A Panoramic, Probing Look at US Defense Needs

Nov. 1, 1980
The Air Force Association’s thirty-fourth annual National Convention—held in Washington, D. C., September 14-18—was a “working” convention that probed the state of the nation’s security, found it wanting in key areas, and made succinct recommendations for correcting existing and incipient deficiencies. The Convention’s topics and concerns ranged across the horizon of national security issues.

Yet the most intense concerns—expressed by speaker after speaker and reflected in all major Convention actions—were reserved for matters involving military people in general and blue-suiters in particular.

As the Convention delegates put it in AFA’s 1980-1981 Statement of Policy: “For the US to be able to deploy, support, and sustain combat forces of sufficient size, quality, and stamina to prevail is first and foremost a matter of people. The nation is losing too many experienced military professionals—in both enlisted and officer ranks—too fast. They are walking out on their chosen careers because their patriotism can only be stretched so far. And they are walking out—one enlisted Air Force professional every six minutes—many because of lagging compensation, a decline in the quality of military life, and constant assaults on the dignity of their calling.”

But in limning the problems of people, the Convention also pointed the way toward solutions. As Sen. Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.) reported to a combined session of AFA’s Junior Officer, Senior Enlisted, and Enlisted Advisory Councils at the Convention, the mood is “right” in Congress to support a three pronged, bipartisan attack on the military manpower crisis. Claiming that “we have stopped the slide in pay and benefits for servicemen and women,” he pledged that “they will erode no further.”

The three measures that Senator Armstrong suggested would end the military manpower crisis are the National Defense Compensation Act, the GI bill of 1980, and the Strength in Reserve Act of 1980. The first measure is pending before the Senate Armed Services Committee and calls for phased pay increases over the next three years of up to eighteen percent. Twin GI Bills introduced in both the Senate and the House would apply to service people who enlist after October 1, 1980, and perform two years of honorable service. They would receive up to $3,000 annually in tuition grants for up to four years as well as a living stipend of $300 a month for the four years.

The third measure provides educational benefits and preference in federal hiring for service in the National Guard or in a component of the Ready Reserve.

USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Lew Allen, Jr., speaking at the Convention luncheon in his honor, said, “I am torn between pride in what our people and their families have rendered because of their deep feelings of patriotism and service, and regret for the loss of so many superb professionals who simply could endure no longer.” Expressing hope that this lesson about the limits of devotion may have finally struck home with those who control the purse strings, he said that “this lesson has little to do with registration or the draft. It has to do with retention of proud men and women who deserve dignity, respect, and a decent standard of living . . . men and women who cannot and would not strike to make their grievances know, who could leave their profession with a great sadness over a shortsighted society which has only now awakened to their plight.”

After many years and enormous effort, General Allen said, “there is encouraging evidence that the nation and its political leaders are coming to understand the plight of military members and their families.” Terming Congress’s approval of the Nunn-Wagner and Fair Benefits Compensation initiatives as well as of the 11.7 percent pay raise “important first steps,” he warned, however, that “retention rates are still well below desired levels and we continue to experience shortages of our most highly skilled people. Therefore, we must continue to seek the additional improvements that are essential to meet our Air Force needs for skilled professional.”

People, especially enlisted personnel, were center stage at the Convention’s opening ceremonies when MSgt. Wayne L. Fisk—the first noncommissioned officer to do so in AFA’s thirty-four-year history—delivered the stirring Convention keynote address that stressed that no act of citizenship is essential than “adequately compensating the people of our armed forces.” Appealing to AFA to restore “prestige, public esteem, honor, and decent standard of living to the men and women of our military forces . . .” Sergeant Fisk, a much decorated para-rescue specialist of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service who served five combat tours in Southeast Asia and whom the Jaycees recently honored as one of the ten most outstanding young men in America, termed the present generation of service people “patriots’ patriots who deserve better treatment than our fellow citizens have been providing.”

Termed AFA’s decision this year to call on an enlisted speaker for the Convention’s keynote “most appropriate,” Sergeant Fisk said it is unfortunate that the Association for years “has been regarded as something of an ‘Officers’ Club.’” Pointing out that “no other organization has such a recognized impact on the men and women of the United States Air Force as the Air Force Association,” he exhorted AFA to “intensify . . . efforts to recruit enlisted personnel into [its] ranks. . . . The enlisted folks, with their wealth of information and experience, are an integral part of this Association, and their membership must be recognized more than it has been in the past.” Although applauding the pending 11.7 percent pay increase, Sergeant Fisk suggested that the exodus of enlisted professionals won’t be stopped until real purchasing power of military people is restored to 1972 levels: “A minimum of 17.6 percent is needed just to make up for the losses since 1972, and I don’t hesitate to add, we need every penny of it—right now.”

