New Chinese Tech Leaves Weapons Experts on Edge

( – Chinese researchers claim to have developed a new stealth system that, unlike current technology, can make aircraft completely invisible to radar. Based on plasma, it doesn’t require aircraft to have a specific shape, so it could potentially be used to upgrade older warplanes. A researcher says it could soon be operational with the Chinese military.

On February 19, the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, reported that researchers at China’s Xian Aerospace Propulsion Institute had developed a new kind of plasma stealth device. Researchers have been working on plasma stealth since the 1950s, but so far nobody’s managed to develop a system that could actually be fitted to a combat aircraft.

Tan Chang claims that’s now changed. He says his team has successfully tested two different types of devices; one of them uses an electron beam to create large areas of plasma, which can be positioned to cover highly reflective areas of an aircraft like the radar dome or cockpit. The plasma blocks radar beams and prevents them from creating a return signal off of the aircraft, meaning it can’t be detected. According to Tan, the system is lightweight and energy efficient. So far it’s only been tested on the ground, but Tan says he expects China to deploy operational systems “soon.”

The article claims the device can be switched on whenever stealth is required, rapidly screening the aircraft. That’s an important feature; plasma stealth can’t be used permanently, because if a transmitter — for example the radar dome — is screened with plasma, the stealth device will prevent enemy radar from giving a return, but it will also prevent the plane’s own radar from working.

That’s a disadvantage compared with current stealth, which is passive; it works by using the aircraft’s shape and special radar-absorbent coatings to minimize returns, reducing the range the aircraft can be detected at. It makes the aircraft harder to see, but plasma stealth could make it completely invisible.

If China can fit plasma stealth systems to its large fleet of fourth-generation warplanes it would make its air force much more powerful than it is now, and seriously reduce the US technological advantage.

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