Oct. 1, 2008

Failure Is an Option

Regarding the editorial and letters in the August issue, I’m trying hard to keep the buzzwords straight, so let me see if I’ve gotten all this correct [“Editorial: Failure Is an Option,” p. 2, and “Letters: Bad Medicine,” p. 4]: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is hammering the services for having “next-war-itis.” For years, generals have been criticized for planning based on the last war. Secretary Gates apparently wants to plan for only the one we’re in now.

Does anyone see the idiocy of all three of these concepts? It is too late to “plan” for the war we’re fighting now. We will fight it with the equipment we now have because of the way DOD buys weapons systems—anything not fielded today is unlikely to be delivered in less than 10 to 15 years. Up until early August, no one considered Russia a likely threat, because they were now “civilized” and were going to become good capitalists and enter NATO and the World Trade Organization. Oops. That was before Russia’s attack on Georgia.

Are we such a shallow society that we are completely unable to realize that the next war might be against any country—irrespective of its GDP or “intent”? A number of wars in the past started by a chain of events that, had they developed only slightly differently, would certainly not have resulted in war. If history is any predictor, we must be ready to fight the next war, either against a large industrialized force such as China and Russia, or against a non-country-backed army of religious zealots, or a small localized country or group of countries that pull us into a fight.

If we don’t plan—seriously plan—for all these possibilities, we will once again enter a war completely unprepared. That could be especially damaging if the “next” one results in a terrorist group using nuclear weapons against the continental US.

It is even likely that while we continue to fight the War on Terror for the next 100 years, we will also have to fight a few traditional wars with or without nuclear weapons.

Let’s stop management by buzzwords and try rational thought instead.

Jim Vint

Nipomo, Calif.

The declining age and power of Air Force equipment, at a time when we have significant breakthroughs in aviation and ground-air technology, is incomprehensible. We are headed toward wasting new capabilities, and putting the United States into significant jeopardy.

Your [editorial] in the August issue of Air Force Magazine covered the subject clearly. However, I would like to add that the Secretary of Defense had better take his “next-war-itis” comment and look around. We are surrounded by nations big and small that would like to do us in. He should be able to see that our future for many years to come will depend on our military ability to make and win war. If that is “next-war-itis,” then I hope we develop a strong case of it.

Each generation of Americans for the foreseeable (or maybe not foreseeable) future carries a threat of war. Whether we survive or not will depend on our ability to be ready year in and year out to wage whatever kind of war is needed. That means airpower must be continually at its best.

The Secretary of Defense can call it what he wants. I call it being deadly prudent in a troubled world. I sincerely doubt Secretary Gates’ qualifications to be Secretary of Defense.

Maj. Gen. Jack K. Gamble,

USAF (Ret.)

Tacoma, Wash.

I enjoyed your [editorial] “Failure Is an Option.” Yes, it would be hard for me as a former airman to think that we as a military service could ever fail, but indeed we have. In some ways you highlight success when others considered it somewhat of a failure and, in my mind, left out some historically most important air arm victories.

The first is the Vietnam War, Linebacker I. You correctly mention Linebacker II as a success in its overall strategy of getting the peace accords signed, but it did not come without significant failure. Indeed, I believe the real Air Force success was Linebacker I (flown several months before Linebacker II), where we achieved the unthinkable use of strategic air strikes into the heart of North Vietnam, and for the first time struck real targets with great might. Each mission had 18 B-52s loaded with up to 125 (500-pound) bombs apiece, hitting five key target areas in the North at different times, and we did not lose a single B-52 aircraft. (One was hit by a SAM-2 but returned out of Da Nang miraculously surviving the North Vietnam raids with a quick patch job on the blast damage.)

The Linebacker I successful strikes include Hanoi and Haiphong, and were calculated to bring the Communists back to the peace table and get on with the release of the POWs, which they did at first, but unfortunately they began to stall again, requiring Linebacker II. Linebacker II was an overall political success, but if you were in Strategic Air Command’s shoes, [it was] a great air disaster when the seemingly invincible B-52s, using Cold War SAM tactics and EW systems, were compromised by all too many exploitable tactical air patterns and were defeated by our old enemy, using newly trained Soviet advisors updating their old SAM-2 tactics and finding a great vulnerability in our tactics, which they successfully exploited. The result was the seemingly impossible downing of some 13 B-52s and aircrew, the first loss of B-52s to enemy air defenses in the history of the command.

Lt. Col. Sid Howard,

USAF (Ret.)

Midwest City, Okla.

