Oct. 1, 2007

War Budgets and Sacrifice

I just finished reading your article about the war budgets [“Editorial: War Budgets, Then and Now,” August, p. 2]. I am not an economist nor do I have all the know-how when it comes to supporting our military. I am 85 years of age, a veteran of 12 years. I wish so very often that our Senate, etc., would be shown what the lack of military spending cost our country in World War II.

Our [Army Air Forces] back in 1940 had some Martin B-10s, a few B-18s, and the beginning of the [B-17] Fortress bombers. Our fighters consisted of P-39s, P-40s, to mention a few. The Germans and Japanese already had their Me-109s, FW-190s, Zeros, etc. The Navy had old Brewster Buffalos, F4Fs, etc. None were a match for the Zero. The only edge we had was the quality of our pilots. They gave so much with so little.

Our Air Force lost well over 40,000 men bombing Germany. I feel much of the losses were attributed to the lack of a fighter capable of escorting our heavies in and out of target [areas] in Germany. Not until the P-51 appeared was this reversed.

The German tanks were far superior to ours until late in the war. We lost over 500 tanks early in the war. Some of our tanks did not have a revolving turret. The early Sherman packed a 75 mm gun without the power to penetrate the German armor. In 1941, we were so ill-equipped [that] we used pipes in place of mortars. I carried a 1914 rifle with a surplus 1914 mess kit and helmet.

I was then assigned to an anti-tank company. We were given new 37 mm anti-tank cannons and told we could stop anything the Germans had. My unit was part of the 9th Infantry Division. I lost too many friends because that 37 mm gun could not stop a German tank. They had to dump it for a British 57 mm gun.

I am aware that there was a depression in our country. I lived through it. However, I know that people like Charles Lindbergh, Gen. [Claire L.] Chennault, and others warned our country that we were not prepared. It fell on deaf ears.

We went into Iraq without enough body armor, with vehicles that cannot withstand high explosives, etc. Here we are, the greatest country on Earth, and we let our young men and women die and have their young bodies torn asunder.

I love my wife and family, but next to them, the Air Force is and always has been my first love.

Irving Distenfeld


China Assumptions

Any critical reading of Richard Halloran’s provocative views on the Chinese military buildup (“China Stands Up,” August, p. 24), should raise yellow cautionary flags given the article’s unstated, but underlying, assumption: capabilities equal intentions. The US must always be mindful of striking the right balance between having sufficient ability to handle worst case scenarios given another’s capacity, yet not project our worst fears onto presumptions of another nation’s intentions. Otherwise, we dangerously risk turning scenarios into self-fulfilling prophecies.

There is no doubt China is building its military capacity. China is a big country that is growing wealthier and can now afford more substantial military investment. Its economy has grown by nearly double digits annually for over a decade with more to come and has a population nearly four times that of the US. If substantial military growth is occurring now, one reason is because former President Deng Xiaoping told the military in the 1980s that China would spend very little to not sacrifice economic growth for military might until it had sufficient resources.

As for China’s intentions, what the Chinese would consider “defensive,” especially in light of China’s suffering at Japanese hands during World War II, might appear “offensive” to other countries like the US. From a Chinese vantage point, when the US Navy can project “blue water” power over 8,000 miles, while China is getting to the point where it can project power regionally 800 miles, it doesn’t resonate to say they are getting overly aggressive. Through an apolitical lens, the Chinese view Taiwan as a local, internal affair that does not presuppose wider regional intentions. Conversely, conceptualize how the Chinese might view US global deployments and capabilities, and more specifically the US Air Force.

The obvious point should also be made that China is not the Soviet Union, nor is Beijing like Moscow circa 1970. On a drive from the airport to Tiananmen Square—and for that matter, in most any major Chinese city—a visitor will see the logo of almost any recognizable US and Western firm doing business in China. It is global commerce and business that fuels China’s prosperity and ever-growing economy. As it is, China holds more than $400 billion in US treasury notes. It is not in China’s interest to be in a military conflict with the US. China needs to be able to create economic vitality to be able to deal with a significant population, many of whom live in rural China. A well-placed and knowledgeable US diplomat may be closest to the point in observing that “when President Hu Jintao wakes up in the morning, he does not think about how China will conquer the world. What he worries about is how to keep his country (China) together.”

