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[Opinion] Stealth Aircraft Technology

Posted April. 24, 2008 05:04,   


In air combat, victory goes to the one who can see and shoot down the enemy first. Stealth aircraft is the ultimate dream in this category, as it is able to deceive radar by absorbing or disturbing reflected radar signals. Suffering heavy losses in the Vietnam War and armed conflicts in the Middle East, the United States began to develop stealth technology from the mid-1970s.

The U.S. Air Force first deployed its prototype stealth aircraft, the F-117A Nighthawk, in 1982. But its debut came six years later through a photo file. Until then, every detail on the aircraft had been kept secret. In 1991, the plane demonstrated its devastating power in the first Gulf War. In the early stage of Desert Storm, 40 Nighthawks flied freely through the fine defense network of Iraq and annihilated more than 80 percent of Iraqi military bases – without a single gunshot or missile firing.

The powerful bomber was retired Monday 23 years after its debut. Capt. Michael Driscoll, who flew the Nighthawk on its final flight, said the most mesmerizing moment during his sorties was when he threatened North Korea while flying over North Korean airspace. The more effective F-22 Raptor will replace the Nighthawk as the sole stealth bomber until after 2010. Then will come the newer and better F-35 Lightening II. U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is developing the Lightening in cooperation with nine other countries.

Japan is negotiating with the United States to buy 100 Raptors. China is also charging forward in the stealth technology race. In addition, North Korea’s nuclear program is threatening peace in the region. Not long from now, air power in Northeast Asia will fall out of balance. Countries need to keep stealth technology in check by using the same technology. The problem lies in the strategic value of the technology. Every country tries to keep it secret as much as it can. That is why Seoul should develop the technology on its own. It is insufficient just to import the planes. Without our own technology, our stealth readiness will rank near the bottom in 10 to 20 years.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)