A British research and development company, which claims to have invented a method to detect stealth aircraft, has clammed up on details about its technology.
Roke Manor Research has decided not to speak to the press after UK national the Daily Telegraph ran an article on the detection system. Roke claims the Telegraph misquoted the company's head of projects. [The truth or arse covering? - you decide, Ed]
The system uses a traditional mobile phone network to detect stealth aircraft as they pass silently through the ether. Although the aircraft have advanced coatings which absorb conventional radar signals, they apparently still reflect back enough radiation emitted from mobile phone masts to be detected by special ground receivers.
The receivers are linked to a central computer which - in sync with a GPS satellite - is able to position the aircraft to within 10 metres.
The central computer could conceivably be a simple notebook operated by ground troops. Once exposed, the stealth aircraft would be easy prey for convential ground-to-air missiles.
Disabling the system would require the complete destuction of a target country's mobile phone mast network - in reality, an impossible task.
Considering the potential of this system to completely undermine the US's stealth aircraft programme, it might be reasonable to assume that the military there is taking a close interest. Not so, according to Roke Manor Research, despite claims by the Daily Telegraph.
According to the Telegraph Peter Lloyd, head of projects at the laboratory's sensor department, said: "I cannot comment in detail because it is a classified matter, but let's say the US military is very interested."
Lloyd today denied ever having said that the project was classified, or that the US military has expressed an interest. He added that the article was a "gross distortion of the truth", and that he was under instructions not to talk to the press. Details on the project have been removed from Roke Manor Research's website.
Despite the company's assertions, it is indeed unlikely that the US military has not taken a degree of 'interest' in this project. After all, the US is the only country currently actively deploying stealth aircraft - the F-117 and B-2. It also has the F-22 'Raptor' in development.
The Telegraph article claims that, according to 'military sources', the Serbs may have used a crude version of the same technology to shoot down an F-117 during the Kosovo crisis.
If this is true, then the US will be keeping a very close eye on an ingenious idea which could, at a stroke, render its multi-billion dollar stealth programme obsolete. ®
Update - 21 June
Roke Manor may have removed the links to the original article on its site, but it's still available here. Worth a look.
Another Roke Manor Research product recently made the news. The company's 'Hawk-Eye' system has been tested in a cricket match between England and Pakistan.
The technology is able to accurately track the path of the ball from bowler to batsman in three dimensions. It is hoped that this will eventually lead to the umpires being able to call upon an impartial technological 'third umpire' to resolve borderline lbw decisions.
Perhaps the company might like also to consider a device which can detect meetings between cricketers and bent bookies - now that would be a breakthrough.