Today’s global environment—particularly considering the complex links between the Chinese and US economies—demands that we conduct our discussion of China’s military capabilities and intentions with a higher degree of discernment than the aggressive tenor of Halloran’s article. China is unquestionably our competitor, but it is not our adversary. There is a difference.

Col. Chris J. Krisinger,


Burke, Va.

In Richard Halloran’s alarmist piece, “China Stands Up,” the author claims that China is a military danger to the US. To bolster his claim, he cites numerous statistics, but fails to place them in a meaningful context. For example, he cites Defense Intelligence Agency estimates of China’s defense budget ranging from around $90 billion to $130 billion. The critical, and missing, information is that the US defense budget is five times that! When confronted with that sort of disparity, what would any prudent Chinese leader do? Besides, a fair reading of foreign policy actions from the past several decades reveals that the US has engaged in many more military adventures beyond its borders than China has. It seems clear that the US is actually the nation posing a military danger to peace in the East by forcing an arms race.

Also missing from Mr. Halloran’s analysis was any mention of the economics of the US-Chinese relationship. The fact that China owns an immense amount of the US debt severely limits our ability to project power militarily. In fact, we’re paying the Chinese (in the form of interest) to maintain their most potent weapon. If the US wants to counter a Chinese military buildup, maybe we should consider paying down the national debt.

Lt. Col. Dennis W. Butler,


Oakland, Calif.

War on the Rails

Regarding “The War on the Rails[August, p. 52]: It wasn’t a simple argument of “the Transportation Plan” against “the Oil Plan.” It was, in Spaatz’s mind, the most efficient use of airpower. While all the bombing of V-1 sites and hardened structures was going on, BDA pictures were being shown to General Spaatz. He saw the heavy bombing mission as a terrible waste of heavy bombers. I’ve looked at thousands of these BDA photos. It wasn’t unusual that in attempting to strike a single V-1 launch rail or the control box, hundreds of bombs would be scattered over the countryside. Spaatz felt strongly that the bombing of the V-1 sites, and later the V-2 sites, should be taken over by 9th Air Force, using medium bombers and fighter-bombers that had better pinpoint accuracy.

In his mind he had two important missions. One was to cripple German fuel production and storage facilities and the second was to support the invasion of Normandy. He felt that he couldn’t complete these missions when over 40 percent of the entire Allied air forces were being directed against Cross Bow targets. The diversion of bombers from fuel bombardment missions rankled Spaatz since the bombing of the synthetic fuel plants was beginning to show positive results. He sent a strongly worded message to Eisenhower asking for immediate concurrence of a new bombing policy using medium bombers [and] fighter-bombers on the missile sites. Eisenhower rejected the proposal and indicated that attacks on V-1 and V-2 sites “would continue to receive high priority.”

Dino A. Brugioni

Hartwood, Va.

Everything That Rises

There is a slight error in your article, “Everything That Rises Must Get Down,” on p. 70 of your August 2007 edition. The F-15 is easy to fly and land, but not because of the “multiple computer inputs that are constantly moving the controls.” The F-15’s primary flight control system is hydromechanical (rods and cables) which is supplemented by CAS (computer aided system). If you are flying “hands off” then there are no computer inputs trying to move the controls. The F-15 is easy to land because McDonnell Douglas designed a stable airplane, and with its large wing area (608 square feet) and low wing loading (73 pounds per square foot) it handles superbly in ground effect.

Lt. Col. Larry Brown,

USAF Academy

Colorado Springs, Colo.

In my 8,000+ hours’ pilot time I’ve seen some pretty lousy landings (including some stinkers of my very own), but the one that takes the absolute, hilarious cake is the Russian turboprop landing nose wheel first on p. 72. If ever a picture didn’t need a caption, it’s this one. I can pretty well visualize what happened next, but if this pic is one of a series, I’d sure like to know where to find the rest of them!

Col. Robert J. Powers,

USAF (Ret.)

Shreveport, La.

