Title: Flying on Nuclear - The Superpowers Quest for a Nuclear Powered Bomber
Authors: Raul Colon
(Return to Articles)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

As the political situation worsened. Desk officials were overriding field managers on key aspect of the program. Datelines were frequently missed. Goals were half-meet, if meet at all. The program was also plague by a lack of a central, unified voice. A voice that could command respect and inspire the personnel working on the project. And in the end, this was the undoing of the whole program. Critics had pointed to the development of more accurate Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles or a serviceable mid-air refueling system, or even the ecological effects of a crash landing by one of these “special” bombers; as the main reasons behind the cancellation of the program. These facts played an important role in the program’s demise, but the factor that ultimate undid the program was mismanagement. The atmosphere surrounding the program’s operational management team never fully complemented the team on the ground. Waste after waste of scarce financial resources as well major time delays, gave the access the politician coveted to take a measure of control over the program; and in the end, destroying any hope a achieving a successful conclusion.

The Soviet approach to their program was, from the early start, very different than that of the U.S. Their main goal in achieving a nuclear powered bomber was to enhance their ability to strike deep into Continental America. At the time, the leaders at the Kremlin were alarmed at the U.S. installation of offensive medium-range ballistic missiles in Europe and Turkey. These developments were added to the fact that the Soviet Union had failed in its attempts at develop a truly intercontinental and technological advance heavy bomber platform. What the U.S. saw as the “bomber gap” the Soviet live it. After the first reports of an interest in the part of the U.S. to commence research into the possibility of an atomic plane, the U.S.S.R., partially motivated by pride and the reality that one superpower was getting technological superior to them, started a crash program to look into the possibility of producing an atomic plane. The nature of the Soviet political system did not allow for much political squandering. After the Kremlin made its decision to start or back a development program, especially one of this scale, full resources were allocated for the project without political interference. That is how the Soviet effort began. As with the American program, extensive research was performed and valuable data collected. Also, as it was the case of the American program, technology pointed to the possibility of producing a workable nuclear powered bomber in relative short time. Then why the Soviets, so close at realizing the program’s main objective, decided also to abandon it? Managerial practices were not to play a role on the program’s demise. The Kremlin gave orders to start or terminated any program, but in those days, they did not micromanage a program. So, what was the reason? Politics. Geo, and military politics. In the mid 1950s, the U.S.S.R. made a political decision in regards to their strategic offensive nuclear force. They calculated that with advances made in tracking radar systems and the development of accurate surface-to-air missiles batteries, a nuclear powered bomber would be hard press to penetrate the U.S. airspace; missiles on the other hand, possessed a greater survival capability over the enemy’s airspace. The other aspect of the political decision was maintenance. The Soviets calculated that with the financial resources needed to maintain an airworthy atomic bomber force, it can field a vast array of Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles systems. Soviet leaders, watching the development of their space program, a program that was centered on the launching of massive rockets, felt in love with the ICBM. Missiles are relative inexpensive to produce and maintain compare to atomic planes. And enough deployable missiles would allow the Soviet Union to implement their long standing military doctrine of brute force. They calculated that the possession of an overwhelming number of missiles and the ability of these missiles to shower the United States, they would be able to deter the U.S. from taking any offensive action against the Soviet Union or its interests around the world.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9