After keeping it shrouded in secrecy for more than 10 years of planning and development, the Air Force finally removed the wraps this week from the latest weapon in the U.S. strategic arsenal, the Stealth bomber.
Unfortunately, the Air Force did not unveil the Stealth's price tag. As a result, a bomber designed to fly through enemy radar undetected also seems able to fly through the Americans' pocketbooks undetected by the taxpayers who foot the bill. That's bound to make it needlessly hard to guard against waste in the development and deployment of what is already reputed to be the most expensive aircraft ever built.Air Force officials flatly refuse to say what the cost will be. Maybe the Air Force isn't disclosing the price tag because it doesn't know it, at least not with much precision. In the past year alone, the estimate has been revised several times - and the revisions have always been upward.
About all that's certain at this point is that the final cost of the fleet of 132 Stealth bombers is bound to greatly exceed the Air Force's initial estimate of $36 billion. Some industry analysts put the eventual cost at around $110 billion. But even that figure does not entirely take into account costs associated with supporting and maintaining the Stealth fleet.
If the Stealth does its job of helping to deter nuclear war, the plane will obviously be worth every penny it costs. Even so, Congress should make sure there is no cheaper but equally effective way to keep peace.
In view of the Pentagon's well-earned reputation for waste, there's room for wondering if the fuzzy figures from the Air Force on the cost of Stealth aren't hiding more than just the new bomber's sophisticated technology.