The Gaps in Our Aerospace Defense

On July 31 Gen. Laurence S. Kuter retired after more than thirty-five years of serv­ice to the nation. In his “valedictory” address to the Air Force Association at AFA’s Mid-Year Conference in Colorado Springs on May 31, General Kuter raised some issues worth reiteration, reflection, and, in some instances, expansion. Below are excerpts from his address.

For instance, he cited the $3 billion annual rate of air defense expenditures beginning in 1950 and peaking at $4.6 billion in 1959—the year the F-108 long-range interceptor was scrapped. General Kuter’s successor, Gen. John K. Gerhart, will inherit an aerospace budget for all services of a little more than $2 billion. Of this, USAF provides seventy-three percent, the Army twenty-four percent, and the Navy three percent. With the Army’s Nike-Zeus the only currently active antiballistic missile program, this resource allocation might well swing the other way over the next few years. General Gerhart’s successor may well be an Army four-star, with the basic air defense mission slipping back to the parent organization.

At the same AFA Conference, Lt. Gen. Robert M. Lee, Commander, Air Defense Command, referred obliquely to the same possibility when he said that “for the first time in a decade there are no new Air Force weapons in the pipeline for air defense. . . . We need advanced manned interceptors and missiles that can cope with standoff weapons, we need a capability against the submarine-launched ballistic missile, and we urgently need an area ICBM defense. . . . Concurrently . . . we simply cannot allow a hostile power to attain superiority in space. . . . How this is done, I think, is not as important s the conviction that it must be done.”—the Editors

The present time, I believe that we can provide a reasonable level of defense against the manned bomber attack.

We are all aware of the recent developments of the Soviet long-range Air Force. New equipment has been added, and further developments of advanced-type long-range bomber aircraft can certainly be expected.

Today, the Soviet Union has a formidable nuclear stockpile. Their recent tests proved their ability to produce weapons with a wide range of yields and for a wide variety of purposes.

Today, the Soviets claim that they can launch a missile attack on practically any part of the world. Their intermediate-range ballistic missile became operational in 1957. In the same year, Sputnik I was orbited, giving ominous warning of the powerful thrust of Soviet boosters.

Their intercontinental ballistic missile became operational early in 1960. During that year, and the year following, they conducted a series of test firings over a 6,500-mile range, with acceptable CEPs.

Today, the Soviet Union is surging forward in a great space program. Time and again we have read of one Soviet triumph after another. The domination of space, with its clear military implications and its tremendous psychological impact, which is corollary to the military effort, is, in my opinion, a clear objective of Soviet plan­ners. They have moved ahead, and they have moved ahead rapidly. Shots conducted with dogs were in the headlines not so long ago. They have now demon­strated a manned and unmanned capability for research and development, and may not be far away from a capability for conducting military operations in space.

The essence of [British geographer Sir Halford] Mackinder’s geopolitics was that “who rules the heartland, rules the world.” Things have changed since 1919, and this doctrine, in my opinion, must be restated as “who rules space, rules all beneath.”…

The course of aerospace defense is a rather sporty course. It has been a course of slow starts and some quick stops. The course is marked by a series of efforts to close gaps—gaps that have been created by advances in offensive weapon systems.

A gap was created by the detonation of the Soviet atomic device in 1949, and by the H-bomb with the Bison, Badger, and Bear to carry it in 1954. That gap has been pretty well closed at this time, eight years later, by our present complex of air defense weapons deployed for defense in depth.

However, many years of lead time and many billions of dollars have been required to close this 1954 gap created by the Soviet H-bomb and long-range bombers. SAGE, for instance, was planned as early as 1950. SAGE was accepted conceptually by the Air Force in 1953. Our SAGE system was completed only four months ago. It required twelve years to develop this indispensable system from the initial planning stage to a fully operational status. The cost of SAGE has been $1.6 billion.

The lead time and the cost of the F-102 and its weapon systems offers a second example. A board of Air Force officers established a requirement for this aircraft in 1948. A final decision on the airframe was reached in 1951, and a contract was let the same year. The F-102 entered the Air Force inventory in 1956, and the program was completed in 1958. In this case, the time from the establishment of the requirement to the completion of the program was ten years. The cost of the F-102 program to date has been $2.3 billion.

The Bomarc program, “A” and “B,” required twelve years for completion, at a cost of $2.2 billion; Nike-Hercules, eight years; BMEWS and the F-106, five years and more billions.

Credit for closing the 1954 bomb and bomber gap must go to sound planners, to industrial genius, and to the leaders of the Air Force here present with courage, conviction, and the ability to convince all levels of budgetary authority to provide about $3 billion per year from 1950 onward, reaching a peak of $4.6 billion in fiscal ’59. That is how this gap was reasonably closed. And credit must also go to the Air Force Association which gave steady and meaningful support to the Air Force program.

