The Roles and Missions Muddle

July 1, 1956
At a time when the Soviet Union’s military progress is giving us all the competition we can handle, it is regrettable that the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy should be engaged in competition of lesser importance, commonly termed “inter-service rivalry.”

The above statement may appear strange, coming from the head of an organization that bas been credited in some quarters with stimulating such competition. One reputable newsman even reported that editorials in this magazine “allegedly panicked the Army into divulging classified documents and precipitating the recent Pentagon furor.”

We must modestly disclaim any such intent or result. I have served the United States Army proudly in my time, and I refuse to believe that it panics quite so easily. Panic usually implies surprise, and I am sure the Army was neither surprised by the current furor nor unprepared for it.

Any Pentagon messenger boy knows that arguments as to the proper roles and missions of the respective services have been boiling beneath the surface these many years. That the controversy has waited this long to erupt publicly, for the first time since the B-36 hearings, is, if anything, a bit of a surprise.

The Air Force Association holds no brief for interservice rivalry per se. Nor can we be credited with the initiative in the present discussion. As a matter of fact, we have deliberately held aloof, refraining from comment during periods when there seemed to be calculated attempts to goad us into action.

Only when the national capacity for security, as we see it, appeared to be endangered through duplication of military effort and waste of public funds, have we spoken.

As a matter of fact, our record for interservice cooperation, rather than being one of controversy, is just the opposite.

When Army partisans began to see the need for an organization, similar in structure to the Air Force Association, to help tell the Army story, we freely made available the benefits of our own experience of the past ten years. On request we supplied copies of our Constitution and By-Laws. Representatives of the national staff of the Association of the US Army have been invited to our conventions and conferences. The Army Association’s first annual meeting, at Fort Benning last fall, was frankly patterned after AFA’s conferences.

When Army-minded writers, including active-duty Army officers, repeatedly took issue, in their Association’s official publication, Army, with the strategic concepts in which we believe, we did not question either their right so to express themselves or their patriotism. We did question their logic and we still do.

When an editorial in another Army publication, Armor, claimed that the Army’s experience with bullets has gained for it a proprietary right in the development of ballistic missiles, we merely shrugged our collective shoulders and let it go at that. We did the same when a Navy-partisan publication early this year suggested that all space vehicles would be known as “ships,” and therefore be controlled by the Navy.

At the same time we could not help but note the deep and growing interest of both the Army and the Navy in airpower. Not merely to support their surface operations but as an end product for the delivery of nuclear firepower at long range. Here we drew the line, not as partisan advocates of the Air Force as the service, but in the interests of economy and military efficiency. As our own Jimmy Doolittle put it so succinctly some years ago, “We need the Air Force, a Navy, and an Army—but only one of each.”

We could not but question the ability of the nation to support the simultaneous build-up of three independent airpower organizations, each striving to become self-contained. We think this a wasteful and inefficient approach to national security. To say otherwise, or to remain silent, would have made us derelict in our duty.

Along the way, an Army general with a sense of humor is supposed to have suggested that the Air Force might wish to take over our national pastime, on the grounds that a baseball flies through the air. Undoubtedly there are airpower partisans rabid enough to subscribe to such theory. But the interest of the Air Force Association has been directed solely toward the ability to pitch air vehicles fast enough, straight enough, and far enough to hit the strike zone, if called upon to do so, and to play the game with maximum efficiency and minimum cost.

The recently aired argument over the capabilities of carrier-based aviation is a case in point. If it is possible, as the President intimated and Secretary Wilson claims, that the Navy can assume responsibility for a portion of SAC’s major targets; we will be the first to welcome this contribution, provided there is unified command and control of all strategic air operations, including the Navy contribution. As General LeMay has repeatedly pointed out, SAC is facing plenty of problems in adequately basing and manning its equipment.

Unfortunately, a strategic air capability cannot be bestowed by fiat. It must be earned. Whether the Navy has that capability is certainly a matter for exploration. Its responsible military leaders should be able to produce indisputable evidence if such is the case. For this reason, it is in the national interest that the entire matter should be scrutinized.

President Eisenhower put the interservice row into perspective when he said, at a press conference, that disagreement among the services was to be expected during a period of profound change affecting “all military formations, policy, and organization and equipment.” The President said he thought “a good, strong, argument” was the only logical outcome of such a situation.

