April 1, 2008

Vindication and Vengeance

I want to commend Robert S. Dudney, editor in chief of Air Force Magazine, and the Air Force Association for the editorial in the February 2008 issue [“Vindication + Vengeance,” p. 2] heralding the vindication of Brig. Gen. Terryl J. Schwalier in the matter of Khobar Towers.

It is clear to most that the bombing was caused by the enemy, and General Schwalier was made a scapegoat to relieve the political pressures in Washington. Just think of the number of junior officers and NCOs who learned the wrong lesson from this political firing of a commander.

Another story here, though, is that of the courage of Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, then our Air Force Chief of Staff. General Fogleman and many others attempted to buck the tide and defend the commander who was on the scene.

The eventual outcome was the resignation (early retirement) of General Fogleman. I can only imagine the amount of moral courage this act took—yet he did the right thing by taking care of his people and supporting his commander in the field.

As I recall my military history, this was the first time a Chief of any service resigned over a moral issue. In fact, General Fogleman may be the first four-star in the history of our nation to resign over any moral issue.

General Fogleman’s act of moral courage needs to be documented and taught to generations that follow. It needs to be part of the military academies’ lesson plans, in ROTC manuals, discussed at NCO academies, and taught by you and me to those whom we mentor.

Brig. Gen. Philip M. Drew,

USAF (Ret.)

Bethany Beach, Del.

The Air Force Association and retired Gen. John A. Shaud are [to be] commended for the total support of Maj. Gen. Terryl J. Schwalier during the past 11 years. The Khobar Towers bombing was a terrible terrorist act, but for Defense Secretary William J. Cohen to bow down to a Capitol Hill lynch mob and make Schwalier the scapegoat was deplorable. The injustice has been corrected as far as it goes, now that Schwalier has been promoted to major general, but was he paid the grade of major general during those 11 years? If so, it would help in the cost he has expended in his defense. If not, he should be, as he also lost the opportunity to advance up the chain of command with his exemplary duty performance to that date. Who’s to say that he might not have reached the position of Chief of Staff as retired Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman had, when he prematurely stepped down due to Cohen’s decision

Col. Jack C. Bond,

USAF (Ret.)

Beeville, Tex.

The Reformers

I enjoyed the article about the “military reform” movement [“The Reformers,” February, p. 40]. In the early 1980s, I requested a copy of the “Defense Facts of Life” by Chuck Spinney from the Department of Defense. One afternoon I received a phone call from Mr. Spinney asking about my interest in his paper. I enjoyed the short conversation that ranged from the pros and cons of the Sherman tank to my interest in military matters and the reform movement.

On the reform movement’s positive side, we must include Colonel Boyd’s energy-maneuverability and OODA loop theories. The participation of the “fighter mafia” in the development of the F-16 program worked to a point. The movement raised issues in the public forum that needed to be discussed in the post-Vietnam-Carter Malaise-Cold War era. This nation was on the verge of heavily investing in modernizing the military. How the billions of dollars were going to be spent needed to be addressed.

In the late 1970s, the movement brought to the public’s attention many problems with the post-Vietnam War military. The conventional defense of Europe was provided by a “hollow” army. The reinforcement and supply of USAREUR, REFORGER, would have failed in the event of war. The military was having problems, as demonstrated by the failed Iranian hostage raid and the relatively poor showing during the Grenada and Panama operations. The nation needed to decide on the type of military it needed and could afford. The reform movement helped bring that debate public.

On the negative side, it is said that we prepare to fight the last war. This was one of the problems with the reform movement. The 1980s were a time of tremendous technological change. The movement focused upon the failures of 1950-60s technology and assumed these failures would not or could not be corrected. As a result of these concerns, they focused on weapon simplicity. However, the problem is not the complexity of the weapon system so much as its reliability. A simple weapon system that does not work is obviously inferior to a reliable complex system that does work.

