AW & ST 9 mars 1992, pp. 66-67
"Black World" Engineers, Scientists Encourage Using
Highly Classified Technology for Civil Applications
William B. Scott/Los Angeless
A small faction of "black world" engineers and scientists are encouraged
by recent government commitments to open intelligence agency files, and congressional
threats to curtail funding for some highly classified projects.
Such chilling prospects normally would be viewed with alarm by all who get
paychecks from U.S. intelligence agencies, but a few technical personnel
see opportunity instead of gloom. This minority hopes issues raised over
the last two years are bearing fruit now and might push some black technology
into the open eventually.
In voicing their views, this small group of scientific professionals dared
to break a code of silence that rivals the Mafia's, and several individuals
claim they have suffered accordingly. Two said they can prove their civil
rights were blatantly abused - always in the name of security — either
to keep them quiet or to prevent their leaving the loosely structured, yet
highly controlled intelligence R&D community.
"Once you're in, they don't let you go," an engineer said.
Many dedicated "spooks" undoubtedly went into a defensive crouch when Robert
M. Gates, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, announced last
month that some CIA files would be opened. Openness is anathema to the intelligence
professional; it defies all Cold War rules of business. But the world has
changed, and Gates realized the CIA and its sister agencies must adapt.
Within days of Gates' announcement, several congressmen declared open season
on black programs they believed were unnecessary since the Soviet Union disbanded
(AW & ST Mar. 2, p. 62).
Proponent of "deep black" programs point to the lessons of history,
nothing that dictators and tyrants with dreams of world domination have popped
up repeatedly. And when that happens, the U.S. must have a technological
arsenal capable of stomping out the threat, they argue.
The nation's "silver bullets" are best developed in the black, where
neither friend nor foe knows they even exist, let alone how effective they
Opponents of the status-quo, keep-it-all-classified school see a different
"new world order" emerging. These engineers, scientists, technicians and
aircraft mechanics believe that U.S. economic national security is more at
risk today than military security. One way to combat economist threats to
each citizen's standard of living and prosperity is to release some of the
secret technology already developed at taxpayer expense, they maintain.
One scientist identified several "black world" breakthroughs that, he
believes, have both military and commercial potential. The technologies include :
* Very sensitive infrared sensors that do not require cryogenic cooling.
The researcher claimed that, by reducing IR sensor thermal noise through
"electrostatic heat transfer" techniques, today's best IR array could operate
at sensitivities "several orders of magnitude better than is possible with
cryogenic cooling." Environmental monitoring satellites — as well as
strategic defense sensors on Brilliant Pebbles and Brilliant Eyes spacecraft —
could use this technology to extend the on-orbit life of infrared sensors
indefinitely. Currently, the operational life of an IR space sensor is limited
by the amount of cryogenic cooling material available.
* Instantly altering the thermal equilibrium of a large optical lens
or mirror through electrostatic "bulk cooling" methods. The result is
analogous to that attained with phase conjugate optics in telescope or imaging
devices employing an elastic-type mirror. "We spent a lot of time in the
[1980s] developing a microprocessor interface to a high-voltage power supply...
to control optical arrays," he said. "The results were absolutely astounding."
* Using sensitized random access memory (RAM) to detect or transmit
low levels of near and far - infrared energy. When incorporated into a feedback
system for temperature stabilization, the RAM could be used as "an esoteric
IR detector that is simple and reliable," he claimed.
* Low-observable ceramics made from powdered, depleted uranium. The
resulting dielectric material has approximately 92 % the bulk density
of depleted uranium, but is about 20 times harder. So far, the ceramic has
been demonstrated in a "stealth artillery shell" that cannot be detected
by radar. Although the ceramic is of great interest to the U.S. Army,
"black world" powerstruggles over ownership of its manufacturing process
is preventing the material's broad application.
* Short-pulse Doppler radar (SPDR) — which may be the black world's term for ultra-wideband radar (UWB) (AW & ST
Dec. 4, 1989, p. 38). One black-world researcher claimed an over-the-horizon
SPDR operating at 50 kW. output power, transmitting a short pulse with
a duty cycle of approximately 0,003, could detect air vehicles 2,500 naut. mi.
away in all weather conditions. The receiver employed a "Bragg cell channelizer,"
However, the capability of SPDR to also detect stealthy vehicles has kept
the technology in limbo since the mid-1980s. "Anybody who brought it up at
[a company] got his nose cut off," the scientist said. Although he was not
familiar with the bitter controversy over UWB since 1989, he said the earlier
suppression of SPDR "was absolutely criminal, because any stealth technology
stood out like a sore thumb when hit with short-pulse Doppler" (AW & ST Oct. 21, 1991, p. 22; Nov. 19, p. 18).
Engineers working on highly classified programs cited other technologies
that appeared to this editor as only military related. They said that — if
the principles were widely understood — though, there would be definite commercial
One was a "thermal signature making technology... which is used on the B-2
[stealth bomber]," an engineer said." Basically, it's an electrostatic heat
transfer phenomena that charges the jet engine exhaust stream to disperse
the heat — by a factor of about 800. It does a remarkable job of altering
the thermal signature."
He said the same basic technology, used in wing leading edges, can reduce
a flying vehicle's radar cross section (RCS) by masking thermal signatures
created by aerodynamic perturbations of the air; "The radar signature of
an incoming war-head can be reduced to less than 10%" of its normal value,
the engineer said. "We found that radar cross section had a lot to do with
aerodynamics and turbulence — past certain speeds."
electrostatic field-generating techniques in the B-2's wing leading edges
may help reduce its RCS. The bomber's leading edges posed a particularly
challenging production problem on the first aircraft, and may have been the
source of diminished results during early stealth flight tests.
In 1968, Aviation Week reported that Northrop was evaluating "electrical
forces to condition the air flowing around an aircraft at supersonic speeds"
to reduce drag, heating and sonic boom effects. The findings were promising
enough to justify funding of additional research (AW & ST Jan. 22, 1968, p. 21).
By negatively ionizing air molecules ahead of an aircraft, then charging
the nose to the same polarity, an electrostatic field was formed. The field
tended to repel or alter the molecules' path as the aircraft approached,
according to the article.
If the "black world" actually has developed feasible way to reduce airframe
drag substantially with controlled electrostatic fields, commercial aircraft
manufacturers and airlines should be campaigning mightily for the technology.
The potential fuel and cost savings for just American, United and Delta would
A scientist said other, more dramatic, classified technologies are applicable
to lasers, aircraft control and propulsion. However, the scientists and engineers
were especially hesitant to discuss these projects. One said they are "very
black. Besides, it would take about 20 hr. to explain the principles,
and very few people would understand them anyway."
Whether or not black technologies will be released in the near future or
not will depend more on political power wielded in Washington than the recommendations
of dissident "insider" factions. It appears that most within the intelligence
research and development community are highly skeptical of even Gates' born-again
approach, despite the high hopes if openness proponents.
Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said there was near-term plan to
declassify technology now trapped in the "black world." He said the
need to maintain a qualitative edge over potential adversaries "always will
take precedence" over economic competitiveness issues (AW & ST Feb. 17, p. 17).
Whether that status-quo posture will stand in the face of intense Japanese
and European competition during a presidential election year is yet to be
determined — especially when U.S. and allied contractor executives are
scrambling anxiously for ways to turn defense technology into commercial