However, he pointed out, once a national policy decision had been made, he expected all to support it loyally.

“The day that discipline disappears from our forces we will have no forces, and we would be foolish to put a nickel into them,” the President said.

We agree wholeheartedly with this point of view. However, one of the reasons why the controversy has burst forth is the very fact that basic policy decisions appear not to have been made. On the pages immediately following an examination of the public record indicates that the question of Navy participation in strategic air warfare has not been settled. This, indeed, is the nub of the problem. For if the matter has been decided, as President Eisenhower points out, that would be an end to the debate.

Contrary to Secretary Wilson’s opinion, we do not believe that the matter should be left with the Joint Chiefs. They have had hold of the problem for some years now. Huge public expenditures are involved. And if there has been no decision, as the public record indicates, as to the degree and extent of Navy strategic air capability and responsibility, then the taxpayer is entitled to question the Navy’s need for its programmed ten super-carriers. For, in Secretary Wilson’s own words, “[The Navy has] strategic power unquestionably or we wouldn’t be justified in spending the money for the carriers like we do. . . .”

The national interest demands a more reasoned explanation. One doesn’t build the carriers and then say we must need them or we wouldn’t build them. Logic demands the reverse procedure—establish a need and then build as required.

From a strictly Navy point of view, it undoubtedly is not difficult to construct a case for ten super-carriers. But the question is not does the Navy need them? Rather it is, does the nation need them? The same question may be fairly applied to the Air Force’s B-52s and to the Army’s Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles. The yardstick in every instance must be the national, not the service, interest.

As long ago as 1953 the Air Force Association asked for such a yardstick. In our Statement of Policy that year we said:

“The establishment of national strategy is a job of in the incredible complexity, involved particularly questions of the relative effectiveness of various weapon systems. The Joint Chiefs of Staff need professional help with this part of the job—help which ordinarily should come from the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group. Unfortunately, this segment of the Department of Defense has not been uniformly objective or effective in all of its studies; further, all of the military services have either prevented objective evaluation of their weapons or have failed to implement the results of sound evaluations. The Air Force Association believes that this situation is likely to continue so long as the Weapons Systems Evaluation Croup remains in the Department of Defense and is dominated by military men.

“The nation sorely needs a competent and objective evaluation of its military effectiveness. The Air Force Association believes that such an evaluation demands the establishment of an independent commission of leading civilians similar to the President’s Air Policy Commission of 1947. This group should have full access to the findings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but in no way be bound to these findings. It should have full access to scientific testimony. It should be non-partisan and its directive should be broad in scope.

“The findings of such a commission must be kept current, which is no small task in this age of new and revolutionary weapons. Accordingly, the Air Force Association recommends the establishment of a permanent organization devoted to the formulation and review of national strategy, and a continuing evaluation of our military effectiveness.

“This organization should be guided by a group of eminent citizens, and kept completely free of military influence or control. It should be financially and politically independent of pressure by any branch of government. It should be financially strong enough to attract and retain the best-non-partisan thinkers in the nation.”

The recent reorientation of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, whose work is discussed on page 49, is a big step in this direction. Most WSEG work is now being contracted to a corporation of universities headed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and including the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Case Institute, and Tulane University.

We sincerely hope that full use will be made of this weapons evaluation tool. Such use would go far in resolving interservice problems based on competing weapons systems. The Forrestal-class carrier, for example, has never, to the best of our knowledge, been evaluated by the Group. Neither has there been an offense-vs.-defense study of the underwater threat posed by the atomic submarine. The B-52 and the ballistic missile likewise should be subjected to impartial WSEG scrutiny.

For without an objective yardstick, each service builds toward what it thinks it needs. Unfortunately, the requirements for all three add up to much more than the nation is either willing or able to pay. So compromises and horse-trade are made under budgetary ceilings that insure, among other things, that we may well never have enough of anything.

This, then, is the problem and the root of everything that smacks of interservice rivalry. It leaves one with the uneasy feeling that the services are building and buying for three relatively separate war plans. It is a manifestation, on a grand scale, of what one expert calls the “commander’s syndrome.” Every commander wants to control everything he thinks he needs to do the job. Lacking clear definition of responsibilities, the individual services can scarcely be blamed for following the same pattern.

