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Aviation Week & Space Technology
March 9, 1992
Engineers, Scientists Encourage Using Highly Classified
Technology for Civil Applications - William B. Scott/Los Angeles
A small fraction of "black world" engineers and scientists are
encouraged by recent government commitments to open intelligence
agency files, and congressional threats to curtail funding for
some highly classified projects.
Such chilling prospects normally would be viewed with alarm by
all who get paychecks from U.S. intelligence agencies, but a few
technical personnel see opportunity instead of gloom. This minority
hopes issues raised over the last two years are bearing fruit now,
and might push some black technology into the open eventually.
In voicing their view, this small group of scientific professionals
dared to break a code of silence that rivals the Mafia's, and
several individuals claim they have suffered accordingly. Two said
they can prove their civil rights were blatantly abused - always in
the name of security - either to keep them quiet or to prevent their
leaving the loosely structured, yet highly controlled R&D community.
"Once you're in, they don't let you go," an engineer said.
Many dedicated "spooks" undoubtly went into a defensive crouch
when Robert M. Gates, director of the Central Intelligence Agency,
announced last month that some CIA files would be opened. Openness
is anathema to the intelligence professional; it defies all Cold
War rules of business. But the world has changed, and Gates realized
that CIA and its sister agencies must adapt.
Within days of Gate's announcement, several congressmen declared
open season on black programs they believed were unnecessary since
the Soviet Union disbanded (AW&ST Mar. 2, p. 62).
Proponents of "deep black" programs point to the lessons of history,
noting that dictators and tyrants with dreams of world domination
have popped up repeatedly. And when that happens, the U.S. must have
a technological arsenal capable of stomping out the threat, they
argue. The nation's "silver bullets" are best developed in the black,
where neither friend nor foe knows they even exist, let alone how
effective they are.
Opponents of the status-quo, keep-it-all-classified school see a
different "new world order" emerging. These engineers, scientists,
technicians and aircraft mechanics believe that U.S. *economic*
national security is more at risk now than military security. One
way to combat economic threats to each citizen's standard of living
is to release some of the secret technology already developed at
taxpayer expense, they maintain.
One scientist identified several "black world" breakthrough that,
he believes, have both military and commercial potential. The
However, the capability of SPDR to also detect stealthy vehicles
has kept the technology in the limbo since the mid-1980s. "Anybody
who brought it up at [a company] got his nose cut off," the scientist
said. Although he was not familiar with the bitter controversy over
UWB since 1989, he said the earlier suppression of SPDR "was absolutely
criminal, because any stealth technology stood out like a sore thumb
when hit with short-pulse Doppler" (AW&ST Oct. 21, 1991, p 22; Nov. 19,
1990, p. 18).
Engineers working on highly classified programs cited other
technologies that appeared to this editor as only military related.
They said that - if the principles were widely understood - though,
there would be definite commercial applications.
One was a "thermal signature masking technology ... which is used on
the B-2 [stealth bomber]," an engineer said. "Basically, it's an
electrostatic heat transfer phenomena that charges the jet engine
exhaust stream to disperse the heat - by a factor of about 800. It
does a remarkable job of altering the thermal signature."
He said the same basic technology, used in wing leading edges, can
reduce a flying vehicle's radar cross section (RCS) by masking thermal
signatures created by aerodynamic perturbations of the air. "The radar
signature of an incoming warhead can be reduced to less than 10%" of
its normal value, the engineer said. "We found that radar cross
section has a lot to do with aerodynamics and turbulence - past
Electrostatic field-generating techniques in the B-2's wing leading
edges may help reduce its RCS. The bomber's leading edges posed a
particularly challenging production problem on the first aircraft,
and may have been the source of diminished results during early
stealth flight tests.
In 1968, Aviation Week reported that Northrop was evaluating
"electrical forces to condition the air flowing around an aircraft at
supersonic speeds" to reduce drag, heating and sonic boom effects.
The findings were promising enough to justify funding of additional
research (AW&ST Jan. 22, p. 21).
By negatively ionizing air molecules ahead of an aircraft, then
charging the nose to the same polarity, an electrostatic field was
formed. The field tended to repel or alter the molecules' path as the
aircraft approached, according to the article.
If the "black world" actually has developed feasible ways to reduce
airframe drag substantially with controlled electrostatic fields,
commercial aircraft manufacturers and airlines should be campaigning
mightily for the technology. The potential fuel and cost savings for
just American, United and Delta would be staggering.
A scientist said other, more dramatic, classified technologies are
applicable to lasers, aircraft control and propulsion. However, the
scientists and engineers were especially hesitant to discuss these
projects. One said they are "very black. Besides, it would take about
20 hr. to explain the principles, and very few people would understand
Whether or not black technology will be released in the near future
or not will depend more on political power wielded in Washington than
the recommendations of dissident "insider" factions. It appears that
most within the intelligence research and development community are
highly skeptical of even Gates' born-again approach, despite the high
hopes of openness proponents.
Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said there was no near-term plan
to declassify technology now trapped in the "black world". He said the
need to maintain a qualitative edge over potential adversaries "always
will take precedence" over economic competitiveness issues (AW&ST Feb.
17, p. 17).
Whether that status-quo posture will stand in face of intense
Japanese and European competition during a presidential election year
is yet to be determined - especially when U.S. and allied contractor
executives are scrambling anxiously for ways to turn defense
technology into commercial profits.''