In a speech last week before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, President Donald Trump repeated a point he has frequently made about the wonder of American military technology—that the F-35 Lightning II’s “super stealth” technology makes it literally invisible.
Trump said of the F-35:
This is an incredible plane.
It’s stealth—you can’t see it. So when I talk to even people from the other side, they’re trying to order our plane. They like the fact that you can’t see it. I said, “How would it do in battle with your plane?” They say, “Well we have one problem—we can’t see your plane.” That’s a big problem. Stealth, super stealth. The best in the world. We make the best military equipment in the world. Also, remember this: jobs.
This is not the first time Trump has called the F-35 invisible. For instance, in a visit with Coast Guardsmen in Puerto Rico last November, Trump said the F-35 was “almost like an invisible fighter…You can’t see it. You literally can’t see it. It’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see.”
Technically speaking, the F-35 is a low observable stealth aircraft. As the F-35 program’s own website points out, “Stealth is not invisibility. Rather, stealth gives the F-35 the ability to elude or greatly complicate an enemy’s ability to find and destroy an aircraft using a combination of design, tactics, and technology.”
The design of the aircraft—including its internal weapons bay, geometry, the shape of everything down to its jet intakes and exhaust outlets, and the aircraft’s coating—are designed to minimize the radar return of the F-35, especially at a distance. And the foundation of F-35 combat tactics, based on Air Force commentary thus far, is to deliver weapons before sensors can pick the aircraft out from the surrounding radar clutter. But if the enemy is “right next to” an F-35, it’s a bad day, as the aircraft’s performance in a visual-range dogfight is questionable.
So maybe it’s just a turn of a phrase—and maybe Trump meant to say “not invisible.”