Dec. 1, 2009

The Sixth Generation Fighter

Since the Air Force bought its first F-100, every fighter that has entered the inventory has had the ability to fly faster than the speed of sound [“The Sixth Generation Fighter,” October, p. 38]. It has been an article of faith that supersonic capability is absolutely required in any new aircraft. The Air Force has even had a few bombers with supersonic capability. Yet, as far as I know, no USAF combat aircraft has needed to employ supersonic flight in order to successfully accomplish its mission. Even when supersonic aircraft have gone head-to-head, the fight has taken place at subsonic speeds.

The Air Force has a supersonic trainer. How many pilots have the opportunity to experience supersonic flight during pilot training? And to what end, if they will never need to employ supersonic speeds in accomplishing their operational missions? Will the eventual replacement for the T-38 be a supersonic aircraft

We have a fighter (the F-22) that has the ability to supercruise. However, I suspect the F-22’s range is so short that the supercruise capability is of no real utility.

I was an electronic warfare officer, not a fighter pilot. When I have queried fighter pilots on why a fighter needs to be able to fly at supersonic speeds, I have received reactions ranging from blank stares to an honest statement that there is no reason at all.

Now I read that the Air Force’s sixth generation fighter is likely to have the ability to fly at hypersonic speeds. Supersonic capability is expensive at all stages of an aircraft’s life cycle, from design and development through production to operations and maintenance. Supercruise is more expensive yet. Hypersonic speed will be hyper-expensive. Perhaps Congress will finally get its wish from the early 1900s. The Air Force will only be able to afford one airplane, and the pilots will have to take turns flying it (perhaps by remote control). Why should we pay for speed we will likely never need

Making speed a requirement is a subversion of requirements logic. Speed should be a solution driven by real mission requirements. I would like to see a mission requirement that forces the design of an aircraft with supersonic capability. Until then I will remain a skeptic.

This logic applies to all the glitzy new technologies proposed for the sixth generation fighter. While they may be interesting and fruitful areas for R&D, proposing them for an operational aircraft is putting the cart before the horse. No new technologies should be included in the procurement of an operational weapon system until it is clearly shown that the capabilities they bring address real mission needs, and that those needs cannot be met by already mature technologies.

Cutting-edge technologies can be traded off against aircraft production numbers to get the force structure we need to accomplish the mission. The F-22 production cutoff at 187 airframes has taught us a bitter lesson. I hope we can learn from it.

Lt. Col. Richard F. Colarco,

USAF (Ret.)

Colorado Springs, Colo.

I enjoyed reading the article in your October 2009 issue on “The Sixth Generation Fighter.” What puzzles me is that you categorize both the F-22 and the F-35 as fifth generation fighters. The F-22 has supercruise and the F-35 does not. The F-22 has supermaneuverability and the F-35 does not. The F-35, in short, is degrading the definition of the fifth generation fighter. The F-35 should be a perfectly capable fighter-bomber, but let’s not pretend that it is in the same category as the F-22 air superiority fighter.

Randy Carey

Arlington, Va.

I am sure you will get a number of e-mails regarding the fighters you left out in the article on fighter generations. As president of the Super Sabre Society, I feel I can speak for our nearly 1,400 members that leaving the F-100 out of the Century Series fighter list was, to say the least, an oversight. The Hun was the first operational USAF jet capable of straight and level supersonic flight. It not only flew the first fighter strike mission in the Vietnam War, it flew more combat missions in Vietnam than any other fighter. It was the mainstay of the tactical nuclear strike force for most of the Cold War. I, of course, could go on, but I think you get my point.

Maj. Gen. Bill Gorton,

USAF (Ret.)

Park City, Utah

Ballistic Missiles

This article [“The Day of the Atlas,” October, p. 60] brought back many memories of ballistic missile defense 50 years ago. As a captain with a background of flying the F-51, F-86, F-80, F-89, and F-100, I was assigned to BMD Re-entry Development section. The pace of activity and competence of the BMD personnel was amazing. My first task was to assure that the Mark II re-entry vehicle and warhead met the scheduled Strategic Air Command operational date for Atlas D at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Complex 576B.

During this process, an interesting event occurred. Nikita Khrushchev was in the United States. He had made statements concerning the USSR’s superior ICBM program. Now he was in California and planned to take the train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Our problem was that this route went directly past Vandenberg, and was in sight of Complex 576B. I recall the discussions of what we should do. After considering many options, we concluded that we should afford him the opportunity to see the Atlas ICBM “on alert, armed, and ready” as the train passed Vandenberg. At the time, we had no information about his reaction, but years later, I learned he may not have been too impressed, mistaking the Atlas for an anti-aircraft missile.

It is interesting, however, that on May 20, 1960 BMD fired this Atlas from Florida to the Indian Ocean. This flight demonstrated that the Atlas had a range of over 9,000 miles. (I’m sure the USSR took note.)

