PVC made/mounted on velcro 4.0 inch-100mm
The Dark Knights stationed at Tonopah Test Range, NV, operate the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk Stealth fighter, although officially retired, many F-117s remain airworthy and are used to support limited research and training missions based on overall cost-effectiveness and their ability to offer unique capabilities.
There are speculations as to what the current mission is:
-Located deep inside the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) and the Nighthawks would therefore be easily accessible to support a wide variety of tests and trials, including acting as low-observable (LO) targets for new ground-based or airborne radar systems and/or infra-red search and track (IRST) systems, new surface-to-air missiles, or even for exploration of new LO technology, including RAM (radar absorbent material) and other such coatings.
-The F-117A has a very low radar cross-section (RCS) and might be useful for the comparative testing of new systems.
-The Nighthawks could be the subject of a secret drone conversion program and are available for penetrating the most dangerous, contested airspace.
-The F-117As are being used as stealthy aggressors to support USAF training against such threats as the Chinese J-20 fighter, making it an extremely relevant test and training asset.
-The F-117As could be providing ‘cover’ for a super-secret ‘black project’ operating from Tonopah, in much the same way that the 4450th Tactical Group used LV-coded A-7 Corsair IIs to helped mask its early F-117A operations being used to draw attention away from something else.
-The continuing activity is that the F-117 possesses a necessary operational capability that is not being adequately provided by other in-service aircraft types.
This missing capability is the autonomous delivery of self-designated laser-guided bombs (LGBs) by a stealthy platform. LGBs offer a more precise and dynamic targeting capability than GPS-guided weapons. They are useful against fleeting or moving targets, especially in dynamic and complex urban environments. These weapons are also harder for an enemy to jam or disrupt, whereas Russia has made real efforts to disrupt GPS in Syria, making any reliance on GPS-guided weapons problematic at times.
-Following the retirement of the F-117 in 2008, none of the USAF’s in-service stealthy aircraft had a self-designated LGB capability until 2016. The Northrop B-2A Spirit has no self-designation capability and no real ability to hit moving targets, and like the F-22A Raptor’s air-to-ground capabilities, both are entirely based around the use of GPS-guided weapons. The F-35 Lightning II was declared operational by the USAF in Aug 2016, including capability with the GBU-12 LGB. The GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II dual-mode bomb was later added to tackle moving targets, but this did not complete test and evaluation on the F-35A until 2018. The stealthy LGB void would appear to now be filled.
So, the F-117A appears to have been the only LO platform that was capable of engaging moving targets until very recently. It could be argued that an MQ-9 Reaper negates the need to be stealthy and could also have provided this capability, but a Reaper wouldn’t last long in a truly contested environment. Plus, you might not want your presence to be known.
-In 2016, rumors suggested the USAF had regenerated at least a small portion of the F-117A force to combat-capable status for use in Syria to tackle fleeting high-value targets. There was a USAF mandate that aircraft operating to the west of Palmyra had to be stealthy. In addition to the moving target need, the Nighthawk remains the only LO platform able to employ the 2,000lb EGBU-27 Paveway III bomb, which used a BLU-109 penetrating warhead for attacking bunkers and hardened targets.
Any operational need for the F-117 is likely to center on the use of self designated LGBs. This confused one aspect of a report on the Syria missions in the Dutch enthusiast publication Scramble. The magazine claimed it had ‘received very reliable information that at least four F-117s were deployed to the Middle East as an operational need emerged for the USAF to resurrect the stealth F-117 for special purposes. During this extremely covert deployment the four Nighthawks flew missions above Syria and Iraq with Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs).