USAF Makes Up Its Mind

Nov. 1, 1960

Mr. Ford. Was there unanimity of opinion in the Air Force to request $456 in fiscal 1961 for the B-70 program or was there unanimity of opinion in the Air Force to request the B-70 program to be partially financed

General White. I think I will have to put it this way, sir. There are two major review groups within the headquarters of the Air Force. Obviously, when you say “the Air Force,” I assume you mean headquarters. We did not take a poll. There is the Weapons Board and there is the Air Force Council. I would not like to have the records of these organizations normally exposed, but this is a good time to answer the question in clean-cut terms. At the time this was under consideration, we had both the F-108 and the B-70 in the program. We were told, and it was clear, that . . . we could not have but one of these manned aircraft and that the budget would not carry but one, if it would even carry one. The Weapons Board went on record that we should have both, but if we could only have one, we should have the F-108. The Air Force Council, which is the higher body, just exactly reversed it. They said that we should have both, but if we cannot have but one, we should have the B-70.

It came to the Chief of Staff, who spent many sleepless nights over this problem, and decided from many factors that if we could only have one, the B-70 was it. I based that largely on what would be the greatest threat to the Soviet Union, and hands down, the B-70 wins that argument, in my opinion.

This exchange, between a member of the House Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations and Gen. Thomas D. White, US Air Force Chief of Staff, took place on Capitol Hill late last January.

It passed unnoticed, certainly by the nation’s press and possibly by a substantial number of legislators, including some who think the military services are irresponsible shoppers. The exchange was unusual, not alone because it spotlighted the kind of exercise forced on military men in an age of intense technological competition and budgetary limitations, but because it contains the first known public reference to the USAF Weapons Board.

General White’s guarded acknowledgment that it is not normal to talk about the Air Force Council and the Weapons Board had nothing to do with their failure to ag­ree on the choice of a Mach 3 weapon system.

This reticence exists for all of USAF’s top decision-making and advisory machinery. And it must be made clear that the decisions are made by the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force, the top mili­tary and civilian officers. The machinery is delibera­tive and advisory.

For purposes of this discussion the Weapons Board has been singled out because of its importance in the midst of a technological explosion that has outmoded, in less than a decade, all previous concepts and prac­tices of military procurement. Yet the Weapons Board is only one of four deliberating bodies with an identical relationship to the Air Force Council. Others are the Force Estimates Board, the Budget Advisory Board, and the Military Construction Board (see chart). With the Council, they provide collective judgment by the best brains in USAF, and it is a relatively rare case that has the potential of giving General White, or any Chief of Staff, many sleepless nights.

The most closely guarded of the advisory groups is the Air Force Council, which usually meets on Thursday to consider an agenda that is so secret copies are available only to the members, who receive them hand-carried from the office of the Council secretary. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Vice Chief of Staff, is Chair­man of the Council. Other members are the Deputy Chiefs of Staff for Development, Materiel, Operations, Personnel, .and Plans and Programs. Two more are the USAF Comptroller and the Inspector General. All wear three stars.

Nobody else is admitted to the meetings without a special plea from a Council member, who must ex­plain why his would-be guest is essential to conduct some of the discussion on the day’s program.

“The Council meets for business and to serve as an advisory group to the Chief,” says one of the impor­tant officers, “and it does not meet for the education or edification of the staff.” He puts more emphasis on this aspect by giving the Council members credit for “doing their homework.” The agenda is distributed far enough in advance of each meeting that the seven three-star generals have time to marshal the opinions of their own staffs and be prepared for a stern exami­nation of new proposals.

The Air Force Council, like the Chief of Staff him­self, draws on all four of the Boards for collective expert opinion. But the busiest of the four is the Weap­ons Board, not because it is any more important than the groups dealing with force estimates, the budget, or military construction, but because it has a bigger and more complex job to do. More than 500 men are in­volved in its deliberations.

There is a studied aura of mystery about the opera­tions of all the boards that is most evident in the case of the Weapons Board. Of the small army of aerospace industry representatives working in Washington, some of the best informed are barely aware that there is a Weapons Board. Many do not know who is on it, what it does, how it operates, or why it was originated. They do not know what kind of power, if any, it wields over USAF procurement decisions. They view the Weapons Board, if they know there is one, as a kind of quarantined Pentagon delivery room where fathers are banned.

