George A. Haloulakos, CFA, is a university instructor, author and entrepreneur [DBA Spartan Research and Consulting, 1995-to date]. His published works utilize aviation as a teaching tool for Finance, Game Theory, History and Strategy.
The Convair B-58 Hustler, a pioneering aircraft that helped usher advancement in aeronautics while providing object lessons in Finance, Strategy and Game Theory makes for a compelling story. Finance explains how capital is employed to create added-value. Strategy explains how resources are mobilized to capitalize on opportunities while achieving victory. Game Theory embodies strategies and tactics in situations of conflict or competition in which participants are faced with choices of action in which they win or lose based on what others choose to do or not to do. Statistics may provide guidelines or rules of thumb but in the midst of conflict where human behavior comes into play, actions and outcomes do not necessarily conform to a statistical norm or numeric formula. The long-retired supersonic B-58 is a unique teaching tool for these disciplines made all the more interesting by its remarkable achievements during its service life from 1960-1970. In the following excerpt from my forthcoming book CALL TO GLORY, basic principles in Game Theory are demonstrated in this historic case study that are useful in evaluating two major public policy issues facing our nation today: the merits of launching a new strategic bomber and dealing with adversaries that have publicly declared their intention to destroy us.
Call to Glory: Raison d’être for the B-58 Hustler
The B58 was a play to win [rather than play not to lose / avoid being second guessed] asset. It was a display of decisive lethal force in a conflict with little or no margin of error. The Cold War between the USA and former USSR was a battle for survival between the forces of liberty and freedom versus totalitarianism from 1947-1991. The enmity between the two nations was expressed in 1956 when USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev stated “We will bury you” to the USA and its allies. The significance of this statement cannot be overstated. If an enemy is determined on conquering you and uses all his or her resources to fulfill that objective, he or she is at war with you; and unless you contemplate surrender, then you are at war with that enemy! Furthermore, unless you are considering treason, then your objective, like that of the enemy, is victory. The idea of peaceful coexistence or containment of such an enemy is both naïve and risky. The B-58 was deployed as a weapon aimed at achieving victory.
Using Game Theory in Reappraising the Value of the B-58 Hustler
In war victory is the true measure of success for victory means survival. As Winston Churchill said “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.” It is in this spirit that the Convair B-58 Hustler was designed, developed and deployed for Strategic Air Command (SAC). The B-58’s exclusive role as a nuclear strike weapon made it a critical asset in the context of a “massive retaliation” strategy. It significantly upgraded SAC’s firepower while helping the USA to maintain initiative in its ongoing Cold War conflict versus the USSR. Decisive force plus initiative as exemplified by the B-58 was a message clearly understood by the USSR. This is because decisive force plus initiative are the two necessary ingredients for success in the game of Chess – the historic Soviet national pastime – and to understand this enemy’s psyche it is critical to view the Cold War as a Chess game. The advantage goes to the player who exerts decisive force while maintaining initiative. Concession of either factor to the opponent places one at grave risk. In sum, the B-58 was a game changer more profoundly understood when its capabilities are examined in the context of history, economics and politics as well as technology.
Quiet Triumph: Stopping the Enemy Without Dropping Bombs in Anger
The real point of differentiation for the B-58 as a strategic bomber was its supersonic speed while maneuvering like a fighter aircraft. This lethal combination was a difference maker during the Cold War and, in my opinion, proved to be a deciding factor during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The USSR was fully aware it would be unable to completely stop all US bombers from delivering their nuclear ordnance in the event of a shooting war because in the context of SAC’s mix of bombers, the B-58 had the highest probability of reaching its targets in an all-out conflict. For this reason [and using Chess parlance] it may be inferred that the B-58 was the critical “piece” in combination with the subsonic B-47 and B-52.
Combination strategies are the soul of Chess, and the B-58 working in conjunction with the other SAC bombers would be in the strongest position to destroy all worthwhile targets in the Western USSR including Moscow. With the B-58s theoretically traveling at Mach 2.0 to target and then delivering its payload flying low level at Mach 0.92 on final approach, the USSR had no idea where the Hustlers might strike. This had forced the USSR to spread out its anti-aircraft defense over all potential targets while knowing that the B-58 could reach multiple targets at twice the speed of other US bombers. On this basis and given the enormous nuclear yield of B-58 payload, the USSR knew that if only a single Hustler reached target it would be “checkmated.” As a result the USSR accepted a “draw” in the Cuban Missile Crisis rather than risk all-out war. While there is a wide range of published opinions regarding which side actually won, the fact that an all-out shooting war was averted can be inferred as a “draw.”
The B-58 was a ground-alert aircraft only with each bomber having separate routes and targets. While the B-58 did not have loiter time of a B-52 to remain airborne for 24 hours without numerous air refuelings nor the room for an augmented crew for relief, it was able to reach the target area almost as quick as the airborne alert aircraft! This meant that during the Cuban Missile Crisis airborne-alert B-52s were “crowding” the Soviet radars on a 24/7 basis while the B-58s were on ground alert able to power-up their jet engines in seconds and be airborne in 15 minutes or less. Put another way: airborne-alert B-52s were at points always outside the perimeter area of the target complex and close enough to strike targets in a short period of time in combination with the ground-alert B-58s that could fulfill the same task in nearly the same time frame BUT with the enemy not knowing where the Mach 2.0 capable B-58 would strike.
