Sept. 1, 2008

The Post-June 5 Air Force

“Decapitation” was the appropriate term to describe the ouster of Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Gen. T. Michael Moseley [“Editorial: The Post-June 5 Air Force,” July, p. 2]. Mr. Dudney simply and candidly stated what many blue-suiters, including myself, have suspected since Defense Secretary [Robert M.] Gates abruptly fired both Wynne and Moseley—that rarely does an infraction such as the “B-52 nukes” issue result in the termination of the top echelon of USAF leadership. I personally applaud both Wynne and Moseley for “staying the course” and remaining loyal by defending, and acting in the best interests of, USAF during their tenure. It seems clear, in this case, that DOD and this Administration definitely do not want to hear about the continuing and dire shortages of both personnel and aging weapons systems (that they created!) and that USAF is currently experiencing. What does the American public have to say about this “evisceration” of their USAF? Probably not much, as most are clueless. However, they should be seriously concerned and moved to action. And, while there has always been friendly rivalry between the respective services, this ill-timed action by Secretary Gates must also send an ominous message to the top leadership of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to either keep your collective mouths shut, or take a hike.

MSgt. Randolph E. Whitmire,

USAF (Ret.)

Rochester, Minn.

Bets Down on Lightning II

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the discussion of the F-35 [“Bets Down on Lightining II,” July, p. 24] never mentioned the Air Force’s rationale for not procuring any short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs, despite its supposed emphasis on expeditionary capabilities. It appears that the Air Force, by procuring the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A, prefers maximizing the F-35’s airborne performance in the form of range over providing more flexible takeoff and landing performance because of a seriously flawed requirements process. This process seems to be relying on recent experience where there has been no major threat to our bases and both basing and air refueling have been readily available. In doing so, the process seems to be ignoring both what more ancient history and recent technical developments in precision might tell us about the validity of assumptions regarding future basing availability and operability.

For example, looking at ancient history, during the early months of the Korean War, General Partridge often commented in his diary on the important roles basing availability and operability played in the effectiveness of Fifth Air Force’s operations. The importance of basing explains why many units were converted from higher performance F-80s to F-51s that had the ability to operate from primitive fields. Regarding technical developments—imagine what a modern Salty Demo (the Cold War exercise) might reveal about future air base operability against a threat employing precision guided munitions.

Lt. Col. Price T. Bingham,

USAF (Ret.)

Melbourne, Fla.

The Gates Case

[In reference to “The Gates Case,” July, p. 30, and the “Nuclear Wake-Up Call,” June, p. 50]: Gen. Curtis LeMay, the father of America’s premier nuclear Air Force, has to be turning over in his grave after the nuclear handling incidents recently committed by the Air Force. Under LeMay’s leadership, the United States Air Force established the nation’s first and most potent deterrent to nuclear and conventional wars, a nuclear alert force that stood ready to defend America and her allies 365/24/7. Tireless practice and frequent inspections under dedicated leadership at all levels were the keys to maintaining that deterrence. The focused leadership from the top down ensured success was rewarded and failure was career ending. This was not a touchy-feely Air Force. The security of the nation and the Free World was at stake.

What’s gone wrong since then? Despite the leadership of [former] Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and [former] Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne across a host of key national defense issues, it was their, and their predecessors’, failure to place the required emphasis on the Air Force’s nuclear mission that led to these nuclear incidents. Evidence of General Moseley’s and Secretary Wynne’s culpability in the current state of the Air Force’s nuclear capability can be found in their failure to immediately fire and replace the wing commander and the other officers and senior NCOs in the chain of command at Minot AFB, N.D., after the missing warheads were discovered. It’s one thing to initiate an investigation and wring hands waiting for the recommendations. But the loss of control of not just one, but six live nuclear warheads required immediate, sweeping, and public action. As further proof that immediate and painful actions were required, the Minot wing failed their follow-up Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) this past spring, due in large part to lackadaisical security measures at the lowest levels.

