Time to Strengthen Our Defenses

May 1, 1982
We are in a dangerous decade. As in the early 1940s, we face a hostile power with imperial ambitions that has built large and modern military forces well beyond those needed to assure the security of the USSR.

Our chief adversary, the Soviet Union, has demonstrated an increased willingness to use its growing military might to extend its sway and threaten Western interests. The actions of the Soviets in Poland and Afghanistan and through Cuban proxies, in Africa and Central America speak more eloquently of Soviet aims than the pious pronouncements about peace and progress that regularly emanate from the Kremlin.

The Russian military buildup and adventuresome activities around the world reflect the Kremlin’s persistent search for advantage in the grand, global competition with the US. We must recognize that we are engaged in an enduring conflict with the Soviet Union. It is a classic confrontation between radically different political systems. Our views of the rights of men and nations are unalterably opposed. The majority of Soviet actions are today, and will continue to be, inimical to our interests.

A Clear Challenge

The Soviet leaders take a comprehensive view of this protracted struggle, describing and analyzing it in terms of the so-called “correlation of forces” between East and West. The military balance, both nuclear and conventional, is one of the central elements in this correlation. The Kremlin’s determined accumulation of military might reflects, therefore, not only a commitment to be able to fight and win a war, should it occur, but also their objective of influencing the perceptions of friend and foe alike that the forces of history are on the side of the Soviet Union.

The challenge is clear. We can no longer postpone the defense effort required. We, in concert with our allies, must maintain military forces of sufficient power and flexibility to counterbalance Soviet military capabilities, deter future Soviet expansionism, and defend Western interests wherever and whenever they may be threatened. Inadequate Western defense capabilities affect the military balance, perceived as well as real, between the Soviet Union and the West, and encourage Soviet assertiveness in such areas as the Arabian Gulf and the Caribbean basin.

Strengthening our defenses adequately will not be an easy task. We have significant deficiencies in our military capabilities caused by greater Soviet defense efforts over the last decade or more. These deficiencies in our forces cannot be remedied overnight, or in a single budget. It will require a steady, long-term commitment to strengthening our defenses. I am convinced we can and will meet the security challenge before us. The United States possesses the intellectual and financial resources to build and maintain the defense capability required.

After giving inadequate attention to our defenses over the preceding decade, we have, in the past two years, set in motion the improvement programs needed to rebuild our defense capabilities. We have a good foundation of people and basic equipment, and, in the five-year program before the Congress, have established the right blueprint to follow. The task before us as an Air Force, as a nation, is to have the courage and stamina to stay through what will be a difficult course and bring our essential improvement programs to fruition.

If we can muster the determination and persistence to follow through with the course we have set, I am convinced we will have the necessary military strength to get through the difficult period that lies ahead. We will thereby be able to deny the Soviet Union military superiority, deter further Russian aggression, and convince the Kremlin’s leaders that time is not on their side and that the “correlation of forces” will not favor the Soviet Union. By demonstrating that we are committed and be able to counterbalance Russian military power, we may be able to persuade Soviet leaders that continuation of their massive military buildup would be fruitless, and that the burden on their people and economy would be too much to bear. By convincing the Soviets that they cannot hope to gain from an arms race, we can set the stage for serious negotiations toward a meaningful reduction in arms.

Should we fail to proceed vigorously on the path we have set, however, the Soviets will continue to gain in relative military power, and our ability to deter aggression will be dangerously weakened. As we learned at great cost in the face of Nazi expansionism, at Pearl Harbor, and in Korea, weakness invites aggression. Only through maintaining adequate military strength can we contain Soviet expansionism and protect ourselves and our allies.

People—The Key

Because of our concern with the dangerous situation we face, particularly in the next few years of this decade, we have placed emphasis on improvement programs that will substantially increase our combat capability in the near term. We have directed our efforts toward improving the effectiveness and survivability of our strategic forces, further enhancing the combat readiness and sustainability of our general-purpose forces, and expanding our airlift capability.

The key, of course, to our force improvement efforts is having adequate numbers of experienced, motivated people to man and maintain our weapon systems.

Because of the compensation improvements enacted by the Congress over the past two years and renewed public appreciation of military service, Air Force retention rates are up markedly. Our first- and second-term reenlistment rates for last year were up by fifteen to twenty percent over the preceding year, and the pilot retention rate increased nearly thirty percent. All signs point toward 1982 being another banner year, as it must be.

Even with the encouraging turnaround in retention rates, our personnel situation remains all too fragile. We are still feeling the effects of the loss of skilled people in the late 1970s, when service pay and benefits failed to keep pace with that in the private sector and too many of our people came to believe that their service was no longer valued.

To ensure that the Air force will continue to be able to attract and retain the people we need, we are committed to ensure that military compensation maintains a fair relationship to pay in the private sector, to remedy the serious inadequacies in PCS reimbursements, to develop a new education incentives program, and to improve health care for military members and their dependents.

Strategic Forces Improvements

While we must continue to improve all elements of our forces to keep pace with Soviet developments and meet the nation’s defense responsibilities, we have directed our first priority toward strengthening our strategic nuclear forces.

The broad strategic modernization program set forth by President Reagan last October provides the blueprint for building and maintaining a strong, credible deterrence and defense capability. The Air Force is responsible for implementing the bulk of this comprehensive program. With congressional approval of the program last fall, we have set in motion several critical force improvements. We will rebuild our aging bomber forces by fielding 100 B-1B bombers and equipping our B-52G/Hs with air-launched cruise missiles, while also proceeding, as quickly as feasible, with the development of an advanced technology bomber.

