We Must Give Top Priority To Survival

Sept. 1, 1957

This is my first appearance as Chief of Staff of the Air Force on such an occasion. I feel a brief and generalized report on the role of the Air Force, as I see it, is appropriate. In doing so, I will outline the threat to the United States and its effect on the Air Force structure.

It is probable that much of what I say will have a familiar ring to you. In fact, I hope it does. Because if you have heard I at other times and in other forms it is logical to conclude that the concepts and strategy of the Air Force are well established, the implementing programs are consistent, and people in the Air Force, government, and industry are pulling together toward a common goal.

It will not come to you as a revelation that all military forces are costly and growing more so each year. The increases are due in part to the same circumstances that have acted to increase the expenses of corporations, families, and individuals everywhere. The essentials—in our case, materiel, equipment, and talent—cost more. But in the main the continued rise is tied to greater responsibilities that center on the Air Force. The challenge to the Air Force is greater. The Soviet competition is tougher.

The Soviets have made tremendous efforts to create a long-range air force, atomic capable and highly effective. Modern bombers now, intercontinental missiles later, and an ever growing stockpile of atomic weapons are the basis of the Soviet force structure. Coupled with this force structure is the evident will to dominate the world. This combination is a threat to the survival of all free nations.

With the advent of nuclear weapons, and their marriage to the air weapon system, the United States and our allies have developed the principle of deterrence. Defense of the Free World by deterrence is based on the concept of maintaining indigenous forces, supplemented as necessary by small United States forces. These forces must have sufficient strength to maintain internal security and resist overt aggression until Free World power can be brought to bear. A large proportion of this Free World power would be airpower.

The basic element of Free World deterrent power is the nuclear capability of US forces. There is no doubt as to the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy. Secretary of Defense Wilson declared in 1957: “Our basic defense policy is based on the use of atomic weapons in a major war and is based on the use of atomic weapons as would be militarily feasible and usable in a smaller war. …” At the same time Admiral Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that: “Our whole military program is based on the use of atomic weapons in global war and on the use of atomic weapons in accordance with military necessity in situations short of global war. In other words, we have built our programs to integrate atomic weapons into our offensive and defensive capabilities.”

It is a fact of life in the atomic age that nuclear methods of warfare have become conventional.

This deterrent concept and capability was summed up by the present Deputy Secretary of Defense in 1956, when, as Secretary of the Air Force, Mr. Quarles said: “Our military strategy must now be based upon convincing a potential aggressor by our strength in being that he cannot hope to gain anything by starting a war, big or little, against us—that such a war would in fact leave the aggressor worse off than when he started.”

To put teeth into this concept the United States and its allies have built an effective deterrent force with airpower as its dominant element. This force is recognized as a first priority force. However, the maintenance of such a force does not automatically result from this recognition, even in the face of new and ever great enemy capabilities. In fact, together with the deterrent force, the US and some of our allies continue to maintain forces designed to counter threats of an historical nature. When resources are critical, forces must be tailored, with survival forces, in whatever service, holding their priority at the cost of other forces. These other forces must continue to exist, but on an austere basis, tailored to their contribution to the survival force.

Recognition of this fact has forced changes in the Air Force structure. This process, within the Air Force, is the proper result of the harsh application of priority. We cannot look to the outside for help until we have demonstrably done our best to help ourselves. We must do so even at the cost of sacrificing some elements of capabilities which are desirable, but not vital, in support of the survival force.

We have had to face the fact that the perfect air defense system is in the realm of theory; that no air defense in being or presently possible can completely stop a determined nuclear attack. We have faced this fact and are building as effective an air defense as we can afford without running into the law of diminishing returns. We are striving for improved early warning to minimize delay in launching the retaliatory force, as well as to permit more timely civil defense action. We want active defense to complicate the attacker’s problem, slow him down, weaken his effort, and disrupt his offensive campaign. Above all, the defense system must permit engagement of enemy bombers as long before they reach our cities as possible.

The Air Force structure is constantly under adjustment to meet changing times. We have pared the tactical air forces. We may have to pare them further. There will remain a significant capability, but as we enter an era of intense competition for funds between various weapon systems the tactical requirement must be very carefully screened to insure that we retain only essential forces. We have made a very significant investment in allied tactical air forces and it is realistic to expect a return on this investment.

