Harold Brown’s “Invisible” Aircraft

Aug. 1, 2006

“Statement on Stealth Technology”

Secretary of Defense Harold Brown

DOD News Conference,

Washington, D.C.

Aug. 22, 1980


For some time, there had been whispers—and a few press leaks—about a strange breed of aircraft, one “invisible” to radar. Then, in August 1980, the Department of Defense went public with sensational news. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown confirmed the existence of “stealth” technology and claimed the US could build aircraft “that cannot be successfully intercepted with existing air defense systems.” He went on to say, “We have demonstrated to our satisfaction that the technology works.”

In time, the F-117 and B-2 would turn “stealth” into a household term, but, in 1980, Brown’s words caused an uproar. Critics argued that the Carter Administration disclosed the information as part of its Presidential campaign strategy. Brown said he confirmed the stealth program because it was no longer possible to deny it, given the detail in recent press leaks.

I am announcing today a major technological advance of great military significance. This so-called “stealth” technology enables the United States to build manned and unmanned aircraft that cannot be successfully intercepted with existing air defense systems. We have demonstrated to our satisfaction that the technology works.

This achievement will be a formidable instrument of peace. It promises to add a unique dimension to our tactical forces and the deterrent strength of our strategic forces. At the same time, it will provide us capabilities that are wholly consistent with our pursuit of verifiable arms control agreements, in particular, with the provisions of SALT II.

For three years, we have successfully maintained the security of this program. This is because of the conscientious efforts of the relatively few people in the executive branch and the legislative branch who were briefed on the activity and of the contractors working on it.

However, in the last few months, the circle of people knowledgeable about the program has widened, partly because of the increased size of the effort, and partly because of the debate under way in the Congress on new bomber proposals. Regrettably, there have been several leaks about the stealth program in the last few days in the press and television news coverage. In the face of these leaks, I believe that it is not appropriate or credible for us to deny the existence of this program. … I am gratified that, as yet, none of the most sensitive and significant classified information about the characteristics of this program has been disclosed. …

In sum, we have developed a new technology of extraordinary military significance. We are vigorously applying this technology to develop a number of military aircraft, and these programs are showing very great promise.

We can take tremendous pride in this latest achievement of American technology. It can play a major role in strengthening our strategic and tactical forces without in any way endangering any of our arms control initiatives. And it can contribute to the maintenance of peace by posing a new and significant offset to the Soviet Union’s attempt to gain military ascendancy by weight of numbers. …

The general description of stealth technology includes ideas, designs that are directed also at reducing detectability by other means. Radar is the means that is best able to detect and intercept aircraft now. It’s no accident that the systems that exist are radar systems. But stealth technology extends beyond radar. …

Stealth technology is applicable against anything that is detected and attacked through detection by radar. But how practical it is for various kinds of vehicles is another matter. …

[Future Soviet air defense systems] are the ones that we are talking about. The ones that are now in development and could be deployed during the rest of this decade are the kinds of detection systems that we believe that this will be able to render effective. It will always be the case that whenever there is a major new development of military technology, a measure let’s call it, there will be countermeasures and there will be counter-countermeasures. We’ve been looking at both of those. Our judgment is that the balance is strongly tilted in the direction of penetration by this technology and that there will be later fluctuations around that new equilibrium point. …

There have been flight tests. … We also do not intend to make the details of the program, including the appearance of the vehicles, public. … It’s hard to believe that you can have things operational for very long and not let some things get out, but we’re going to try to keep that kind of detail secret as long as we possibly can. …

It’s too soon to say what the precise mix of our capabilities in the 1990s will be, but it is not too soon to say that by making existing air defense systems essentially ineffective, this alters the military balance significantly.