Infrared search and track (IRST) gives jet fighter aircraft stealthy vision

April 1, 2019

Look on the nose of many modern jet fighter aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and you’ll spot a large bulbous protrusion coming from just near the cockpit. While it has a rather unassuming appearance, this aperture forms an important role in the fighter’s detection and fire control functionality, acting like a powerful thermal camera to spot distant enemy targets and using that data to neutralize the threat. The beauty of infrared search and track technology (IRST) technology is it is completely passive and does not highlight the location of the aircraft, unlike when a pilot decides to use the on-board radar, which can give away its position as radio frequency energy bursts out. IRST can also work in all weather conditions as it uses the infrared rather than the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. So important is this stealthy capability, particularly as China and Russia develop their own stealth aircraft with advanced detection capabilities, that the US is retrofitting many of its advanced fighter aircraft – including the navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the air force’s F-15 Eagle – with an IRST capability. It is hoped that with these new “eyes” Western fighter jets will be able to sense adversary aircraft first and kill them before being seen themselves.

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