The Pentagon telephone directory, which provides substantial information about such things as the military intelligence organization, has bare mention of the Air Force Council and the Weapons Board. For the Weapons Board, the directory lists only a secretary and assistant secretary on the staff of the Director of Operational Requirements, under the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations. Normally, says a USAF Headquarters instruction, no reference shall be made to Council or Weapons Board activities “in any form of communication to the major air commands, to other government agencies, or to private concerns or individuals.” General White clearly took an exception to this when he told the House committee about mental exercise over the B-70 and F-108 selection.

The Secretary of the Weapons Board who probably knows more about USAF procurement intent and the prospects for individual programs than any other working-level officer is known to few contractor representatives. Weapons Board territory is “off limits” to these agents, and the receptionist in the Weapons Board office politely but very firmly enforces the policy.

The Board is concerned with the selection of a system to fill a requirement. It makes recommendations on the choice of a system or a modification program or a research effort. It determines what the Air Force needs, when it needs it, and goes through the painful process of deciding how it can be paid for. It recommends to the Air Force Council the weapon system, development, or modification program necessary to meet the requirements and the necessary adjustments to the Air Force program to accommodate the recommendation. However, the Weapons Board has nothing to do with the choice of who will do the work.

Contract source selection is a question that never comes before the Weapons Board. AMC and ARDC operate their own Source Selection Boards, whose choice bypasses the Weapons Board, and goes, sealed, direct to the Air Force Council, the Chief of Staff, and the Secretary of the Air Force.

The Weapons Board is the focal point of Air Staff actions on all USAF weapon and support systems. Under the Air Force Council, it is the top review organization for procurement, development, military assistance, and aircraft and missile modification. Yet the Board never makes a decision; it makes recommendations. It is an advisory body, providing collective judg­ment. When its judgment is determined, normally copies of the recommendation are highly restricted. They are held only by the seven members of the Board, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, and the Vice Chief of Staff, who is Chairman of the Air Force Council.

The Chairman of the Board is the Director of Operational Requir­ements, under the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, a billet currently filled by Maj. Gen. Bruce K. Holloway, who was told when he got the appointment that his Board Chairmanship is the most important part of his job. He got this evaluation from the Vice Chief, General LeMay, who was a driving formation of the Board more than two years ago.

Other members are:

— Director of Systems Development, DCS, Development: Maj. Gen. Marvin C. Demler.

— Director of Procurement and Production, DCS, Materiel, Col. Marion C. Smith.

— Director of Plans, DCS, Plans and Programs: Maj. Gen. Glen W. Martin.

— Director of Programs, DCS, Plans and Programs: Maj. Gen. Prescott M. Spicer.

— Director of Operations, DCS, Operations: Maj. Gen. Sam W. Agee.

— Director of Budget, Comptroller: Maj. Gen. Robert J. Friedman.

Other officers take part in deliberations when the problem before the Board makes it necessary, but the chairman is determined to keep the group small.

This approach grows, at least in part, out of the conviction that it is possible to get too much information, too many opinions, and too many pressures.

The Board can be viewed as an evolution from the old Aircraft and Weapons Board, which had fifteen members and, in the opinion of some veterans, tended to degenerate into a debating society. General Hollo­way, chairman of the present Board, hopes through keeping the group small to keep a lot of hands out of the gigantic taffy-pull that always develops from any discussion involving the expenditure of money.

None of the using commands are represented on the Board, and their spokesmen can be present only by invitation. Thus there is no opportunity at board level for the men responsible for the force in being—Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, Air Training Command, Air Defense Command, etc.—to apply direct pressure for the systems each considers most essential.

At the same time the Board, in reaching its recom­mendations, most certainly is torn between the present requirements of these commands and its concern for the future. The field commander, by the nature of his responsibility, is as determined to maintain today’s aerospace power as he is to keep a safe balance in his checking account. But the Board has a broader respon­sibility. It must look to the future and make sure there will be something to draw on in 1965. There are cases, on the Board record, where the force in being has in­tentionally been allowed to suffer in order to guarantee that the requirements of five years hence can be met.

Specifically, the Weapons Board is responsible for reviewing and making recommendations on the pro­curement programs under these budget classifications: aircraft (P-100), missiles (P-200), other procurement (P-800), and research and development (P-600). All of these programs and any major changes in them must be staffed through the Board for review and approval before they are submitted to the Air Force Council and the Chief of Staff.

On top of this, the Board has responsibility for the Military Assistance Program and programs for air­craft and missile modernization and modification. It is charged with monitoring the progress of each weapon system as it matures from concept to operational capa­bility and passes on all program changes. The sum effect: The Weapons Board is the focal point of all USAF dollar programing. It is the highest USAF advisory group on that belabored question of national security: What do we need, and how much of it can we afford? Its functioning is antithetic to the abused concept that this dilemma is ignored by men in uniform.

