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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soviet Scientist Unlocked the Secret of Stealth

Now it can be told. Russian science invented the radar-beating Stealth technology that came to symbolize the hi-tech superiority of U.S. military hardware in the last decade of the Cold War. Ben Rich, the man who ran the famous and top-secret Skunk Works development laboratory for advanced weaponry at Burbank, California, has just published his memoirs, in which he confesses that what he calls "the idea that redefined aerial warfare" was pinched from the Russians. The Americans discovered it "deep inside a long, dense technical paper written by one of Russia's leading experts and published in Moscow in 1966." Entitled "Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction," it was written by Pyotr Ufimtsev, a scientist at the Moscow Institute of Radio Engineering. By August 1979, they had built an aircraft and successfully tested it against U.S. anti-aircraft radar at the Nevada test range. This has two interesting implications. The first is that Russia's friends in the West no longer have to point to Russia's rusting space programs to remind skeptical Americans that the United States is not the only scientific superpower. The other is that the man at the Pentagon who believed in Stealth technology and bankrolled its development at the Skunk Works was William Perry. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter appointed Perry to be assistant secretary of defense, running research and development at the Pentagon. Today, Perry is back at the Pentagon as President Bill Clinton's secretary of defense, with a fleet of F-117 Stealth fighters and B-2 Stealth bombers and Stealth cruise missiles under his command. And the story of Stealth also rewrites the history of the arms race that ended the Cold War. A full year before President Reagan's 1983 speech announcing the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet army's chief of staff published a book. Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov's "Always in Defense of the Fatherland" was widely interpreted in the West as a call for new theater nuclear weapons to help the Soviet army fight and win a nuclear war. But Ogarkov also sounded a warning about the "accelerated pace" of U.S. military science. "In these conditions, the failure to change views in time, and the stagnation in the development and deployment of new kinds of military construction are fraught with serious consequences." What worried the Soviet military, long before Star Wars, was the hi-tech drive at Carter's Pentagon to leap a generation in weaponry and outsmart the Soviet lead in quantity with U.S. breakthroughs in quality. Perry persuaded the suspicious military to embrace the new vision of radar-defeating Stealth technology, smart bombs, satellite communications and laser-targeting systems. What stunned the Soviets was not Reagan's SDI speech of March 1983, but the first dramatic display of the West's awesome technological superiority over the Beka Valley in 1982, when the Israeli Air Force destroyed Syrian air power. Suppressing the Soviet-built radar and missile sites with the new technology, the Israelis used U.S. equipment to shoot down over 70 Syrian MIGs and Sukhois without losing a plane. And as a footnote to history, Ufimtsev recently came to California to teach electromagnetic theory at the University College of Los Angeles. When he was told what his researches had built, he shrugged. "Senior Soviet designers were absolutely uninterested in my theories," he said.