The Role of Tactical Air in The ‘Long Pull’

May 1, 1956
It would be foolhardy for us to ignore the fact that the Communists have numerically superior land armies, and air and naval forces second only to our own. We know that their military strength is supported by vast natural resources and an expanding industrial base. Theirs is a controlled totalitarian economy, making it possible for them to allocate large sums of money for production of military equipment disregarding the other economic needs of their peoples. Last, but far form least, is the fact that their atomic stockpile is on the increase and that they have developed nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

The Communists then pose a double-barrelled threat to our peace and security. If we become weak, we may expect a major war. As long as we remain strong, we can be reasonably sure that they will be in no hurry to become involved in a decisive military campaign in which they surely would be subjected to the awful retribution of American airpower. But the Communist timetable is of their choosing may be of limited nature, and we may be faced with the possibility of a series of “little” or periphery wars designed to whittle down our strength and increase our vulnerability.

The US national policy of security is therefore based on this realization. We are preparing for what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calls the “long pull.” Our policy now is not to build for an expected war in any particular year, but to be ready this year, the next year, or ten years from now, for either an all-out conflict of a limited war.

The economic implications to the “long pull” military policy has placed heaviest emphasis on technology and airpower, in which we are strong, as distinguished from masses of manpower in which we obviously cannot compete with the Communists.

As part of the “long pull” we subscribe to the concept of collective security, wherein our allies furnish the forces and the facilities or weapons of war that they are most capable of providing to the common goal of defense against aggression. Allied contributions, of course, will vary according to the ability and economy of each country.

Some have larger manpower resources represented in their armies, while others contribute the facilities of their navies, their ports, or their air bases.

Because we are a highly industrialized nation, it falls to us to furnish a major part of the more complicated and technical forces—airpower.

Airpower is the supreme expression of military technology, and we must capitalize on the superiority we now hold in the technology, industry, and nuclear development that supports our airpower strength.

The Communists have overwhelming strength on the ground. In size, the armies of the Free World are mere outposts by comparison. The Communists need not unduly fear our strength at sea, for with internal lines of communication, they are not dependent upon using the seas. The Communists fear but one thing primarily—our power in the air—and airpower has been the primary reason for our peace and safety during the past few years.

It is my earnest conviction that we must never permit ourselves to be led into a conflict in which massed manpower becomes a decisive factor, for by so doing we would be giving the enemy an advantage they should not have.

Since it is not our traditional forms of military power that have held the Communists in check, then it is most imperative that we exploit every means to increase our strength in the air, for by doing so we weaken the Communist threat posed by their superiority in raw manpower.

I must emphasize that I am not recommending that we do not need armies or navies—we do. But airpower, as exemplified in the United States Air Force, is the fundamental military threat restraining the enemy, and it is the prime force giving our country and those others of the Free World the initiative in developing a climate of freedom in areas that otherwise would be enslaved morally, politically, and economically.

United States Air Force airpower is therefore the decisive, dominant force assuring a continued Free World. Today, control of the air determines success or failure in all forms of conflict. Our airpower has spectacular mobility, both in its Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command, which, coupled with a completely versatile arsenal of modern weapons, outmodes, without replacing, the older traditional services.

The domination of airpower can be applied anywhere, any time, in any strength. It can affect a decision in small wars independently or in combination with surface forces. It is the only existing US military force capable of applying total nuclear warfare.

In the light of the military advantages inherent in airpower, we have patterned and developed the organizational structure of the Air Force to take advantage of these complex capabilities and keep it ready for any of several contingencies.

We are an aware of the necessity of maintaining our long—range striking forces in instant readiness should all—out war occur. It is generally accepted that our strategic air forces, which have successfully deterred a global war since 1917, still remain the greatest deterrent to major Communist aggression.

We must keep these forces strong, especially in the light of the cold, hard fact that we no longer monopolize long-range nuclear airpower. We are still ahead, but if we are to remain ahead, it is vital that all of us—the people in the United States—understand the true military aspects of why our Air Force is the mightiest in the world, and having understood, to act swiftly and with decision in supporting it.

