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B-2 stealth bomber put out for viewing

The Air Force on Monday put the B-2 stealth bomber and its other radar-evading aircraft under a rare public spotlight, kicking off a "stealth week" effort aimed at building political support for its most prized weapons. Reporters and photographers were permitted to view the stealth planes in an air-conditioned hangar at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, and the Air Force has invited members of Congress and their staffs to take a close-up look starting today.

The administration wants to build 75 of the B-2s, but the House last week eliminated money for the four planes scheduled to be purchased in 1992.

President Bush, who will visit the hangar today, has threatened to veto the 1992 defense budget unless money for the B-2 is included. The Senate is to begin its debate on the military budget the second week of July.

Many in Congress say the end of the Cold War and a need to reduce defense spending make it unreasonable to devote so large a share of the public purse to the B-2, which costs $864-million a copy and has not yet proven in tests that it can perform as advertised.

"We want people to touch and feel and look so they can get a better view," said Maj. Gen. Stephen Crocker, the Air Force's director for strategic modernization.

Reflecting the Air Force's concern about the depth of Congress' skepticism over the B-2's capabilities, Crocker told reporters, "Most importantly, we flew it in here."

The B-2 had never before flown across the continental United States. It arrived at Andrews last week from its test base at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.