Despite comments from naval aviation leaders in recent months that stealth has become irrelevant, it remains the key ingredient in new combat aircraft design, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday. “Stealth has not gone by the wayside. The idea that stealth is somehow dead is just wrong,” he told defense reporters at a Washington, D.C., breakfast. While he allowed that an enemy may be able to develop a radar that could detect a stealth aircraft at long-range, “stealth is about breaking kill chains.” While an acquisition radar “may be able to see you … when they try to transition that track to a tracking radar, it fades and they can’t actually do any targeting, or they launch a weapon and somewhere during the weapon flight [it] … loses track, because of some aspect of your stealth characteristics,” he said. “As long as we have that capability, stealth is a good thing. And, we’ll continue to develop it.” Welsh added that, “The good news is, we’re getting much better at this. We understand the technology better, … how the pieces of stealth interact, … how it affects threat systems, … our own systems, … how to communicate better, … operate better, and maintain stealth, and … deliver weapons … All that stuff is getting better and better and better.” Moreover, there is “no comparison between the stealth capabilities of the F-35 and … the F-117.” The difference is like “night and day. It’s a new world. And that will continue.”
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.