Written by Ivan Rendall
Review by Joseph J. Gleason
This 1999 second printing of the original British 1997 edition Splash is a must read. I highly recommend Rolling Thunder to any experienced jet pilot and to all those who dare to imagine adrenaline pumping 2, 3, 4G maneuvers while being hunted at twice the speed of sound by a missile launching determined enemy who may well be many miles beyond your line of vision. Your palms may perspire as you read about the many system failures that occurred.
The author repeats the theme that the plane is nothing without the pilot, yet a jet aircraft fighter plane is everything when in the control of an experienced and disciplined pilot. There is no substitute for the raw intuition that the well trained pilot brings to the fight. Even if the plane and its munitions are not perfectly suited for the mission, the best trained pilots must adapt by using every limit to their advantage or die trying. The mantra, “winning is about accepting that there is no such thing as second-best” is clearly the case when the fate of the pilot, his multi-million dollar plane and the freedom of every citizen of his nation is determined by his split second decisions.
Rolling Thunder is a thorough comparison of the technological advantages that have evolved from the trials and tribulations of the numerous war time engagements in pursuit of air superiority. Many political and tactical decisions are revealed in great detail and critiqued from the fighter pilots’ perspective. In retrospect, it may seem that many of the decisive victories were only a startling combination of shear luck and timing.
The reader is led from the early days of the first jet aircraft in the last days of WWII and through Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia and the first Gulf War past the development of the F-18 and into a discussion of the potential of the unmanned fighter planes we have come to call drones. In a world where combat technology advances at the pace of necessity, the author reveals the many starts and stops along the way, comparing the development costs associated with each revelation.
Rolling Thunder is also a study in the efficiency of remote killing. As jet aircraft evolved into distant aerial missile launchers with look down capability, necessary skills were developed in the hands of remote pilots who may be far removed from the same fear of failure yet the stakes remain the same or even greater. As the destructive capability and purpose of the missile system changed so did the theater of combat from close contact air to air to distant defensive first strike reinforced deep silo anti-nuclear bunker busters.
One message of Rolling Thunder, although not likely that of the author, is also that policy makers realize it is no longer only the world superpowers with the ability to literally reach out and touch an enemy in minutes, but that opposing forces capable of arming third world surrogates with immense destructive power can now do so cheaper and quicker than ever before.
If you have any interest in studying the advancement of jet aircraft and the weapons they carried from inception through 1999, you will be taken for a palm sweating, bone chilling ride at several times the speed of sound.
If this author stays current with developments in aerial combat and weapons delivery systems into the next decade, I would enjoy reading his next accounting.
Review by Joseph J. Gleason