McKenzie Wark on Wed, 31 Mar 1999 07:21:30 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Re: :::recode::: infowar 101 (fwd)

"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
 -- McKenzie Wark 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 10:14:30 +1030
From: Vicki Sowry <>
Subject: Re: :::recode::: infowar 101

>and maybe our outrage at obvious media distortions serves
>to distract us...and maybe we find that we are impotent in the
>face of all that is happening and maybe we don't like that...
>even as I have absolutely no idea what to do about it or even
>how to have a straightforward response.

..Coming in from a tangent.. Sarah's post got me thinking about a piece I
wrote in 1992 about the B2 and stealth technologies and how to trace the
flow on of these technologies into culture.. Below is a rough and longish
cut & paste of that piece.. but i think it provides a jumping point to
considering whether one's inability to have a straightforward response may
be in part due to the technologies involved?



An examination of the contemporary concerns of military research and
development shows that a major tendency is to create war machines which
attempt to achieve increased speed through invisibility, an invisibility
not just to the human eye, "but above all to the piercing unerring gaze of
technology."  These are the technologies of stealth, encapsulated by the
F-117A fighter and the B-2 bomber.

In essence, stealth technologies are concerned with practices of
invisibility, of what Virilio has called an "aesthetics of disappearance".
This is currently acheived through a process of reducing what is termed the
'signature' of a given machine (or weapon).  A machine's signature is
determined by the emissions of its communications and propulsion systems,
that is, by its radar, infrared, electro-optical, acoustic and
electromagnetic emissions.  The configuration of these emissions results in
what is termed the machine's radar cross section (RCS).  By utilising a
vast array of measures it becomes possible to reduce a machine's RCS to the
point that it becomes unrecognisable.  An example of this is outlined in a
House and Senate Armed Service Committee debate centred around the
astounding reduction in the B-2's RCS: "When asked whether the B-2 RCS was
most like that of aircraft, birds or insects, General  Welch [Air Force
Chief of  Staff] replied that it is "in the insect category".  He pleaded
classification, however  when asked which insect it resembled most."

Within such a frame, spatiality is only ever talked of in temporal terms.
Reducing a machine's signature is a gaining of time: "if you can reduce the
RCS of your aircraft by 10db, you cain a seven second advantage in
launching your missile against a non-stealth adversary".  Modern warfare
relies entirely upon the deregulation and the convergence of time and

Another, equally increasing, convergence is that between the real/unreal -
in this case, between what we perceive as 'ocular reality' and the
instantaneous mediated representation of that reality.  The ocular reality
of the B-2 bomber is an airplane standing 17-feet high, 69-feet long and
with a wing span of 172-feet.  In its instantaneous representation on a
radar screen this reality is totally displaced and the enormity of the B-2
has become no more perceptible than an insect - the B-2 can be apprehended
as simultaneously real and unreal.

An interesting sideline to this are the simulation technologies which have
developed for testing the capabilities of the B-2 and F-117A.  Currently,
test pilots spend more 'flight-time' in the tactical simulator than they do
in actual airspace.  The repercussions of this situation, and its
concommittant extension to notions of 'real' versus 'simulated' warfare,
point to one area emerging as a site for analysis and possible
<cf. the Kroker's assertion that the current situation is an opportunity
for combat training>

The development of technologies necessary for the building of the B-2 began
in the early 1970's, leading to the construction of the first operational
prototype in 1978.  However, the B-2's existence only became known to the
public during the 1980 presidential campaign, and even then no more was
known than that - any other information about the programme was
unobtainable and this remained the case until November 1988 when the
official roll-out ceremony took place.  Even at this public 'unveiling'
severe restrictions were placed upon what could be seen, and who could see
it.  [As a brief background, it  had come to be seen as unfeasible to fly
the B-2 only at night and only in remote areas. The Chiefs of Staff had
decided to transfer the B-2 into an active flight test programme, that is,
a programme where flights could be undertaken during daylight hours.  It
became a matter of political expediency, therefore, to provide the public
with more information than had previously been forthcoming. ]

This history is  mirrored with the F-117A fighter.  This aircraft first
flew in prototype in 1977, entered production in 1981 and became
operational in 1983.  However its existence was not acknowleged by the Air
Force until November 1988 - a full eleven years after its first flight.
(And this of course does not include the length of time spent in
development on R&D design databases).  In this fog of secrecy one thing is
clear - the ability of the military to classify security-sensitive
technologies out of existence. Paradoxically, the 'being-seen' of the B-2
and the F117A, only highlighted the extent to which they remained unseen.
(Haraway described something very similar, in referring to the cyborg:
"They are as hard to see politically as materially").

This is certainly the case for the B-2 - although 'officially unveiled'
four years ago, details about its yearly budget and production schedule
still remain "black" (the questionable moniker for absolutely classified
projects). The obvious reason for such a classification is that it gives
the B-2 an advantage in Congressional debates concerning Defense Budget
allocation.  However, through such evidence we can see that stealth
technologies - and their underlying tenets of disappearance, deceit and
decoy - are having an irrefutable impact upon concrete political process,
an impact which is rapidly gaining momentum.  For example, the funding for
"deep black" projects has substantially increased in the last ten years,
and now makes up thirty-five percent of the total Air Force procurement

Secrecy has also distracted observers outside of the Pentagon. Shielded
from the radar of a potentially critical public, the B-2 and F-117A
projects elude being focussed upon to the degree of more visible programmes
such as the Strategic Defense Initiative, thereby ensuring that debate is
restricted to the armed services and appropriations committees.  Such
secrecy, however, provides some disturbingly ironic drawbacks - even for
the pro-military politician.

The same classification which guarantees the budget dollar also makes
accountability for that dollar difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
This dynamic has been played out in the B-2 program with surprising force.
In October, 1989 a false claims lawsuit was filed against Northrop
Corporation - the prime industrial contractor involved in the project.  The
suit, brought by one current and five former Northrop employees, claimed
that "the company wrongfully recieved more than $20 billion from the U.S.
government...[and] that there was widespread and long-term mismanagement,
fraud and abuse within the stealth bomber program that resulted in
mischarging, false statements and misrepresentations to the Air Force
concerning progress on the B-2."

The suit was defeated, but it did raise serious doubts about the
desirability of continuing with the program. Congress, backed against a
wall, agreed to continue supporting the project, albeit in a severely
curtailed way. At the time of the roll-out the Air Force was adament that
an operational fleet of one hundred and thirty-two bombers was necessary
for the success of the programme.  In January, 1992 President Bush
announced that the B-2 fleet would be held to twenty aircraft.  This has
required a redefining of, among other things, the proposed strategic role
of the B-2. .....

By concentrating on the technologies of stealth favoured by the military it
is possible to recognise some major operative trends which form the
component parts of a framework around which a technics of domination is
emerging. Noted above are some brief examples of ways in which stealth has
impacted upon governmental process.  Of far greater importance is the need
to identify the ways in which stealth technologies will broaden their reach
into the broader political and cultural realm.

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