by Dave Majumdar

“If you have a single IRST ship, with your IRST, you can get a line of bearing—it’s going to see a hot spot out there, what direction it’s in, but it doesn’t have the distance. You don’t have a weapons quality track,” Kornegay said. “Now if you combine two aircraft, the fusion algorithm, now you have lines of bearing from two different sources. Where those two sources cross, the algorithm is going to compute a weapons quality track on that aircraft. So that’s a huge advantage for the war fighter to see that long before you’re in the enemy’s radar range.”

Indeed, as Gillian noted, the IRST is explicitly a counter-stealth development designed to defeat enemy low observable aircraft. “If the enemy aircraft coming at you is low radar cross section—low radar signature—it is still emitting a heat signature,” Kornegay said. “So it helps us as the enemies are starting to develop their stealth aircraft. It helps us to defeat that by moving outside of that X-band range.”

The U.S. Navy demonstrated the capability of the networked IRST, DTP-N and TTNT during the service’s Fleet Exercise 2017 onboard a pair of specially modified Super Hornets. The feedback from the naval aviators who flew during the exercise was that the capability was “eye-watering”—they were developing weapons quality tracks on targets that they had never seen before, Kornegay said.

Capt. David ‘DW’ Kindley, the Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265) program manager, said that he could not talk about the specific types of platforms that the Navy practiced against during Fleet Exercise 2017. “Can’t talk about specific experiments and specific threats, but IRST is designed to be a long-range counter-stealth technology,” Kindley said.

Indeed, the Block I IRST was so effective during Fleet Exercise 2017 and other tests that the U.S. Air Force—which has traditionally been the Pentagon’s leading proponent of stealth technology—is planning on buying 130 of the pods for its Boeing F-15 Eagle fleet as a counter to emerging enemy stealth aircraft. Thus, ironically, the best counter to fifth-generation threats is a fourth-generation fighter equipped with new sensors and networking capability.