As an example, the complex laser-computerized fire control on an M1 tank is infinitely superior to the simple Mk 1 eyeball. The laser system is a “point and shoot” system for the gunner. A manual system requires complex and time consuming mental calculations by the operator and is less accurate. As we demand more from our weapon systems, the complexity has to increase. It’s finding a balance between capability, cost, and ease of use that is difficult. If simplicity were the sole criteria we’d still be throwing rocks and sticks at each other.

While the reform movement focused on equipment, another issue often missed was the importance of proper strategy, tactics, and training. In Vietnam, our poor air-to-air kill ratios were more the result of poor strategy, tactics, and training than due to equipment. Certain reformers still criticize the F-4 Phantom. In Air Force use, the F-4 obtained a two-to-one (plus or minus) kill ratio over Vietnam. The Navy, after instituting air combat training, obtained a 12-to-one ratio during the bombing resumption in the 1970s.

The F-86, beloved by the reformers, obtained a 10-to-one kill ratio in Korea. This was because of the quality of American fighter pilots. When Soviet pilots flying MiG-15s were fighting over Korea, the Soviet pilots obtained a two-to-one kill ratio. They, too, were World War II veterans. Chuck Yeager wrote that he could outfly other pilots in either the F-86 or the MiG-15. As Chuck Yeager says, “It’s the man, not the machine.”

However, the best trained pilot or crew will be defeated if their weapons are not competitive. It’s like taking the sailing frigate USS Constitution to sea and engaging the battleship USS Missouri. There may be a circumstance where USS Constitution could emerge victorious, but place your bet on USS Missouri.

The reform movement was not always right. In fact, it was wrong about a number of issues. The defense debate did not resolve itself as the reform movement wanted. But the movement forced the issues into the halls of Congress and into the public awareness. That is a positive thing.

Steven Moreland

Boulder, Colo.

The case can be made that if the Pentagon bureaucracy and the Congress had paid more attention to the arguments of the original band of defense reformers, we would today have a more relevant, flexible, and modern military force.

Now let us consider the force we have acquired without the benefit of the healthy debate triggered by the likes of John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, Chuck Spinney, Tom Christie, Bill Lind, and others.

The Air Force’s strategic bomber acquisitions, the raison d’etre for an independent air service, have shrunk, from over 800 B-52s built to just 20 B-2s. To argue that B-2s proved their worth in the air campaign against Serbia is specious. The satellite guided ordnance they dropped after flying from their hermetically sealed hangars in the States could have been delivered by any number of different airplanes.

The C-17 is the hermaphrodite of transports, too small to be an efficient strategic airlifter like the C-5, and too large to be a good tactical airlifter, like the C-130.

The centerpiece of the Air Force’s current modernization, the F-22 fighter, costs over $6,000 a pound at its empty weight of 50,800 pounds. I remember when tactical jets cost around $1,000 to $2,000 a pound, and that price was considered wildly excessive for what the Air Force and Navy were getting in the F-15 and the F-18.

The F-22 is a big airplane, primarily to push its impressive radar through the sky and achieve supersonic cruise with two engines. The F-22 supposedly is near-invisible to enemy radar, through a mixture of skin treatments and various electronic “black boxes.” I remember Boyd arguing that such “stealthiness” starts with small size—not only as camouflage against enemy radars, but visually as well.

Spinney argued back when the F-22 was the ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) that the Air Force should tread carefully in the face of huge cost and performance unknowns in its quest for 750 of the airplanes.

Now the Air Force will count itself as fortunate if it procures 300 F-22s. That will not be sufficient to stave off a further decline in the number of tactical fighter wings, not to mention that the costs to maintain and operate the airplane could prove staggering. For example, the F-22 was not designed based on “lessons learned” with the F-15’s electrical wiring. How all the black boxes and wiring so integral to the F-22’s performance promises will be maintained at reasonable cost and effort is problematic.

