Another Embarrassment from the Military
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RETHINKING STEALTH TECHNOLOGY Without any apparent military success with stealth technology, the Pentagon plans to spend $280 billion to manufacture two new stealth fighters - the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF.)
The Pentagon has already spent billions on stealth related programs, including $60 billion to develop stealth technology and billions more on stealth aircraft, including $46 billion for the B-2 bomber and billions more for the F-117.
Many military experts, however, believe that the stealth technology isn't worth the investment. They argue that stealth planes are visible to radar, only a little harder to detect than other aircraft. Critics also argue that stealth aircraft are vulnerable to cheap defense measures. In Kosovo, an F-117 was shot down with a missile launcher made in 1964.
Experts also point out that stealth technology can reduce the performance of the aircraft. Stealthy design decreases the stability of the aircraft by worsening the aerodynamics.
The stealth planes' radar absorbing materials are also fragile and are difficult to repair. The materials significantly add to the plane's weight, which means stealth aircraft burn much more fuel than comparable aircraft.
Stealth coating presents a host of other problems. To remain effective, the plane's surface must be kept perfectly slick. Even small exposure to hail or rain that cause nicks and scratches can dramatically increase the airplane's radar signature.
The stealth program was designed to defeat the radars used by the former Soviet Union. But the stealth planes are easy to pinpoint with older air defense radars that use lower frequencies. There are also new heat-sensitive infrared radar systems that will render stealth technology obsolete.
Until now, Congress has been supportive of the Pentagon's plans. Aside from campaign contributions, defense contractors have been careful to spread the economic rewards of their contracts. Lockheed Martin plans to build parts for its F-22 in 48 states, in efforts to sustain Congressional support.
There are, however, signs that this political consensus is cracking. Reps Murtha (D-PA) and Lewis (R-CA) led efforts to restrict funding for the F-22 in the last session of Congress. While they lost that fight, the Congressmen did send the message that the Pentagon needs to be more accountable to the public on how they spend taxpayer dollars.
To ensure this, Congress should order all stealth aircraft in production to pass stringent avionics and stealth tests before any more money is committed to these controversial programs.
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