The Real 'Stealth' Is in the Tactics of Planes' Backers

OPPONENTS of the B-2 bomber and doubters of Stealth technology are breathing a sigh of relief because the B-2 program was effectively put on hold by this year's vote on defense appropriations. But they should not rest easy.

Proponents of Stealth technology and the B-2 are quietly working to boost the credibility of both the plane and technology. They are busy revising the war record of the F117A Stealth airplane in an effort to prove that Stealth technology works. The ugly secret that Stealth proponents have so far been able to keep out of the public debate is that there are already radars on the market that can detect Stealth aircraft.

The Air Force has admitted in recent weeks that a few F117A Stealth airplanes, widely credited with flying over Baghdad "alone and unafraid," had to be escorted by Air Force EF-111 and Navy EA-6B electronic jamming aircraft. My sources tell me that, in fact, significant numbers of F117As had to be escorted by radar-jamming escort planes because these supposed "invisible" aircraft were being tracked by low-frequency Chinese- and French-made radars located in Iraq. In addition, these sources tell me that d uring the war the F117As could be tracked by Navy E-2C aircraft from a distance of more than 100 miles.

The United States lost no F117As in the Gulf. This is a significant statistic of which to be proud. However, it is crucial to the nation's security and the future of our defense planning that we be under no illusions about the reasons for this zero-loss rate. Having Stealth airplanes escorted by planes with electronic jamming equipment is the antithesis of Stealth. Electronic jammers are like a bell on a cat's collar. They announce the creature's presence to every target in the area.

The development of radars that can detect Stealth aircraft raises important questions. Has the Air Force tested Stealth planes against all possible forms of radar? Can Stealth technology yield a militarily useful reduction in radar visibility at an affordable price? With the threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union dissolving, should the US continue its policy of Stealth at any price?

On Nov. 14, 1991, I wrote Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to request that the B-2 bomber be subjected to a series of independent radar tests, to determine how difficult it is to detect the aircraft, and thus measure its true survivability. These tests would be conducted against an array of radars already used by third-world countries, including low-frequency radars (those used by Iraq during the war) and ultra wide-band or time domain pulse radars. The Customs Service has agreed to conduct the tests usi ng AEW aircraft with modified E2-C radar. These radars are very similar to those in use in Iraq, China, the Soviet Union, and other third-world countries that I believe can detect Stealth aircraft. The tests would be observed by a trained, objective, and independent observer to verify the results.

I believe these tests will prove that the B-2 Stealth plane is detectable by radars already in use in the third world. In addition, the technological sophistication of these radars is increasing all the time, as is knowledge of the way Stealth technology is designed. If the B-2 can be detected after the US has poured over $30 billion into a development program for it, we must then worry about the viability of the other "Stealth" development programs that Congress has approved. The defense appropriations bill for 1992 contains billions in funds to continue development of the B-2 program, the Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter, the Navy A-X program, and for the Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile.

The debate about Stealth technology will continue. Because the B-2 program was temporarily put on hold by this year's defense appropriation does not mean it won't be a topic for debate next year. Those who argue for additional funding for the B-2 want, in the tradition of Pentagon spending, to pour money down a rat hole. I urge Mr. Cheney to hold independent tests of the B-2. It is essential that we determine now, before billions more dollars are spent, whether Stealth technology can be achieved at an af fordable price.

After these tests are completed, the Department of Defense, Congress, and the American public will have a better idea of who is winning the race between developing Stealth technology and anti-Stealth technology. We then can determine whether we should continue to spend billions of dollars on the outcome.

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