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The Scoop on "STEALTH"

- 25 IDEAS FOR A CHANGING WORLD -- TECHNOLOGY

From BUSINESS WEEK Magazine

Thanks to Skip

 

 -- Stealth Avionics

 (This piece comes from a Business Week article.  #17 of the ideas is entitled
"Vaunted Technologies That Don't Measure Up," and raises the point about
putting all eggs in one, very expensive, technology basket as opposed to a
flexible, less costly, approach to the problem.  Stealth is but ONE of many
engineering techniques that helps address the survivability problem....it
certainly isn't the ONLY answer.  Most aircraft will use some signature
reduction technology but designers should be realistic and hold costs to
design for the expected operational environment - which will almost
certainly include jamming and counter measures."To hear Northrop Grumman
Corp. (NOC ) tell it, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is nearly invisible.
It's "able to penetrate hostile space without being detected," the company
boasts on its Web site. Further, it "does not need an armada of support
aircraft to accomplish a mission." Why not? The plane's composite materials
and bat-shaped design make it hard for radar to pick up. So why were the $1
billion B-2s flying in the Balkans and Afghanistan accompanied by planes
stuffed with electronics for jamming radar? It turns out that "stealthy" is
a pretty relative description--as the U.S. Air Force discovered in 1999,
when an F-117, which also has a stealthy shape and materials, was blasted
out of the sky over the Balkans. Stealth technology is hardly a sham. It
shrinks the radar "signature" of a plane. If a conventional aircraft makes a
blip on radar screens at 200 kilometers, a stealthy plane wouldn't appear
until it was 34 km away. The point is, radar does eventually detect the
plane, as do infrared devices--and plain eyes and ears. Weather can also
present a problem. The B-2's materials were tested at Edwards Air Force
Base, where it rarely rains. But when the high-tech bombers got drenched
during missions in the Balkans, the tape used to fill seams in the composite
skin often came loose. That enlarges the radar signature.  So for now, the
American military has taken to escorting B-2s with planes armed with radar
jammers and missiles that can take out enemy radar sites. The bombers are
capable of flying some of their runs alone--but only after radar and
anti-aircraft weapons have been destroyed. Trouble is, both sides can play
at stealth. Serbian forces were careful to use radar sporadically,
effectively hiding it and preventing the U.S. from knocking out all the
listening posts--and thereby curbing solo flights of B-2s. All of this
raises questions about the Air Force's plan to replace much of its existing
fleet with stealthy aircraft such as the F-22 fighter, whose $99 million
price tag is twice that of a conventional F-15. That's why the Navy rejected
a stealth design for its new F/A-18 fighter, opting instead to rely on
jamming. Less reliance on stealthy designs would free cash for more airborne
jammers. They may be older and less sexy, but they still get the job done.")