Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Blackbird Diplomacy

The January 24, 2005 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology has an interesting story from a former SR-71 pilot. In the Fall of 1984, the Soviets were delivering advanced weapons to the communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. A series of unusual SR-71 flights was used to change their minds.

The article is part of Aviation Week's wonderful Contrails series, an "initiative to capture the untold stories that collectively make up the rich lore of aviation and space." Check it out if you get a chance.

The link is for paid subscribers only:
Blackbird Diplomacy by Major General Robert F. Behler, USAF (Retired)

Though few taxpayers knew what we were doing, SR-71 missions near belligerent communist countries were influencing U.S. foreign policy. Today, that meant contributing to the demilitarization of Nicaragua, while allowing the Soviet Union to save face. Nobody wanted a repeat of the Cuban missile crisis in Central America.
...
Instead of arriving in the area of interest around noon, when sun-angles were optimum for a photo mission, we arrived just after sunrise, providing an unmistakable wakeup call for the Sandinistas. Even originating at altitudes above 80,000 ft., the shock wave from our SR-71 created window-rattling, double-crack sonic booms on the ground. Message: The U.S. is watching, and we know what that Bulgarian ship at Corinto is carrying [destabilizing MiG-21s].
...
The world may never know if the Bukuriani arrived in the Nicaraguan port of Corinto actually carrying crated MiG-21 fighters. In private, State Dept. officials said their objective had been to give the Soviets an opportunity to remove the jets without admitting the fighters had even been there in the first place. They believed that strategy was the best way to end the incident peacefully.

Blackbird diplomacy had worked.
Thanks for your service, General Behler.