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Mystery Aircraft

On 02 August 2004 VAGO MURADIAN, writing in the journal ISRJournal.com News, reported that " In what could be the largest top-secret aircraft program since the B-2 bomber, the U.S. Air Force is racing to develop a stealthy, supersonic, long-range unmanned reconnaissance plane that would give commanders better intelligence on the ever-shifting targets in the war on terrorism and elsewhere."

Claimed sightings of unusual, high-speed, high-altitude, maneuvering vehicles during the early and mid 1990s led some to conclude that the United States has developed a fleet of new aircraft and is either testing them or already flying several types in operational service. It is suggested that because these programs are considered "super-super-black," military and other government officials routinely deny their existence.

Speculation concerning secret aircraft is nothing new. There was considerable controversy in the 1960s over the existence of what turned out to be the SR-71 Blackbird. And the F-117 "Stealth Fighter" generated its share of contention before its existence was officially acknowledged late in the Reagan presidency.

A certain measure of agnosticism is appropriate when asking whether or not new mystery aircraft exist. Although there is a growing body of evidence that could be interpreted to suggest that one or two more advanced aircraft are still obscured by government secrecy, this evidence remains suggestive rather than conclusive.

That this should be the situation is not surprising, for while the various stratagems of secrecy used to protect advanced weapons programs are imperfect, they are not entirely in vain. However, to acknowledge at least a measure of success in such a secrecy effort is not to endorse the wisdom of continuing it.

For those who must depend on unclassified data, it is no simple chore to demonstrate that such aircraft exist, even in the face of what might be considered strong evidence. While it is obvious that the extent and nature of "black programs" are hidden from potential adversaries, and the public, what is less clear is the extent of knowledge and understanding that exists at the highest levels of the US government. Are top decision makers fully aware of all that goes on in the bowels of government-financed aerospace design shops?

In recent years the Congress and senior government officials charged with oversight and funding of military programs take actions that seem patently inconsistent with the existence of these reported secret aircraft. But it would not be unusual for only a very few political officials to be privy to these programs. If those who are charged with spending public money are unaware of what is being purchased, how is the need for these programs determined? Who is held accountable if billions of dollars are misspent?

It should be emphasized that the oversight process does not require disclosure of all technical details, many of which are likely to be properly classified. But the current system allows secrecy to envelop the cost of a program, its purpose, and even its very existence. Not surprisingly, abuses sometimes result from this practice, which prevents effective oversight. A number of program failures, cost overruns, and instances of fraud have been attributed to excessive secrecy in the defense budget.

In matters of science and technology, secrecy is at best of limited effectiveness and is, more often, an obstacle to development. In the best of circumstances, secrecy can offer some degree of lead time over competitors who, sooner or later, are bound to duplicate or independently achieve the desired goal. More importantly, secrecy tends to obstruct technological development by inhibiting communication of useful information, increasing costs, generating public mistrust, and, all too often, promoting fraud and abuse.

Nevertheless, over-classification in military aerospace programs, among others, remains rampant. Secrecy extends so far beyond the legitimately classified details of sensitive technologies that one can only conclude that it is being used to protect controversial programs from public awareness more than from hostile intelligence services.

No one would dispute that advanced military technologies require some degree of protection. But it is clear that the secrecy surrounding classified aircraft programs has become self-defeating and even absurd. For the most part, secrecy in technology is both ineffective and counterproductive over the long term. The diminished threat to the U.S. and increasing budget pressures now dictate increased openness and accountability in the hyper-classified field of military aerospace.



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