Where’s the X-15

During the late 1990s, Air Force Magazine’s “Space Almanac” issue began to carry the X-15 spacecraft in the historical columns [and] even ran a photo in one issue. This was historically correct since the experimental craft flew 13 suborbital missions under the control of eight pilots who received astronaut badges/ratings during the 1960s—one who even died (Maj. Mike Adams, the US’s first spaceflight fatality on Nov. 15, 1967, according to the Congressional Record). The winged X-15 was the predecessor to the space shuttle. Unfortunately, the 2007 Almanac [August, p. 74] doesn’t portray the X-15 anywhere—“The Golden Age of NASA,” “US Manned Spaceflights” (which doesn’t reflect any X-15 spaceflights including the four spaceflights of the X-15 in 1963, when only the one Mercury flight “flew”), nor “Milestones in Military Space” (Bob White’s historic suborbital mission on July 17, 1962).

Most of this is in Tom Wolfe’s novel The Right Stuff, which you recommended. Let’s keep our space history accurate!

Col. Joe Reich,

USAF (Ret.)

Covington, La.

Troop Cuts and BRAC

I can’t believe we are trying to keep bases without missions open while trying to cut 40,000 positions [“Aerospace World: Troop Cut Limit: 40,000,” August, p. 12]. When the BRAC decided to move Cannon Air Force Base’s F-16s, I’m sure it envisioned the base closing. Now I read that it is being considered as a special operations base. Why can’t those special ops aircraft be stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base where there is already an AETC special operations wing? Not only would there be maintenance and operations synergy with the existing SOW, it would provide more stability and better QOL for special ops personnel. Whatever airspace and training ranges that are used by Cannon-based aircraft can easily be reached from Kirtland. It is a lot cheaper to build a few more hangars and extra ramp space, than to keep a whole base open just to appease local politicians. Same thing goes for Grand Forks Air Force Base. The bombers and missiles are gone and the tankers are leaving. Trying to keep it open as a UAV base does not make sense when just down I-29 you have an ANG unit already flying UAVs, and doing it with a lot less [base operating support ] footprint than maintaining an entire base. Let’s demonstrate AFSO 21 concepts and help close these bases.

Lt. Col. Rich Doyle

Randolph AFB, Tex.

Thinking Like Air America

The idea of reducing US troop casualties from IEDs by transporting more supplies by aircraft is right on [“Aerospace World: Getting Troops Off the Roads,” August, p. 16]. Where USAF is missing the boat is that it is not replacing truck and Humvee resupply on the short dangerous hauls. USAF has an excellent array of cargo aircraft that land at airports: C-17, C-130. USAF needs to complement this array with smaller aircraft such as the DH-7 Caribou and even smaller aircraft such as a UAV Fieseler Storch. Obviously parachuting in supplies with [Joint Precision Air-Drop system] airdrops may also be appropriate. What USAF can do in resupply is something the Army can’t. It can do the resupply mission with zero or nearly zero US military deaths.

First of all, let’s ask the question whether USAF can resupply 150,000 US troops, even in small forward bases, by air. Of course, it can. USAF supplied the two million people of Berlin by air for a year. Critics will, of course, counter that it costs about 20 to 100 times more to resupply troops by air rather than by truck. But the critics are giving an incomplete answer. Certainly, the price of fuel required for aerial resupply is far more expensive than truck gas or diesel, but the other half of the cost is the loss of US military lives due to IEDs. Let’s try to quantify that. Let’s assume that 1,000 US troops are killed each year; half of these are due to roadside IEDs, and half the IED deaths are on resupply missions. This would give us 250 US troop deaths, and the US pays a death benefit of $100,000 each. That’s a cost of $25 million per year. I estimate that 50,000 troops in forward bases could be resupplied by aerial UAV for a fuel cost of approximately $7 million per year.

The cost of the Iraqi war that concerns the US public is not the dollars but the US military lives lost. USAF can significantly lower the number of US military deaths by doing more, or all, of the resupply mission. We have the aerodynamics, engines, and UAV capability to do the resupply mission at night. USAF needs to get out of the mode of thinking high tech is always the answer. Sometimes it is low and slow tech. USAF needs to think like Air America—flying the Pilatus Porters in Laos—low, slow, and postage-stamp-size landing strips.

