The Pacific Air Forces

At 0001, July 1, 1957, when the new Headquarters Pacific Air Forces was inaugurated, a long-sought objective of the USAF was attained. For the first time in its history all USAF fighting forces assigned to the Pacific and the Far East areas were consolidated under a single commander in the field.

The disastrous consequences of divided commands were brought vividly to light at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and a day later in the Philippines. Arbitrary divisions between over-all American commands existed in varied degrees until July 1, 1957.

Only a month after Pearl Harbor, command of air units was divided four ways under the loose confederation of Gen. Archibald P. Wavell’s over-all command of the armed forces of four nations—American, British, Dutch, and Australian. ABDA was urged to employ its available air forces to secure control of the air. ABDA used the limited air forces that were available in a piecemeal manner. ABDA was defeated piecemeal and was driven out of existence by a vigorous Japanese offensive after only six weeks.

After ABDA, in the Pacific and Far East, elements of American air forces were parceled out to several commands. Under MacArthur’s command was the Fifth Air Force. In the southwest Pacific under a succession of admirals was the Thirteenth Air Force. In the central Pacific under different admirals was the Seventh Air Force, and toward the end of the war there was, in addition, a US Strategic Air Force in the Pacific under Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, operating directly under Gen. H.H. Arnold as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It was even more complicated in the China-Burma-India Theater. The US Strategic Bombing Survey reported that by the end of 1943, “There evolved the most fantastic and involved military organization the world had ever seen. Five colors ink in solid, broken, and dotted lines were required to depict the various relationships” in the Southeast Asia Command.

Then in June 1944 the Far East Air Forces command was established under Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s control and Gen. George C. Kenney’s command. For the final attack of the home islands of Japan, FEAF controlled the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Seventh Air Forces.

After Japan’s surrender, the Strategic Bombing Survey presented these conclusions: Control of the air was essential; greater economy of force was possible; and, “the lessons strongly support … organization which provides unity of command. …”

Finally, just prior to July 1, 1957, there had been the Seventh and the Thirteenth Air Forces assigned to the Pacific Command and operating under the command of Adm. Felix B. Stump, Commander in Chief. At the same time, the Fifth and other USAF combat units based in the Far East had operated under the command of Army Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Commander in Chief, within an arbitrary boundary including Okinawa, Korea, and Japan called the Far East Command.

As a result of the lesson at Pearl Harbor, the Air Force has continually endeavored to consolidate the command of all of its combat units based in the Pacific-Far East in a single command shorn of committees in the Pentagon. The overriding reason for consolidation has been the Air Force’s desire that one military commander on the spot should have capability to move instantly any or all elements of the USAF wherever they might be needed to meet emergencies.

When it was necessary to move USAF combat units from the Thirteenth Air Force from the Pacific Command to Japan and Korea in the Far East Command to meet Communist military aggression in Korea, the mobility inherent in the flying units in the Thirteenth Air Force could not be exploited adequately. The units could fly in a matter of hours from their base in the Philippines across the arbitrary boundary between the Pacific and the Far East areas of command to fight in Korea. However, days were consumed by securing agreement and coordination between the many commands involved and authority from the Joint Chiefs of Staff committee in the Pentagon to direct the move. The mobility of the combat units and the flexibility of airpower were limited not by capabilities of combat air units but by command, administration, and logistics arrangements.

In 1955 when Communist pressure was forcing the evacuation of Nationalist Chinese forces from the Tachen Islands, FEAF’s 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing was ordered from Okinawa across the arbitrary command boundary into Taiwan.

It took twelve hours for this powerful fighting force to transfer itself along the China Sea. Twenty minutes after landing, the unit was flying scheduled missions.

The execution of this maneuver was near perfect, and a tribute to the men who planned and performed it. However, the delay in getting this unit orders to move was a serious flaw which might very well have caused it to fail.

This delay can in no way be called the fault of any individual. It was the failure of the system. Authority to move our air units from one command area to the other was vested only in the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. This caused delays that worked against a quick transfer in emergencies such as the Tachen maneuver and the Korean War. The command concept and administrative setup of the Pacific was not geared to jet-age mobility.

Rapid movement to meet potential air threats is a basic essential of the jet age, but it is especially an acute problem in the vast reaches of the Pacific-Far East. Recently a replacement pilot was taken for an orientation flight at Chitose, the most northern air base in Japan. As the T-33 circled the tip of Hokkaido the pilot banked and pointed to a hazy landmass to their left. He spoke into the intercom and the newcomer heard these words:

“That is Russian-held territory. And it is just three minutes away by jet!”

This story underlines what each newcomer to the Far East quickly learns. With a potential enemy only three jet minutes away, there is no time to get ready. You have to be ready.