The Air Force desperately needs a successful manned aircraft program to preserve not only its relevance but its independence. Tactical drones, after all, can be operated just as well by the Army.

Then again, the Army has enormous problems of its own. It hopes to cut down on the size of its armored vehicles, compensating with advanced communication and display systems intended to give tactical units a better appreciation for the battlefield. This “system of systems” will feature a number of lines of computer code that approximates the nation’s air traffic control system. This is madness in an expeditionary combat system far removed from depot-level maintenance.

Meanwhile, Army soldiers are armed with the 40-year-old M-16, which fires a .22-caliber bullet that has not had the striking power (as expected) to reliably “knock down” insurgents in Iraq. Having used the M-16 in Vietnam, I can only say that a weapon featuring a little spring-loaded door on the side to keep the dirt out was not designed with the reality of combat conditions in mind.

In such things as trucks, the Army and the marines are pricing themselves out of business. Both services use five-ton payload trucks, and both services are paying about three times more per truck than they did back in the Vietnam era. One would hope that the marginal extra features were thoroughly assessed as worth the added cost, but I doubt it.

The Navy remains wedded to big carriers, warships, and nuclear submarines, although its strategy has shifted from a “blue water” face-off with the Soviets to “brown water” confrontations in the world’s littorals against speedboats. The Navy is now hoping to buy a 14,000-ton destroyer, the DDG-1000. I remember when a destroyer displaced 3,500 tons and carried an impressive array of sensors and weapons.

All of these big-ticket programs are in the Pentagon’s Five-Year Defense Plan. As an analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Spinney produced two seminal studies, “Defense Facts of Life” and “The Plans-Reality Mismatch,” that documented the services’ tendency to lowball the cost to buy and operate the next generation of weapons. And he quantified the behavior when these plans came unraveled, as they inevitably did: The services bought fewer weapons at higher price, and they shrank the force structure.

Now it’s fair to ask, is $650 billion in 2008 reasonable for a 10-fighter-wing Air Force, a shrunken Army of more brigades than divisions, and a Navy of fewer than 300 ships? I think not.

And are these forces as presently constituted appropriate for the post-Cold War era? Again, I think not. For just one example, why does the Navy need any supercarriers

It is time for some fresh thinking, not added spending, to negotiate the new tasks and the fiscal realities facing the armed forces. Precious few officers or civilian officials reflect the acumen to think through these problems, but these individuals should be sought out, not suppressed or vilified.

Lt. Col. David Evans,

USMC (Ret.)

Middleburg, Va.

The Reformers weren’t paying attention to AIMVAL/ACEVAL’s main conclusion: Dogfights should be avoided. In the four-on-four “Towering Inferno,” all eight opposing aircraft were shot down in less than two minutes.

Since then, AWACS-type planes have made dogfighting even more obsolete. However, that may change as stealthier fighters encounter each other. The ranges will shorten again due to sensor limitations on air-to-air missiles. The missiles’ small diameter sensors won’t be able to lock on to stealthy aircraft at long ranges.

Paul J. Madden

Seatac, Wash.

Correll states (p. 42) that AIMVAL/ACEVAL’s “Red Force” consisted of “F-5Es from the Red Flag Aggressor force.” It’s true, the AIMVAL/ACEVAL Red Force F-5Es were from the Nellis-based Aggressors; however, neither TAC’s Nellis based F-5E Aggressors nor the PACAF or USAFE F-5Es belonged to Red Flag or any of the exercise organizations in the other theatres. The Aggressors were formed in 1972, and, by 1978, consisted of four squadrons. Each was an independent squadron—part of its parent wing. And it wasn’t until 1990, after post Cold War drawdown requirements had necessitated closure of all the Aggressor squadrons, that Red Flag possessed their own “Red Force” aircraft, a small remnant of the 64th Aggressor squadron. (Note: The 64th and the 65th have since been resurrected and are now equipped with F-16s and F-15s, respectively. And they are, again, separate organizations from Red Flag.)

