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Playboy Interview: Tom Clancy
  • October 01, 2013 : 07:10
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Playboy: But they need only one sub to nuke us and end the world, right?

Clancy: If they decide to start a nuclear war, there are ways a lot easier to do it than to try to sneak a submarine up on our coast. The Russians know if they deploy a submarine in the North Atlantic, we could make that submarine disappear and they'd never know why. All they'd know was that it didn't come home. So the Soviet strategy for their missile submarines is not to deploy them forward but to put them in a bastion, in a sanctuary.

Playboy: Then U.S. naval strategy is aggressive, while the Soviets' is defensive.

Clancy: Yeah, that's a fair observation. The Soviet navy is more defensive than offensive; the U.S. Navy is--we don't say offensive, we say it's in the business of power projection.

Playboy: So in our war scenario, the Soviets surge their attack subs, looking for ships to sink. How vulnerable are U.S. attack carriers?

Clancy: We'd probably lose a few. But the Russians would probably lose all of their naval aviation--all of their Backfires.

Playboy: Why?

Clancy: Going after a carrier battle group is like trying to strangle a porcupine--you're going to get hurt when you try. Our fighter planes based on the carriers are going to start engaging you 500 miles out and fight you all the way in.

Playboy: Then you don't think the NATO forces have much to worry about in the air?

Clancy: No. Their aircraft--mostly clumsy Bear bombers--are going to run into our Tomcat F-14 Interceptors, 24 from each carrier. And they all carry missiles and 20-millimeter cannon shells.

Playboy: How do you compare the F-14 with the Bear and the Backfire?

Clancy: How do you compare a Ferrari with a Kenworth 18-wheeler?

Playboy: That much of a difference?

Clancy: Hey, a bomber is not supposed to be a fighter. A bomber drops bombs, a fighter fights. The Russians can't fly fighters that far. Neither can we. We don't have a fighter that will fly 8000 miles. That's why we put them on carriers.

Playboy: Why don't the Russians use their aircraft carriers to carry fighter planes?

Clancy: What aircraft carriers?

Playboy: Well, we've heard a lot about the feared Kiev--isn't that a Soviet carrier?

Clancy: Carrier? Hey, man. The Kiev's not a carrier; it's a target! One Navy guy I know calls it a "Navy Cross waiting to happen." I love it! It carries VTOL planes, those dinky little vertical-take-off-and-landing things called Forgers. Real dogs.

Playboy: And those planes can't do anything against the U.S. fleet?

Clancy: They're defensive in nature. But, the Kiev wouldn't get far enough. It would die before it got to the coast of Norway.

Playboy: You didn't say whether it really was a carrier.

Clancy: It is one of four glorified antisub cruisers the Russians have. I'm telling you, they don't have any aircraft carriers.

Playboy: Then if the U.S. has 15 carriers and superior air cover, doesn't that mean that America maintains dominance on the high seas?

Clancy: If we play our cards right, we should. Really, the Soviet navy on the open seas is what you might call a "target-rich environment!"

Playboy: How could the U.S. play its cards wrong?

Clancy: In a chapter in Red Storm Rising, I proposed one way: The Russians do something smart. They use half their attack force to launch decoys, and we go for the decoys while the actual strike force comes in from a different direction. Any army--or navy--can be done in by a stupid commander. As I said earlier, usually, the side with brains is the side that wins.

Playboy: But in our scenario, the one you think is most likely today, if the Soviets were to attack in Europe but failed to take Iceland----

Clancy: Then we'd run the ships across the Atlantic and resupply our troops in Europe. And we'd probably win.

Playboy: Wait. The U.S. has all those Soviet submarines bottled up in their sanctuaries. Do we just go in and kill their subs?

Clancy: You said it! You think that's unsporting?

Playboy: No, just dangerous.

Clancy: Hey, that's their job, to kill everything they find. That's how you get promoted--in peacetime, you get promoted by pushing paper better than anybody else. In wartime, you get promoted for killing people. It's called sanitizing the area.

Playboy: There you are, off the Soviet coast, destroying all their nuclear subs. You really don't think the Russians just might consider the nuclear option at that point?

Clancy: No. The Russians are more realistic on nuclear issues than we are. They know that if they have ships out there, some of them are going to get lost.

Playboy: OK. We win in that scenario. Since most war scenarios begin with a Soviet land invasion of Europe, just how likely is an invasion to happen in real life?

Clancy: Not very. In Red Storm Rising, I was very careful to force the decision upon the Soviets. I don't think they have any particular intention to go off and conquer the world--overtly.

Playboy: You don't agree with those who say communism is inherently expansionist?

Clancy: Their political beliefs militate against that, not in favor of it. The Soviets believe, and Marxism-Leninism teaches them, that sooner or later, the whole world is going to go Communist, because communism is the ultimate expression of human society. They really believe that, in the same sense that a born-again Christian believes in the Epistles of Saint Paul. Consequently, if everything you believe tells you that you're ultimately going to win--why risk everything on one throw of the dice? It simply is not a logical thing to do.

Playboy: Are you a supporter of the treaty Gorbachev and Reagan signed banning intermediate missiles?

Clancy: I thought it was a good agreement for everybody. Good for them, good for us, good for the whole world.

Playboy: Why?

Clancy: Because you're eliminating weapons that in my view simply were not militarily useful. They were more dangerous than useful. And therefore, the world's a safer place without them.

Playboy: Yet in Red Storm, you have a slick Russian leader who fools the U.S. with arms-reduction proposals, only to mask his intent to invade. Is he supposed to sound like Gorbachev?

Clancy: No, not at all. That scenario was put together before Gorbachev was elevated at the Politburo. The fact that my premier came out of a background of agriculture, as did Gorbachev, is another one of those coincidences.

Playboy: You don't hold with the right-wingers who think we're being suckered by the Russians?

Clancy: No. I think the Russians have an interest in reducing the likelihood of nuclear war, just as we do. And sincerity isn't the issue, either. If you look at the way the N.F.L. players negotiate with the N.F.L. owners--is there really such a thing as good-faith negotiation over really important issues? Well, probably not. The question is: Do we have areas of common interests with the Soviets? Of course we do. Should we eliminate nuclear weapons? I can live with that. I think it's a great idea. But I don't think we're going to do it the way we're doing it now.

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