Author’s Note on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Based on primary research and analysis, it is my understanding that most SAC crews, including those with the B-58, were under no illusion concerning their chances of reaching friendly airfields had they been ordered to execute the Emergency War Order for real. However I also learned that it is reasonable to infer that a post-strike base was located in Turkey.
In my opinion, it is not inconceivable to also infer that a single B-58 could have been dispatched from either the USAF SAC 43rd or 305th Bomb Wings, refuel over Florida and then strike Cuba – thereby fully removing the USSR land based nuclear missiles in a single strike. [A second refueling would likely follow with the B-58 landing at a friendly airfield in or near Africa.] This is a most reasonable inference because a Quick Check modified B-58 was actually used for an over-flight of Cuba during the October 1962 missile crisis! The Quick Check pod was a special Raytheon forward-looking radar that functioned well and had highest resolution when subsonic speeds were used. Since the USSR was already aware that it would not be possible to prevent the B-58 from striking targets deep in the Soviet heartland, the very real possibility of a Hustler making a similar strike in Cuba was also a strong incentive for backing away from an all-out war, especially since that aircraft had already made a reconnaissance over-flight! The success of the aforementioned B-58 photo reconnaissance mission during the Cuban Missile Crisis led to its recurring use in humanitarian missions in which the Hustler provided photos of natural disasters in Alaska [1964 – 1968]. This collateral benefit underscores the versatility of the Hustler during its service life.
How Retirement of the B-58 Signaled the End of an Era
The retirement of the B-58 also reflected the manner in which the era often referred to as the “soaring sixties” came to a rather abrupt end. It is not a coincidence that the Hustler’s retirement occurred during a period in which our nation in very short order ended its manned expeditions to the moon, halted public funding for the Supersonic Transport (SST) aircraft and then cancelled various long-range space expeditions that were to culminate with a manned mission to Mars by the mid to late 1980s.
At the outset of the 1960s our nation was fully committed to expanding frontiers in different venues, with space exploration as a major driver because it created spin-off benefits applicable to both commercial and military markets. By the early 1970s reasons such as economy or efficiency were cited as the basis for the curtailment of advanced aerospace and aircraft programs. This was concurrent with a shift in public policy where emphasis was placed on pursuit of settlements or tending to so-called “domestic” priorities instead of maintaining initiative against an aggressive foe while seeking to advance exploration of new frontiers, especially outer space.
The problem with such an approach is that when a nation or its people stop exploration and become passive in the face of a threatening enemy, then it shows weakness and lack of resolve. This can have a negative cascade effect on a nation’s economic progress, military posture and social fabric. The high flying B-58 that had soared to record heights along with the American space program found itself along with the SST and the Apollo spacecraft grounded by the very early 1970s.
Once the B-58 was retired for reasons noted earlier, policy makers by necessity had to be cognizant of financial concerns as well as mission capability. The era of multiple highly specialized aircraft and generous public funding was no longer in vogue. Among other considerations of an economic, accounting or strategic nature was that once all the SAC bombers were airborne, the ratio of tanker aircraft to bombers were perceived as less than favorable for the B-58: one tanker was needed to refuel one B-58, while two tankers could refuel three B-52s.
Where the value of the B-58 compared to the B-52 may not have been fully reflected in these figures is that its greater number of nuclear weapons per aircraft — 5 versus 2 – would suggest that the B-58 offered more varied and diversified attack strategies in terms of possible sequences of hitting its targets. Using the factorial function [!] makes this self-evident. 5! = 120 while 2! = 2. One B-58 armed with five nuclear weapons has 120 possible sequences in delivering its ordnance while one B-52 has 2 sequences.
The B-58 Hustler Case Study and the Next Generation Strategic Bomber
As the USAF ponders which company will be the primary contractor for the next generation strategic bomber – i.e. the successor to the B-52 and B-1 bombers – the lessons from the B-58 may prove useful in balancing economy and mission capability. The proper notion of economy and national defense is that if a nation has deployed a weapons system so powerful that it does not have to be used in anger, then the nation has achieved victory — the ultimate measure of Return on Investment for military assets. In this regard, the B-58 proved to be of immeasurable value when the stakes were never higher! Its major shortcoming was its relatively brief service life due to high cost and lacking convertibility for conventional as well as nuclear strike missions.
Since today’s policy makers by necessity need to be cognizant of financial concerns as well as mission capability, the next generation bomber will need to be designed for easy integration into a wider array of missions and strategies versus SAC’s predecessor bombers. This will help to extend the useful life of the airframe thereby increasing the Return on Investment in both financial and military terms. Politics, national boundaries and technology may change over time but the need for a decisive, play-to-win national defense strategy plus overwhelming force will remain perennially relevant. The challenge of balancing these considerations in an economical manner can be resolved by applying the lessons of history from landmark aircraft programs like the B-58 Hustler. In this way our nation can honor its past and advance the future while securing the blessings of liberty and freedom.