Col. Mike Scott,

USAF (Ret.)

Henderson, Nev.

The Long Arm of the USSBS

Rebecca Grant’s valuable article on the US Strategic Bombing Survey [“The Long Arm of the US Strategic Bombing Survey,” February 2008, p. 64] states: “Nitze was too late. The Pacific war survey, with its hedging about atomic attacks, had already given critics the leverage they needed.”

I had the privilege of having lunch with Paul Nitze and two mutual friends (and occasionally a guest or two) several times per year from the early 1980s until shortly before his death in 2004. At a couple of those lunches, we discussed the Strategic Bombing Survey and Japan’s readiness to surrender.

Nitze explained that he and only one other member of the Pacific Strategic Bombing Survey had the clearances for seeing the highly classified intercepts of Japanese communications, from Imperial Headquarters to field commands, and from the government to embassies in Moscow and neutral European countries. Those intercepts—which are now available at the National Archives—demonstrate conclusively that the Japanese leaders intended to fight to the “last man.” They planned to resist US invasions of the home islands, which they knew were being planned, and, if that resistance failed to bring about favorable negotiations, to continue the fighting in the cities and then in the hills of the main island of Honshu. (Some of these intercepts are quoted in the book Codename Downfall by Thomas B. Allen and myself.)

He could not share those intercepts with his colleagues on the survey because of their classification, hence they did not influence the findings.

The air assault on Japan had not forced the six men running Japan—the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War—to consider surrender; what did was the two atomic bombs and President Truman’s threat of “a rain of ruin from the air” by such weapons.

Norman Polmar

Alexandria, Va.

I’d like to put a little more meat on Rebecca Grant’s insightful comment regarding the US Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS), that “few documents can boast its staying power.” In the fall of 1991, the Air Staff’s director of warfighting, Col. John Warden, tasked me to “refight the combined bomber offensive with stealth and PGMs.” In the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, we were working hard to grasp and express more fully the tremendous impact that those newly matured capabilities could have on American war making. After a little discussion, Colonel Warden and I decided that my task would be to study the results of specific bombing strikes in the European Theater in World War II, to see if stealthy fighters and precision bombs would have altered the pace and/or effectiveness of the campaign significantly. Since those capabilities practically equated to a 100 percent probability of target penetration by each aircraft and a 100 percent probability that individual weapons would strike their targets, I set out to see if the targets struck at the time offered “vital components vulnerable to aerial attack” that, if destroyed, would have shut down the target facility as effectively as they were shut down in the actual event by Eighth Air Force mass raids. As it turned out, the meticulous and exquisitely detailed work of the survey made my job unexpectedly easy. For almost every facility surveyed, USSBS teams had plotted every significant and many insignificant bomb strikes within the target area. Moreover, the teams described the effects that particularly important bomb strikes had on the functionality and productivity of the overall facility. From my re-examination of about 40 targets, I was able to report to Colonel Warden that “a single precision strike against any target … would likely have degraded its immediate production to the same extent accomplished by the actual mass bomber raids.”

From that finding, I concluded, “something like a squadron of F-117s could have replaced the entire Eighth Air Force between 1942 and 1945, … [and] the material effects of the actual CBO on the German war economy could have been replicated by that same force in just a few weeks.” Even among we true believers on the Air Staff, the idea that 24 F-117s and couple of hundred airmen could replicate the work of almost 300,000 of our predecessors was sobering proof of the new role that conventional airpower would play in modern warfare. That, in turn, was an insight made possible only by the careful and courageous work of the USSBS teams.

Robert C. Owen

Daytona Beach, Fla.

Note that General Hap Arnold emphasized: The Japanese surrender was brought about “because air attacks, both actual and potential, had made possible the destruction of their capability and will for further resistance.” These attacks had as their primary goal the defeat of Japan without invasion. Japan had been on the ropes before the dropping of atomic bombs which, according to Arnold, provided the emperor “a way out to save face.”

