The Stealth "invisible" plane caught today's political searchlights has already flown against Russia in an adventure novel written two years ago.
As President Carter and ex-president Ford joined the fray yesterday over whether the Pentagon was guilty of breaching security by confirming Stealth's existence, a little-known novelist watched the fuss from his New York apartment with amusement.
Allen K. Kobryn, author of "Poseidon's Shadow," written in 1978 and published in 1979, said it seemed obvious to him, a 30-year-old Vietnam war protester with no military experience, that an airplane like Stealth would have to be flying in the 1980s. So he put one in his book.
He made this deduction, Kobryn said in a telephone interview, after reading a mention of Stealth radar-foiling technology in Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and a report in The New York Times that famed spy plane designer Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson was back doing something mysterious in the super-secret Lockheed "Skunk Works" in Burbank, Calif.
Kobryn figured a successor to Johnson's SR71 Blackbird spy plane was in the making in 1978 as he outlined his novel about a submarine ordered to launch its missiles against Soviet anti-satellite bases without the knowledge of the president of the United States. The bases were to be reconnoitered first by a spy plane.
The novelist called the spy plane Stealth F and described how it would be invisible to enemy radar -- the objective of the real life Stealth technology that Defense Secretary Harold Brown, in a controversial Aug. 22 press conference, disclosed the United States had perfected.
Assigned to overfly the anti-satellite installations, the electronics officer "considered the strange shape of the Stealth F that was to bear him" into enemy airspace, writes Kobryn in his novel. He saw "the most subtle of curvatures. Every component of airframe and powerplant had been selected for minimum electronic signature.
"Impressive as was the form of the black beast," continues the novel, "the core of the aircraft was its electronics payload. Sophisticated enough to deceive the most sophisticated of sensors, Stealth was not, literally, invisible but it was electronically very nearly so . . ."
The Pentagon, without detailing the techniques, has confirmed that it has proved out Stealth in test planes and that any new bomber, not just tactical aircraft, will incorporate secret designs for making it invisible -- just like the fictional spy plane.
The thrust of the criticism being leveled at the Carter administration by defense specialists, if not politicians, is that Secretary Brown tipped off the Soviets to the fact that the United States already had Stealth technology firmly in hand. This took their information beyond items in the technical press, dating back to 1976, that the Air Force was continuing to look for ways to make aircraft invisible to radar.
The Washington Post, in stories which Brown said helped the Pentagon decide to go public on Stealth, reported on June 28 that the technology had advanced to the point where it would compete with the B1 and a stretched version of the F111 for the role of the nation's new manned bomber. The Post reported on Aug. 14 that the Carter administration intended to publicize Stealth to combat charges that the president had been soft on defense by taking such steps as canceling the B1 bomber.
On Monday, former president Ford said the administration's disclosure was "unwise and potentially dangerous to our security," the same accusation that GOP standard-bearer Ronald Reagan made last week.
Carter, in a campaign speech, yesterday in Perth Amboy, N.J., dismissed the charges as "cheap politics" and said his administration shortly after taking office went further than Ford in keeping Stealth secret by classifying the very existence of the program.
Congressional Republicans failed yesterday in an effort to investigate White House involvement in Stealth disclosures.
By a vote of 20 to 10, the House Armed Services Committee rejected a move to require the White House to supply papers on its disclosure decision.
Chairman Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.) of the House Armed Services investigation subcommittee, in opposing the resolution sponsored by Rep. James S. Courter (R-N.J.), said it would be a "waste of time" to try to penetrate the "executive privilege" obstacles that the White House would erect.
Senate Republicans failed on Monday in a similar appeal to Chairman John Stennis (D-Miss.) of the Armed Services Committee. Any such probe would end up revealing more secrets, Stennis said in opposing the idea.
Courter complained that the setbacks mean questions about Carter's role in the Stealth disclosures probably "will go unanswered forever,"
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) complained that "the president is using his Cabinet officers for his political purposes more so than any previous administration."