Secretary Gates has stated the decline in attention to the Air Force’s nuclear mission began about 10 years ago. I suggest the decay started in 1991. In that year, senior Air Force leadership made several contributing decisions. First, Strategic Air Command was broken up and subordinated to the new Air Combat Command, which viewed the nuclear mission as tertiary to air superiority and the conventional air-to-ground roles. Second, all nuclear alert aircraft worldwide stood down, which led to the evaporation of operational nuclear experience. Third, the nuclear weapon maintenance and handling career fields were reorganized, eliminating technical specialties specifically charged with nuclear weapon duties while shifting those duties to already overtasked general munitions troops. Fourth, the Directorate of Special Weapons, the Air Force agency for nuclear weapons logistics support, was disbanded, the remnants reorganized with a significantly reduced staff and commodity management given to the huge Defense Logistics Agency—an organization without the rigorous nuclear experience to manage our weapons. Finally, unit nuclear inspections became preannounced and routine, leading to complacency. These actions led to a decline in experience and loss of focus on the nuclear mission. It will be up to our new senior leaders, Gen. Norton Schwartz and Secretary Michael Donley, to refocus attention and devise the actions to ensure the safety and efficiency of our nuclear forces into the future.

Lt. Col. Adlai Breger,

USAF (Ret.)

O’Fallon, Ill.


I read with interest Phillip Meilinger’s “Counterinsurgency From Above” in the July issue [p. 36]. While his airpower credentials are impeccable, this effort is not up to his usual high standards.

Meilinger’s assertion “you are better off avoiding [COIN]” may be true, but is also irrelevant. US military force has been used over 300 times in our history, with only 11 declared wars and a few more conventional conflicts. While we may recommend against getting involved in other nations’ internal wars, it’s not the military’s call. History shows we must be ready and able for a full range of challenges—to include assisting nations with internal conflicts. For more on these “next wars,” I’d recommend the RAND study “Ungoverned Territories,” available online.

A call to break the boots-on-the ground and occupation-of-territory mind-set completely misses the point of counterinsurgency. COIN is all about controlling the population up close—a small unit, small arms, cop-on-the-corner conflict. What Meilinger missed is that it’s local authority that must do the controlling with its own boots. The preponderance of US boots in Iraq and Afghanistan is the consequence of our destruction of the previous regimes and the extended time it has taken to build local authority.

The issue of legitimacy is complex, but Meilinger did not advance the discussion. Legitimacy is not a one-way street but the major point of contention in an insurgency—the goal of both the insurgents and the local government. Meilinger’s biggest legend, “Success in COIN requires boots on the ground and occupation of territory,” misstates a COIN fundamental. Success in COIN requires the local government be able to put boots on the ground to occupy and control its own territory, the de facto standard of government legitimacy. Whether that control is coercive or freely granted by the population is a detail. The $604 billion we have spent in Iraq is the cost of both an interim occupation and our efforts to build an Iraqi government that can replace US forces in controlling Iraq’s population and territory. We are paying for our tardiness in recognizing the need to get local security in place.

Col. John Jogerst,

USAF (Ret.)

Navarre, Fla.

Phillip S. Meilinger has posited a supposedly “outside-the-box” analyses that is really more “in” than “out.” He commits the intellectual sin that he had just condemned—service-oriented parochialism. Mr. Meilinger’s proposition merely exchanges “boots on the ground” for “boots in the air.”

Although there may be much to criticize about the tactics and strategy employed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars—and in every war since 1776, for that matter—the fact remains that the insurgents in both wars could not be rooted out by indigenous forces for the simple reason that those forces did not exist. Nor would F-16s or F-22s have been able to root out the insurgents in Sadr City, for example. Those indigenous forces are now materializing after a hefty investment of troops, treasure, and training by US, British, and other allied forces.

What Meilinger should have said was that the entire Department of Defense’s current structure, roles, missions, and strategy are wedded to the last century. Service Chiefs and senior planners are still primarily service-oriented and not primarily mission-oriented. [Former DOD] Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attempted to wrestle the services into the new century, but was met with strong resistance. The department is long overdue for a redefinition of its 1948 foundation. Only after a realistic assessment of the threats facing the nation and world in the 21st century can a proper mix of military resources and capabilities be achieved. When future combat commanders need to act, they should have boots on the ground, boots in the air, boots in space, and boots on the oceans at their disposal and under their direct command. Current unified commands are a step in the right direction, but what is needed is not “unity,” but full integration of forces.

