Hearing some intriguing reports that Baghdad’s air defense system may have seen F-117A stealth fighter/bombers coming. Unsure yet of the timing, but the anti-aircraft fire seemed to be aimed in the direction of the jet’s approach and the sirens and guns lit up moments before the F-117As came into range. CNN is reporting that the Pentagon is concerned that sophisticated long-range radar may be operating somewhere in Iraq, which would complicate and possibly lessen the USAF stealth advantage.
But it wouldn’t take a a super-sophisticated technology to bring down a stealth fighter. In 1999, the Serbs likely shot down an F-117A using a Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles and a relatively simple electro-optical tracking sensors deployed in the former Soviet bloc. Military Information Technology Online says these sensors
have a narrow field of view and are only able to acquire a target with the accuracy necessary to “lock on” if cued precisely onto the highest threat. These systems use radar as the surveillance and cueing sensor to achieve this. But while one of these electro-optical sights will see a stealth aircraft, a radar would not be able to point it in the right direction.
A target would have to fly directly into the narrow field of view covered by the thermal sight in order to accurately track it. Some authorities suspect this is the scenario that led to the F-117A being shot down by the Serbs which, if true, still shows that the F-117 is vulnerable to even primitive technologies under the right circumstances.
Furthermore, Serbia sold off the material from the crash to the highest bidders, and Saddam made contacts with former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, according to ABC News back in 1999. China, too, is known to have worked with Iraq in developing an air defense system.
According to reports, the stealth-detection technology China has developed is known as passive coherent location (PCL). It works by tracking the signals of civilian radio and television broadcasts and analyzing the minute turbulence in these commercial wavelengths caused by aircraft, including stealth aircraft. [MIT-Online again]
This is not to say the American aircraft are going to be shot down willy-nilly. The Serbs got lucky in 1999. The Iraqis may be a little trigger-happy and just happened to be pointing in the direction of the F-117As. No doubt American air supremacy will be undiminished.
The Pentagon is giving a briefing at 11 a.m. EST, and maybe some more answers will be forthcoming.