Exposed: This One of U.S Super-Weapons that Could Have Transformed War Forever (But Never Happened)

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Exposed: This One of U.S Super-Weapons that Could Have Transformed War Forever (But Never Happened)
B-70 Valkyrie

The B-70 Valkyrie deserves its own operatic cycle. Envisioned as the replacement for the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-58 Hustler, the B-70 was designed to penetrate Soviet airspace at high altitude, and upwards of Mach 3. Beloved of the “Bomber Mafia,” a generation of senior officers who had cut their teeth in World War II’s Combined Bomber Offensive, the B-70 represented, to many, the future of the Air Force. And just to show I’m not a hard-hearted guy, and it’s not all dollars and cents, the B-70 was a beautiful aircraft. Long and sleek, the Valkyrie resembles a space ship more than an aircraft. The surviving prototype remains on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. But the Valkyrie was enormously expensive, and this expense made it vulnerable. First President Eisenhower, then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara were less than enchanted with the idea of spending enormous sums on another heavy bomber when ICBMs showed great promise in delivering nuclear weapons to the Soviet homeland. Advances in Soviet interceptor and surface-to-air missile technology were also making the B-70’s mission considerably more dangerous than first anticipated. After constructing only two prototypes (one of which was lost during a PR stunt), the Air Force shut production down. Fifteen years later, the B-1B, with some superficially similar characteristics, would enter service. The effect of the B-70 on the Air Force would have, on balance, been quite negative. Devoting tremendous resources to the procurement of another strategic bomber would have drawn attention away from both the tactical air force and the missile force. B-70s might (in desperation) have been committed to the bombing of Vietnam during Operations Linebacker I and II, but they would likely have performed no more effectively than the B-52s they were replacing. And both the B-52 and the B-1B have proven remarkably flexible in terms of missions and update technologies, in part because they have space for a larger crew (4 and 5, respectively) than the Valkyrie (2). McNamara saved the Air Force from itself by preventing a long, deep procurement chasm that would have lasted thirty years.


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