China has shown tracking a flight of the F-22 via satellite

Chang Guang, a Chinese commercial aerospace company, has recently shared a brief video claiming to show a satellite tracking a US F-22 Raptor fighter jet. According to Clash Report on X, the footage dates back to 2020. The tracking was supposedly done using a commercial Jilin-1 remote control satellite system. 

The video, however, is surprisingly short—just six seconds of the satellite system’s cameras tracking the plane. Chang Guang identified the aircraft as the American F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet, navigating through partially cloudy skies. This leaves us with several questions: Is it really an F-22? Was the video edited? Was the Jilin-1 satellite system genuinely used for this tracking? And most curiously, why release only six seconds? 

Observing the F-22 through video footage isn’t unusual. Stealth technology makes the F-22 nearly invisible to radar, but not to the naked eye. If the satellite can continuously track a flight beyond these six seconds, it highlights a formidable future combat capability. While ground-based radars might miss the aircraft’s signature, satellites could potentially pick it up, as suggested by the video.

China has shown tracking a flight of the F-22 via satellite
Video screenshot

Satellites and radars together

If reports are confirmed that Chinese satellites have tracked an F-22 flight, this brings up an important discussion on combat capabilities. Let’s clear up a common misconception — stealth planes aren’t entirely invisible to radars. 

The correct terminology here is “low observability.” This means the aircraft is more challenging to detect, but not impossible. The F-22, for instance, has a radar signature comparable to a small metallic pebble, translating to roughly 0.0001 m² of radar cross-section [RCS]. For context, that’s approximately 100,000 times smaller than a typical fighter jet’s RCS, making the F-22 detectable at just 1/17.5 of the distance at which a standard fighter would be. However, keep in mind that this detection capability varies significantly depending on the angle from which the aircraft is viewed. 

Military doesn't want the F-22, the politicians want the F-22
Photo credit: Pixabay

So, although its radar signature is minimal, it’s still present. This means tracking a known stealth aircraft is entirely feasible. Therefore, news about satellites tracking a stealth flight suggests that orbital technology can be directly linked to ground stations. This approach allows radars to focus on a specific sector, range, or angle to identify the exact signature of the stealth aircraft. 

This scenario assumes optimal conditions, i.e., a “clear sky,” where the radar and satellite are hunting a specific target without interference. However, in a war zone crowded with missiles, planes, and drones, the situation becomes far more complex, especially in the heart of battle. 

The remote Jilin-1

China has shown tracking a flight of the F-22 via satellite
Photo credit: China Daily

China’s Jilin-1 Satellite System is a constellation of commercial remote sensing satellites developed by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co., Ltd. [CGSTL]. It is named after Jilin Province, where the company is based, and represents China’s first self-developed commercial remote sensing satellite system. 

The primary purpose of the Jilin-1 Satellite System is to provide high-resolution imagery and video for a variety of applications, including environmental monitoring, urban planning, agriculture, forestry, resource management, and disaster response. The system aims to deliver timely and accurate data to support both government and commercial needs. 

The Jilin-1 constellation consists of multiple types of satellites, including optical imaging satellites, video satellites, and hyperspectral satellites. These diverse satellite types enable the system to capture a wide range of data, from high-definition video to detailed spectral information, which can be used for various analytical purposes. 

China has shown tracking a flight of the F-22 via satellite
Photo credit: China Daily

One of the key features of the Jilin-1 Satellite System is its high revisit frequency. The constellation is designed to provide frequent updates of the same geographic area, which is crucial for applications that require near-real-time monitoring, such as disaster management and dynamic urban development. 

The Jilin-1 satellites are equipped with advanced imaging technologies that allow them to capture high-resolution images with a ground resolution of up to 0.72 meters. This high level of detail makes the system particularly valuable for tasks that require precise and accurate spatial information. 

Since its initial launch in 2015, the Jilin-1 Satellite System has expanded significantly. As of recent updates, the constellation includes dozens of satellites, with plans for further expansion to enhance its coverage and capabilities.

China has shown tracking a flight of the F-22 via satellite
Photo credit: CAS

AI

Interestingly, footage from 2020 has disclosed insights from Chinese engineers even at that time. China is reportedly working on an advanced AI system that could transform low-cost commercial satellites orbiting Earth into potent spy tools. Some reports indicate that this system could improve success rates by as much as seven times compared to current technology. 

This cutting-edge system is being developed by researchers in the Chinese military, who assert that it can track moving objects as small as a car with remarkable precision, according to Chinese media. The team claims their new AI technology has achieved 95% accuracy in identifying small objects in videos taken by the Jilin-1 satellite, significantly surpassing existing methods. Lin Kunbao, a researcher at the People’s Liberation Army University of Space Engineering in Beijing, and his team have put forth these impressive claims.

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