The F-117A Stealth fighter's success in the Persian Gulf may win congressional battles for the bigger and more expensive B-2 Stealth bomber, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said Wednesday.

Hansen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Persian Gulf war has vindicated supporters of stealth technology and ought to help save the B-2 as his committee prepares to begin debating next year's defense budget."Critics have long argued stealth technology - which prevents an aircraft from being detected by radar - was a combination of wishful thinking and wasteful spending," Hansen said.

But he said that changed as the F-117A led the assault in the early days of Operation Desert Storm.

"Although the F-117A makes up only 5 percent of our fighter aircraft in the gulf, it accounted for more than 40 percent of the sorties flown in the first five days," Hansen said.

"Like a thief in the night, mission after mission neutralized sophisticated Iraqi air defense systems, disrupted communications and destroyed command and control centers. And for all the countless thousands of missions it has flown in the present conflict, the Iraqis have failed to down even one.

"The bottom line is simply this: You cannot fight a ghost and win," Hansen said.

He added that as his committee looks at the new budget, "a new look must be given to the B-2 bomber. The debate is sure to focus less on the effectiveness of the technology than on the initial cost of these weapons.

"However, due to the high efficiency and accuracy of these weapons, fewer missions to target are required and collateral damage is dramatically reduced. This not only saves lives, but ultimately it is more cost effective," Hansen said.