How to shoot down an F-35. An Amateur Weapons Designers Guide

Weapons Design Jul 8, 2016

So I've been rater silent.. I've been working on two blogs, one on Ireland during WWII and how we were so neutral we weren't neutral at all. I was working on that in the run up to Brexit and of course, that took a lot of my attention as both someone who will most likely be affected by it in the future and as a Europhile thinking rater gloomily about the future of the Union. But we're back and we're talking about Weapons Systems again today and the specific future of BVR weapons.

The main reason I'm thinking about this is the Lockheed-Martin and the USAF's PR push for the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II. They are now making a lot of noise about how much they've improved so many aspects of it, how much more maneuverable it is, how many software bugs have been fixed and so on. Now some or all of that may be true, I've heard from many several places about how good or bad things have gotten, but the one thing that's not really talked about all that often is how god damn hot the thing runs!

It runs so hot that to stop of the fuel from combusting in it's tanks that refueling has to use pre-cooled fuel and Lockheed-Martin and the USAF are redesigning the inerter that keeps the levels of oxygen in the fuel tank at a low level. This is super important because J1 Jet Fuel is at it's most combustible as a vapor. It also means that it's super important not to fly too close to a thunder storm or Lightning could down a Lightning..

But none of that is what we're here to talk about today. We're going to talk about the Engine. The giant hot engine that that has one giant exhaust that also gets very hot. And hot things have big IR Signatures. And if the wings get so hot it vaporizes the fuel and the rear is hot because of the giant engine, it's going to have a GIANT IR signature.

But what kind of range can you detect an IR Signature from? Well the AIM-9 Sidewinder is the IR missile with the greatest range that I know of and that is out to 30-35 Km. There exists IR Radar but that is shockingly new and basically designed to counteract stealth aircraft. Being so new, it's operational range is highly classified..

So my theory as to where anti F-35 weapons will either have a giant acronym like Beyond Visual Range, Lock On After Launch, Infrared Red Missile or BVR LOAL IRM. Or it will if the F-35 isn't as good as Lockheed-Martin and the USAF think for first look, first kill aircraft since the missiles it will be using for BVR combat are AIM-AMRAAM 120's which can have a launch detected at maybe 30 Km range from some probably unreliable sources. But that's boring and can all be solved by stuff that all ready exists! So we're going to look at the first option!

So how do we find an F-35 or any Stealth aircraft at range since it is a "First look, First Kill" and designed to engage at Beyond Visual Range? Well to see something like that at range you need an early warning radar, something akin to the Over the Horizon RADAR at Chernobyl known as Duga 3. It's frankly gigantic and completely and completely unrealistic as something that could fit in the nose of a plane or a missile. But that kind of RADAR is really only good for say, bouncing a signal off the ionosphere. If you take the L-Band, UHF or VHF, and can process the signal enough to reduce noise in the RADAR then you can find and hit the plane as the USA found out in 1999 when the Serbian's shot down an F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Aircraft.

So we know this can be done. But didn't the F-117 get shot down by a S-125 that locked on when the bomb bay doors opened up? Yeah.. And that's the thing. That's a super small window to hit something and unless you can cover 100 Km in a few seconds, BVR is out of the game. So we can find the plane at range, but how do we hit it? We have a giant IR signature. So the missile is fired and doesn't lock on. It goes in the general direction of the aircraft. When it gets to within 30 Km, it can start to detect it with IR and lock on like an AIM-9 Sidewinder.

So since so much technology exists already but isn't in one package, can we squeeze all that RADAR and IR detection tech into a small enough package that we can put in a 230mm package to fit on the wing of a Flanker a Fulcrum or a PAK-FA? Or say a 203mm package to be used on a Chengdu J-20? Or even 180mm package suitable to fit on a NATO to be used on an F-22 or F-35 as a replacement for an AMRAAM 120 against other stealth aircraft? That is a whole other question.

But what I really want to do is to see if I can build such a thing and make it work! And can it be done with things I have lying around my bedroom and garage.. IR camera connected a Raspberry Pi to control the sensor and detech targets. Then an arduino to turn movement commands from the RPi into attitude changes from an amateur rocket motor. It will be missing an IFF system but that requires having friendly signatures so you can identify who's who and that's the job of a real defense contractor when the time comes for someone to make one for real operational use.

So as I'll get my head around this problem that really isn't a problem and have updates in time


Paddy Kerley

DFCS at TU Dublin's Cyber Program and talk giver TU Dublin Hacker Soc. Mostly talks about Cyberwarfare, NatSec, Infosec, Big Safari, Arms Control, North Korea, OSINT and stuff that goes boom

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