Donald Trump said of the F-35 "You can’t see it. You literally can’t see it. It’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see"

The video of him saying this makes it seem as if he really believes it can't be seen.

Is the F-35 literally invisible, as Trump claims? Can it become invisible under certain circumstances?

  • 36
    Is this a notable claim? I mean nobody actually takes what he says seriously, right? Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 15:16
  • 12
    Does Trump literally mean literally when he says "literally" or is he meaning it as virtually, in effect, figuratively? On that topic: The Newstoom on "literally". The scary part? She is right. Webster's Dictionary has expanded the meaning of "literally" to include "virtually"/"in effect".
    – user32299
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 15:48
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    As @MichaelK said, a notable person making a claim does not mean it is a notable claim. Do you have any reason to think that people are taking what he said literally, or even that he truly does believe the plane is invisible to the eye and not just invisible to radar and targeting systems?
    – Giter
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 15:53
  • 6
    @MichaelK From the same source: "Claims put forward by a celebrity are also automatically considered notable." Trump counts as a celebrity for that purpose.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 20:28
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    @DJClayworth He is POTUS and he has made this claim on multiple occasions, while trying to sell the aircraft to other countries. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 8:44

3 Answers 3


According to Business Insider (which interviewed retired Marine Maj. Dan Flatley, former F-35 pilot):

Today, Russia and China have built impressive arrays of very high frequency, or VHF, and other integrated radars that can spot even the US's most advanced and stealthy jets like the F-22 and the F-35 under the right circumstances.


Russian VHF radars can spot F-35s


"That's the thing people don't understand," Flatley said. "They think we're saying we're invisible to everyone all the time, at all bandwidths and energy levels. ... That's not what we're saying."

  • 4
    Note that this is nothing new. That "under the right circumstances" is the important part. "Stealth" is not about being invisible to radar, it's about reducing your radar cross section (ie. how big or bright you appear to radar) to the point where you blend in with other noise allowing you to get a lot closer. It's like the difference between wearing a reflective vest at night and wearing black. The person in black isn't "invisible" but whomever is looking for them has to get a lot closer or use a much more powerful flashlight to see them.
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 17:42

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.

This website is maintained by Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35.

  • The only problem is that the CEO of Lockheed seem to indulge Trump. And the "can't" see" is also promoted by other Lockheed staff, happily reproduced by the mainstream press. I guess that's about par in the era of double speak. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 1:41
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    @jwenting: I have no idea how you concluded that from what I said. My point is that the "can't see"/invisible simplifying discourse has been dished out by Lockheed as well. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 5:30
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    "the only problem is that the CEO of Lockheed seems to indulge Trump" clearly indicates that you seem to think he's not to be trusted BECAUSE he indulges Trump.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 5:31
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    @jwenting: you mean "she". As for "trusted"... Trusted with what? That she says the same thing as Trump? You don't need trust anything for that... just read what she said and... trust your own eyes maybe. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 5:32
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    @PoloHoleSet I can believe it, but I can't believe that all of these equally off topic comments have been left up. At least yours was funny. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:02

I would split Trump's statement into three different statements to analyze it.

You can’t see it.

This is just not true, It cannot be detected with most radars but, as DavePhD points out in his answer, Russian radars can locate them and they can be physically be seen.

You literally can’t see it.

This is ambiguous, depends on the definition of literally. If you use Webster´s definition, which adds "virtually" to the definition, then it would depend on who is trying to detect you because.

  • Russians could see you and detect you.
  • Non Russians could see you but not otherwise detect you.

Personally I dislike that definition.

It’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see

This is in my opinion the key point of Trump's wrong statement. I believe he confuses the terms "see" and "detect".

To your question "Can it become invisible under certain circumstances?" my answer is:

  • If you mean invisible as "not be detected" the answer is: It depends on the opponent, Russians should have no trouble.
  • If you mean invisible as "not be seen", which I do believe you do, the answer is: No, it cannot be invisible.
  • Seeing something is detecting it. It might be a little more clear to state "Non Russians could see you but not otherwise detect you", and something to that effect for your final bullet points too.
    – CactusCake
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 13:39
  • Good point, modified
    – bradbury9
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 14:07
  • "Seeing" is likely a figure of speech in this context, as in a BVR engagement you see on your screen what the sensor suite detected.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 3:38

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