Below the seven-man Board, the structure starts with eight panels, each headed by a full colonel who also is a division chief in General Holloway’s Directorate of Operational Requirements. There are panels in each of the following mission areas: Strategic, Air Defense, Tactical, Transport, Reconnaissance, Training, Support, and Space. As a rule the panels have from eight to ten voting members and an average of eight adviser mem­bers. This puts representation of sixteen to eighteen Air Staff Directorates on each panel. The panel respon­sibilities are similar to those of the Board itself, but each one is confined to an assigned mission area. It is at this point that a close and constant liaison is main­tained with the using commands.

The Board structure then moves down to a level of Working Groups, made up of Air Staff project officers. Each is charged with responsibility for monitoring a single weapon system, and is designated accordingly. The groups provide an informational service for both the panels and the Air Staff. They are the focal point for all Air Staff activity on each weapon system and the chairman of each one rapidly picks up a nickname in the requirements community as “Mr. B-52” or “Mr. F-105” or “Mr. Hound Dog.”

Working Group size varies according to the com­plexity of the system and where it is in the concept-to-operational status cycle. At some stages, some Air Staff directorates will have no interest. Later they may be­come deeply involved. With some systems—such as the heavy bombers—almost every directorate is involved. Membership in the group can vary from seven to more than twenty.

Chairmanship of the Groups is rotated in accordance with the shift of executive responsibility between ARDC and AMC. This corresponds to the transfer used by the procuring commands, where the chairman­ship of the Weapon System Project Offices (WSPO) is changed as the program moves from development to procurement responsibility.

General Holloway says the Weapons Board, which is in reality composed of the seven members, plus the panels and Working Groups, is called upon for a rec­ommendation at all principal milestones in the life of every system. The key decisions, which must in the final analysis be made by the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force on the advice of the Air Staff, get their closest scrutiny from these men.

At the same time it is emphasized that none of the plentiful contractor proposals are evaluated by the or­ganization. This is a job done by ARDC, and the Board has no knowledge of them—or who originates them—until they are submitted by ARDC or AMC or a using command. A proposal can, of course, be almost any­thing from a suggested new major system to an altera­tion in a landing gear or an improvement in an electronic component.

The concept, widely held and frequently dispensed to the public, that military decisions in the procurement area—in this case USAF decisions—are made by promiscuous spenders usually is spread by people with little or no knowledge of the Board’s activity. A two-star general in a position to determine military requirements or help make procurement decisions is not in a position to act like a teen-age girl loose with a charge account at Saks Fifth Avenue. The checks and balances, which here include a coordination of information and expert evaluation, are almost infinite.

And the fact stands out, prominently in the minds of all 500 officers involved in Weapons Board recommendations, that it is money and money alone that is the major problem. General Holloway says that the Board, which has had meetings that ran for nine uninterrupted hours, has its arguments across the table. And in ninety-nine percent of the cases the argument is about USAF capability vs. availability of buying power.

Weapons programs must continually be backed up, stretched out, or canceled entirely. The system, strangled by the one-year budget cycle, forces the bulk of the Weapons Board’s effort into the job of reprogramming and reviewing. In most cases, it is higher-than-anticipated costs, poor cost estimates, a lowered budget ceiling, new production problems, or an over-optimistic development program that is responsible.

The Board must always come up with a recommendation that covers the operational concept, the proposed financing, and the proposed production schedule. General Holloway must present this to his superiors and defend the program against their expert criticism. The Office of the Secretary of Defense is still another of review with even more skeptical critics, and they are critics who have a veto power exercised by purse strings.

It has been pointed out that this insistent influence of the dollar sign is relatively new to the military. It is a phenomenon that grows almost entirely out of the fact that modern weapons are staggeringly complex and costly, one reason why the machinery for reaching decisions is so complex. There is no major military decision that can be made today and no major plan that can be considered without a study of its financial implications. Each year there are hundreds of approved decisions and plans that have to be reworked—by the Weapons Board—because of some action involving money that came from outside the Air Force itself. There have been years when eighty-five p of the research and development resources had to be reprogramed.

In a real sense, the Weapons Board is a key command on the fighting front in today’s technological war. Starting with our first attainment of nuclear weapons and the first crude methods of delivering them, we have been spending more money in technologic development than in any other area. This has been expensive—but distinctly preferable to the alternative, the decadence of our deterrent strength.