I would emphatically urge some of my former colleagues in Congress, who seem determined to junk the American strategic triad of manned bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles to stop and reconsider. Their euphoria at the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact is understandable. But they forget that this triad made that collapse possible by keeping the communist world at bay for more than 40 years. Worst of all, they appear oblivious to the fact that the Soviet strategic force of missiles and bombers that has threatened us is still in place and actually is still growing -- in capability and numbers.

What is more, the profound crisis in the Middle East -- and the suddenness with which it arose -- can only be a grim reminder for all that, despite the end of the Cold War, the real world remains a perilous place.

Of course, the revolutionary changes in Eastern Europe and President Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union do constitute a reduction in the threat to our interests and permit significant reductions in defense spending. But reductions should be made primarily in the forces designed to fight in Central Europe, where the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact guarantees us more warning and a less potent adversary.

Nevertheless, among those who are focusing on the strategic budget, the B-2 "stealth" bomber is proving to be a favorite target. They say the B-2 costs too much, that it isn't needed because the job can be done by the B-1 bomber or by cruise missiles. They claim that successful arms control (START) talks will make it irrelevant, that buying the plane shortchanges conventional force needs, that the B-2 isn't "stealthing" and that it can't locate mobile Soviet targets.

They are wrong. The B-2 is, in fact, the manned bomber of the future.

On arms control, for instance, President Bush has made the projected B-2 force a vital prerequisite for START negotiations. National security adviser Brent Scowcroft left no doubt on this score last summer. "The B-2 has been a cornerstone of the START agreement since negotiations began," he said. "Further delays in the program will raise increasing doubts in the minds of the Soviets about our resolve and commitment to maintain the bomber leg of the triad."

Both the U.S. and Soviet negotiating positions recognize that manned bombers are more stable systems than missiles. Bombers are unsuitable for surprise attack but excellent for retaliation. Bombers can be recalled or redirected long after they take off. However, only the B-2 bomber can fill this role in the future, because its "stealthiness" will protect it from sophisticated air defenses. Non-stealthy aircraft, including the B-1 bomber, will be vulnerable, and cruise missiles, because of payload and range limitations, cannot do the job.

In the past year, it has become voguish to float repeated rumors that new technological developments will destroy the B-2's stealthiness. The fact is that for more than 10 years an independent "Red Team" of experts has tested every alleged threat to "stealth" technology. These experts have concluded that "there is no 'Achilles heel' that would negate the B-2's stealth technology within the foreseeable future," according to Air Force Secretary Donald Rice.

Much has been said about the ability -- or inability -- of the B-2 to strike relocatable targets. The most important rejoinder is that the B-2's justification never depended on a relocatable target capability. Gen. Larry Welch, former Air Force Chief of Staff, has pointed out that 60 percent of strategic targets are suitable to manned penetrating bombers. That is why we began to modernize the manned bomber force. The fact is that the B-2 will have the best capability of any U.S. weapon to attack mobile military targets within the Soviet Union. This is another reason to continue the B-2 program, not a shortcoming.

Clearly the B-2 will make a valuable contribution to our strategic deterrent. But the other component of value is cost, and the cost of the B-2 is a source of legitimate concern. The cost of preserving freedom has always been dear, and the B-2 -- at a program cost of $62.8 billion for a force of 75 planes -- is expensive. Yet it will absorb a smaller percentage of the defense budget than the B-52 and B-1 bombers did in the years they were being built.

If the opponents of the plane are successful in killing the program now, it will have cost a total of $35.4 billion (including the "up front" development costs and termination costs) for the 15 bombers already funded. For the additional expenditure of much less -- $27.4 billion spread over several years -- we can buy an additional 60 airplanes to complete militarily significant force of 75.

In the rumpus over the B-2, the level of funding for the strategic portion of the defense budget has been blown far out of proportion. All strategic modernization, including the B-2, amounts to only about 6 percent of the total defense budget. Since this is a mission area where the threat has not abated, drastic spending reductions in this area seem imprudent.

As the present-day marauding of Iraq reminds us, the post-Cold War "new international order" actually increases the need for a strategic manned bomber force with the characteristics of long range, quick responsiveness, survivability and discrimination. In this new environment, our forward based forces and our access to overseas bases will be reduced. This is already happening rapidly.

As the focus of our concern broadens beyond Europe to more far-flung theaters such as the Middle East, where the distances are greater and the bases may well be fewer, the utility of these long-range systems is multiplied. From such distances, the role of the manned bomber, as the only long-range system able to deliver conventional as well as nuclear weapons, becomes unique.

With rogue regimes acquiring modern, sophisticated air defense and state of the art weaponry, it makes no sense for us to relinquish unilaterally one of our most valuable and dramatic competitive and military advantages, the revolutionary new stealth technology.

The strategic triad, which as shielded us for more than four decades, remains necessary against Soviet strategic forces, which are as strong as ever and still being enhanced. Within the triad, the assets of the manned bomber are enormous. With but one mid-air refueling, the B-2 will have the capability to hit a target anywhere in the world. No other U.S. weapon will have the range, payload and survivability necessary to deter and deal with any possible combat situation -- with nuclear or conventional weapons -- anywhere in the world.

The writer, a Republican senator from Texas from 1961 to 1985, was chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services from 1981 to 1984 and has since been a defense industry consultant.