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Winging In The Rain: Wet B-2s Lose Stealth Congressional Report Notes Problems With Costly Bomber

SUNDAY, JULY 16, 1995

The $42 billion B-2 stealth bomber loses its stealthiness in the rain, and its radars are unable to distinguish a thundercloud from a mountain, according to a draft report by the General Accounting Office.

Rain distorts the skin of the ground-hugging aircraft, causing it to lose much of its ability to evade enemy radar, according to The New York Times. The newspaper obtained a copy of the draft report prepared by Congress’ investigative agency.

A Capitol Hill defense analyst who also saw the document said the GAO determined that testing of the B-2 by its manufacturer, NorthrupGrumman, is many months behind schedule.

But Larry Hamilton, a Northrup-Grumman spokesman, said the document is only a draft. “It may not look the same when it’s done,” he said Saturday.

A GAO official refused to speak about the draft report.

The Capitol Hill defense analyst said the center of the problem appears to be the “Terrain Following Terrain Avoidance,” or TFTA, radar, which gives the aircraft its ability to fly near the ground to avoid detection by hostile radar systems.

“When it comes up against rain, it can’t tell the difference between rain and a wall or a mountain,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The other major problem is that rain has a way of denting the stealthy skin of the aircraft,” the source said. “It then loses stealth capability and becomes more visible (to opposing radars) while flying through rain.”

The GAO report said that after 14 years of development and manufacture, including six years of test flights, 66 percent of testing remains uncompleted, the source said.

The draft report was circulating on Capitol Hill last week, at a time when Congress is considering proposals to appropriate more money to build additional B-2s.

However, Defense Secretary William J. Perry says the nation does not need any more B-2s. Thirteen of the aircraft have been delivered. Twenty more are on order.


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