Lt. Col. Bill Getz,

USAF (Ret.)

Burlingame, Calif.

Not Turboprops

The July edition of Air Force Magazine report on “Tankers Through the Years” was well done [p. 40]. The description of the KB-50 on p. 43 and p. 45 needs a minor correction. The KB-50 was powered by four P&W R-4360 radial piston engines (not turboprops) and two jet engines.

R. Don Anderson

Poquoson, Va.

Regarding p. 42, photo No. 1: The KC-97 was not a variation of the B-29 and B-50. The KC-97 Stratotanker was an aerial refueling tanker variant of the C-97 Stratofreighter, greatly modified with all the necessary tanks, plumbing, and “flying boom.” The cavernous upper deck was capable of accommodating oversize cargo accessed through a very large left-side door, or transferrable jet fuel was contained in tanks on the lower deck. Both decks were heated and pressurized for high altitude operations.

Regarding p. 47 photo 5: On 5 November 1965, USAF announced that it would purchase a version of the A-7, designated the A-7D, for Tactical Air Command. The Air Force ordered the A-7D with a fixed high speed refueling receptacle behind the pilot optimized for the KC-135’s flying boom rather than the folding long probe of Navy aircraft. The photo shows refueling using the boom and not a basket for the probe.

MSgt. Jerry Reichenbach,

USAF (Ret.)

Little Rock, Ark.

The Big B

About a statement in [“The Big B,” July, p. 58] under the heading “USAAF’s Biggest Raid,” Ms. Grant writes: “The biggest USAAF raid on Berlin took place just a few months before the end of the war. On Feb. 3, 1945, almost 1,000 American B-17s hit Berlin in clear weather.” I strongly doubt that all of the almost 1,000 bombers were B-17s. The B-24s were an integral part of Eighth Air Force and we often went to the same targets. In fact, when we were in the air over England putting our formations together before heading out over the North Sea, B-17s and B-24s were in the same general area. If there is documentation that all of the bombers over Berlin on Feb. 3, 1945 were in fact B-17s, I will certainly withdraw my comments.

Lt. Col. Robert W. Hansen,

USAF (Ret.)

Wrightstown, N.J.

According to the Office of Air Force History’s The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume Three, p. 725: “The mission took place on 3 February 1945. Nearly 1,000 Fortresses flew to Berlin while 400 Liberators simultaneously attacked railway and oil targets around Magdeburg.”—the editors

AFSO21 Progress Report

In the article entitled “AFSO21 Progress Report” [July, p. 64], the first picture seen is of SrA. Scott Rodrigues working on the tail hook assembly of an F-15 in an unsafe manner. The caption states that the inspection was streamlined by seven days as part of AFSO21. Increasing efficiency should be on the mind of every aircraft maintainer. I spent my entire career in aircraft maintenance, retiring after 33 years as a 13-year chief, and I had the honor to work with hundreds of airmen who truly believed that there were better and more efficient ways to perform quite a number of their tasks. The one thing that remains foremost in my mind, which was stressed on a daily basis regardless of where I was working, was safety first. Whether this photo was staged or not, Rodrigues is shown working on an aircraft while wearing his wedding ring. I have witnessed, and I am sure that all maintainers have been briefed on, the results of wearing jewelry while working on an aircraft. This photo hopefully does not represent a trend toward disregarding basic aircraft maintenance practices in the pursuit of saving time.

CMSgt. Craig B. Bergman,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.


What an immense nostalgic pleasure it was to see the Lancaster featured in “Airpower Classics” [June, p.80]. Helping build that wonderful airplane amidst the trials of nightly bombings and daily Heinkel incendiary attacks was accepted as part of the fight for the freedom of the British way of life.

