In a recent op-ed {Oct. 15}, our former colleague John Tower mistakenly writes that members of Congress want to end the B-2 program because of the past year's events, such as the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact. We would oppose the B-2 even if nothing had changed in Eastern Europe.

The cost of the B-2 program has skyrocketed. The price per plane has risen from $246 million in 1981 to $865 million today. The estimates increased by $50 million between April and June of this year. The issue is not simply the B-2's present cost -- which is phenomenal -- but its eventual cost.

Mr. Tower cites the Air Force's claim that for only $36 billion more we can have a 75-bomber fleet, while it would cost $8.6 billion to end the program now. This assumes, however, that the B-2 program is pristine: Its first decade has been anything but. There have been more than a 300 percent unit cost increase, a four-year slip in production schedules, the conviction of its lead contractor -- the Northrop Corp. -- on 34 counts of fraud and inflation figures so unrealistic that Air Force estimates of B-2 program cost have been off by as much as $4 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Mr. Tower writes that the B-2 will absorb less of the defense budget than did the B-1B or B-52. This highly speculative comparison comes from the Air Force and does not take into account either the inevitable cost increases over the years it will take to complete the B-2 program or the likely decline in the defense budget. It is important to remember that the B-1B was procured in only four years. This is why it consumed such a large portion of the defense budget.

Mr. Tower seems to look right past the B-1B, the Air Force's current front-line strategic bomber. Our nation spent $39 billion just four years ago to procure 100 B-1Bs. The Air Force lobbied hard for the aircraft, telling Congress in 1981 that the B-1B would be an effective strategic system for 25 to 40 years. It admits that the B-1B can penetrate current Soviet air defenses and that it will soon be equipped with advanced cruise missiles, giving it a standoff capability.

The B-2's questionable premise is that the Soviets will spend roughly $100 billion to improve their air defenses, enough to stop the B-1B but not the B-2. But Soviet defense spending declined by 5 percent last year, and Soviet spending on air defenses has been declining in real terms for 25 years.

Mr. Tower claims that we must commit ourselves to the $65 billion B-2 program before signing a START treaty to send a signal to the Soviets. Even without the B-2, our post-START force would significantly exceed 6,000 warheads, and, in fact, we would probably have more total warheads than the Soviet Union. The number of Soviet strategic nuclear facilities that could be targeted (such as ICBM silos, submarine bases and command posts) is less than 3,000, and the number will shrink after START. The number of important Soviet cities and towns is in the hundreds.

America does not need another new strategic nuclear bomber program, especially one that is overpriced, mismanaged and designed for a mission already fulfilled by other weapons.

JIM SLATTERY U.S. Representative (D-Kan.) Washington