When it comes to the general public, stealth technology is among the most widely acknowledged but least understood facets of the American defense apparatus, and as such, there’s also a great deal of confusion regarding the defensive weapon systems designed to engage them.

Russia’s S-300 and S-400 air defense platforms, for instance, are often touted as among the best in the world, with a greater reach and a better means of detection than any previous Russian systems. Some even contend that Russia’s air defense weapons are superior to America’s — though both nations do have a habit of dressing up their air defense claims for the sake of both foreign sales and geopolitical posturing. That posturing can sometimes make it difficult to make an objective assessment about America’s military capabilities: after all, in a near-peer level conflict, America would rely heavily on its formidable fleet of stealth aircraft including the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and B-2 Spirit deep penetration bomber — but how likely are these aircraft to survive against the most advanced anti-aircraft weapons on the planet?

Two F-22 Raptors and a B-2 Spirit bomber deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, fly in formation over the Pacific Ocean. (USAF Photo)

If the United States were to find itself at war with Russia… who would win in a face off between America’s stealth aircraft and Russia’s air defense systems? The answer can be tough to come by when working in the realm of the hypothetical, but there is some strong evidence to suggest that, despite advancements made in anti-air defenses, stealth is still king when it comes to warfare.

Believe it or not, Russia’s advanced anti-aircraft platforms actually share one significant strength with America’s premier stealth fighter the systems were designed to intercept: networking. Russia’s air defense systems share targeting data across a digital network that offers different systems around the nation advanced warning of approaching aircraft pieced together by other radar assets. Like the F-35, which can accumulate targeting data from drones, satellites, ships and ground personnel to engage targets beyond its own scope, modern air defense systems can engage enemy aircraft in a similar fashion — that is, if they’re able to first detect them, and then, acquire them as targets. Unbeknownst to many — those are technically two different challenges.