The Air Force enlisted people, appropriately enough, were the theme and subject also of the Convention’s first gala event, AFA’s festive dinner honoring the twelve Outstanding Airmen of 1980. Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Robert Mathis, the event’s featured speaker, talked about “an awareness growing in our country—an awareness of the need and value of our professional military men and women.” Today, he explained, “we are faced with a clear and present danger to the security of the free world—and we are also engaged in debates over the proper size and role of our military forces. The condition of the individual military member has long been tied to the changing tides of public sentiment. Congress has historically struggled with the age-old question of pay and benefits—and how much defense is enough.

“From the very beginning of our Republic, we have evidenced a remarkable ambivalence about the role of our armed forces. We have alternately enshrined—and then ignored—our people in uniform. This pattern has gone on for 200 years. . . . I hope that we have learned the lessons of unpreparedness—the story is clearly written in our hasty calls to arms and our equally hasty farewells to arms when the immediate danger has passed,” General Mathis told the Outstanding Airmen of 1980.

The Pervasive Strategic Threat

“US strategic and offensive capability is the supreme guarantor of this country’s and the free world’s security. Conversely, Soviet strategic offensive and defensive capability is the ultimate threat to this country’s and the free world’s survival,” asserts AFA’s 1980-81 Policy Paper on Force Modernization and R&D, unanimously adopted by the Convention delegates. The Paper points out that “Soviet spreading on strategic forces is more than twice that of the US, with the result that their relative capabilities are waxing while others are waning. A window of vulnerability is opening up and portends a period of unprecedented peril and Soviet adventurism.”

In a similar vein, General Allen told the Convention that to preclude disastrous miscalculations by the USSR, “we must, as a first priority, redress the impeding disparity in US/Soviet strategic nuclear capability.” Pointing out that the increasing momentum of Soviet defense spending is eroding the strategic nuclear balance, he warned that this condition “may increase Soviet self-confidence and thus encourage further aggression beyond Afghanistan.”

AFA’s Statement of Policy, after explaining that Soviet strategic doctrine pivots on protracted nuclear war-fighting capabilities rather than the mutual-assured destruction concept, asserts that “there can be no doubt that the Soviet Union is much closer to—if it does not already have—greater nuclear war-fighting capability than the US. Correcting this potentially fatal flaw must remain the paramount defense objective of the United States.” In extension of this logic, AFA’s Policy Paper, therefore, applauds the Administration’s commitment to full-scale engineering development and deployment of the MX in a multiple protective shelters (MPS) basing mode. The Association urged the next Administration—whether reelected or new—as well s the Congress not to “succumb to diversionary or dilatory tactics, especially the blandishments of quick fixes that cost less [than MX] but can’t cope with the increasing Soviet threat over the long term.” General Allen, similarly, stressed the importance of getting on “with the crucial task of restoring the survivability of the land-based ICBMs to provide a resilient strategic triad for the years to come. There are no quick fixes or easy answers to this challenge.”

General Allen added that “the time for debate regarding the MX is past; the search for alternatives is over. Multiple Protective Shelters basing is sound in concept, straightforward in construction, and will be manageable in implementation. The MPS basing mode has been reviewed in detail and approved by the Air Force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the President, and the Congress. While the issue of deployment area selection remains to be fully resolved, this is a matter being decided on grounds of operational concerns . . . costs, and local impacts. But there can be no question about need for MX and no quarrel about urgency. . . . Further delay in fielding the MX will jeopardize national security, provoke a rash of costly, unsatisfactory alternatives, and lead ultimately to less capability at greater cost.”

Other Strategic Needs

So far as the air-breathing component of the strategic triad is concerned, AFA’s Paper Policy recommends a mix of solutions “involving both radically new, high-risk approaches such as Stealth technologies, as well as evolutionary developments. . . . It would be wrong and reckless to forego development and deployment of a long-range combat aircraft (LRCA—also known as the multirole bomber) that can deliver large payloads comprised of either nuclear or conventional weapons and instead focus exclusively on speculative high-technology solutions.”

While urging that research and development of Stealth and other potentially revolutionary technologies be pursued at an optimal rate, AFA pointed out that “there are unanswered questions about when such systems could become available.” Additionally, the Policy Paper points out “it is not clears whether or not they could be overcome by a resourceful enemy. Lastly, systems employing these advanced technologies appear limited to small payloads and thus less capable of performing the full range of tactical missions.”

Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Hans Mark, speaking at the Convention luncheon in his honor, reported in detail on modernization of the nuclear strategic forces which he said was progressing “very well. We are arming our B-52 bomber fleet with cruise missiles having nuclear warheads which will promise to keep these airplanes as an active portion of our . . . force for many years to come after they are phased out as penetrating bombers. I have spent much time reviewing both the technology and management of the cruise missile program, and I find it to be in excellent shape. The missiles are accurate, reliable, and will have long shelf lives.”