At the Tushino Air Show we have seen the beginning of some new gaps created by offensive advances. At Tushino we saw familiar jet bombers carrying new air­to-surface missiles. The capability of the Soviet bomber to stay outside our interceptors’ range and launch Hound Dog-type air-to-surface missiles creates a new gap. An advanced long-range fighter is required to fill the gap. The projected F-108 was designed to fill that gap by reaching out to get the standoff bomber before it could launch its missiles.

As I have said, the course of air defense is one of starts and stops. We had a good start in 1957 in the requirement for the F-108. That effort to fill this gap came to a sudden stop in 1959 when the Chief of Staff reluctantly testified that budgetary limitations forced him to cancel the ‘108. I know that it is now within the state of the art to produce a manned interceptor with an operating radius of 1,000 to 1,500 miles, ability to loiter or patrol for several hours, carry its own detection, tracking, and fire-control system which can operate from the deck to extremely high altitudes, and fly at better than Mach 3. I know that such a system costs something over $2 billion and takes about four years to become operational. I sincerely believe that we must have such a system to close the gap created by the air-to-surface missile in war and to police what we now call our own airspace in peace.

A gap which I believe even more important in our ability to defend North America has been created by the Soviet ICBM. The Von Kármán Report of 1944 forecast a 6,000-mile ICBM with an acceptable CEP. These the Soviets demonstrated in the Pacific in 1960. In 1962, and on into ’63-’64 and ’65, we will have BMEWS to give us about fifteen minutes’ warning of attack, but—twenty years after the Von Kármán Report—we will have no deployed system in operation to stop any ballistic missiles after launch. In this situation, American scientific and technical genius can find little to boast about. Meanwhile, Mr. Khrushchev has said that the Soviets have put about as much effort in their AICBM project as they put into their successful ICBM project.

One does not have to be a military genius to see what will happen to our capability to deter if the Soviets believe that they have an AICBM system which will stop an acceptable proportion of our missiles and we have no means of stopping any of theirs. I know that we have no system for area defense against the ICBM except in early research and development, and that only the Army’s Nike-Zeus could possibly be deployed for operation as early as 1966. I believe that we have no alternative other than putting Nike-Zeus into opera­tion, fully realizing that four years and perhaps $10 billion are involved.

On August 6, 1961, a Russian major named Titov overflew North America ten times. On separate passes, he came close to Washington, close to Ottawa, close to Omaha, and close to Colorado Springs. In case we had not recognized this new gap in our ability to defend North America, Mr. Khrushchev made it very clear in March when he said, “Our scientists and engineers have created a new intercontinental rocket which they call global. This rocket is invulnerable to antimissile weapons.” BMEWS, he continued, had lost its importance as it could only warn of missiles coming over the north polar regions, but, he said, “The new global rocket can fly around the world in any direction and strike a blow at any set target. As the people say, you expect him to appear at the door, but he climbs through the window.”

One thing obviously needed to close this new gap is an extension of our Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and our Space Detection and Tracking System. An orbiting missile detection system could tell us of launches, whether the intruder might choose to come in by the door or to climb in through the window. If there had been any doubt as to the requirement that we be prepared for operations in space, such doubts were recently resolved by the Secretary of the Air Force. Mr. Zuckert’s clear and simple words were: “If the aerospace is to remain free, somebody must keep it free. . . . This nation’s responsibility and conviction as leader of the free world is to see that no nation is disfranchised in space and no nation is disfranchised on earth through domination of space by aggressors. Until an adequate guaranteed agreement—to prevent the placing into orbit or stationing in outer space of weapons of mass destruction—it is essential that our nation look to its military responsibilities in the space environment.”

And there are other gaps in our defenses—the one created by the Soviet’s submarine-launched missiles, for example. Required lead time and adequate funding are indispensable to our growth. We cannot tolerate unfilled gaps between the threat and our defensive capabilities. Thus, we stand in the early ’60s, facing the air-breathing threat of today, and looking forward to a tomorrow that holds the certainty of an ICBM threat, and not too far distant, the requirement to be capable of defending against hostile satellites. Our work is cut out for us, and it will require the best aerospace defense this nation can muster.

We all wish that there were bargain-rate systems that could fill these gaps. We all know that the building of our present air defense systems has consumed very many years, and many, many billions. You will not ask me where these billions will come from because you know that I am not qualified to answer.

And we who are charged with aerospace defense know full well since our nation is pledged to not striking the first blow, that we must have not only highly effective defensive forces, but must also have overwhelming offensive forces. We know full well that we must have complementary strategic offensive and North American defensive forces to present a credible deterrent or to ensure national survival should general war occur.