Air Force MSgt. Mandy Mueller, 39th Medical Operations Squadron medical services flight chief, reads a holiday letter on Dec. 11, 2019, at Incirlik AB, Turkey. SSgt. Joshua Magbanua
Photo Caption & Credits


June 1, 2020

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Offense Is the Best Defense

John Tirpak’s article was concise and provided a lot of good information about these new Russian strategic missiles, but on the question of “what are they for,” there was one key factor that seemed to be missing [“Strategy and Policy: What are Putin’s Five New Nukes For?” April, p. 16].

Like us, though for different reasons, Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent is facing across-the-board obsolescence of Cold War-era weapons, and many of their weapons are believed to be near or past their planned retirements. Russian weapons traditionally are designed to have shorter service lives to make them cheaper to build and require less maintenance and overhaul, which their force structure and industrial base are ill-equipped to do. There is little reason for Russia to put 1970s-80s weapons back into production when there are newer designs that promise to be a more credible deterrent and, if necessary, more effective against U.S. or PRC strategic defenses. 

The Atlantic Council is partly wrong in their assessment of how the U.S. should respond. “Confidence-building” will fall on deaf ears in Beijing and Moscow—they’ve felt too much pressure from the U.S. and too much interference in their “near abroads.” Building up U.S. strategic defenses has merit, but in the strategic game, defense is both more complex and costlier to implement than deterrent offense. We must emphasize the deterrent sword, while not neglecting incremental improvements in the defensive shield. 

Maj. Steve Daskal,
USAF (Ret.)
Virginia Beach, Va.

Job Descriptions

In “Verbatim”  [April, p. 5] Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein is quoted as saying, “My job is to know where the holes are, get in, and hold targets at risk at the time and place of the Commander in Chief’s choosing.” While I recognize that testimony in Congress can lead to hyperbole on occasion, with all due respect, it is not his job to “hold targets at risk” for the Commander in Chief. That job belongs to combatant commanders, in this case U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Strategic Command. The good general’s job is organizing, training, and equipping the force. 

Col. Douglas K. Mang,

USAF (Ret.)

Omaha, Neb.

Look a Boomer in the Eye

I’ll add to Colonel Romero’s letter”OK, Boomer” [April, p. 4]. I flew 105 combat missions in the F-105. Forty-six of them to Pak VI-A [Route Pack 6A] required two hookups going in (fueling and top-off) and one coming out; my other missions each required at least one refueling. I had over 200 hookups from a boomer looking at me from his station in the rear underbelly of a KC-135. Some of the rendezvous took place in weather, and refueling in and out of clouds was a regular occurrence. The KC-135 pilots and boomers were so smooth that I have come out of clouds in a 30-degree bank I never felt! If I found myself reaching full throttle, I could give a lifting motion with my hand and the boomers gave me a bit of lift with the flying planes. More than once a boomer saved a Thud and its pilot as an F-105 flamed out approaching the tanker. Facing down and backward, a boomer instructed his pilot into a dive below and in front of the falling fighter to effect a hook-up. Not probable or possible, sitting up front with a TV screen. Either add a boomer pod from which our professionals can do the job properly or scrap the KC-46!

Lt. Col. John F. Piowaty, 
USAF (Ret.)
Cape Canaveral, Fla.

I spent most of my civilian career in DOD procurement and I cannot fathom why we are still accepting a product that does not meet a basic requirement. I’m referring to the problems with [the KC-46] in-flight refueling system. There were many times in my career where I rejected hardware offered by a contractor because the item did not meet spec. In some cases, I referred the issue to the buying office for their decision. Yes, most of my products were manufactured parts for anything from aircraft to tanks and everything in between. However, I was also working in large contractor plants making large systems for the B-2 and C-17. And yes, one time I refused a large request for accepting a major non-conformance and that went to the buying command. They made the decision. 

The Air Force withheld funds from Boeing for the tanker for some time, but finally turned it loose. Yes, Boeing has major issues across the board, but that is their problem, not the Air Force’s! Don’t sign the DD250 until you have a fully acceptable aircraft.

Maj. Dan Mathys,
USAF (Ret.)
Arlington, Texas

I read that the Air Force is releasing funds being held from Boeing. This makes no sense. They have not provided an aircraft that meets contract specifications. I guess it helps to have friends in high places and be able to spend millions of dollars on lobbying efforts. I’m also hearing that due to the lack of refueling capabilities, the Air Force is considering outsourcing this function. If that happens, I think Boeing should bear the total cost until the KC-46 is fully operational and mission capable.

Col. Thom Weddle,
USAF (Ret.)

Total Force in Korea

John Correll is correct when he says that U.S. air power stopped the North Korean invasion and controlled the air over North Korea [“The Difference in Korea,” April, p. 56]. However, he only writes about the fighters and bombers, but ignores all the rest of the air power—the unarmed cargo, liaison, and spotter planes, without which the ground war would have been much harder.