For the long term, he said, “we are in the stage of developing serious plans for a new bomber, and I hope that we can fund such a program by early next year. There is no doubt in my mind that we must do this as soon as possible.” General Allen similarly referred to plans for a “new, highly versatile, long range combat aircraft to replace the B-52.”

Readiness and Sustainability

“No element of military power is more important than the combination of readiness to fight wherever and however necessary and the endurance to see the fight through to a decisive stage,” AFA’s Statement of Policy asserts. General Allen pointed out that the Administration’s policy of defending with force, if necessary, America’s vital interests in the Persian Gulf expands the demands on readiness and sustainability beyond the previously used criterion, i.e., credible defense of Central Europe.

Because of the high stakes involved in the Persian Gulf region, General Allen told the Convention, “we have levied even more stringent requirements on our forces, for immediate responsiveness and staying power than called for in our NATO planning. I underscore, however, that these new readiness and sustainability standards simply require improvements in a force that already possesses considerable capability. It should be clearly understood that this nation can mount, project, and employ an expeditionary force of considerable consequences, and with global reach, with great dispatch.” Deployment and training exercises carried out by the “total” Air Force earlier this year, he said, demonstrated in a “superb manner” USAF’s capabilities for operations in Southwest Asia: “At Red Flag and in deployments to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, our people have shown that they can operate sophisticated equipment in the harsh environment of the Middle East. The United States has significant forces and equipment deployed in Southwest Asia, and we are taking major steps to reinforce and enhance that presence.”

USAF’s Chief of Staff underscored the importance of keeping the crucial energy resources of the Persian Gulf region from galling under Soviet control, saying that at stake is “not simply the prospect of economic hardship but the global balance of power as it has existed since the end of World War II. . . .

A carefully orchestrated Soviet strategy that allowed them to dictate the terms of Western access to Persian Gulf oil could well lead to piecemeal defeat of the free world.” General Allen called it vital that the US and its allies show the “resolve and the visible military capability to do what is required to frustrate Soviet attempts to gain control of the Persian Gulf region. We must remain steadfast through every test, whether in the form of naked military aggression, or a protracted period of calculated probes to measure our resolve.”

Dr. Mark also stressed the criticality of “our readiness to engage in military action whenever necessary and at a level commensurate with the threat we know is there. . . . The single biggest increase in our budget for FY ’82 is devoted to . . . the inventory of spare parts for all of our aircraft so that they will be ready to fly and fight if and when the time comes.”

Yet, this shift in funding priorities is exacting a high price elsewhere, as General Allen told the Convention: “Greater emphasis on readiness, sustainability, and mobility [comes] at the expense of preferred rates of procurement for new aircraft. This shift in priorities is only acceptable for the short term. We cannot accept continued cutbacks and indefinite delays in our tactical modernization program. Not only do reduced production rates drive up unit costs, but they put us further behind a Soviet fighter production line that is turning out a modern aircraft every seven hours.”

The Convention delegates, in the Association’s new Policy Paper, pointed out that this “practice of robbing Peter to pay Paul is inflicting serious damage on both force strength and readiness” and suggested that “the solution lies in increased funding of both procurement and readiness investments.” At the same time, AFA stated concern about the “growing tendency in Congress and the Administration to favor quantity over quality in tactical aircraft” and warned that the result are “combat systems neither able to cope with increasingly capable enemy aircraft nor able to perform their mission under adverse operating conditions. The tactical air force must be matched closely to the emerging threat and fit for any environment where conflict might occur. Going below this threshold not only would exact an unbearable price in blood and treasure but also create a marginally effective force.”

General Allen noted this tendency, especially the contention that the Air Force cannot maintain and operate successfully high-performance systems of the F-15/F-16 type, with this pithy comment: “To this, I say nonsense.”

Mobility and Airlift Needs

The Convention delegates prefaced the Association’s recommendations for expeditious enhancement of airlift and mobility forces by pointing out that a “changing and deteriorating world situation coupled with declining US influence and shrinking landing rights on the territory of US allies rapidly escalates the need for more and better US airlift capabilities.” Stressing that the nation’s strategic airlift capabilities are about half of what they should be, AFA’s Policy Paper warned that “these shortages are bound to become more critical as warning times grow shorter and as combat equipment becomes larger and heavier.”

