F117 Nighthawk stealth plane to be mothballed

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F117 Nighthawk stealth plane to be mothballed

Looks like those famous black planes are really just not up to the task.

Only 59 F-117s were produced, and there may be several reasons for that. Sweetman says upkeep for the F-117 can be demanding.

"It's a high-maintenance aircraft, always has been," he said.

Also, it was proven in the Kosovo War that the plane can be vulnerable. One F-117 was detected and shot down there in 1999 while another was damaged. Reports say the top-secret technology may have been compromised after the crash as Russian inspectors were believed to have been invited by Serbian troops to view the aircraft's remains.

Detecting the plane has gotten easier over the years. There are indications that when it gets wet, it can be picked up on radar. Certain types of systems, known as long-wavelength radar, sometimes can detect the plane; that's believed to be the case in the Kosovo incident. And it's always been vulnerable to detection when its bomb bay doors are open.

Furthermore, the plane may not have performed as well as initially claimed in Operation Desert Storm. Wheeler, who evaluated weapons performance for the General Accounting Office shortly after that brief conflict, said that while the F-117 did well, its performance was "grossly overstated" by the Pentagon.

The fighter purportedly was used to take out Iraqi radar defenses in the first hours of the war, but those defenses were not completely down until several days later, Wheeler said. Only three of the F-117's 15 targets were destroyed in the first hours of Desert Storm.

Throughout Desert Storm, the Air Force claimed the plane hit 80% of its targets, but it actually was closer to 40% to 50%. It also was billed as a plane that didn't need radar-jamming aircraft accompanying it, but several were used alongside the F-117 in Iraq, he said.

"It was false advertising by the Air Force," Wheeler said. "It was not a silver bullet."

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By netchicken: posted on 26-11-2006

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