By then my job was development of the Mark 6 re-entry vehicle for the Titan II. In the spring of 1963, we turned the Titan II over to SAC as an operational system. Then my career returned to manned systems (MOL and space shuttle), but I will always remember the dedication and excitement of the BMD “Cold-War warriors” of the 1950s and 1960s.

Col. J. L. Fisher,

USAF (Ret.)

Las Vegas

The excellent article about the Atlas ICBM detailed all aspects of the program but failed to mention the issue of transporting ICBMs to and from their bases. Initially, they were moved overland on a transporter, a slow and hazardous process. The thin-skinned missiles were exposed to any number of hazards. As one comment put it, “a kid with a BB gun” could disable an Atlas.

The solution to this problem was to transport ICBMs by air. This mission became standard for the Douglas C-133 Cargomaster heavy transport. The C-133A first flew in April 1956 and was soon routinely hauling the Thor IRBM to bases in England. The prospect of faster, more reliable, and safer ICBM delivery led to modification of the C-133 airframe that enabled ICBMs to be loaded. Douglas built a C-133B fuselage as a test article, which was used for initial loading testing at Long Beach. The last three C-133A airframes were modified to B standard by changing the aft cargo doors to the now-familiar clamshell configuration and the first of these was delivered to the Air Force in October 1959. They were followed by 15 C-133B aircraft. All 18 aircraft were assigned to Travis Air Force Base and were flown by the 84th Military Airlift Squadron.

ICBM airlift was calculated to be 20 to 30 times faster than other methods, 20 percent cheaper, and far more secure. The first airlift of an Atlas was on 3 Nov. 1959, moving the rocket from NAS Miramar to F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo. Over the years, Atlas missiles were moved to nine operational bases across the US. They were also hauled from those bases to Vandenberg for periodic actual launches, including the first launch of an Atlas D in June 1960. C-133s also transported Atlas rockets to Cape Canaveral to support the space program. These included the Atlas used to launch John Glenn’s Mercury flight.

The Titan and Minuteman ICBM programs also employed C-133s for deployment. The first Titan flight was in November 1958, when the rocket was moved from Lowry AFB, Colo., to Cape Canaveral. Titans were flown from Lowry to seven other bases, until the C-133 was retired in 1971.

The Minuteman program made heavy use of the C-133. More than 500 Minuteman I and II missiles were delivered from Hill AFB, Utah, to six operational bases between January 1962 and November 1963, with many more to come before the Cargomaster’s retirement in August 1971. The missile and transporter weighed as much as 73,000 pounds, presenting big challenges for a takeoff in summer temperatures at Hill’s elevation and in winter icing conditions.

The C-133 was also heavily involved in the space program. One C-133 was actually dedicated to NASA support for several years. The airplane was so important to NASA that it was described as “the first stage of all our missiles.”

Without the C-133, the ICBM program would have been far more expensive and much less secure in delivering missiles to their destinations.

Lt. Col. Cal Taylor,

USAF (Ret.)

Olympia, Wash.

Who Built the Airplanes

Yes, this is a good question. It was raised in the “Chart Page” [p. 36] in your October issue. The chart and text is designed to show the great contribution of the established aircraft industry, as compared to the automakers, to airplane production during World War II.

I think this analysis shortchanges the automakers in two ways, one directly and the other indirectly.

First, the chart overlooks the 8,685 B-24 heavy bombers produced by Ford during the war, a number almost equal to the 8,810 total of Martin airplanes. And the chart overlooks the 5,280 FM-1 and FM-2 Wildcat Navy fighters and 7,546 TBM Avenger Navy torpedo bombers, built in General Motors plants. That total of 12,826 GM planes is close to the number of planes built by Bell.

Secondly, while not specifically addressed by your chart, I think you will agree that the engines that drove the planes were probably their most important component. In this case, I found a scholarly contemporary report with tables, which unfortunately only showed aircraft engine production through 1944. Even so, the numbers are impressive.

Packard built 26,759 Merlins. Buick built 63,568 Wright R1820s and Studebaker built another 57,077. Chevy built 54,672 P&W R1830s. Dodge built 6,053 Wright R3350s. Ford built 44,198 P&W R2800s, while Nash-Kelvinator built another 11,957.

I believe these contributions by the auto industry to World War II aircraft production were significant.

Sam V. Smith

Arlington, Va.

McNamara Again

I was stunned at the criticism of your McNamara editorial [“The No-Brainers of Robert S. McNamara,” August, p. 2] by William Phillips and Karl Larew; it is fatuous, wrongheaded, historically inaccurate, myopic, and generally bizarre [“Letters: Arrogance from the Secretary,” October, p. 4].

