George Holt Jr.’s THE B-58 BLUNDER: HOW THE U.S. ABANDONED ITS BEST STRATEGIC BOMBER
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
The technologically advanced B-58 Hustler Mach 2 strategic bomber was retired after only 10 operational years. Yet here we are in 2016 still flying B-52s that were designed in 1947. What happened? Why was such a high-performing bomber retired so early?
According to this knowledgeable author it was all due to internal Pentagon politics: the B-52 guys ganged up on the B-58 guys and the B-52 guys won. This was despite analyses and assessments that seemed to show the B-58 to be a superior warfighting system.
This all seems hard to believe on the surface but the facts marshaled by the author are impressive. There's no question that the B-58 was technologically superior to the B-52 as it made use of aerodynamics, electronics and powerplant designs that were simply not available when the B-52 was designed.
Problem is, the stories related in the book also lack context. While the numbers and costs comparing the two seem to favor the B-58 over the B-52, what's left unsaid might also be relevant to the discussion:
- Total costs over time of maintaining both aircraft.
- Intelligence about advances in Soviet low-level radar capabilities which would impact the Hustler’s survivability even on low level penetration flights.
- Potentially superior capabilities of the upcoming F-111 and B-1 aircraft compared with older aircraft.
- Aircraft versus SLBM's and ICBMs
- Advances on stand-off weapons such as cruise missiles
- Conventional payload capabilities of the B-58 versus the B-52
- Coming stealth aircraft.
I can't pretend to know as much about this topic as the author does. His intimate familiarity with the B-58 (and other aircraft) is one of the things that makes the book such an interesting read. But, politics being politics there are always at least two sides to each story and I sense here we’re only hearing one side.
Still, for anyone interested in Cold War technology, this book is a very good read, even if it is one-sided in favor of the B-58. At the same time, the B-52 has proven to have amazing longevity and versatility. Would the same have been true of the B-58? I'm not so sure.
Review copyright (c) 2016 by Dennis D. McDonald