There are over 100 major air bases in the Communist Far East capable of striking at Japan, or at Korea, or Taiwan. Some of the bases were on one side of the arbitrary line and some on the other. Under the divided command system, we could not marshal our full retaliatory force where and when needed. Those stationed in the other area would require permission from Washington to move to the threatened command.

Now this dangerous handicap to the mobility of our Far East-based airpower has been removed by the activation of the new Pacific Command with the Pacific Air Forces as its air component. Over-all executive authority now rests in the Commander in Chief, Pacific—one man—not only in a committee several thousand miles away.

The new Pacific Air Forces and its predecessor, FEAF, are proud of having helped to bring about this new organization. It ranks as one of FEAF’s major accomplishments.

The consolidation of forces has been an Air Force goal since 1944. At that time General Arnold recommended to Gen. George C. Marshall that an air commander should be appointed in the Pacific on the same level as General MacArthur and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. He would be responsible to a single theater commander. This formal proposal was disapproved by the War Department General Staff.

FEAF’s long-term policies and objections to the divided command system have been expressed many times. In November 1954 they were registered in a formal recommendation to the Chief of Staff, USAF.

This study recommended establishment of a single air component to provide centralized direction of airpower. It recommended establishment of clear and effective targeting and delivery responsibilities in connection with JCS atomic directives.

It also called for major redeployment of FEAF’s air forces and for establishment of wide dispersal and protective facilities. Finally, it recommended a greater cooperation with the national air forces of our Free World friends in this area.

This FEAF study was approved by the Air Force Council and used as the USAF position before the Joint Chiefs. Then, in June 1955, the Secretary of Defense initiated a review of the command structures with a view to simplifying, reducing, and consolidating them.

The existing command structure was found adequate; studies submitted by the two Pacific area commands were considered in reaching this decision.

Finally, on June 21, 1956, a new Unified Command plan was approved by the Secretary of Defense. Planning began at once for the organization to permit smooth transfer of responsibilities to the expanded Pacific Command. An outline plan was submitted to the JCS.

FEAF immediately presented its strongly held views to Headquarters USAF, listing five exceptions to the plan as presented, and making three recommendations.

The first of these recommendations was that all combat forces be under command and operational control of component commanders. Thus, the air commander attached to Pacific Command would have operational control of Air Force units.

The second recommendation urged that the air component commander for CINCPAC have general responsibility for air defense.

The final recommendation was that the senior air service commander in Japan be made the coordinating authority for joint service matters and that the establishment of a subordinate joint command in Japan thus be avoided.

These recommendations were utilized in an Air Force position paper submitted on November 6. After receipt of papers from the Army and Navy, an ad hoc committee was appointed to bring the divergent views into line.

On December 28, 1956, the JCS issued their outline plan for the disestablishment of the Far East Command and movement of the United Nations Command to Korea.

This plan called for dissolving the Far East Command, relocation of the UNC in Korea, establishing a subordinate Unified Command in Japan, and required CINCPAC to submit by January 1, 1958, recommendations for further consolidating subordinate unified commands of the Pacific Command. It also called for normal exercise of unified command of major combatant forces through the service component commanders, desired CINCPAC to disassociate himself as soon as possible from direct command of the Pacific fleet, and stated that the Navy would become the executive agency for the United Nations Command by July 1, 1958. The Commander, Fifth Air Force, was designated as head of the subordinate Unified Command in Japan.

The consolidation of the Pacific Command and the expansion of FEAF into the Pacific Air Forces has achieved the unity of command so long sought and so essential to the proper use of airpower. FEAF should properly take pride in its part in bringing this about. It is a major achievement.

Within FEAF there have been other accomplishments, some of even greater caliber. It is unnecessary to recall the vital role played by FEAF in World War II and in Korea. Today the accomplishments of FEAF are important only insomuch as they lay the foundation for the Pacific Air Forces and guide the new organization in its future course.

What then is the future course of Pacific Air Forces?

Primarily, to follow the advice George Washington once stated to Congress: “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.”

This has always been the guiding spirit of the Air Force in the Pacific-Far East. We have helped to preserve the peace by intense preparation. With the constant reminder before us that a potential enemy is only three jet minutes away, we have had an urgent incentive. But there has been more than just maintaining and increasing our own combat potential. There has been our assistance to the other free nations of Asia—Japan, Nationalist China, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the others. Through the Military Assistance Program and the hard work of a lot of Air Force people, these countries have built up more than fifty squadrons of combat aircraft among them—and more are planned.

Our future depends upon our ability to maintain the friendship and support of Free Asia.

No one of these nations’ forces, nor our own, can match the Communist air forces arrayed against us. We all must strengthen our lines of cooperation with the other national air forces of the Far Eastern allies to prevent the piece-mealing of units which destroyed the American-British-Dutch-Australian command in the early days of World War II.