Referring again to the pattern of Communist conspiracy, it is abundantly evident that with the capability of our strategic air forces to deter global war, we are, whether we like it or not, possibly faced with an era of periphery or “brush-fire” wars. To meet this new threat, we have placed increasing emphasis upon tactical airpower, and today the ability to inflict instant punishment on an aggressor is shared equally by our strategic and tactical air forces.

In Korea, our intent to use tactical air forces was not established until after the aggression had begun. Our national policy in this regard is now clear-cut. With the mobility and striking power of today’s tactical air forces, we can make clear our intentions to use these forces against limited, as well as all-out aggression, anywhere, any time. This should make the Communists realize that limited aggression will cost more than it is worth.

Even in Korea, in spite of the stringent restrictions placed upon us, tactical airpower was the dominant element which prevented the Reds from achieving their objectives in that area.

We know that there are a number of freedom-loving countries who have the manpower for ground units and who will fight in defense of their country if they are assured of tactical air assistance from us. We now stand ready to offer that assistance and have made this fact known. We are prepared to use modern tactical air forces capable of responding to any hostile action very quickly and with the appropriate degree of force.

The realism of this capability is reflected in the fact that our tactical fighter-bomber and tactical jet bombardment aircraft can now be deployed in a matter of hours to almost any threatened area of the globe by in-flight refueling, and then deliver nuclear weapons to any military target. The flexibility and mobility required for this is provided for by a global base structure and supported by a global airlift which we have in being today.

I emphasize nuclear weapons because, as I mentioned before, our strength lies in our superior technology, industry, and nuclear development. To fight a war based on pitting massed manpower against massed manpower would result in a war which, although we mayor may not lose, we certainly could not win decisively.

We should never again, in my opinion, restrict our selection of weapons or target areas as we did in Korea. The best weapon to do the job with the least loss of life should be selected for each target under consideration. In a periphery war, the allies whom we might be supporting would almost certainly want us to support them in the most, efficient and expeditious manner possible.

In our organization of mobile tactical strike forces, we have designed them to deploy very quickly, using in-flight refueling techniques, to any threatened area of the globe. With nuclear weapons, these forces can be compact and yet be so effective as to provide the decisive balance of power.

Tactical nuclear weapons are not “weapons of mass destruction.” With them we can be selective, limiting our air attacks to primary military targets with much greater effectiveness. This is especially true when you consider that our nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons now includes a range of yields which permit accurate and optimum attacks on the entire spectrum of targets.

Actually, our tactical combat aircraft have only reached the threshold of attaining the ultimate possibilities in the scope, variety, and magnitude of tasks they can perform. We are now in an in-between position in regard to the aircraft themselves. We arc fast getting the newest high-performance jet day fighters, fighter-bombers, and tactical bombardment aircraft we need, as well as larger and faster airlift transports, but we still have to use some of the older types to meet operational commitments.

One of the best examples I can think of to illustrate the advances we have made in our new type combat aircraft is the first of the Century Series, the North American F-100 Super Sabre. This is in operational use in four wings of the Tactical Air Command today. These aircraft represent a jump in speeds from the subsonic to the supersonic in level flight. In the tactical reconnaissance field, just a few weeks ago, the first aircraft for several squadrons of Douglas RB-66 tactical reconnaissance bombers was delivered to our recce wing at Shaw Air Force Base, S. C., representing not only a faster aircraft, but one with a twenty-four-hour, all-weather capability.

Because of the tremendous power for peace inherent in our tactical air forces of today, it is vital that we continue to be supplied with the most modern tools to do our job. In this day of sudden, undeclared war, our tactical air forces would be caught short if we fall behind research, development, and production. Right now in the engine field we need greater power combined with lighter weight. In aircraft, the lead time must be cut between the drawing board and the operational flight line. We need more speed and better all-around performance, with shorter landing and take-off characteristics, if we are to maintain our qualitative superiority over our potential enemies. Our scientists, engineers, and the aeronautical industry are working with us as a team to solve these problems.

We are achieving these things, and I am confident that even greater scientific and engineering advances will mark the next few years. We have been living in a decade of security through global airpower, made possible through our strategic air forces and our tactical air forces as a deterrent to aggression anywhere in the world, and our strong air defense forces to guard us here at home.

From an address at Wilkesboro, N. C., February 1956.