William Thayer

San Diego

In spite of world-class close ground support and overwhelming air strikes with surgical precision, none of these tools seems likely to stop the constant barrage of IED, ESP, EFP devices. The problem is that we cannot figure out when or where the enemy and his bombs are located. Maybe it is time to search for other technologies and re-examine older weapons systems that have been effective in the past for answers to the surveillance puzzle.

Remember the World War II magnetic airborne detection gear? These airborne systems were very effective. A ground version of that device pinpoints location of any ordnance with a magnetic signature. It turns out every roadside device has a well defined and an easily detectable signature. A robotic vehicle would be an optimum platform to mount a magnetic detection device.

We can recall the tremendous difficulty in reconnaissance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. That effort spun off an array of “new” technical machinery including sound signal analysis. Camouflaged sensors were air-dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Sound tracks were sent back to a central computer. There, algorithms could distinguish between heavy military traffic, commercial (supply) traffic, foot traffic, and bicycles. Why not use this proven system for locating excavation activities and bomb burial operations?

Airborne multisensor, multichannel surveillance is in widespread use in spy satellite geotechnical and agricultural research operations. This system can accurately identify very small, subtle changes in emissivity signature patterns indicating digging operations for burial of roadside ordnance.

Ground penetrating radar has also been in use for some years. This can detect fine-scale anomalies in soil stratification and composition. It will easily detect buried roadside bombs.

Focused electromagnetic pulse technology has demonstrated its ability to destroy or neutralize electric, electronic, radio, and command-control equipment even in a semihardened environment. Patrol and convoy routes can be “sterilized” using a robotic mounted focused EMP device.

Analog and digital Sigint is very important. The range of radio and digital coded pulses used to detonate roadside bombs is reasonably narrow; we could jam all garage door, cell phone, and analog equipment signals on a massive 24/7 basis.

Another possible option is to develop an additive or aerosol or radiological system that reacts with C4 and other explosives or explosive packaging material. The resulting gases given off can then be easily detected by airborne sampling or robotic sampling techniques.

Most of these techniques worked amazingly well in earlier battlespace situations. There are numerous other commercial or industrial equipment technologies which should be tapped for a solution to IED, ESP, EFP identification and detection problems. It seems that current and future problems of urban warfare, house-to-house combat, and asymmetrical attacks by insurgencies will not go away anytime soon. We need a weapons development program which is reliably funded, well directed, and determined.

Maj. Sam Hanna,

USAF (Ret.)

San Francisco

Robin Olds

We didn’t fly with him but we wish we had [“Aerospace World: Robin Olds, ‘MIG Sweep’ Fighter Pilot,” August, p. 18].

As his chief administrative officer when Robin Olds, as colonel, commanded the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing in Merrie Ole [England] in 1964, I saw a side of him no wing man ever could. He scarcely noticed me as a ground pounder. For one thing, he never walked; he strode like a wind through my office into the conference room beyond that my people had just time to set up for him. We never knew how many were coming. This great magneto of a man blew in, got things off his chest, and was ready for the next act: playing dead at one of our innumerable exercises where he sprawled half out of a staff car on an [RAF] Bentwaters street. Must have taken some coaching from his good wife, a former movie star, but DeMille would have hired him in a minute.

Then there was the perennial wee hours alert which was the signal for the cooks to get out the kettles and stir up a batch of stuff affectionately known as SOS but a nauseating ordeal for some of the rest of us.

Who could forget the excited captain who burst into the command post during the height of the excitement and announced that the latrine was without that basic ingredient no airman should have to go to war without. Sent by Olds to do or die, the good captain returned after a bit, smiling, and Olds promptly knighted him “toilet paper officer of the 81st Tac Fighter Wing.”

The taxpayers really got their money’s worth from this man of all seasons who proved he could fly a desk as well as an F-4.

Maj. Roy L. Goodale,

USAF (Ret.)

Prescott, Ariz.

I very much enjoyed your obituary of Brig. Gen. Robin Olds on p. 18 of the August issue. He is one of my heroes and was without a doubt one of America’s greatest fighter pilots ever.

