This is why United States cannot do without F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter

The Nighthawk is officially back. Since 2017, the F-117 has conducted several missions in United States and operational theaters.

F117 service Syria Nellis Miramar
USAF F-117 Nighthawk. The legendary stealth fighter is back in service.

The Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawk made aviation history for being the world's first operational stealth fighter. It is the result of a development program kept secret by the United States for over ten years.

After its official decommissioning, which took place in August 2008, almost the entire USAF fleet was stored at the Tonopah Test Range Airport (TTR), in Nevada, inside air-conditioned hangars to avoid the deterioration of the harmful Radar-absorbing material, waiting to be demilitarized and demolished. However, the sunset of the Nighthawk is still far away.

When the whole world had regrettably forgotten the legendary stealth aircraft, in 2017 some media published a sensational news. They revealed the secret deployment of four F-117s in the Middle East during the war in Syria with the aim of satisfying an urgent operational need from the US Air Force. According to several sources, four aircraft have conducted some sorties over Syrian and Iraqi skies, armed with Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs).

F117 service Syria Nellis Miramar

Although the news of their return to service was initially questioned, the doubts vanished when some photographers posted shots showing F-117 aircraft over the skies of California and Nevada.

The reason for these missions is still unknown, initially it was thought they were aimed at maintaining the aircraft's airworthiness certificates or well-trained pilots, but there is much more.

The most accredited hypothesis says that these tactical bombers have been reconverted as experimental testers to evaluate new Radar-absorbing materials (RAM) or innovative countermeasures against infrared systems (IR). Furthermore, it seems that the United States is studying a new radar able to detect or track low observability flying objects.

In addition to the role of tester, it is also theorized that some F-117s have been converted to unmanned aircraft as one of them was photographed east of the Tonopah Range with a showy antenna on its back.

A further highly plausible hypothesis states that they are playing the Stealth Aggressor role. Four F-117s were seen in the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) during Red Flag 20-3, the USAF's premier air combat exercise. They flew out of Nellis AFB, along with F-16 fighters belonging to the 64th Agressor Squadron.

F117 service Syria Nellis Miramar

The F-117 could also be used by the United States and its allies in operational theater, such as in Syria, to test new penetration tactics in highly protected areas, in order not to sacrifice the most modern and expensive F-22 or F-35 stealth fighters.

The most recent appearance of the F-117 dates back to October 20, 2020 when two of them were spotted at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Southern California. The reason for their presence there is unknown, but some sources speculate that they are playing the Aggressor role in US Navy drills.

Ultimately, the reactivation of the F-117 has never been formalized by the United States, but it is now clear that the Nighthawk continues to operate under a "black project" program, i.e. a highly classified military project not recognized by the government, military personnel and contractors. According to various budget documents, the US Department of Defense allocates an annual fund of about 60 billion dollars to this kind of programs.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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