A savvy, damning critique of the long-running B-1 bomber program, which, on the persuasive evidence offered by journalist...


WILD BLUE YONDER: Money, Politics, and the B-1 Bomber

A savvy, damning critique of the long-running B-1 bomber program, which, on the persuasive evidence offered by journalist Kotz, appears to have yielded precious little return on an investment that now exceeds $28 billion. Tracing the star-crossed aircraft's origins back to the Eisenhower era, when the Air Force first proposed replacing its B-52s with a new strategic bomber, the author provides a stinging account of how Pentagon procurement has worked in practice over the past 30-odd years. To illustrate, he documents how the armed forces judiciously: threaten to shut down bases to undermine Capitol Hill lawmakers who do not vote for pet projects. Nor, he observes, are legislators above horsetrading either to keep military installations in their districts or to secure job-creating contracts for local corporations. The upshot is that vital decisions affecting national security are made on largely political grounds. By almost any objective standard, Kotz implies, the B-1 was a bad bet from the outset. By the late 1950's, for example, Russia' s Sputnik had made it abundantly clear that missiles would be the superpowers' mainstay vehicles for nuclear-weapons delivery. By this time, however, the strategic bomber had acquired a life of its own, plus a hard-core claque of special interests that overcame interservice rivalries and a wealth of other obstacles to keep the program going (under several different names). Even President Carter, who had pledged to kill the B-1, was unable to deny the project the R&D funds it needed to survive. Four years later, Ronald Reagan campaigned for the presidency in part on a promise to revive the B-1, which, despite more spirited opposition in the Congress, was duly put into production. In the meantime, cost considerations and uncertainties about Soviet radar capabilities dictated expedient trade-offs in design features once hawked as selling points. The plane now going into service has neither the range nor the firepower initially envisioned, Kotz reports, and, in many respects, the aging B-52s that have been retrofitted with advanced avionics gear are its superiors. There's plenty of blame to go around for this calamitously expensive misallocation of resources, and the author metes it out in measured but unsparing fashion. A sorry tale well told.

Pub Date: March 1, 1988


Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1988