IF THE AVERAGE CITIZEN is asked, what is Stealth? He or she is apt to say it is our new invisible bomber. A somewhat more sophisticated person might reply that it is a bomber which is under development, which is all but invisible to radar, and which will give us a decided advantage over the Soviets.

Stealth has already created a great deal of discussion. Most of this discussion focuses on questions of who gave away what secret and why. Indeed, the inquiry seems fully justified. Has classification been manipulated to serve political goals? However, this issue should not obscure what may be an even more important question.

To date, there has been practically no public discussion about the validity or significance of Stealth technology. Just how difficult is it to build such a bomber? Would it be reliably invisible, or could it be made visible by comparatively easy means? Numerous detailed discussions have convinced me that the cost and complexity of constructing such a fleet of bombers is greater -- probably much greater -- than the cost and complexity of modifying existing detection systems to make these "invisible" bombers visible again.

National policy most often seems to overlook the fact that providing clear information to the public may be even more important than trying to keep the Soviets from obtaining information. The latter may be effectively impossible; the former is so often neglected that the public is misled concerning vital matters of defense. Niels Bohr, the great physicist who practically created the atomic theory, said late in 1945, the most effective weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but in a democracy the weapon of openness is decisive.

It is a good general rule to make all possible progress in military technology and to worry about countermeasures later. I firmly believe that the present case is an exception. At least one proposal for a countermeasure exists. This method appears obvious and does not even require any extensive technological effort in order to allow the Soviets to detect, localize and destroy stealth bombers.

Unfortunately, the rules of classification do not permit me to describe this countermeasure concept. Probably there are other valid methods of defense that exist. However, this one countermeasure is sufficient to make the usefullness of Stealth highly questionable.

The real danger is that the American people are being misled about the possibility of a practical and effectively invisible bomber. This is important not to the status of any single person but to the safety of the nation.

Careful congressional review should be given to Stealth, with initial emphasis on determining how difficult it would be to effect countermeasures. It may be all but impossible to conduct such an investigation in an objective manner, but the attempt should be made. The review itself will probably have to be conducted in secrecy, but the American people should be informed of the essential conclusions.

One may, of course, argue that it would have been better to develop the bomber in complete secrecy. Such development would necessitate a major effort. One can hardly imagine that such activities would go unnoticed by the Soviets for long. Countermeasures seem so easy that even a couple of years, considerably less time than the actual production-time requirement for Stealth, would suffice for their deployment. One may also assume that the Soviet may never think of the appropriate countermeasures. To make such an assumption seems truly dangerous.

Although it is known that in military matters the Soviet Union is quantitatively ahead of us, we console ourselves with the thought that our technology is superior. I am afraid that while their civilian technology is lacking, their military technology may already be more capable than our own. There are many who agree that even if this fear is not justified today, it will become fully justified within a few years.

All of us should be happy about good and well-founded news concerning our security. It has been asserted that Stealth changes the military balance back to the older and more stable situation in which the strength of the United States made the free world safe. But if our military developers can produce nothing better than the Stealth bomber, they should give less time to boasting and more to work on truly realistic ways to insure peace and stability.