At the start of World War II as the recipient of a college scholarship and as a requirement of my deferment of military service, I was obligated to spend three days at college and three days in industry. Due to satisfactory grades in the Air Cadets, I was assigned to work in the design office at A. V. Roe in Chadderton near my hometown of Manchester.

On my eight-foot-long drafting board I worked on the drawings of the new Lancaster 683, and I remember well that bright, cold, sunny Thursday morning in January 1941, when it was to be test flown from the Avro aerodrome in the beautiful village of Woodford in Cheshire.

As your article states, it was a redesign of the Manchester 679 and had a similar tail comprising dorsal tail fin as well as slightly increased fins and rudders at the tips of the 20-foot-span tailplane. The Lancaster 683 was number BT 308. For the record, it was piloted by Sam Brown and Bill Thorn, recognized always by their white overalls. My youthful memory remembers that (Sir) Roy Chadwick, the chief designer, took his beautiful daughter Margaret to see this memorable flight. She, as were many of the young draftsmen, was in her late teens and worked in the Chadderton plant. The romantic aspirations of many of us were dashed when she disappointed us all by her later marriage.

My Lancaster contribution, although quite small was in the quick-release dinghy stowed in the starboard wing as an escape after ditching in the sea. The prototype mock-up of the wing portion containing the dinghy was set up in the cafeteria and the panel was detonated and jettisoned, allowing the dinghy to automatically inflate so that the crew could occupy and use the automated radio which was operated by a battery activated by seawater. The success of this unique addition to the bomber subsequently saved many valuable experienced airmen.

There is one flying Lancaster in Hamilton, Ontario, and a second one is being refurbished in Toronto.

At my advanced age, it is certainly refreshing to know that the endeavors of the designers and builders, coupled with the valor, bravery, and courage of those who flew, are recognized and remembered. Another reason we need an Air Force Association.

Wallace R. Walsh

Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada

Both/And, Not Either/Or

The Air Force may choose to procure both the KC-30 and the KC-767, because Northrop Grumman will likely protest should the tanker contract award be reversed to Boeing [“Tanker Endgame,” June, p. 30, and “Air Force World: Federal Auditors Side With Protest of KC-X Award,” July, p. 12]. The production of the two types should be staggered with the Boeing KC-767 going first. If [there is] no KC-767 contract, the 767 production line will shut down after the UPS and the TNT 767-300ERFs are delivered. Airbus and Northrop Grumman should be encouraged to bring the A330-200F assembly to Mobile with a multiyear contract to provide KC-30s after civilian A330-200F deliveries. The contract would require price adjustments for labor and material costs in Europe and the USA when KC-30 deliveries start.

The main strength of the KC-30 over the KC-767 is its cargo volume. The KC-30 should be based on the A330-200F and not the A330-200 passenger aircraft. What good is its cargo carrying potential without the -200F’s reinforced cargo floor and the repositioning of the nose gear to level the cargo floor? Should loading crews have to push heavy 463L pallets uphill? Airbus and Northrop Grumman should have an established A330-200F assembly line in Mobile before a contract for KC-30s is activated.

After all the KC-135Rs and KC-10As have been retired, I would prefer a tanker fleet of KC-767 and KC-777. The KC-30 requires a lot of infrastructure upgrades over a small gain over the KC-767 in capability, 250,000 vs. 200,000 pounds total fuel. The KC-30’s 250,000-pound fuel capacity is nowhere near the KC-10’s 365,000-pound fuel capacity and the KC-30 is dimensionally larger than the KC-10.

The KC-777 can carry 450,000 pounds of fuel. There is a limit to how many KC-777s the Air Force can effectively use. There are many places that the KC-777 will have to limit its fuel load, due to bearing strength of taxiways and runways. I estimate the Air Force could effectively use 100 to 150 KC-777s after the KC-10s are retired.

The Air Force should determine the following in order then procure them in reverse order:

How many KC-777-sized tankers can the Air Force effectively use? How many KC-30s can the Air Force beddown with reasonable infrastructure cost? And how many KC-767s are required to fill out the total tanker requirement

Col. David A. Carlson,

USAF (Ret.)

Dundee, Fla.