Regarding Robert S. Dudney’s editorial “Failure Is an Option” on p. 2 of the August issue:

While Mr. Dudney makes some pertinent points in his article, he unfortunately undermines at least one of the bases of his historical arguments with inaccurate information. Under the heading “Lacking in modern aircraft and weapons,” he states: “Then there was USAAF in the first year of the Pacific War. For strike, it had mostly obsolete B-10 bombers. Tactical forces were based on old P-26 and P-35 fighters.”

In fact, according to Wikipedia, “No US Army B-10B participated in any combat during World War II.” The only extensive action seen by the B-10 was with the Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force. As to the P-26 and the P-35, both saw very limited service during the invasion of the Philippines, the former as part of the tiny Philippine Army Air Corps, not the USAAC. That was also the P-35’s only combat action in American colors. Thus, all three of the admittedly obsolete types to which Mr. Dudney referred saw only minimal service very early in the war—two of them with foreign air forces.

So, what USAAF aircraft types did predominate in combat against the Japanese from December 1941 to December 1942? As for fighters, it was the Curtis P-40, supplemented by the equally obsolescent (but by no means obsolete) Bell P-39, both of which performed yeoman service until more modern types became available. (Before the end of that year, the much superior Lockheed P-38 had entered combat in the Pacific.) The main US Army Air Forces bombers to see action during the first year of the Pacific War were the B-17, the B-25, and the B-26, all of which, with continual technical improvements, remained effective front-line aircraft until the end of the war.

My point is that USAAF did not fight the Japanese primarily with “obsolete” aircraft types in 1942, and most of them were in fact remarkably successful, especially in the hands of well-trained and dedicated American pilots and aircrews.

Steve Blake

Mission Viejo, Calif.

A Force Remade by War

I think you’ll find that the B-52H, tail #61-1021, depicted on p. 25 in the August 2008 issue [“A Force Remade by War”], is from the 319th Bombardment Wing, circa 1982. The 319th transitioned to B-52G in 1983, and lost the BUFFs in December 1986, as we transitioned to the new B-1B, so the photo could not be dated 1987.

MSgt. Stephen Perez,

USAF (Ret.)

Abilene, Tex.

To Come: A Sigint Global Hawk

I am writing in an attempt to point out an error in the August issue of Air Force Magazine. The article “PACAF Between War and Peace” [p. 30] contained incorrect verbiage about the capabilities of Global Hawk. The article states, “Global Hawk is packed with sensors designed to detect everything from mobile nuclear launchers to pirates at sea.” The statement is incorrect in that the current operational GH models have an Imint capability only. There is no Sigint capability currently installed and operational. The later block models have a planned Sigint capability. The statement “packed with sensors” should be corrected. The U-2 is still the only high-altitude air breathing platform that can perform the mission planned for GH.

MSgt. Kevin Smith,

USAF (Ret.)

Limassol, Cyprus

2008 Space Almanac

Regarding the “US Manned Spaceflights” chart on p. 44 of the August 2008 issue [“Space Almanac”], it would have been appropriate for your editorial staff to have footnoted the chart with the fact that each of the manned flights with seven persons indicated for 1986 and 2003 represents the lost Challenger and Columbia shuttle missions, respectively.

The total of 784 represents those who launched aboard spaceflights, but unfortunately, only 770 returned safely.

Lt. Col. T. C. Schultz,


US Embassy

Pretoria, South Africa

If Only

Twenty years ago, we missed an opportunity that might have precluded today’s KC-X selection conundrum [“Travail of the Tanker,” August, p. 54].

As an initial cadre Air Force KC-10A follow-on test and evaluation (FOT&E) pilot in the early 1980s, I observed firsthand the jumbo jet tanker’s tremendous air refueling, cargo hauling, and operational readiness capabilities. Fun to fly, the 60 Extenders rolling off Douglas Aircraft Co. (DAC) Long Beach, Calif., production line added some serious chops to the USAF aerial refueling support for an ever-thirsty global jet fuel demand.

The 1986 Mackay Trophy awarded to the crew of Gold 11 for their determined effort saving another KC-10A and its marine fighters—all running on a wing and a prayer—highlighted early on the new tanker’s flexibility and reliability, especially during adverse operating conditions. Sporting an advanced fly-by-wire boom, a built-in hose reel drogue system, and a receiver receptacle, the Extender could/can do it all.

Around the time USAF accepted delivery of the last KC-10A in 1988, the McDonnell Douglas folks were tooling up their Southern California DAC facility for an MD-11 production run; the new aircraft represented a next generation evolution of the venerable DC-10. Although it was a superbly advanced “three-holer,” the MD-11 sales appeal dried up in the face of a next-next generation rush toward two-engine jumbo jets.

