SAC’s Readiness Is Our Peace Insurance Policy

April 1, 1956
For centuries it has been the job of the general to win wars. In the nuclear air age his job must be to prevent wars. There is good reason to believe that the military solution to the problem is relatively simple—superior long-range nuclear airpower and adequate defensive airpower in being, combat-ready on a continuing basis. This airpower must be strong enough to win, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the decision in any global nuclear war. Without this kind of force in being we cannot expect to keep the peace. This is perhaps the most significant military fact of today.

Therefore, all training, all operations, in the Strategic Air Command add up to one simple purpose—readiness for combat on an instant’s warning, anywhere in the world. If we are not ready—in terms of trained men, modern equipment, and effective organization—then SAC is wasting its time.

Military power, in any form, has always been a matter of men, and for the foreseeable future it will continue to be. The day of the pilotless long-range bomber and the guided missile is coming. As they become available they will augment the manned force and, very slowly, may even replace it.

But in SAC we can take no comfort in the prospects of being combat-ready five years from now, or one year from now, or even tomorrow. Our prime interest is in readiness today, this instant. To do so we need men of the highest caliber, trained to the peak of perfection, armed with sufficient quantities of the best equipment the nation can supply them.

Among the almost 200,000 personnel of the command, motivations naturally vary greatly from person to person, yet there is one attribute that is common to almost all SAC people. This is the satisfaction they derive from knowing that the force they have helped to build, and which they maintain in a state of constant readiness, is vital to the security of the Free World. They know that vital to the security of the Free World. They know that they are making a contribution toward the achievement of lasting peace. These people represent the finest in the military tradition—these who choose service to their country above all other considerations.

Building the Strategic Air Command to its present high state of readiness was, essentially, a matter of bringing the men and the aircraft together, and exercising them constantly on combat training missions, which duplicate actual war requirements. Realistic training is our greatest continuing need, and many hundreds of hours of study are required to master today’s highly complicated air equipments.

Consider, for example, the fact that three men in a B-47 bomber do substantially the same jobs that eleven men did in the World War II B-29. Their training has to be broader and more technical, and the demands on each man are greater. Not only must everyone achieve high standards of proficiency in his own job—he is often cross-trained to the other jobs as well.

Ever since the Strategic Air Command was activated, it has been necessary to work on the assumption that a war might start at any time. It is a fact that hours—even minutes—might spell the difference between victory and defeat. Therefore, there has always been a certain urgency to our operations. It is essential to be ready to go—not next week, nor tomorrow, but today—now, if the need arises.

It is our responsibility to know how well the combat crewmen of SAC can do their jobs. In determining this we have had to ask—and answer—three questions. We would like to give you both questions and answers, for they bear on our conclusions.

First, can SAC combat crewmen, flying from bases here and overseas, find their targets with certainty? The answer is an unqualified yes. On celestial navigation alone, our crews can fly to within fifteen miles of any spot on earth, and from there move on their targets with precision by means of radar navigation.

Second, when they arrive over their targets, can they destroy them? Again. The answer is an unqualified yes. By means of carefully scored bombing runs, each of these crews has proved its ability on hundreds of occasions. I should like to point out that their targets are not cities—they are often specific corners of buildings within military target areas. By a combination of radar and radio, we can tell with what degree of accuracy any given crew is bombing.

Third, having destroyed their targets, will these crews get back? Again, the answer is yes. In World War II, using mass formations of bombers, subject to massed attack, our percentage of losses was less than two percent. With many hundreds of jet bombers utilizing optimum tactics, in small formations or on single-plane penetrations, the odds are equally in favor of our bombers.

Today we have a combat-ready force in being—and I think there is good reason to hope it may never have to be used. The strength it poses to any potential enemy as of now is so great it is very probable that he will not risk its blows. There is no profit in aggression if it brings on self-destruction. Therefore, we may well regard the Strategic Air Command as peace insurance, and the premiums we must pay to keep it more modern than the strategic air force of any nation are not high. If we never have to use the power we have built into SAC, it will have justified its cost many times over.

We must face squarely the fact that the United States no longer enjoys a monopoly on long-range nuclear airpower. It was inevitable, of course, that the Communists would build this most potent type of force as quickly as they could. The fact they now have such a force, however, in no way detracts from the deterrent power of our own. It is not likely that any major attack could be made on the United States without the aggressor nation suffering disaster. As long as a potential aggressor is convinced of this, I do not think we have to worry about a major war. Our main job is to keep him convinced.

We are not a belligerent people. We prefer to devote our inventive natures and our industrial capacity to providing better lives for ourselves and for others. In the past this inclination has been mistaken for weakness” and as a result, we have been drawn into two world wars in a single generation.

I would not say to you that SAC is the ultimate of military tools. Today, it is our best and most formidable military expression, and for the foreseeable future it appears clear that the long-range bomber and the nuclear bomb will be required in sufficient numbers, and of superior quality, as a national insurance policy. We must keep it that way, at the same time pushing forward our research and development programs on advanced type aircraft and guided missiles to guarantee future leadership in the air.

The airman knows the futility of war and his job today is to help prevent war from happening. We can and must insure our security by our continuing efforts toward a peaceful solution to world problems, backed up with the type of military strength our potential enemies fear most. In such an atmosphere, with that strength behind our position of moral leadership in the world, we can look to the future with confidence.