Last week, Ukraine’s state-owned defense conglomerate Ukroboronprom State Concern unveiled the new MR-1 radar system, which, according to a Ukrainian official, can detect stealth aircraft better than other radar. Igor Presnyak, director of Ukraine’s Scientific and Production Complex “Iskra,” the group behind the MR-1, announced the development in a sparse release to Ukroboronprom. Except, here’s the thing: Russia, currently occupying checkpoints and taking over Ukrainian military bases in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, doesn’t have any stealth aircraft.
Radar is a defensive tool, and it has been since its inception. In the Battle of Britain, when the Royal Air Force defended the British Isles against the German Luftwaffe, radar provided crucial early warning information. The United Kingdom could see enemy bombers as they approached, and then gather fighters to intercept and shoot them down. In more modern warfare, countries pair plane-finding radar with anti-plane missiles launched from the ground.
Stealth technology is a way to thwart radar. There are two key components of stealth: paint that reflects radar poorly, and a body shape that deflects radar beams away from their origin.
So, for a country currently staring down a hostile invader, stealth-detecting radar is a great advantage. While Russia is developing a stealth fighter, it is still in the testing phase. The Tu-160 “Blackjack” bomber, which has some measures to reduce its radar signature, is stuck in a stagnant modernization program that Russia is struggling to pay for. As of 2012, Russia only had 11 of these bombers.
The second problem for the Ukrainian anti-stealth radar is that there’s no clear explanation for how it is better at detecting stealth aircraft than other, similar radar. These radar systems work by sending out both ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves and very high frequency (VHF) radio waves. Stealth technologies are designed primarily so that UHF waves can’t see them. If a radar using both waves detects something only on VHF and not on UHF, it’s likely a stealth aircraft. Getting both kinds of radar to work together in the precise way that best reveals stealth aircraft is the main challenge anti-stealth radar has to solve.
Here is what Ukroboronprom says about the MR-1 radar:
Removed of all jargon, that means this radar can fit all its components onto a single truck, making it a better version of Russia’s current stealth-differentiating radar.
Or at least it will be, if the completed. Ukraine is looking for funding to test the MR-1 radar systems in 2015.