Eisenhower thought Laos was the center of gravity in Southeast Asia; it was John F. Kennedy who decided that it was Vietnam. The coup that ousted Diem and his brother (and resulted in their murders) was approved by Kennedy on the strong recommendation of our ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, whom JFK had banished to Vietnam to weaken Lodge’s position as the GOP Presidential candidate against whom Kennedy would have to run in 1964. The imperious and condescending Lodge was probably the worst choice Kennedy could have made. Phillips’ contention that the Cuban Missile Crisis “turned out well” is simply silly. As H. R. McMaster pointed out in his definitive work on the McNamara-Johnson War, Dereliction of Duty, our Secretary of Defense learned all the wrong lessons from the Cuban fiasco and assumed that “graduated response,” which had worked in that situation, was the silver bullet that [would] work in any crisis. Our defeat in SEA proved that was only one of McNamara’s myriad misjudgments. The list of “other powerful people” offered by Phillips does nothing to bolster his case. Dean Acheson, Bobby Kennedy, and Clark Clifford were all consistently wrong about what should have been done in “The Great War To Make Southeast Asia Safe for Democracy.” Larew’s contention that “McNamara (and President Johnson and Cabinet) were far better placed to make basic policy judgments than were the Joint Chiefs of Staff” is risible, as is his contention that a more aggressive and militarily sound approach would have “almost certainly … led to all-out war with China and perhaps with Russia as well.” There is absolutely no credible evidence to support such a ludicrous assertion.

I recommend that both Phillips and Larew read McMaster and Mark Moyar. Had both gentlemen read their books, they would have been well-informed enough not to write such silly and uninformed letters. McNamara and LBJ micromanaged the war from the Oval Office, and neither was even a talented amateur. Had the professionals been allowed to take charge, we might well have won. McNamara and LBJ must be held accountable for their incompetent and ham-fisted prosecution of the war and for what McMaster rightly labeled “dereliction of duty.”

Lt. Col. Frank Howe,

USAF (Ret.)


Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan

Wow, I bet those Taliban and al Qaeda commanders in Afghanistan were overjoyed to hear that our new military air approach will involve “Buzzing, Not Bombing” [“Air Force World: Buzzing, Not Bombing?” October, p. 10]. I wonder how our ground troops, who depend on timely and strong air support for their survival, will feel about this new policy? Who does our new Air Forces Central commander think we are fighting—a crowd at an air show? Our enemies are tough, fanatical, and totally dedicated to killing as many of our troops as they can. You can’t negotiate with these people, treat them with kid gloves, or “scare” them off by airplane noise.

Can you imagine our fathers in World War II firing noisy blanks rather than actually trying to shoot down the kamikazes? In a war, you have to kill the enemy, who is dedicated to killing you before they actually do kill you—a practice we followed in World War II but have apparently forgotten in Korea, Vietnam, and now it appears in Afghanistan. This isn’t a warm fuzzy courtroom scenario where you can negotiate with the enemy—this is a war whose final outcome will depend on one side soundly defeating the other—remember World War II? If a country does not want to engage in the reality of war, then they should not be in one, let alone place someone in a position of authority who believes in the superiority of noise over bullets and bombs to decide the war’s outcome. Either fight the war to kill the enemy or pull out, come back home, and hunker down and hope the enemy doesn’t get to our shores. If we don’t get the military focused back to the basic mission of killing and defeating the enemy, then we will just steadily continue to lose our young men and women. We will have accomplished nothing to enhance our security or the security of the region and the world—remember Korea and Vietnam? It’s not wrong to win a war—much better than to lose one. Actually, we could just subcontract the air war out to the Israelis—they don’t play silly noise games, and they understand the meaning of kill or be killed. At the very least, put a Marine Corps aviator in charge of air ops. Just makes me nervous when we are at war and an active Air Force commander begins to sound more like a politician than a warrior.

Don Hultin

New York

After reading the main articles in the October issue that were replete with examples of “change” and reductions sweeping our Air Force, I cannot help but be very concerned about our national security interests and the extent to which airpower must safeguard these interests. Many readers have also opined along these same lines of late. I think what summoned up my total disgust was when, in the “Air Force World” section, I read the comments of Lt. Gen. Mike Hostage III, commander, US Air Forces Central Command. You reported that he stated in his comments at Shaw Air Force Base Aug. 13, prior to departing for his command in Southwest Asia, that “it may be better to fly over enemy forces to scare them into dispersing.” I would simply observe that dead enemy combatants or potential terrorists (killed by airpower or other means) do not return to fight or terrorize another day in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere where they may kill tens, hundreds, or even thousands. Jimmy Doolittle and Curtis LeMay are—no doubt—barrel rolling high in righteous fury that a US air combatant commander would even suggest such a tactic when in contact with the enemy. I guess we can hope for change.

Don Garrison

Greenville, S.C.

ATC in Afghanistan

Your article “Spooling Up in Afghanistan” was a great coverage of the air war there [October, p. 22]. However, there was one element which was overlooked. That was the air traffic control (ATC). One might assume that is just radar; however, there is no radar in Afghanistan. My son is in ATC there, and he had to memorize dozens of routes, turning points, and altitudes before he was certified to work there. Now he works 12-hour shifts to keep planes from 10 or 12 countries from running into each other. He often leaves a shift soaking wet with sweat.

Col. David W. Saxton,

USAF (Ret.)

La Plata, Md.