Too bad. A batch of big, bad, beautiful KC-11 tankers would be real handy right about now.

Lt. Col. Charles E. Bailey,

USAF (Ret.)

Placentia, Calif.

Unfortunately, your article “Travail of the Tanker” pretty well summed up the mess that has been made of the attempt to replace KC-135s. However, since the article was printed, the mess may have taken on an even further dimension in that the Air Force is now attempting to make a revised decision based largely on the contractor’s original inputs, but amended on a shortened timeline. It also appears that the basic requirement is changed in the new competition to accept or view favorably Northrop Grumman’s larger plane concept. This Administration also wants to award the contract before they leave office. Stand by for further fireworks.

I find it amazing in all of this that other than the female contracting official who originally tried to hand the job to Boeing in return for a corporate position, no one else seems to have been jailed, fired, demoted, or negatively identified. Surely the team that awarded Northrop Grumman the contract, which the GAO just denied, did a much less than sterling job even by its own rules.

One major sticking point is the requirement that foreign proposals cannot be degraded in favor of a US only or prime award. [It] will remain in this competition, and others, unless Congress changes the rules or DOD ignores them. This came in years ago in order to keep NATO and others happy, but it is patently unfair. No other friendly nation builds or contributes to its military strength in the manner or size that the US does. US defense contracts such as this tanker deal are paid for 100 percent by the US taxpayer. We should therefore give a priority to awards which reward the US industrial base and spread the taxpayer funded benefits and multiplier effect throughout the US economy.

Awards to foreign firms should only be made as offsets on small awards (not tankers, aircraft carriers, etc., which are major items and big money awards) or in cases where the other nation(s) provide funding as part of the system cost or those nations are going to buy a designated share of the production line on the contract. I don’t think France or NATO has volunteered to come up with one euro to support building the new tanker or buy any number of them once produced.

In the F-35 contract, various countries have bought in and paid for a share in the contract and development work. Some Army missile developments have pre-established percentages, which countries provide contract funding for and which includes buying similar percentages of final systems and sharing potential future profits. It appears DOD has no one standard way to allow foreign countries to buy into joint productions. The emerging tanker result is one example of a format which shouldn’t work. We should not be awarding a major development contract to a potential winner who will pass a large percentage of the work and money on to a foreign country, which will not have any stake in funding the project or buying any of the final products.

Thanks to bureaucrats and Congress, we may once more be our own worst enemy.

Bill Barry

Huntsville, Ala.

Heinkel 111, not 177

Just a note to make a correction in a great magazine. The airplane being shot down in the photo art on p. 63 [“How the Luftwaffe Lost the Battle of Britain, August] is a Heinkel “111” not a “177.” The He 111 had the rounded wings and tail, while the 177 had square wings and tail platforms and was a larger aircraft. The He 111 also had the distinctive curve at the wing roots.

Roy P. Gibbens

Meridian, Miss.

White Knuckles

I just received the August issue of Air Force Magazine, and when I saw the article “White Knuckles To the Azores” [p. 68] I had to read that article right away. I was stationed at Lajes Field from May 1951 through 1952. The base was still very much in the stage it was in during World War II.

However, many changes were begun during my time there. I was in Air Installations and had a lot to do with base development and upkeep. As far as I was concerned, I would have loved to have had my whole enlistment there. My rank was airman first class, and my duties were land surveying and construction drafting. Every time I come across an article on the Azores, especially Lajes Field, I have to read it. This brought back some great memories.

James L. Robinson

Redmond, Wash.

I enjoyed reading the account of Gold 11. As a former member of the 911th AREFS and KC-10 pilot, I was fortunate enough to serve, and fly, with Col. Marc Felman, MSgt. Lester Bouler, and MSgt. Patrick Kennedy. All of them were exacting professionals, and there could not have been better crew members on Gold 11 that fateful day in 1986.

The Gold 11 mission was legend among KC-10 crews, and for good reason. To have the story published in Air Force Magazine gives all tanker pilots well deserved redemption from a “tanker pilot” stigma. If it had not been for the SAC KC-10 and KC-135 crews being the best trained, dedicated, and resourceful crews in the world, that day would have most certainly ended in disaster. The quick thinking and remarkable resourcefulness of the tanker crews will, I’m sure, keep those marine A-4 pilots singing the praises of USAF tanker crews.

Of course, there is always a fine line between hero and criminal. Part of the legend I always heard was that the commander in chief of Strategic Air Command wanted then Captain Felman court martialed for “bending” regulations in the Gold 11 mission. That was until the Commandant of the Marine Corps called CINCSAC to thank the tanker crews for saving his pilots. He supposedly told the CINC not to hang the men, but to give them a medal.

