

    Arabic Numerals as there called, were actually developed by the Hindus. But the Arab traders that spread the numbered symbols to the know world got the credit and were named after them.

  • Secundius

    If its possible to fry the electronics of an modern jet fighter. Using the SPY-1D phased-array radar on a TICONDEROGA class Guided-Missile Cruisers or the ARLEIGH BURKE class Guided-Missile Destroyer, with maximum gain output of 6Mw.

    You should be able too the same to incoming Anti-Shipping Missile.

  • Secundius

    For some reason Mainland China, cant’t or are unable to make a decent indigenous Ship, Modern Jet Fighter, or anything else. With the exception of the food and language, they only know how to make counterfeit copies of modern western designs.
    And of those counterfeit designs, and there all bad copies. No quality control. Even there best Modern Jet Fighter, the Chengdu J-20. Spends more time on the ground than in the air, being fixed for whatever problems. Their Nuclear-Powered submarines are as noisey under the water as the Russian BEAR bomber is in the air. Their quality control for lack-of-a-better word “SUCKS”. It seem their doctrine build and produce as much as you can, and Screw the Quality Control. Too the PLA congress, their people are expendable assets to be used, what ever the cost. Hopefully their New Aircraft Carrier, Destroyer, and Frigate designs reflect the same standards.