The surrender of Japan, Arnold wrote, “comes after the severest and most concentrated bombing campaign in history and without actual invasion of the homeland. Thus it is the first time a nation has capitulated with its major armies designed for defense of the homeland still intact.”

Herman S. Wolk

Rockville, Md.

Tet Follow-up

[Regarding “Tet,” January, p. 50] I think the comment that “it is impossible to say what the effect of the slanted news reporting might have been” is itself slanted. To me, it indicates that the problem was with the news reporting and not what actually happened and was communicated by the military. Few will disagree that Tet was not a military victory for the Viet Cong. However, it reinforced, one more time, that the combined US and Vietnamese militaries were not prepared. To me, there are numerous parallels with our current involvement in Iraq in [that] you don’t win an occupation or internal strife with military strength. It’s too bad, in my opinion, that national leaders have not learned this from past involvements.

Col. Thom Weddle,

USAFR (Ret.)


Classics—F-104 Starfighter

I was a captain in the 476th TFS in the 476th TFW at George AFB, Calif., from 1961 to 1965. I accumulated about 1,000 hours in this wonderful flying machine [“Airpower Classics: F-104 Starfighter,” February, p. 88]. I was in the first flight of the first squadron of F-104s to deploy to Da Nang, Vietnam. Mr. Boyne’s article states, “Truth to tell, F-104s were never a significant factor in combat.”

The other side of the story that is very common to hear from F-104 pilots is that we were perhaps consciously, by design, never assigned missions that would allow anything but accidental encounters with MiGs. I was No. 3 in a flight of four led by Maj. Walt Irwin, assigned to orbit 30 miles south of Hanoi, on around May 20, 1965, to protect a bombing mission going on up at Dien Bien Phu. We encountered a single MiG going in the exact opposite direction. The MiG pilot jettisoned all his external tanks and disappeared before we could engage.

The next day we received a message from Saigon stating, “Any more breaches of discipline of this nature will be met with severe repercussions.” I asked Walt what this was about, and he told me they were warning us that we had breached discipline because we flew out of our orbit area to check out the approaching bogey. I pointed out to Walt that we would have gotten shot down if we had turned at the end of our orbit area. He replied, “I know, but what can one do in a chicken—- outfit like this?” The F-104 was a superior airplane. It was very easy to fly, much easier than the F-100 in which I have 800 hours. I participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis and flew John Boyd’s Energy-Maneuverability profiles for him at Eglin AFB, Fla. I also had the privilege of sitting in the front seat of an F-100F with Major Boyd in the back seat as he demonstrated, twice, his “40 second” maneuver. Flying the F-104 was a great experience and privilege.

George Wells

Hendersonville, N.C.

This is an additional note to your “Airpower Classics” story on the F-104 Starfighter:

USAF also deployed some to Taoyuan AB, Taiwan, during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958. The wings were detached and they were airlifted over in MATS C-124s.

Lt. Col. Ron Janow,

USAF (Ret.)

San Antonio

Rex Replay

[Regarding “Rex Replay,” December, p. 58]: You should have mentioned the Busy Observer missions of the Cold War. These were 30-hour flights out of Maine, to the equator, then east to the coast of Africa, then north to the Arctic Circle, and then west-southwest in hunt of an uncooperative Cold War enemy vessel. Each mission sent out two B-52s—one high and one low. At launch, we were provided the shape and electronic signature of the vessel we were looking for and told to limit our search to the North Atlantic, north of the equator. The mission would end with the low B-52 flying just above ship antennae level with bomb bay doors closed, taking pictures. One pass and then head to home base. Some of our missions were not always the smoothest. Ours was a somewhat prehistoric mission when compared to the superbly equipped and prepared Barksdale teams of today.

Col. Steven E. Cady,

USAF (Ret.)