Thank heaven common sense prevailed. Otherwise, many crew members, including myself, would not have had the honor to serve with these true warrior “crew dogs.”

Maj. Paul Hahn,


Vance AFB, Okla.

Bad Medicine Indeed

Regarding the letter from Richard Thomas about the June editorial, “Bad Medicine,” in the August 2008 issue [“Letters: Bad Medicine,” p. 4]: No threat from China and Russia in the short term? Hogwash. Like most Western powers, we are no longer useful as a foreign investor to China.

Even if we were, the powers that be in China have absolutely no understanding nor respect for ownership and propriety for their own people, let alone to the foreign investors of those 300,000 factories.

At this time, we are a customer of China, nothing more, and as long as we still have the wealth to buy, we are off the table from this bully-to-be. That sucking sound you hear is not offshore drilling. It is the rapidly depleting paper assets of the West going to China and China’s wealthier customer, the Middle East.

[As for] Russia, the Georgia incursion should give reason for Mr. Thomas to pause. In addition to Georgia, Russia has held hostage other former Soviet states and is poised, as the chief gas supplier to Europe, to muddy the thinking of the otherwise impotent Western European democracies. The Russians don’t need indigenous science and technology systems—they’ll buy it on the open market from energy-hungry Europe under the pressure of a harsh winter. Russia, it seems, is looking to return to its pre-breakup world status, and our preparations for war against terrorism will not protect us from its expansionist desires.

Though we can still outproduce the Russian economy, can we outproduce them when they hold the weak democracies to the west captive? We’ve recently learned that Europe is as loyal to us as their energy supplier will enable.

Both nations have recently shown us what international peer pressure will do to them: absolutely nothing. Clearly, world opinion has never presented them an obstacle. When they pick their next fight, we will be tested far more than the test under way in Iraq (which, contrary to Congressional review, we are winning). Mr. Thomas, the threat is not illusory at all. It is real and the best investment for our taxpayers is to preserve a little preventive sting in the budget behind the electronic warfare used so effectively against terrorism. As long as the totality of our arsenal is in unmanned electronic firepower taking all their instructions from vulnerable orbiters in the crosshairs of the Russian and Chinese military, a cadre of independent Air Force jockeys may be the only prudent taxpayer investment.

By the way, Mr. Thomas, as a taxpayer, I still like the Navy and their subs, too. If I can get them faster than Mach 2 and to be stealthy while over land, I would like to fund a few more of them. Right now, the F-22 is actually a bargain.

David A. Buslinger

Elon, N.C.

Lady Be Good

On p. 5 of the March 2008 issue, in the “Letters” section (in the rightmost column), a letter from retired Lt. Col. John Bessette states that of the missing crew members from the B-24D Lady Be Good “eventually all were found and identified.” Based on the Web page from the National Museum of the US Air Force, this statement is not correct. SSgt. Vernon Moore, an assistant radio operator and gunner, has never been found.

Also, in the September USAF photochart, on p. 87 under “Other,” Brig. Gen. Keith L. Thurgood, commander, AAFES at Dallas, is an Army general, not Air Force.

Lt. Col. Ed Sienkiewicz,

USAF (Ret.)

Bonaire, Ga.

Another Billy Mitchell

Most people today recognize that General Billy Mitchell was right on. The Navy has done a complete turnaround, by making the carrier task force the centerpiece of its force structure. The Army still has not learned that without control of the airspace above the battlefield they had better not put any boots on the ground. Many overlook the fact that Japan was brought to its knees by two B-29s that obviated the necessity of putting boots on the ground of mainland Japan. Since World War II, I have often asked, “Who are we not listening to today?”

Another person overlooked was Robin Olds. I just learned in Air Force Magazine that, during WWII, he could do more damage to the actual target with 70 P-51s than a 1,000 plane raid by heavy bombers. The Navy has proved him right on that one with their A-6s, A-7s, and now the great F-18, not to mention our great A-10s.

After reading John A. Tirpak’s “Washington Watch: Wynne Goes On Record” [August, p. 8], I believe we now have another Mitchell in the canned USAF Secretary Michael Wynne. In my view, he is right on all counts. Defense Secretary Gates has vindicated Wynne by halting the drawdown of USAF [personnel] strength. Now if he will just see the light on the F-22, C-17s, an American-built tanker, synthetic fuel, etc. We send [Wynne] packing at our peril. As your editorial says, “Failure Is an Option,” and we ain’t gonna like losing.

Garland O. Goodwin

Columbus, N.C.