In the obit it is stated that “on only his second mission, [Olds] became an ace.” Although he had many amazing accomplishments, that wasn’t one of them. I think the writer meant to say that then-Captain Olds shot down his first five enemy aircraft on only two missions.

Olds was one of the original flight leaders of the 479th Fighter Group, which began flying bomber escort missions from England with P-38s in May 1944. By the time he scored his first two air victories on Aug. 14, he had flown many missions. He attained ace status 11 days later by shooting down three more German fighters, thereby becoming one of only a handful of Eighth Air Force P-38 pilots to score five or more confirmed air victories.

Shortly thereafter, the 479th switched to P-51s, with which Olds shot down eight more German fighters (he was credited with destroying another 11 enemy aircraft on the ground). He assumed command of his 434th Fighter Squadron in March 1945 as a 22-year-old major.

Despite not, in fact, having made ace on his first two missions, Robin Olds was one hell of a fighter pilot!

Steve Blake

Mission Viejo, Calif.


Great summary by Walter Boyne of the B-47 Stratojet in the August issue [p. 104], and Zaur Eylanbekov’s artwork was very well done. The B-47E was indeed a handful to fly, particularly when trying to leap off the ground on a hot Tucson morning, or landing in a brisk crosswind on an icy Elmendorf runway in the early ’60s. I believe that the 303rd Bomb Wing was the first SAC bomb wing to receive the B-47E, and the wing operated out of Davis-Monthan from April 1953 until June 1964, when it was deactivated.

We had quite a few “Famous Fliers” in the 303rd, and you mention Gen. John Shaud, who flew with us as a copilot and aircraft commander. A distinguished officer missing from your list was my first squadron commander in the 303rd, Gen. Russ Dougherty, who commanded the 358th Bomb Squadron (The Black Eagles). We considered our wing to be SAC’s best, but I’m sure one or two others might disagree.

Col. Don Bott,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

August Recap

I have read the August edition of Air Force Magazine. I would like to compliment you on a job well done. Articles such as “The First of the Force” and” The War on the Rails” serve to remind us of our proud heritage. So often, these events are not known to us. The United States Air Force (and its predecessors) has a very long history of proud accomplishments and it is good to remind ourselves of it. John T. Correll and Rebecca Grant continue to author superb articles. Also, the “Airpower Classics” page is a favorite, and very well thought out. Walter Boyne should be considered a national treasure.

I do have a question. I had read somewhere in the past that the 0- on a tail number meant that the aircraft had been modified to the point that it could not be returned to its original configuration—e.g., NB-52s 003 and 008 used at Edwards Air Force Base to launch the X-15 and others. I read now that the 0- means an aircraft that is 10 years old. What is the answer? Thanks in advance.

MSgt. Johnny L. Lawson,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

Your August 2007 issue was very interesting. I especially enjoyed “The War on the Rails,” by Rebecca Grant. [It was] concise but very well done. I would like to see her write about some of the nasty things the Germans did to try and protect their rolling stock—for example, hiding deadly things under tarpaulin and metal siding that retracted swiftly. Deadly to untutored Allied pilots. We paid a price.

I liked the article “China Stands Up,” by Richard Halloran. I would like to see much more detailed information on Chinese indigenous fighter types.

Finally, the article “Everything That Rises Must Get Down,” by Walter J. Boyne, was very amusing to me. As a very young Army private first class, I found young Air Force pilot types very wary of my Cub! They could not wait to get back on the ground. Even in 1959 the myth was firmly established in them that the Cub was difficult. I did everything humanly possible to dispel this notion from their minds, with little luck. They especially hated high wind with severe crosswinds. Prolonged spins, spirals, loops, both forward and side slips, etc. I had a few returns from the Air Force. I also showed them a 180 with a dead Cub was not an impossibility on takeoff if you were light and had altitude. This was heresy to them. The Cub takes no skill to fly. (The Bf-109 shared the same myth with the Cub, namely, that it was difficult to fly.) I had a German tech sergeant friend who had years flying 109s and never even dented it. He had several B-24s and B-17s to his credit during World War II.

TSgt. Gerald Gardner,

USAF (Ret.)

Albuquerque, N.M.

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