San Antonio

Wheelus, Idris, and Me

I note with interest your January 2008 article about Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli. I visited Libya, as a civilian, in 1956; my family was in business there until the mid-60s. During the ’70s, when I served as Secretary of the Air Force, I talked at length with Gen. “Chappie” James about his days at Wheelus. In more recent years, when I became an author, I sorted through the evidence of what happened in Libya after Qaddafi came to power.

First of all, King Idris was not forced on the Libyan people. He did more than side with Britain during World War II; he killed a lot of Italians, which endeared him to his peers. True, the Brits installed Idris after war’s end, but his rule was then legitimized by plebiscite. In 1964, at age 74, King Idris tried to abdicate for reasons of health, but he had no children. His only heir was a nephew, Hassan al-Reda—a scoundrel known as the “Black Prince.” An Idris abdication was unacceptable to the people of Libya. During the ’50s and ’60s, he ruled his impoverished kingdom with a kindly and welcome hand. Idris al-Senousi was not an unpopular figure, as your story claims.

Secondly, in the late summer of 1969, Idris was visiting a spa in Bursa, Turkey, for treatment of a leg ailment. He was not in Greece, as your story claims. (There is a big difference to Muslim travelers.) On Sept. 1, with Idris out of the country, Captain Qaddafi and a handful of junior officers staged their coup. Then-Colonel James, the commander at Wheelus at the time, understood the dangers. He proposed to use his overwhelming security forces to remove Qaddafi and to restore Idris’ authority. Colonel James so advised the NMCC, who contacted the White House, who denied the authority to move. In later conversations with me, Kissinger tried to blame staffers at the State Department. He said, “Some saw Qaddafi as a Gandhi-like reformer.” Then later, he said that he and Nixon considered Qaddafi’s coup to be an “internal Libyan matter.” The hard fact is Kissinger and Nixon were new to office, having been in power for only seven months. They apparently lacked the nerve to act.

In April 1986, as you note, the Reagan Administration attacked Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for Libyan terrorist activities in Berlin, but Operation El Dorado Canyon did not have a “sobering effect” on Qaddafi. He did not “reduce his actual use of violence,” he simply turned his attention to more lethal weapons. In the autumn of 1986, in the aftermath of the El Dorado Canyon raids, Qaddafi began communicating with European nuclear suppliers, most of whom were hucksters. By 1989, however, he had fallen under the spell of A.Q. Khan. A hundred million dollars changed hands. By 1997, uranium centrifuge parts were arriving in Libya; in 2001, an actual weapon design was delivered. The bottom line: One must be careful when confronting or attacking oil-rich Arab rulers; one must not assume that because they are quiet they are happy.

Lastly, in 2003, Qaddafi did not simply “opt for better relations” with the West. The removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan in December 2002, followed by the equally rapid defeat of an alleged WMD producer in Iraq a few months later, got Qaddafi’s attention. Good intelligence work, by CIA and Britain’s MI-5, caught him red-handed during October 2003. He was attempting to import illicit nuclear hardware into Tripoli aboard BBC China. It was only then, faced with hard choices, that Qaddafi decided to fold his nuclear hand. He continues to host Venezuela’s virulently anti-American Hugo Chavez at his desert compound, but the younger generation within Libya may be coming to the fore.

The Libyan story is fascinating, and it is not yet over. Be sure to get it right.

Thomas C. Reed

Alexandria, Va.

My sources were for the most part from official Air Force records of the period, and had no political bias whatsoever. My comments on King Idris, in fact, were generally much kinder than those to be found in various histories of the period.

I believe there is also general agreement that Qaddafi was shaken by the 1986 El Dorado Canyon operation and that he was subsequently deterred from sponsoring further terrorist attacks.

I will respectfully stand by the article as written, but am glad to have Secretary Reed’s input. It is difficult for those outside the inner counsels of government to evaluate, for example, just how sophisticated the views of President Nixon or Secretary Kissinger were at that time. —Walter J. Boyne