I flew with the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron, Det. 2 under Maj. [Harry] Aderholt from September 1950 through July 1951. Our C-47s evacuated over 4,000 Marines and Army troops from the Chosin Reservoir (I made five flights into the short strip). The 21st was awarded the first Distinguished Unit Citation during the Korean War for that operation. In addition to the regular troop carrier missions, our detachment specialized in unconventional missions. We flew leaflet drops and loudspeaker broadcasts over the North Koreans or Chinese troops during the day and low-level night missions dropping agents by parachute into North Korea (one man was dropped 30 miles from the Soviet border). Much of the intelligence about Communist units came from these agents after they walked back from the north.

The reserve unit C-46s and C-119s were not suited for the hastily built front line airstrips, so were used mainly for long hauls from Japan to Pusan, Taegu, or Seoul. C-47s carried supplies and replacements to the front lines and evacuated casualties, even landing, at low tide, on the beaches of two islands off the coast of North Korea.

I don’t know much about the roles of T-6 “Mosquito” spotter planes or the smaller liaison planes, but they were all part of air power in Korea.

Maj. John W. MacDonald, 
USAF (Ret.)
Missoula, Mont. 

Russian Energy

I must disagree with General Brown’s statement that, “The Russians aren’t economically entwined with a lot of things that are going on in Europe.” [“Q&A: What’s on the Mind of Gen. C. Q. Brown?” April, p. 8].

Rather, the Russians began years ago making Europe energy-dependent on their gas pipelines, which run to Czech, Ukranian, Turkish, baltic states, Finnish, and German terminal points. All these countries depend on Russian gas for critical energy needs. Beyond that, gas-derived byproducts produced in those areas are just as dependent. The Russians have in the past withheld that gas when it was advantageous to them. Just the right “stick” to use to keep those states in their thrall. As has been shown before, they won’t need a formal military attack: their first wave will be to cut off your heat, light, and industry. Good strategic theory for the Russians; poor protection for our allies.

Norman E. Gaines Jr.
Hartsdale, N.Y.

Minutemen and Service People

I wish to take issue with one of Col. [Omar] Colbert’s remarks pertaining to Global Strike Command’s actions [“Missile Testing in the GBSD Era,” April, p. 36].

These days, Colbert said, “Global Strike is targeting engineers, scientists, and others with backgrounds that are well-suited to the nuclear mission instead of trying to turn anyone into a missileer or maintainer; whether they had an inherent interest or not. It’s a very competent and capable range of folks that we are getting in now.”

 Not many people are familiar with the Minuteman program as it came into being in 1962. I happen to still have—on some very poor Thermofax paper—the original AFIT (Air Force institute of Technology) flyer dated July 1962, which announced that late in 1961, SAC (Strategic Air Command) had requested Air University and AFIT to plan an educational program at Minuteman missile sites. Due to short lead time, information was disseminated to the field in an all-commands message in April 1962.

I can go into greater detail of this program if requested, but the essence of it was that each Minuteman missile base would be as stated: “The AFIT Minuteman On-Site School Program will permit an officer to serve in an extremely important ICBM operational unit and simultaneously further his career by qualifying for an academic degree.” The program at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., was an on-site extension of AFIT’s School of Engineering involving half-time graduate study for three or more years, followed by 10 weeks in residence at AFIT, leading to a master’s degree in engineering.

 Wing II at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., to which I was assigned when I volunteered, was a graduate program leading to a master’s degree in business administration with options in management. Ohio State was contracted to administer this program on-site for the entire period of four years. My eventual degree was in industrial management, as I already had a bachelor’s degree in business administration. All of the missileers in this program had business admin or equivalent degrees. The other four Minuteman bases had a variety of educational opportunities administered by different schools.

 My point is to not limit your missile officers to only engineers and scientists. Many of the officers who served at Ellsworth and received their master’s degrees in business went on to successful careers as Air Force managers. The purpose of any program should be to train Air Force managers of the future. The [Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent] may want to consider a similar education program to draw in applicants. The Air Force thought the Minuteman was going to be a trouble-free missile and duty would be boring for the crew member. As it turned out, like any new program, the missile system was anything but trouble free, and it took several years to get it running smoothly. Nineteen years of my 20-year Air Force career were spent in various parts of the Minuteman missile system and, I have to say, I loved every minute of it. The Minuteman Education Program is something that worked once and perhaps should be considered again.

Lt. Col. Bill Norwood,
USAF (Ret.)
Ozark, Mo.

When the Minuteman system was envisioned, many thought (or perhaps hoped) that it could be automated and eventually not require a human crew. Looking at an “algorithm” to reduce the crew force sounds very hopeful, yet very similar.