We will be improving the striking power of our ICBM force by deploying the MX initially in the Minuteman silos while we work on more survivable basing modes. To ensure that we can obtain warning of an enemy missile or bomber attack and can communicate with our strategic forces, we will be enhancing the survivability and performance of our warning sensors and our command control and communications systems.

Finally, we are upgrading the nation’s defenses against bomber and cruise missile attack by replacing our F-106 interceptors with F-15s and expanding our fleet of airborne warning and control aircraft.

The long-awaited B-1B program has gotten under way, and we look toward introducing the first squadron into operational service in 1986. The B-1B will incorporate advances in design and avionics that will make it highly survivable against both existing and projected Soviet defenses. With the expected deployment of an advanced technology bomber in the early 1990s, we anticipate the B-1B will begin to transition to a cruise-missile carrying role, and will serve as a cruise-missile carrier and conventional bomber into the twenty-first century.

In the interest of assuring MX survivability, we are actively examining Deep Basing, Continuous Patrol Aircraft, and Ballistic Missile Defense basing alternatives, with the aim of reaching a long-term basing decision in 1983. In the interim, we will deploy a minimum of forty MX missiles in existing Minuteman silos.

Though not a lasting solution to growing ICBM vulnerability, initially deploying MX in silos will complicate and add uncertainty to Soviet attack calculations. More importantly, it is a needed early step toward countering Soviet ICBM capabilities. It will thus confront the Soviets with some of the vulnerability problems that their heavy, accurate SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs present to us.

Our MX and bomber efforts, in combination with the upgrades in our command and control capabilities and strategic defenses contained in President Reagan’s comprehensive strategic modernization program, will send an unmistakable signal to Moscow that the US is determined to restore an adequate strategic balance. These efforts will provide us with a solid basis for the negotiation of equitable and verifiable strategic arms reductions.

Readiness, Sustainability, Mobility

While we must, as a matter of urgency, rebuild our nuclear deterrent, we must also continue to improve our general-purpose forces. With Soviet conventional capabilities steadily expanding, it is imperative that our conventional forces have the capability to deploy and employ effective fighting power rapidly. Accordingly, we have continued to place priority emphasis on enhancing the readiness and sustainability of our tactical and airlift forces.

In the coming fiscal year, the Air Force will increase tactical flying hours by eight percent, bringing the average flying hours per pilot up to about eighteen hours per month compared to less than fifteen in 1980. We will eliminate the long-standing backlog in depot-purchased equipment maintenance, and we will have fully funded both peacetime and initial war reserve spare parts for our tactical forces. Over the next five years, we will invest nearly $20 billion to upgrade our munitions inventory and bring our stocks up to the levels required to fight and win a prolonged conventional conflict.

The global character of US interests and commitments makes it imperative that we maintain forward deployed forces in key regions, and that we be able both to reinforce those forces rapidly and to deploy effective combat forces worldwide with great dispatch. Improved mobility is absolutely essential if we are to bring US military power to bear in distant regions with the speed dictated by the nature of modern warfare and to sustain effective combat.

We have modified our earlier airlift plans, because of the urgent and compelling need to acquire added capability to transport large quantities of equipment and supplies over intercontinental distances as rapidly as possible. Our previous program would not have provided the needed increases in airlift capability before the end of the decade. Because we believe we cannot afford to wait that long, we now plan to proceed with a combined KC-10/C-5B program that will substantially increase our long-range airlift and refueling capability over the next few years.

When this new program is carried out and the modifications to present C-141s and C-5As are completed, we will have an airlift capacity of 50,000,000 ton-miles a day—a doubling of our present capacity.

Finally, we are proceeding with the modernization and expansion of our tactical forces at a steady pace. We will continue deployment of F-15s and F-16s throughout the decade and will complete our buy of A-10s next year. These tactical fighters have proven themselves not only highly capable, but exceptionally reliable and maintainable as well. Our program provides for evolutionary improvements in these proven and reliable aircraft to enable us to achieve air superiority, to fight at night and in adverse weather, and to penetrate increasingly capable Soviet air defenses.

Stay the Course

Today’s US Air Force is an effective fighting force. We have, in the past few years, made significant progress in correcting long-standing deficiencies in our forces and in improving our defense capabilities. We have the right people, the right training, and the equipment modernization programs needed to maintain a deterrence and defense capability adequate to the challenge our country faces.

We must muster the determination and persistence required to see this defense improvement program through. We are at a crucial period in history, where the actions of an implacable and powerful Soviet foe make it imperative that we strengthen our forces. We must stay the course. Sacrifice is required. It will not be easy. But we can and must afford the cost. We cannot afford the weakness and loss of credibility that a failure to stand up to the Soviet challenge in this dangerous decade would bring.

Gen. Lew Allen Jr., graduated from the US Military Academy in 1946. He has served as USAF’s tenth Chief of Staff since July 1978, and will complete his tour at the end of June 1982. He flew with SAC as a bomber pilot, then earned a doctorate in nuclear physics in 1954 and spent seven years in the nuclear weapons field. From 1961 to 1971, he was involved with space systems. In later assignments he was Director of the National Security Agency, Commander of Air Force Systems Command, and Vice Chief of Staff, USAF.