by Richard Sheffield
2 The F-117A: The Real Stealth Fighter
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was becoming very clear to military planners that air defense systems all over the world were relying heavily on radar-based systems. The Linebacker I and II bombing raids into North Vietnam were dependent upon highly complex and expensive antiradar activities. On many missions, as many as one-third of all the aircraft involved were not carrying bombs for the target but were flying one of several missions to help foil enemy radar. First the Wild Weasels would go in to attack any operating radar sites. They would be followed by radar jamming aircraft, and then each bomber would drop huge amounts of chaff as it attacked the target. All this was an attempt to defeat radar.
Then, in October of 1973, war broke out again in the Middle East. In early air operations, the Israelis took a pounding from the SA-6 SAM missiles the Egyptians had acquired from the Soviets. Their jamming devices had been very successful against the older SA-2 and SA-3 systems but were not effective at all against the newer SA-6. Eventually, the U.S. provided effective jammers and the Israelis changed their tactics, but it was an unwelcome surprise.
It seemed clear jammers could be developed to counter almost any radar, but only after the new radar had been used successfully against you. Jammer development would likely lag behind radar development, always reacting and one step behind. This led researchers to seek out a completely new way of defeating radar that wouldn't be as susceptible to surprises.