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High Invisibility

October 06, 1988

Look . . . Up in the sky . . . It's a bird! . . . It's a plane! . . . It's a campaign issue!

Whatever it is or was or may be will have to wait a while longer to be discovered. The Air Force has been told to forget about going public this week with confirmation that it is indeed flying a super-secret "stealth" fighter, a plane that, like the still-not-seen B-2 intercontinental bomber, is supposed to be virtually invisible to radar. So now you see it and now you don't. More aptly, now you don't see it and now you still don't see it. We don't know if this disappearing act consternates the nation's enemies, but surely it has to disappoint some of its politicians.

Sen. Chic Hecht (R-Nev.), is one. Hecht is in a tough reelection campaign. The stealth fighter, if it in fact exists, is reputedly stationed at a base in Nevada, if Nevada in fact exists. Hecht planned a press conference to follow the Air Force's stealth announcement, no doubt to brag a little about how he enriched the local economy by bringing the stealth fighter to his state and to remind voters that the Reagan Administration's enormously costly military buildup really bought some things, like fighters at a reported $50 million to $70 million a copy. But when the Air Force canceled its announcement--it now denies it ever intended to make one--Hecht's hope for some coattail publicity was lost.

The cancellation seems to have resulted directly from a protest by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the influential chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci. Nunn said he thought it was terrible that, just five weeks before the presidential election, "highly classified information" was being revealed for political advantage. Such a thing would of course never occur to Democrats to do, or at least it hasn't since 1980, the last time a Democrat was in the White House. That's when the Carter Administration broke secrecy to reveal that a stealth bomber was being built. Then the Republicans cried foul, now the Democrats are. Meanwhile, Carlucci says an announcement on the stealth fighter won't be made until after the election. Then we'll see--or will we?--what all the mystery has been about.

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