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This paper examines how the F-117A tactical fighter embodies stealth technology in its ability to avoid visual, radar, sound, and heat detection, and it investigates some possible policy implications for the Air Force's use of the F-117A today and in the future. To avoid visual detection during its night missions, the F-117A is covered in a flat black paint of a radar-absorbing material that diffuses radar reflection, thereby protecting the aircraft against radar as well as visual detection. The aircraft's multi-faceted surface also diffuses radar to avoid detection. The F-117A's engine is designed to lower noise levels, thereby reducing the chances of being heard. The engine system also reduces the aircraft's heat signature, which significantly decreases the possibility of infrared detection. The deployment and development of the F-117A can significantly affect the way the Air Force may use tactical aircraft in the future. Among the issues facing the Air Force will be whether the employment of the F-117A will mean the reduction of conventional tactical aircraft, whether stealth technology should be applied to all aircraft, whether the military could use more such systems in the future, and whether the F-117A's advanced strike capabilities will tempt the United States away from peaceful and diplomatic solutions to possible future international crises.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.