What I understand is that anti-radiation missiles are accurate and long range.

So, assume that a fighter aircraft is 100% invisible on radar. However, its radar is transmitting energy continuously which can be detected and targeted using anti-radiation missiles. As Wikipedia suggests there is Russian air-to-air anti radiation missile (Vympel R-27EP).

Wouldn't such a missile neutralize the stealth technology? And why don't we have any other examples of such weaponry other than Russian one?

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    $\begingroup$ "assuming that a fighter aircraft is 100% invisible on radar. However, its radar is transmitting energy continuously which can be detected" - that's contradictory: anything emitting radar is detectable by another radar receiver, not just things reflecting radar signals. $\endgroup$
    – Dai
    Jan 19, 2021 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ Echoing @Dai : a plane that's radiating is -- **by definition -- visible to radar, and not stealthy. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jan 19, 2021 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ Guys, stealth aircraft essentially don't use radar. (Sure, they turn it on when near home base in the US, etc.) $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Jan 19, 2021 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ This question doesn't make any sense to me. "Assume a ninja is 100% undetectable, but if he is constantly screaming wouldn't you be able to detect him?" I mean, sure, but why are you assuming the ninja is screaming to begin with if he is trying to be stealthy? $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 19, 2021 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Fattie Anything emitting radiation of a specific wavelength is detectable, at some distance, by a receiver of radiation of that wavelength. Does that make more sense now? $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Jan 19, 2021 at 20:55

6 Answers 6


There are many anti-radiation missiles in many arsenals, they are designed for air to ground missions, attacking surface to air missile radars from a long distance. I don't know whether it would be possible for an anti-radiation missile to hit an air target.

If we assume it is possible your idea has a significant flaw in that stealth aircraft turn off their radars when they are on a stealth mission. Running a radar is like holding a flare in the middle of a field on a dark night, which is why they don't do it, at least not using conventional radars.

Some stealth airplanes don't even have a radar, for instance the F117. Typically attacks were done using GPS for precision navigation to the target, which is then attacked using precision munitions like laser guided bombs or GPS guided bombs or missiles.

Nowadays here are advanced radar systems that spread signals over multiple frequencies which will blend in with other signals, and can be directed in specific directions to avoid being detected. If a radar beam isn't pointing towards a sensor then the radar won't be detected.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Jan 19, 2021 at 14:53

If the stealth aircraft's radar were continually transmitting, then, yes, the other stealth features would be completely useless, and missiles would easily home in on them and shoot them down. Which is why the radar on stealth aircraft are very rarely used.

Anti-radiation missiles are much more dangerous against ground radars precisely because they are in a fixed position. If the crew turns off the radar, then the missile just has to remember where it last saw the radar, and attack that point. The same can't be said for an aircraft's radar, because they are by definition mobile. Thus an air-to-air missile would have to rely on the element of surprise, basically sneaking up on the enemy plane so they don't realize they're being attacked (and thus have a chance to turn off their radar) until its too late. Which means in turn that its usually better to keep the radar off all the time unless you have some specific need for it, and even then, use it as sparingly as possible.

Note that the same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, for non-stealth aircraft. You can detect another aircraft's radar from a lot further away than it can detect you, so if you have the radar on all the time, you're basically advertising your position to an enemy that you might not even be able to detect. So the only time military aircraft use their radar is if they know they've already been spotted, if they're deliberately playing dumb to act as bait for an ambush, or if they judge that giving away their position is an acceptable trade-off for greater awareness.

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    $\begingroup$ Wording nitpick: "airborne" could include a tethered balloon (to see over nearby hills), so the definition of airborne doesn't actually require "mobile". It does for aircraft radar, though, even including a stealth helicopter: if getting shot at, it wouldn't hover in place. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2021 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ Re: "acceptable trade-off for greater awareness" - in the case of AWACS, that's the awareness of all friendly units in the area, and carrying a huge powerful radar is one of their main purposes. So I'm guessing those military aircraft leave their radars on most of the time. (And don't fly over hostile territory that hasn't been cleared of air defenses.) $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2021 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes Good point on the wording, I'll edit it. And, yes, the whole point of AWACS or similar aircraft is to have their radar functioning, so their radar is typically on most of the time when they're on station. But, of course, if enemy fighters get to close, they certainly have the option of turning the radar off and running away. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2021 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ "Anti-radiation missiles are much more dangerous against ground radars precisely because they are in a fixed position" - unless the radar is mounted on a ground vehicle (especially one that's constantly moving). $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Oct 8, 2021 at 21:55

Yes, but such aircraft can turn off their active emissions (radar, EM jammer, communications etc etc.). And AESA radars can be very select about in which directions it emit to not make the aircraft detected to known threats.

