Dec. 1, 2010

The Cost of Defense

In his editorial “Security Isn’t Cheap” Adam J. Hebert cites the work of the Sustainable Defense Task Force as a case in point of critics of Pentagon spending recommending cuts “without credible analysis of strategy or requirements” [November, p. 2]. As a member of the task force, I differ over the credibility of our analysis. But let me speak to where I agree with Mr. Hebert: “Security is not cheap.”

In fact, it is extremely expensive. When the country is hit with a financial disaster, we owe it to the country and our military to re-examine our national security strategy and make sure priorities are clear and that our military investments are cost-effective. In the last 12 years of Pentagon budgets, the planning has proceeded as though there is no resource constraint. Unfortunately, that is true of the last QDR as well. Those days are clearly over —Secretary Gates has said as much.

“A well-trained, well-equipped, professional military is not cheap. If the nation wants it to cost less, the nation will probably have to ask it to do less.” Exactly. Since the end of the Cold War the US military has steadily advanced its global reach and engagement. Missions have proliferated, including many that should be done by civilians in the State Department and other agencies. Significant numbers of US troops still remain in Europe, even though there is no military threat to Europe that allies can’t handle. The most important take-away lesson from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that long, low-intensity land wars are not cost-effective uses of US military power and should be avoided whenever possible. Hopefully we can all agree there should never again be such a “war of choice.”

“There are certainly ways to reduce defense spending.” Yes, and one that will save around $45 billion in Air Force modernization accounts is available in a choice about how to modernize the fighter fleet. The Air Force has decided to replace its aging F-16s with just about the most expensive new fighter one can dream up, the F-35. In today’s fiscal environment, either the Air Force will end up with a lot fewer of these planes than planned, or they will choose to get ahead of the budget crunch coming and modernize with new block versions of the still best-of-class F-16s and limit the buy of F-35s this decade to a few squadrons for high-intensity air-superiority missions. If serious air competition emerges a decade from now we can then roll out production of F-35s, presumably much improved with 10 years or more of further fighter development.

Charles Knight

Project on Defense Alternatives

Cambridge, Mass.

Weapons in Laos

John Correll’s story on the Medal of Honor posthumously presented was a great piece. However, I would like to clarify and add to the record [“Etchberger, Medal of Honor,” November, p. 42].

In 1966, ’67, and ’68, I was a major on detail to the CIA in Laos and served as the chief of tactical air ops. During this time, our agency officers and their irregular troops were engaged in countless combat operations, a great number of which were supported by USAF forces.

None was more tragic or frustrating than the fight for Lima Site 85, Phou Pha Thi. I was the CIA staff officer given the overall responsibility for the defense of the site.

I feel compelled to point out that the US ambassador, William Sullivan, NEVER concurred in arming the “sheep dipped” Air Force radar technicians who were located deep in enemy territory. All this despite numerous face-to-face requests by the chief of station, Ted Shackley, deceased in 2002, and myself.

In November 1967, I decided to defy this unreasonable denial and drew 40 M16s and ammo from the Air Force 7/13th supply facility on a hand receipt and issued them to the Heavy Green project along with four CIA-owned Browning 9 mm side arms and ammo, plus a large number of frag grenades. The agency had no M16s in stock, but we reasoned that these airmen had at least some familiarity with this weapon during basic training. Therefore, I had to get assistance from 7/13 AF, and the officer in charge, Maj. Gen. [William C. Lindley Jr.], agreed.

The CIA case officers at Site 85 were then instructed to conduct as much training with the radar guys as time permitted. Neither the ambassador nor his staff were ever informed. My agency bosses were witting but maintained secrecy, i.e., plausible deniability.

Additionally, we made a number of requests to permit the embedding of at least a small number of US Army Special Forces combat veterans from MACV SOG in South Vietnam. Such “stiffeners” could have made a great difference in the coming fight. This, too, was always denied, according to Sullivan, because of the 1962 Geneva Accords on Neutrality in Laos—an enormous joke since the enemy blatantly disregarded these strictures.

Col. (Ret.) Gerald Clayton, the Heavy Green unit commander, lives in Florida and can verify this information. The whole sorry story is chronicled in my old book, Honored & Betrayed (published 1992), Chapter 6, and is the only accurate record known to me that lays out what our brave USAF troops manning Site 85 had to battle against. A number of other pieces have been written, including official USAF Project Checo reports. But CIA officials who had the actual responsibility for defense of the site were never interviewed—thus the less-than-complete historical accounts. Therefore, I recommend you look up my old book and read the rest of the story. There are a lot of lessons there.

Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord,

USAF (Ret.)

Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

As I read “Etchberger, Medal of Honor,” I could not help but think of my time spent serving in that part of the world. I was stationed in Thailand in 1967-68, when Chief Etchberger was killed escaping from Phou Pha Thi mountain.

We had several occasions when insurgents attempted to shoot down C-141s on landing and explosions within the bomb dump. However, these occasions did not end like that one involving Chief Etchberger and his crew.

It is unfortunate that these airmen were placed in a position to perform a job without sufficient resources to defend themselves. Sharing 10 M16s among 19 airmen was unacceptable. Knowing they were in “neutral territory,” it should not have been difficult to believe that this type of occurrence could occur. I do not believe this type of circumstance would occur today. I also hope USAF has taken action(s) to present such an award in a timelier manner.

CMSgt. Peter L. Donahoe Jr.,

USAF (Ret.)

La Vernia, Tex.

Wants Vs. Needs

The October 2010 article on acquisition course correction contained many valid points [“The Acquisition Course Correction,” p. 30]. However, I take exception with Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford’s comment on p. 33. Concerning cooperation between acquisition community people and operators, he states, “What we’re going to put on contract is what they actually want.” Trying to give operators what they “want” is at the crux of the acquisition system problems we have experienced over the past 25-plus years. What really needs to be done is to get the operators what they NEED, while keeping track of the “wants” for future enhancements if they become affordable. I have to assume that the “want” v. “need” was an honest slip on the general’s part.

Lt. Col. Dan A. Phillips,

USAF (Ret.)

Rapid River, Mich.

A Little Tired

I would like to congratulate you on your October issue of your publication. Having been a subscriber to Air Force Magazine for 30-plus years, it was a pleasure to read from cover to cover—something I haven’t been able to say in recent years, based on your almost constant campaign for a larger budget and the need to replace our “aging, worn-out aircraft.” That message, although needed, had become more than a little [tired]. Again, thank you.

MSgt. James L. Clay,

USAF (Ret.)

Shelby, N.C.

What We Dreamed

“We never would have dreamed of this type of stuff in the Cold War” [“The New Look of Base Defense,” October, p. 58]:

It just so happens that we did dream of this type of stuff during the Cold War at the Air Base Defense school at Parks AFB, Pleasanton, Calif., and Camp Beale, Marysville, Calif. (now Beale Air Force Base), during the early 1950s. Students were air policemen, E-5 and higher, undergoing three months of intensive air base defense training. This consisted of training with recoilless rifles, Browning automatic rifles, mortars, hand grenades, and the personal assignment of M1 Garands. The academic training was at Parks, with the tactical and weapons training taking place at Camp Beale, along with assignment to 10-man tents for the duration of the training. Needless to say, it was a very comprehensive course, with the thought that we somehow had been shanghaied into the Army.

CMSgt. Lawrence H. Cofer Jr.,

USAF (Ret.)

Jacksonville, N.C.

The Defense Budget

Air Force Magazine’s October 2010 “Chart Page: Snapshots of a Big Defense Squeeze” [p. 28] depicts what is described as a federal spending “addiction” to entitlement programs, and lumps together Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as growing from 20 percent of the 1970 federal budget to 49 percent of the 2010 budget, and ultimately, to 52 percent of the 2040 budget. By beginning the description with, “Defense isn’t causing the deficit,” the inference is that Social Security is a major contributor to the current and projected deficit. This is misleading. The facts are that receipts from Social Security taxes have exceeded expenditures, and the Social Security trust fund will have sufficient funds through 2037, at which point Social Security tax income will be sufficient to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits through 2084.

Further, there are easy fixes to maintaining the Social Security trust fund without raising the tax rate such as raising the ceiling on wages subjected to the Social Security tax. So, Social Security is paid for through 2037 (actually through 2040 if disability insurance is excluded) by Social Security taxes that have nothing to do with the defense budget unless someone proposes to use Social Security taxes to pay for defense programs.