We in the new Pacific Air Forces must continue FEAF’s roles of diplomats, economists, teachers, and businessmen. Making friends is a basic and vital part of our work. Each of our bases has its own community-relations program. Here good community relations automatically become good foreign relations.

An interesting example of friendly association was the Free Asian Air Force commanders get-together at Baguio, Luzon, P.I., in May 1956. This important meeting brought together the top air commanders of Australia, Nationalist China, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Great Britain’s RAF from Hong Kong and Singapore, and our own Far East Air Forces.

Those of us who attended were interested by a story about the meeting which appeared in the Hong Kong newspaper. It was called “The Secret Confab That Never Was.”

After the meeting was announced, reporters refused to believe that this was simply an occasion for senior air force officers of friendly nations to get to know each other on a “first-name basis.” But it was just that.

Robin Hutcheson summed it up in his Hong Kong story like this: “The idea of Operation Roundup was that the new American commander of the Far East Air Forces simply wanted to get to know some of his friends in the same line of business. …

“From these meetings valuable contacts should be formed and liaison between friendly air forces improved.

“The idea of these gatherings is certainly one that corresponds to the present trend in Western policy—to consolidate friendship by quiet unspectacular diplomacy.”

In 1954, FEAF actions were directed on a major scale to supporting the French and Vietnamese in their fight against Communist aggression. These FEAF had an opportunity to test the effectiveness of its training and proved the methods which we are carrying forward into Pacific Air Forces.

During these operations, some twenty C-119s proved our ability to provide material, maintenance, and other support with commendable speed, over great distances and in large quantities. The pipeline from Ashiya Air Base, Kyushu, Japan, to Indochina was more than 2,000 miles long.

In August of 1956, FEAF C-124s also demonstrated their ability to fly long-distance supply missions. This was a mercy mission to East Pakistan, then suffering the worst floods in its history.

Two years ago FEAF pilots were flying F-94s, F-86s, F-84s, B-29s, and B-26s. Today in Pacific Air Forces we have F-100s, F-84Gs, and B-57s. For better reconnaissance we are now we are now equipped with RF-84Fs, RB-50s, and RB-66s.

The Air Materiel Command’s Pacific logistic support system deserves much of the credit for the smoothness of our changeover in aircraft. Particularly noteworthy is the weapon system support concept as applied to the introduction of the F-100s. This enabled us to phase in these complex aircraft and, at the same time, establish AOCP (aircraft out of commission for parts) rates several times smaller than those reported from ZI bases.

With the accomplishments of FEAF as its solid foundation, the Pacific Air Forces, operating under its new and more logical command system, is entering an area of more effective utilization of airpower. Despite the accomplishment of many of our objectives, many important tasks and objectives still face us in the Far East.

Our airmen, at radar warning posts in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, are watching radar scopes and seeing more Communist aircraft flying higher and faster, and flying from new Communist bases. This military buildup is driving ahead at the same time that the Communists talk of disarmament.

We have the delicate task of making sure that the beguiling tactics of sweet persuasion do not obscure the avowed Communist objective of domination of the natural resources, industrial capacities, and the vast populations of Asia. Complacency will be fatal. We must continue to recognize the need for common defense—both militarily and psychologically—against tyranny its in current guise. While the Pacific Air Forces is improving its combat potential qualitatively and quantitatively, we must not forget that the airpower situation in the Far East cannot be viewed in exclusively military terms. Air Force doctrine divides national power into four basic elements, defined as the political, the economic, the military, and the psychological. The latter includes the moral force that nation can exert.

In the Far East, all of these instruments of power are being used: offensively by the Communists, and in a counteroffensive by the Free World. We have the continuing task of finding the correct solutions for each new facet of the changing problem of meeting Communism’s challenge, militarily and psychologically, as it relates to and threatens the Pacific area.

I am confident that we can generate the skills and effort to keep this problem solved. Communist airpower, stronger than its opposition in the local area, has not been used offensively since Korea. The problem of keeping the peace has been solved to date. It can be kept solved.

About the Author: An airman since 1930, when he transferred to the Air Corps from the Field Artillery, General Kuter is a 1927 West Point graduate and a frequent writer on military aviation matters. Author of a plan for airpower techniques later used during World War II, he was staff assistant for war plans to Gen. H.H. Arnold during the war and later participated in the organization of the Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific. Named first commander of MATS after its organization in 1948, he served later, from 1953 to 1955, as commander of the Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala., and represented the US, with rank of minister, at the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. He was named FEAF Commander in 1955, the post he held prior to his new assignment in the PAF. He holds the DSM, Legion of Merit, and many other honors.