Plasma stealth technology is so cool, why did Russia give up?

Before the Su-57 came out, there were two popular candidates for the fifth-generation Russian aircraft, one was Sukhoi’s Su-47 “Golden Eagle”, and the other was Mikoyan’s MiG 1.44. The “Golden Eagle” has attracted countless fans with its unique forward-swept wings, while the “Magic weapon” of the MiG 1.44 was plasma stealth.


When it comes to plasma stealth, it is not a particularly mysterious technology. Plasma stealth is a proposed process to use ionized gas (plasma) to reduce the radar cross-section (RCS) of an aircraft. Interactions between electromagnetic radiation and ionized gas have been extensively studied for many purposes, including concealing aircraft from radar as stealth technology.

In this medium and high pressure plasma, there are four typical time scales, plasma frequency, electromagnetic wave oscillation frequency, gas molecule collision frequency, and relaxation time. When a specific parameter relationship is met, the electromagnetic wave irradiated on the plasma exhibit a broadband strong absorption characteristic, thereby suppressing the reflected signal strength, and even causing interruption of the transmission of electromagnetic wave signals with ground measurement and control equipment or relay satellites, that is, Commonly referred to as the “black barrier” phenomenon.

If you find a way to artificially generate this medium and high pressure plasma, instead of relying on speed and air friction, then you can install the plasma generator on the aircraft, artificially generate plasma on the surface of the body, and when certain conditions are reached, the enemy radar waves can be absorbed, causing the enemy’s radar detection to fail, thereby achieving stealth.

This is not a fantasy, Russia has indeed produced this plasma generator, and it has developed to the third generation, each weighing more than 100 kilograms. The Kirdesh Research Center, the unit that develops the plasma generator, is a subordinate department of Russia’s Roscosmos, which also confirms its discovery, which is related to the “black barrier” of the manned spacecraft.

Russian Plasma Generator
Russian Plasma Generator

There have been data and calculations, the body shape of the MiG 1.44 without any stealth design, the front RCS value is roughly 2 to 5 square meters, the same level as the Su 27. However, after the use of plasma stealth, the frontal radar reflection cross-sectional area can be reduced to 1/100 of the original, that is, 0.02 and 0.05. Although there is still a certain distance compared to the F22 of 0.001 square meters, still it is already much stronger than the current Su 57.

In addition to stealth, Soviet and Russian scientists have found that the use of plasma technology in certain parts of the aircraft can reduce flight resistance by about 30%. At the same time, the French Dassault company also conducted a similar study, using the plasma jet to blow off the boundary layer, and came to the conclusion that the drag can be reduced. At the same time, in the 1970s, the United States also conducted research on plasma stealth and drag reduction technology.

Since plasma stealth is so fragrant, why not only Russia did not insist on the MiG 1.44, some people say that Russia has no money and cannot continue, but why did the United States and France not carry out similar research? The reason is that the plasma stealth technology is immature, and even has congenital defects and insufficient practicability.

First of all, although the plasma can be invisible, the medium and high pressure plasma it emits has a strong infrared radiation signal, and it will reveal its whereabouts from afar. Just look at the bright trajectory of the spacecraft when it re-enters the atmosphere. Secondly, although the plasma can be invisible, it also shields the internal electromagnetic signals from being emitted outward, making it impossible for the aircraft to communicate with the outside world, just like the spacecraft in the “black barrier” period. Third, the plasma generator consumes a lot of power, and a single plasma generator has a very small range of action. If a bomber wants to achieve complete stealth, it is estimated that hundreds of plasma generators need to be installed, not to mention the weight, even the power consumption Far exceeds the power generation capacity of the aircraft, unless nuclear-powered aircraft are fully practical in the future.

MiG 1.44 model at MAKS 2021
MiG 1.44 model at MAKS 2021

Even the MiG 1.44 eventually abandoned plasma stealth technology and returned to a stealth shape design later the same design copy by China and name J-20. At the Moscow Air Show in 2021, Russia launched the stealth version of the MiG 1.44 model, which means that the technical misunderstanding of the aircraft’s plasma stealth technology has been completely ended.

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