FP: Do you think Tom Clancy's novels had an influence on the Cold War?
LB: There is a very strong rumor that I've heard about Red Storm Rising. Iceland gets invaded, and when Tom and I were researching this, we discovered that NATO and Iceland had a basing agreement that was very strict. NATO could not bring any new equipment to Iceland without agreement at the ministerial level. In the book, it became clear that the reaction times for reinforcing Iceland had to be a lot quicker. So there was a renegotiation of basing rights based on what was depicted in the book. Red Storm Rising was also used at the Naval War College.
Harpoon has also had a positive effect. It's been used as tactical training at the Naval Academy and elsewhere, though not officially. There are games and simulations. A game is two or more opponents in a closed system where theoretically everyone has an equal chance of winning. But a simulation is more open-ended. I can set up a simulation where there is no hope that one side can win. That was an argument I used to have with Tom all the time. He would look at the Soviet Northern Fleet and their Backfires, and the U.S. Second Fleet, and go, "well, each has a 50-50 chance of winning." And I would go, no, no, Tom, don't make that assumption. It's not a closed game. There could be a change in tactics. If there is a fat carrier target out there, they can bring over Backfires from Long-Range Aviation [the Soviet strategic bomber force] to join the Red Navy Backfires, and now instead of two regiments of bombers, the carrier is facing five. That's no longer a simulation. That's a murder mystery.
FP: A lot of information has come out of the former Soviet archives. Did you find anything that changed Tom's novels or Harpoon?
LB: Harpoon has been almost completely revised after what we found in the Russian literature. For example, nobody had heard of the Kh-31 Krypton, a Mach 3 anti-radiation missile. We're like, where did that come from? And then there was the Kh-41 air-to-sea missile, which the Russians called the Mosquito. Who said the Russians had no sense of humor? It's the size of a Greyhound bus. We confirmed that Soviet doctrine was entirely defensive. The further we penetrated into their defensive zones and got closer to their bases, the more stuff they were going to throw at us.
FP: So if you could redo Red Storm Rising or Red October knowing what we do now, how would you change the plot and weapons?
LB: Good question. Obviously I'd tweak the weapons and hardware to use the newest data, but I believe in both cases, the premise and story hang together pretty well. A very small example of that is that I updated the Dance of the Vampires scenario a few years back, and I didn't have to change the basic structure of the scenario at all.
FP: Why do you think books like Red Storm Rising were so popular?
LB: Red Storm Rising has to be the greatest "what-if" of that genre. You have to jump back into your wayback machine. In the 1980s, we were out of Vietnam, and you have to remember how frozen the two militaries were. We didn't want to shoot at the Russians, and they didn't want to shoot at us. Remember when we shot down the two Libyan aircraft? The actual use of American military force during peace time was a huge issue back then. Today, people are dropping bombs all over the place and no one notices. But it wasn't just that the book had huge force-on-force war. There was so much stuff we wrote about that had never been used before, like cruise missiles. So much of it was untested. Then Desert Storm came along, and now everyone knew about these weapons. So the guys who came along after us and wrote these novels didn't have the same success that we did.
FP: How do you feel about your books being called technothrillers?
LB: I always use the term "military thriller," because the focus is on military action. If you look at some books, they focus so much on military technology. They throw numbers at you. I don't like to use numbers in my stories. If you use more than one or two, people's eyes start to glaze over.