General Allen elaborated on this point, saying that the nation’s “mobility assets, both air and sea, are inadequate to meet the requirements of short-warning attack in Europe. These requirements are even more severe in the context of a rapidly developing contingency in Southwest Asia.” Yet, the nation’s worldwide military strategy is keyed to rapid reinforcement of in-place forces or rapid insertion of power into trouble spots where there are only a few forward deployed units. This strategy, he stressed, “must be supported by adequate mobility in its most visible, responsive, and flexible element—airlift. Therefore, we must expand our airlift force, especially with regard to the capability to carry oversize cargo over long ranges, with the flexibility to land and operate on existing fields within the delivery area.” USAF’s CX versatile air-lifter, currently in concept formulation, is meant to provide the additional aircraft and capabilities to meet this need, General Allen said.

The Mounting Soviet Threat

Common to all major Convention activities and actions was recognition of the increasing Soviet threat. As General Allen put it: “It is now widely apparent that the US-Soviet relationship is fundamentally an antagonistic one and that the Kremlin is determined to pursue its interests relentlessly, aggressively, and even brutally; witness their actions in Afghanistan.” He added that the “expansionist ambitions” of the Soviet Union must be viewed within the context of “the limitations we face in attempting to influence Soviet actions by diplomatic and economic measures” as well as the “serious deficiencies” of the US armed forces compared to the increasing military power of the Soviet Union.

The Association’s new Policy Paper stressed that during the past decade the Soviet Union outspent the US by about $70 billion with the result that the USSR’s overall military technology program is twice that of this country. Counting procurement of hardware, military construction, and R&D, the Soviet investment lead over the US during the 1970s amounted to $240 billion, with the result that “this countries technological lead is eroding to the point where America’s technology won’t be able to offset Russia’s numerical advantages.”

The delegates capped the Association’s new Paper Policy with this statement: “. . . the Soviet Union is outspending the US in the military sector by about $50 billion a year. This differential is greater than the entire budget of the United States Air Force. The resultant imperative is clear: US defense spending must be increased significantly to match the Soviet military capabilities or we must be prepared to accept the consequences.”

The threat and what to do about it also were the basis of AFA’s highest award, the H. H. Arnold Award, which went to the Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Commander, Gen. Richard Ellis, for “leading the nation toward greater awareness of the relentless buildup of Soviet military power, thereby stimulating the executive branch and the Congress to take action to overcome the adverse strategic balance.”

In accepting the award, General Ellis remarked that “I can think of no more information action that has taken place in recent years than the current realization that strategically we were a nation in trouble and something needed to be done—fast. Well, something is being done, for America is once again on its way toward rebuilding and modernizing the strategic forces, and that only comes from an informed public and an enlightened Congress. For this reason, I believe it is the obligation of senior military officers to bring such matters to the attention of the American people and members of Congress, provided, of course, that it is done in appropriate forums. To do less would be to forsake the full meaning of our oath of office.”

More and Better

Measured by any yardstick, the thirty-fourth National AFA Convention was a case of “more and better.” Attendance, once again, grew over previous years, from the opening ceremonies to the Capitol Hill reception know as “Salute to Congress.” About 140 members of Congress and many senior members of the Air Staff were hosted by the Convention delegates at the “Salute” program to discuss legislative issues relevant to USAF.

Similarly, the Aerospace Development Briefings and Equipment Displays were larger in size and drew a bigger audience than ever before. The number of aerospace companies participating in this event—pioneered by the Air Force Association to provide show-and-tell instruction on the latest developments in aerospace technology—was up by more than twenty percent from last year. In terms of floor space, the exhibits topped last ear’s by more than forty percent. About 6,000 military, government, congressional, and news media personnel attended the Aerospace Development Briefings and Equipment Displays.

The Convention’s Chief Executive Reception and Buffet brought together members of Congress and defense experts from the congressional staff, as well as White House, Pentagon, and defense industry leaders for informal discussions of defense issues.

Climax and finale of the 1980 National Convention was the black-tie dinner commemorating the founding of the Air Force as an independent service in 1947.

The festive event also capped a set of special convention activities centered on the retirement of AFA Executive Director James H. Straubel after almost thirty-four years of dedicated service. Mr. Straubel, who was elected a permanent member of AFA’s Board of Directors by the Convention delegates, has established Air Force Magazine as the then of official journal of the Army Air Forces in the early days of World War II and served as its editor for the duration of that war. He joined AFA as Executive Director in 1947 and over the ensuing thirty-three-plus years nurtured the Association to its present state of board effectiveness and high respectability. As AFA National President Victor R. Kregel put it when presenting Jim with a solid gold AFA lifetime membership card, “We would not be here at all except for his thirty-three years of dedicated service.”

In bidding farewell to Jim Straubel, the Convention also welcome AFA’s new Executive Director, Gen. Russell E. Dougherty, USAF (Ret.), Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command and Director of Strategic Target Planning for all US strategic forces before his retirement in 1977.