Aug. 1, 2010

Superpower No More

Kudos to Robert Dudney for this concise, cogent summation of America’s current national security outlook [“Editorial: Superpower No More?” July, p . 4]. Of particular note is his recognition that President Obama has been consistent in his views “since before his election campaign.” This recognition by Mr. Dudney is a refreshing break from current trends in political commentary. Not mentioned, however, was the significance of that statement: The majority of the people who voted in the 2008 Presidential election understood the thrust of those policies and were willing to give them a try.

Also missing from this thought-provoking piece was any discussion of the requirements and consequences of superpower status. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were the only superpowers—countries able to project power significantly beyond their borders to influence events in support of their national interests. But two decades ago, the Soviet Union collapsed, primarily because its economy could not support the burden of maintaining a huge military capability, its sole claim to superpower status. There is a lesson here for us.

Is pre-eminent military capability the only way we can define ourselves as a great power? More important, are we as a nation willing to keep spending beyond our means to maintain that military power in the same form as we have in the past? Mr. Dudney perhaps unintentionally captured the nation’s sentiments when he summarized the new National Security Strategy as a recognition that “we will have to learn to live within our limits.” Oh, that this would be true! As individuals and as a nation, we have lived well beyond our means for decades, and that lifestyle finally came back to bite us hard in the past few years. Are we learning anything from this experience

Tom Pilsch


The recent editorial by Robert Dudney unfortunately substitutes right wing bias for recent memory of facts. While deriding “soft power,” he easily forgets that President Bush’s “hard power” created this mess we are in. The irrational and unforgiveable incursion into Iraq, while soothing us with half-truths and non-truths, has led to an unnecessary expenditure for DOD of well over a trillion dollars, decimated our (mine and yours) troops, used up our armaments and munitions, alienated our allies, and revealed so very clearly to our enemies most of our weaknesses.

The President has yet to show he will be a great military commander in chief; yet, the strategic possibilities that Mr. Bush left him were pretty sorry, indeed. What all would we have him do? Although I’m only a physician, I certainly participated in battle staff planning and held command with over 26 years in the US Army and USAF. I would only ask that rational, objective thinking be used in this stressful time, though it is clear that prejudice and emotions are more valued in this unfortunate era in the history of the US.

Col. Kenneth F. Wainner,

USAF (Ret.)

Oklahoma City

Take It Down!

John Correll’s article mentions the rules of engagement (ROEs) in the period January 1970 onward and states that the Wild Weasels were not able to detect surveillance radars such as Bar Lock [“Take It Down! The Wild Weasels in Vietnam,” July, p. 66]. Not true. In December 1971, the 17th Wild Weasel Squadron, at Korat AB, Thailand, received permission to attack specific Bar Lock sites. Several days after permission was given, a friend attacked and destroyed a networked Bar Lock site near the Gorilla’s Head border area between Laos and North Vietnam. In February, 1972, USS Oklahoma City, a light guided-missile cruiser, attacked a networked Bar Lock in the central region of North Vietnam with a Talos missile; the site was destroyed. I am told that USS Chicago and USS Long Beach, also guided-missile cruisers, attacked Bar Lock sites later in 1972.

The attacks on Bar Lock sites apparently were a change in policy because of the threat posed by the NVN networked air defense system. In December 1971, USAF lost something like four F-4s in one afternoon due to an ambush set up between SA-2 sites and MiGs. About a week later I happened to be the one to pick up the secure voice telephone at Korat Air Base. The voice on the other end identified himself as Brig. Gen Alton Slay, and he gave verbal permission to strike a particular Bar Lock site. It took some time and a hard copy message to work out the details and constraints of what General Slay authorized, but the pattern was clear: US forces began attacking the NVN air defense system whenever and wherever the opportunity arose.

I believe the policy change came about because the NVN leadership was planning another invasion of South Vietnam. In 1972, Tet fell on 15 February; General [John D.] Lavelle’s strikes on the NVN military buildup in Route Pack One came in January 1972, and I have little doubt that the civilian leadership authorized those strikes. Hitting that buildup in January forced the NVA to delay its invasion until Easter. When the whole operation became political, General Lavelle was sacrificed. I agree with Lt. Gen. Aloysius Casey and his son on those points.

Lt. Col. Gerald P. Hanner,

USAF (Ret.)

Papillion, Neb.

You say it is “not true” that Wild Weasels could not detect emissions from the Bar Lock. This is contrary to what Lavelle and others said in the Congressional hearings and elsewhere. In his oral history, for example, Lavelle said: “The enemy no longer had to track us with his Fan Song tracking radar. Fan Song was picked up readily on the RHAW gear, but apparently we were being tracked by their GCI Bar Lock, Whiff, or Spoon Rest radars, and only the fire control, Fan Song, was turned on at launch, so there was no way to know whether they were activated against us or not, because the RHAW didn’t respond to them.”—John T. Correll

I enjoyed your article on the Wild Weasels in Vietnam. However, you missed including my next door neighbor and squadron mate—[Gen. Richard B.] Myers. Dick deployed to Korat, Thailand, with the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Kadena, Okinawa, flying the F-4C Wild Weasel in the fall of 1972 and participated in the Linebacker II operations. Dick went on to have a fairly successful career, reaching, in Dick’s words, “the ultimate dead end job”: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I nominate Gen. Richard B. Myers as a Weasel of Note.

Don Barnett

Potomac Falls, Va.

Strike Command

I read your article “Strike Command Steps Up” [June, p. 26] with great interest—especially the part regarding the no-notice inspection and how it kept everybody on their toes. I agree, having spent much of my 20-plus years in communication either in SAC or in direct support of SAC. The threat of the no-notice ORI was an ever-present reminder to be the best. Or as somebody once said, “When the IG arrives, we stop what we normally do to show what we would do if we really had to do it.”

MSgt. David R. Caron,

USAF (Ret.)

Las Vegas

Pay Gap

Excellent article on the “pay gap” in the July issue [“Issue Brief: The Pay Debate Lives On,” p. 26]. I firmly believe that the pay comparison should pit total military pay against the civilian pay. This should include all the allowances such as health benefits, housing, subsistence, tax exempt benefits, 20-year retirement option, and great retired medical benefits, as well as basic pay. The military is a great career option today! We must be reasonable and consider our total national and defense budget and runaway deficit situation when enacting annual pay raises.

CMSgt. Cliff Wagner,

USAF (Ret.)

Peoria, Ariz.