The Tactical Air Command, with its ever growing atomic capability and increased mobility achieved through the use of in-flight refueling, is a potent force. As Army atomic weaponry develops, it logically reduces the close air support function of tactical air forces.

Within the total strength of Free World forces there is a world-wide deterrent to aggression. Allied forces have been furnished extensively with effective weapons. Sufficient time has passed since we started our assistance programs to permit training and development of allied forces. In NATO especially, there has been a maturing of forces operating under unified direction within a common deterrent concept.

I think it is logical that we recognize the military potential and good faith of our allies and plan accordingly. Since no fourth power presently possesses an atomic capability, reliance on our allies should be principally in non-atomic areas. We must assess this capability and use a realistic evaluation of it to reassess the essential forces which the US must maintain to complement strength of our allies. US duplication of allied strengths will not advance the collective security.

This assessment process will permit us to devote the higher and required proportion of our own resources to the maintenance of those elements of military strength which are our survival forces.

Tactical airlift forces have also been critically examined in the light of the nuclear age. As other forces are curtailed to meet the demands of the survival force, so must tactical airlift forces be curtailed.

Air Reserve and National Guard forces are subject to the same close scrutiny. We must tighten the reserve program to provide better support for fewer wings instead of lesser support for a greater number of wings.

As one examines the threat today to US security, one immediately senses the impact of that threat on the US Air Force. We know our task and we have faced up to it in the light of today’s realities and tomorrow’s expectations.

What of the impact of this threat and our agreed deterrent strategy on the entire military establishment?

The other services have had some rigorous self-examination to do and face still more in the future, just as we do.

I cannot say with candor that an over-all adjustment to the present era, equivalent to the Air Force adjustment, has been made. I believe it will be made, however, and I hope in good time.

The direction this adjustment should take is clear.

In a future general war the survival of our people and our institutions will depend on the ability to neutralize the Soviet nuclear air threat. If we have such survival forces secure, and in a state of healthy growth and improvement, the chances of general war will be drastically reduced. A similar deterrent to lesser upheavals is implicit in Free World military strength and determination. Such deterrence is particularly effective where the would-be aggressor understands that nuclear weapons will be involved if required. This does not mean wholesale devastation. Free World strengths are adequate and must remain adequate to cope with local aggressions without precipitating the general war we strive to deter. This very fact is the basis of our deterrent strategy.

This process of examination, evaluation, and resulting action to tailor the military establishment to the needs of the present and the future is not easy. It is a continuing process which once accomplished requires constant redoing, for change is rapid and constant. There are many problems, some at the surface and current, some buried in the future. I will mention but a few, both specific and symptomatic.

• Ballistic missiles versus manned bombers.

• Point defense versus area defense.

• Carrier aviation versus land-based aviation.

• Ready reserve forces versus mobilization reserve forces.

• Adequate compensation for competent personnel.

• Realistic military assistance programs.

These and many other problems must be resolved without compromise with two fundamental principles. First, the need to serve present security requirements while simultaneously developing an adequate force for the future. And second, the need to meet enormous and competitive costs within a budget that will not strain the nation’s economy. In working for solution of the many problems incident to national security, the Air Force will continue to state minimum force requirements as we see them. This process in itself will bring us face to face with other difficult and disagreeable problems which we will not shun.

The Air Force sees a pressing need for the elimination of needless duplication, and for control of the cost of the military establishment. We will do our share of the job internally, while enthusiastically joining in the curtailment of defense costs not truly justified and provable under critical examination.

In this endeavor the Air Force needs, above all else, true understanding of airpower. Public understanding of the harsh realities before this nation is essential. Through your future efforts, as in the past, this understanding can be bettered.

GEN. THOMAS D. WHITE. Chief of Staff, USAF, General White is a 1920 West Point graduate who entered the Air Corps in 1927 after completing the Air Service Primary Flying School Course at Brooks Field, Tex. A veteran of attaché assignments in Peiping and Moscow and Rio de Janeiro, he served in World War II as assistant chief of staff, AAF Intelligence and as deputy commander of the 13th Air Force in New Guinea and the Philippines, later assuming command of the Seventh Air Force. He was Vice Chief of Staff, USAF, prior to his present assignment.