by Richard Sheffield
1 Stealth Technology
An oddly shaped aircraft takes off from a lonely air strip in Turkey. Cruising low but not “in the weeds,” the pilot guides his machine through the darkness towards the Soviet border. The mission profile is a familiar one, often conducted by the British and Americans. It's called “ringing the fire alarm.” We want to know just how good the Soviet air defense system really is, so every now and then we “test” it. An aircraft is sent towards the border and all the sensitive intelligence gathering equipment we can muster is poised ready to scoop up data. All radar activity and communications in the area are carefully monitored. We want to know exactly when the aircraft is spotted, by which radar site, and which surface-to-air missile company is ordered to stand by.
It's a little game we play: How close can we get, how quick can they spot us. If we get a little closer than the last time, we win. If they spot us sooner and “sound the alarm,” they win. But tonight, we're changing the rules. The pilot follows the normal flight plan, flying parallel to the border. He monitors the sensitive radar detection gear on board. Activity in the area is normal; he has not been spotted. In fact, his equipment shows his opponents aren't even close. Feeling comfortable, he starts phase two of the mission. A gentle turn to the north and he crosses into Soviet territory. Ever cautious and treading lightly, he doesn't want to awaken the sleeping bear; he just wants to nose around the cave a little bit.
He keeps a close eye on the SAM site just north of the small town of Brodilovo at the southwestern tip of Bulgaria. Radar emissions show an active SA-10 site in the area. He heads toward the site, watching for any change. The semiactive doppler radar scans the sky in a wide arc, looking but not seeing. The effective search range for this system is thought to be 320 km; the pilot smiles as he breaks 250 km. The smile disappears and he starts to sweat as he closes in on 120 km, well within the lethal range of the SA-10 Grumble missile. At 90 km the bear stirs. They still use the search radar, but the search arc has been narrowed to the pilot's little piece of sky. They know he's out there somewhere but can't get a good lock on. He checks his map; the Veleka river should be coming up soon. A quick check of the infrared imaging screen shows the dark black strip dead ahead. He lowers his altitude and turns to follow the river to the east. As he eases below 100 feet, the radar activity returns to normal—he simply disappeared. Even if they scramble a couple of MiGs to check it out, it's too late. Minutes later he passes over the Bulgarian shore and out over the Black Sea. Home free. We win this round without the opposition ever knowing they were playing the game.
There's good evidence to support that not only is a scenario like this possible, but that it has actually taken place, possibly many times. What makes this aircraft so different from the others which would be spotted well inside Turkey? It's stealth technology.