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. Various methods might plausibly be able to form a layer or cloud of plasma around a vehicle to deflect or absorb radar, from simpler electrostatic or radio frequency (RF) discharges to more complex laser discharges. It is theoretically possible to reduce RCS in this way, but it may be very difficult to do so in practice.
In 1956, Arnold Eldredge, of General Electric, filed a patent application for an "Object Camouflage Method and Apparatus," which proposed using a particle accelerator in an aircraft to create a cloud of ionization that would "...refract or absorb incident radar beams." It is unclear who funded this work or whether it was prototyped and tested. U.S. Patent 3,127,608 was granted in 1964.
During Project OXCART, the operation of the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft, the CIA funded an attempt to reduce the RCS of the A-12's inlets. Known as Project KEMPSTER, this used an electron beam generator to create a cloud of ionization in front of each inlet. The system was flight tested but was never deployed on operational A-12s or SR-71s.
Despite the apparent technical difficulty of designing a plasma stealth device for combat aircraft, there are claims that a system was offered for export by Russia in 1999. In January 1999, the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency published an interview with Doctor Anatoliy Koroteyev, the director of the Keldysh Research Center (FKA Scientific Research Institute for Thermal Processes), who talked about the plasma stealth device developed by his organization. The claim was particularly interesting in light of the solid scientific reputation of Dr. Koroteyev and the Institute for Thermal Processes, which is one of the top scientific research organizations in the world in the field of fundamental physics.
The Journal of Electronic Defense reported that "plasma-cloud-generation technology for stealth applications" developed in Russia reduces an aircraft's RCS by a factor of 100. According to this June 2002 article, the Russian plasma stealth device has been tested aboard a Sukhoi Su-27IB fighter-bomber. The Journal also reported that similar research into applications of plasma for RCS reduction is being carried out by Accurate Automation Corporation (Chattanooga, Tennessee) and Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Virginia) in the U.S.; and by Dassault Aviation (Saint-Cloud, France) and Thales.
Plasma and its properties
Main article: Plasma (physics)
A plasma is a quasineutral (total electrical charge is close to zero) mix of ions (atoms which have been ionized, and therefore possess a net charge), electrons, and neutral particles (possibly including un-ionized atoms). Not all plasmas are fully ionized. Almost all the matter in the universe is plasma: solids, liquids and gases are uncommon away from planetary bodies. Plasmas have many technological applications, from fluorescent lighting to plasma processing for semiconductor manufacture.