When you look back over the history of JFK research, you find a plethora of information and speculation about Oswald and the U2. As with many such subjects, after several decades we know a lot more about that that now than when most of it was written and a lot of it is badly dated – specifically the speculation that Oswald knew something about the U2 and its operations (such as its altitude) that the Soviets did not. The following material is taken from “Dark Eagles” by Curtis Peebles, a very well respected author on secret aircraft and aerial reconnaissance.
Initially it had been hoped that the U2 would be flying so high that radar tracking on it would be marginal and that had been supported by limited tracking in the US during some of the initial test flights. But once the actual penetration flights began it was clear from signals intercepts that the U2 had been tracked on its very first flight over eastern Europe and that every flight was being tracked in detail, enough so that fighters were being consistently vectored in on the U2’s.
President Eisenhower was very displeased with the ease with which the aircraft was being detected and ordered an effort to reduce its radar cross section. A special paint was used on the underbelly of the U2, intended to absorb radar waves and wires were strung from the nose to poles on the aircraft for further effect. This version of the plane was called the “Dirty Bird.” That worked to some extent but intercepted communications on the next flight showed the Soviets were still picking it up and tracking it. The impact of the wires reduced altitude and they were eventually removed; but the belly was repainted to make it harder for the MiG pilots to visually identify it during interception attempts.
Beginning in 1959, SAM 2 missiles were being fired at the U2 and some had actually come quite close. The Soviets could track the U2, they knew its altitude and the Soviets were flying prot0tyupes of the SU-9 fighter which did have the altitude to actually match the U2 and intercept it directly. Clearly it was only a matter of time before a missile or the fighter might get a U2. And actually on Powers flight, a prototype SU-9 was ordered to intercept and ram the U2 (the pilot got there but could not visually locate the U2 and flew past it). The Powers flight itself was extremely dangerous since it was a total overflight of the Soviet Union giving more than ample time to muster several types of attacks.
Bottom line, the Soviets needed nothing Lee Oswald might have known to bring down the U2. What might have been much more interesting to them was his knowledge (as a ground approach control radio operator) of the defense zones and radio procedures relating to the West Coast and southern California. That would be considered valuable information.