Over the life of the Minuteman system, it was discovered time and time again that a well-trained and responsive crew, rather than automation, was often a critical component in the overall system’s effectiveness. Even the importance of the crew was recognized by no less the “God-like” figure of Gen. [Curtis] LeMay (SAC commander), who selected the first crew members from experienced aircrew members—captains and majors. He even gave spot promotions to those early missile crews who achieved “S” (Select) status.

Soon, the monotony and apparent simplicity caused boredom in the crew force—it’s not fun like flying. Aircrew members soon returned to the cockpits, never more to burrow underground in missile launch capsules. Soon, the critical crew function would be performed not by experienced officers, but by newly commissioned lieutenants. The difference between those lieutenants and those more senior aircrew members they replaced was maturity. Maturity, by definition, takes time.

What are the problems? They are well-known, as recounted in the article, “… scandals involving drug use, a test-cheating scandal, mental health issues, and low morale.” Automation will not solve basic leadership/maturity problems!

Air Force leadership has failed time and time again to align what they say with what they do. The fact that nuclear duty is a critical portion of our strategic defense and important is contradicted by giving the “tip of the spear” jobs to newly commissioned junior officers. Providing meaningful and predictable career progression is essential; however, many promising missile crew members who “survive” their four-year tours end up filling meaningless administrative positions with no real way of significant advancement to the senior ranks. After all, they all lack the single most important qualification—they don’t have the essential “universal management badge” wings. And, we all know, with few exceptions, the only real officers are those wearing wings.

I believe the current (and over the past 40 or more years) model of starting missile officers in the launch control center is a critical error (in missile parlance, an error which causes the failure of an evaluation). Crew members should learn the basics of officership and leadership by starting in areas like maintenance (aircraft and missile), wing and higher headquarters, airborne command and control, and many other jobs commonly given as “rewards” for four years in the hole. 

Once these officers have “grown” and developed into more mature officers, then they should be “selected” for missile crew duty. The selection process should help to screen out problems involving drug use, integrity issues, mental health issue, and low morale—it should be a reward based on the critical nature of the task. While on crew, a friend of mine applied to work with the San Bernardino County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department. Before they offered him a position, he was subjected to three days of testing. He became a missile officer by default like the rest of us by just passing a Class II flight physical.

Future advancement should then be based on their performance while serving on missile crew.

The fatal flaw with my solution? Getting those promising officers to stay for a career, or at least beyond their initial four-year commitment. The military has experience with “carrots” to tempt. Those carrots include financial (flight pay bonus and monthly payment), peer-recognized (awards/decorations), and professional (selection for assignments/prestigious schooling) incentives. Very few of those carrots have been used since the passing of LeMay as commander of SAC.

Unless and until the Air Force develops clear career progression and aligns its words with its actions, automation will simply kick the can down the road a little further.

Lt. Col. David J. Wallace, 
New Albany, Ohio

Really Fast Bones

In the April 2020 “Letters to the Editor: Speed Limits,” [p. 4] Cmdr. John Hall writes to correct what he perceives as two errors regarding the B-1 in the January/February article “The Bone is Back,” p. 34. Well, I have to say, Commander Hall himself is in error on the two points that he makes. 

First, the Bone is in fact supersonic. Even though the B-1B design was optimized for Mach 0.9 at 200 ft. AGL (above ground level) terrain-following, it is more than capable for supersonic flight up to 1.25 Mach, and not only at high altitude. In fact, the B-1B doesn’t even fly at “very” high altitudes as he states—it’s optimized for low-and mid-altitude ops.

The second error is the claim that the Bone’s “variable intake ramps were removed for cost reasons.” That isn’t the reason that they were dropped from the B model. The variable ramps on the B-1A were needed for the Mach 2.4 speeds of that model. But, the B-1B, as stated above, was optimized for high-subsonic terrain-following, and the variable ramps were not required for that. Plus, and this is a big plus, the B-1B inlets have vanes to shield the face of the engines from radar which help to greatly reduce its radar cross section. They would not have been compatible with variable ramps.

Two other points to note: The B-1B was redesigned as a result of B-1A testing and a change of mission, from high-altitude to low-altitude terrain-following. This redesign resulted in an 8,000 pound increase in basic airframe weight that enabled an increase in max gross weight from 395,000 pounds to 477,000 pounds—more fuel and more payload. The other point that is often overlooked is that the 100-aircraft B-1B program was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

I have flown both the FB-111A (referenced by Commander Hall) and the B-1B and can state with certainty that the B-1 is in fact a supersonic strategic bomber, even though it is now used for close air support.

Addison Thompson,
Chief Test Pilot B-1 (Ret.)
Santa Barbara, Calif.