The changes due to pulsed plasma flow irradiation on the near-surface microstructure and mechanical properties of the high-chromium, ferritic-martensitic steel EK-181 (Fe16Cr12W2VTaB) have been quantified. Irradiation of EK-181 in this manner produces a microstructural gradient near the material surface, with a two dimensional nanostructured cellular surface. The microstructure and mechanical properties of the modified layer are independent of the initial microstructure and phase composition, and are strongly defined solely by parameters of the plasma flow. High thermal stability of the pulsed plasma-modified layer was explicitly demonstrated. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.