It is one thing, however, to define a problem and quite another thing to solve it. And it is the solution that interests us.

One immediate requirement would appear to be provision for free and friendly transfer of individual officers among the services. This in itself would allay, in great to be gripping the surface forces. Such an arrangement would automatically enlarge our pool of military talent by giving new hope of advancement to many highly capable officers.

A further step in the same direction would be the establishment of a single promotion list for all services. This one point might well prove to be the key to the interservice wrangle. A single promotion list is a complicated problem and one that should be approached in a spirit of implementation should be delayed for a specified number of years. Even so, its effect would be felt, I am sure, almost immediately. If an Air Force major, a Navy lieutenant commander, and an Army major know that eventually they will be reporting to a single chief of staff and gaining their promotions through a single chain of command, prudence alone would dictate that they cease bucking partisan heads and get together in the national, rather than the service, interest.

All of this leads, of course, to what we know as a single service—true unification, with military organizations based on missions rather than on the color of the suit. The Air Force Association has long been on record as favoring such a concept. We are delighted that public and official opinion are moving rapidly in that direction. We are also delighted, and proud, that the Air Force itself which, as current “top dog” might have the most to lose and the least to gain, selfishly, through a single service, is exercising leadership to this end.

Let me quote from Gen. Tommy White, AF Vice Chief of Staff, in this regard. General White recently told the Aviation Writers Association in San Francisco:

“To this end, I believe that our military services will move toward more complete unification. We need a military organization that will help us all to be free of conflicting service loyalties and confusing influences.

“One step could be to more closely integrate existing forces. The Continental Air Defense Command is an example of what I mean. Units of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are united in a common effort—the air defense of the United States. Further integration of our forces into joint commands oriented toward one mission might be effective.

“Another step toward more complete unification would be the free transfer of men between the services. Perhaps this would allow the men in each of the three services to think a little more objectively about the requirements of defense and less about the gaining or keeping of weapons and missions for their own particular branch.

“With the passing of time, the roles and missions of all services seem to overlap more and more. Conceivably, if these trends continue the day could come when, for all practical purposes, all three services would have the same weapons, the same capabilities and limitations, and all attempting to do the same jobs. If that happens, perhaps we certainly would find it advisable to standardize uniforms and streamline the organization.

“As proud as we are of the United States Air Force, we will certainly be behind any actions which will reduce the chances for wasteful duplication and controversy and above all give our nation a better-working, more effective defense establishment.”

This is military statesmanship of the highest order. Certainly we in, the Air Force Association heartily applaud – this approach even though many individuals in the Air Force Association heartily applaud this approach even though many individuals in the Air Force may not agree with it. The Army and the Navy have at no monopoly on parochial thinking. To these I can only say that there seems to be no other solid answer. We cannot go on indefinitely down our present path without jeopardizing the airpower strength this nation needs for survival. Hence, when the chips are down, the Air Force Association must put “Airpower” above “Air Force.”

These are scarcely the thoughts of a partisan organization. We are proud that our unique type of citizens’ group has always stood for and encouraged this kind of broad-gauged thinking. We hope that all service groups will submerge partisan feelings and assist us in this effort. Specifically, we invite the Association of the United States Army and the Navy League to join arms with the Air Force Association in supporting the progressive development of a single military service. We trust our distinguished confreres will declare themselves today—while controversy runs high—on the single service issue.

Nor should our joint declarations cloak themselves in vague generalizations of unification but rather, they should deal specifically with the basic ingredients of a single service—namely, free transfer among the services and a single promotion list.

In so doing we would all be following the advice of an eminent military leader, who has said:

“Such unity as we have achieved is too much form and too little substance. We have continued with a loose way of cooperating that wastes time, money and talent with equal generosity. With three services, in place of the former two, still going their separate ways and with an over-all defense staff frequently unable to enforce corrective action, the end result has been not to remove duplication but to replace it with triplification.

“All this must be brought to as swift an end as possible. Neither our security nor our solvency can permit such a way of conducting the crucial, business of national defense.”

It has been reported that the man who uttered the above words has directed that a study be made leading toward true unification of the services. We hope this is true. If it is, the Air Force Association will help in every possible way, for the man is our Commander-in-Chief, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.