There is also missiles with Home on Jam capabilities. So if you jam to disguise your position for example, such missiles can home in on the jamming signal. So as a stealth aircraft, it is probably another thing to keep turned off unless you really need it.

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    $\begingroup$ It's not uncommon to use dedicated jamming aircraft alongside the stealth aircraft, e.g. the F-18 Growler. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Jan 19, 2021 at 7:34

As an addition to other answers:

To form a picture of the battlefield situation, the radar system of a stealth aircraft (or any radar for that matter) does not need to transmit all the time. It can blib or burst a signal, or perform a sweep for more resolution, and then hibernate. It can also "listen" to other radar signal sources and echoes and thus image the surroundigs to some extent.

As explained in other answers and especially in the comments, modern warfare is no longer a game of separate units. It is a merged system, and on the NATO side, the "glue" of this matrix is the Link 16 network. Data collected from multiple sources is trasferred via Link 16 and is used to form a very comprehensive and accurate realtime presentation of the battlefield.

The stealth aircraft, or actually any networked battlefield operator has eyes, ears and noses all over the place, they really do not necessarily need to use much of their own. For example, for an F-22 or F-35, information about enemy precense is initially delivered from elsewhere, and they only need to use their own radar to perform a strike, and maybe not even for that. Should the adversary fire the missile in question at them while they were using radar, they can simply switch off the radar transmitter, and they have become invisible. The enemy missile only has their last tx position, and that just won't be of any help.


I don't have rep to comment, so this answer is more of a side note, that stealth fighters have been trackable for decades. The TAMARA radio system from what was Tesla Electronics (former Czechoslovakia) involved a large network of receivers that could correlate reflections from radio signals, and also identify the communication between onboard weapon systems, if I recall correctly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamara_passive_sensor I do remember the Czech premiere appearing in the UK giving assurances to Western powers that Tamara would not be sold because Tesla was to go bankrupt. I think that is what ended up happening.

It's successor VERA is apparently also able to track stealth planes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VERA_passive_sensor

So while it is unrelated to the question of anti radiation missiles, anti radiation missiles are probably not as useful if you have these radar systems already

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    $\begingroup$ These "passive RADAR systems" have received an "upgrade" in recent years which improves performance quite a bit. The idea is to scatter lots (millions!) of low power transmitters all over a country. Since stealth aircraft are optimized against horizontal RADAR signals, vertical radiation from lots of ground-level transmitters if rather effective. In the UK, I estimate that about 80 millions of these devices are currently operational (for comparisons, the UK population is about 67M). Here's a Wikipedia article about these transmitters: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phone $\endgroup$
    – Klaws
    Jan 19, 2021 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jan 19, 2021 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Klaws The other thing that makes me rather suspicious that these systems are more effective than presented, is that Wikipedia and other online sources don't mention anything of other capabilities that I was verbally presented by someone with first hand knowledge of the system (either selling or building them I don't recall). Apparently they don't just correlate bounced signals but also employ a range of signal analysis tricks, including being able to detect chatter between onboard computers in different systems (eg: bomb to control or something like that) $\endgroup$
    – Altern
    Jan 20, 2021 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Ralph J Both Altern's and your notes/comments are valid. Altern mentions that he is not allowed to comment, so he posted his note as an answer. I think it adds to the understanding of the underlying issues, so it should not be deleted. Maybe Altern can "beef it up" by turning it into a relevant answer - like by addressing the last paragraph (the emissions are used to coordinate CAP to attack with better suited types of missiles). $\endgroup$
    – Klaws
    Jan 20, 2021 at 21:23

In theory - yes. In practice - I dont think so.

  1. The aircraft should emit radar wave easy to detect - won't remain stealthy anymore. Rare case, improbable.
  2. Most of the ARM's software and flight profiles are optimized for hitting ground targets, not very agile. So the chances for hitting the aircraft are very low.
  3. To make a significant damage to in-flight aircraft you have to use high explosive fragmentation warhead with proximity fuse. Maybe some of the ARM have ones, but lool at 1) - they may not be optimized against aerial targets.
  4. Intercepting the aerial target means different computing algorithms than against ground targets.

Conclusion: I don't think so. There are some indications that some of air-to-air missiles have passive guidance mode but I have never heard about combat engagement using such a mode.


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