On the other hand, we all know that Medicare and Medicaid are huge potential deficit problems and are being addressed in the political and legal arenas. So I will not engage in a debate on the national security or national morality aspects of adequate health care for our fellow citizens. However, I will argue that it is inappropriate to pit Medicare and Medicaid costs against defense costs in Air Force Magazine, especially when the US has chosen to fight two wars off budget. Further, I will argue, it is totally illogical to compare percentages of budget for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which are partially a function of population growth, to defense programs, which are a function of threat. The cost of required defense is a finite calculation and not a percentage of the federal budget, gross domestic product, or anything else.

Victor D. Bras

Woodbridge, Va.

Ah, the power of the pie chart! Depending on the point you’re trying to make, you can slice it any way you want, and you can color your slices to give a subliminal message (“Let’s make defense [blue], and those terrible entitlements an ‘evil’ red”). Keep in mind that we call Social Security an “entitlement” because the people who are receiving it have already paid for it. “Entitlement” sounds almost un-American to some people, so to put it in perspective, it would be like going to the bank to make a withdrawal and having the teller say, “Oh, so you’re asking for an entitlement.” Also, note that your very conservative estimates show the defense budget increasing to about $1 trillion a year. Seems to me, we ought to be able to tighten our belts and get by on that!

David I. Wyllie

Heredia, Costa Rica


These are some of the things you may not find in the history books about how USAF came to the B-57 [“Airpower Classics: Canberra,” October, p. 88].

TAC had presented its case to Washington for a B-26 replacement. The Douglas B-26 had served during the last years of World War II, and many were worn out during the Korean War. Some B-26s assigned to the Hq Flight Section had cracked secondary wing spars and other old age problems. They were what we had as part of our staff transportation, along with C-47s, B-25s, C-45s, T-33s, and for a while, a B-17. Travel in those days was a lot different from what I see today.

The Glenn L. Martin Co. had a new tactical bomber in development, the B-51. It was powered by three J-47s, two mounted on pylons, forward of the wing on the fuselage, one in the rear of the fuselage under the T tail. This engine could be shut down during cruise if desired and the inlet closed to reduce drag and stop the engine from windmilling. This arrangement was not without its critics but it worked. The airplane’s speed was kept secret during early flight tests. However, it was fairly common knowledge among those close to the project that it was outrunning its F-86 chase planes. As I remember, it was a .93 airplane.

The B-51 carried a considerable bomb load in a rotary bomb bay, which eliminated the door problem, plus several cannons in the nose. The Canberra was designed with no guns.

While the B-51s were in flight test, the British were going broke, and Washington decided that rather than give them money, the US would “buy” something from them. The Brits had full-scale PR program to push the deal. They stripped a Canberra down to the bare essentials of flight and set a trans-Atlantic speed record to impress everyone.

It is well to remember that the Canberra was an old design when USAF bought it. It first flew in May of 1949. Designed as a high-altitude-level bomber, it was not the tactical bomber TAC wanted. It was not especially fast, something on the order of a limiting Mach of .87. It had bomb bay doors like a B-17, and whatever way the airplane was headed when you opened them was the way you were going to go. Because the engines were wide set and did not always spool up in sync, during a steep climb using full power, the airplane fishtailed in a distracting manner. USAF pilots did not like the “fishbowl” canopy favored by the British.

Nevertheless, TAC was told this is your new tactical bomber. The deal for the Martin Co. was hard for them to swallow. They were not going to build the B-51 and were faced with building the Canberra or nothing. They agreed to build the Canberra.

Two were flown over and delivered to Martin, along with blueprints and manuals. Of course everything was metric, and Martin set about to draw new plans. There were so many changes necessary that it was just as well. The nose was changed to a tandem cockpit (like the T-33), and the bomb bay was redesigned to incorporate the rotary type as in the B-51. The engines were changed from Rolls Royce to US-made Wrights.

While all this was going on, Martin was flying the RAF airplanes provided in the contract. The tail came off one, and the crash killed the Martin test pilot and one of their design engineers.

As most old-time Air Force folks know, the B-57 went on to do lots of different and difficult jobs. But to say that it was a British design is to ignore what the Martin Co. and the Air Force project folks did for the design.

No B-51s survived. NACA flew one for a while, then it was given to the Langley Air Force Base fire department and was destroyed in a training exercise.

Sad end to a remarkable airplane.

TSgt. Reginald E. Holden,

USAF (Ret.)

Tarboro, N.C.