We Are in Peril! (Nov, 1953)

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Will the desperate men in the Kremlin attack?

By 1954 Russia will be strong enough to do so.

That is why our former Air Force chief states:

We Are in Peril!

GEN. HOYT S. VANDENBERG

ON MARCH 6, 1953, I appeared before the Armed Forces Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives. The purpose of my appearance there was to introduce the Air Force budget for the fiscal year 1954. The budget introduced at that time was designed to continue the buildup toward the 143-wing air force goal which had been fixed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, approved by the Department of Defense, and sanctioned by-congressional action.

The statement I made before the House committee included a detailed review of enemy and friendly air strength. It provided a background of information which served to explain why an air force of at least 143 wings is an essential component of our worldwide resistance to Communist power. It stated that an air force of no less than 143 wings is the minimum force which can assure the ability of this Nation to resist successfully an all-out Communist attack.

In that statement I also expressed the hope that continued and uninterrupted progress toward an air force of this size and strength would deter the Soviet rulers from launching such an all-out attack against us.

There was a detailed analysis of the tasks and missions charged to the Air Force and a careful evaluation of the forces which would oppose us in the event of a general war in 1954 or thereafter.

The year 1954, I repeat, is considered critical principally because of the estimate that the Soviet Union will, by that time, have a stockpile of atomic weapons sufficient to mount a devastating attack on United States military installations, industry, and population centers.

The size and composition of the proposed force was based on an examination of all factors such as the buildup of our own atomic stockpile, the improvements to be expected in our own weapons and in the enemy’s weapons, and the expected size, nature, and disposition of Communist military forces. There have been no significant or unexpected changes in weapons development or in forces since the decision was made.

An Air Force consists of three principal elements—people, planes, and bases. The people include many kinds of specialists and most of these require extensive training. The planes are of many types and they all require extensive support in the form of spares, repairs, and auxiliary equipment. Bases also are of several types in a variety of locations, and most of them require a long time to build.

A shortage in any one of these many elements which go to make up a modern Air Force may render the remainder of that force ineffective. To keep everything in gear and to enable the entire program to move forward on schedule and with economy requires a consistent and orderly progression to established goals.

Because of reductions in the manpower of supporting units and reductions in funds for maintenance and operations, the Air Force will fly fewer hours next year, with a greater number of wings, than it is flying this year. This inevitably means a reduction in maintenance standards and in standards of aircrew skill and experience.

In addition, there will be a heavy reduction in the total airlift which was planned to be available to all the Armed Forces of the United States.

The 120-wing force, under the new program, will not be as well supported as the 143-wing force under the old program.

In general, however, the construction, fiscal, and manpower controls now being imposed will have their greatest effect in future years. In the discussion of the shorter lead times that can now be achieved as production advances, the necessary lead time for the production of trained people is too often overlooked.

For instance, if it should be decided next year that the Air Force will, after all, have 143 wings, it will then be impossible to recruit and train the personnel for such a force earlier than 1957.

The problem of providing trained personnel in sufficient numbers is particularly acute in the Air Force because next year we will begin losing large numbers of men, now skilled and experienced, who have joined us since the beginning of the Korean war.

When a force is reduced in size the quality becomes more important than ever, yet reductions in training facilities, units, equipment and personnel will damage the quality of our force as well as reduce its size.

There has even been a heavy reduction in funds that can be used for research, and for the development of planes and weapons of the future.

Since 1948 the situation has not been a happy one. Not only has the Soviet Union —and the Communist world dominated by the U. S. S. R.—become more and more! belligerent, but also more and more capable of damaging us and our allies.

We Americans are traditionally an optimistic people. There is always the half-believed rumor that perhaps our enemies are much weaker than all the evidence indicates. “This tendency to optimism is a fortunate| characteristic because it makes life among us happier in many ways. But it can lead to wishful thinking and to disaster if those of us who know the facts fail to state them repeatedly—even when we ourselves would like to forget them.

The Communist air threat in the Far East is a most serious one. This is true despite the brilliant success of a few Air Force fighter pilots against a very small percentage of the total number of Soviet-built MIG-15′s.

They have made no effort whatever against our bases in Korea and Japan, despite their superior strength in aircraft. Their ability to damage us grows every day as they introduce more and more jet light bombers into the Chinese air force. While they have not yet used these jet bombers against us, there is no justification for assuming they will not do so at a time of their choosing.

In addition to the Chinese Air Force of more than 2,000 aircraft, the Russians have in the Far East a total of more than 5,000 tactical aircraft. At the other end of Russia-there is a much larger number of Soviet tactical aircraft, most of which are near the NATO area. The significance of the large numbers of Soviet tactical aircraft facing Western Europe is apparent when we consider operating radii of many of these aircraft will permit them to cover most of that area. Communist MIG’s, for instance, can reach Denmark and the low countries as well as northern Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, and western Turkey. Their jet light bombers can cover England. France, Italy, Turkey, and most of the Mediterranean. The large numbers of these aircraft, together with high performance capabilities and the excellent base system already prepared for them, constitute as great a menace to the NATO nations as the Russian ground forces, and one which can be far more rapidly applied.

The flying time of a jet bomber from inside the Iron Curtain across most of Western Europe and the Mediterranean is just a little more than 1 hour.

As a matter of passing interest, this is one of the reasons why the Air Force was so anxious to get strategic bases in North Africa, near the Atlantic and beyond the range of most of the Soviet Air Force.

Another important element of the Soviet Air Force is the medium bomber force. It has the capability of carrying atomic bombs for a distance of 2,000 miles and returning to its bases. It can also deliver the atomic bomb through staging bases already prepared in Siberia and northern Russia to an> target in the United States on a one-way mission.

Whether the Soviets are yet completely prepared to commit this force in a full-scale attack against the United States we do not know. But we do know that these planes can reach us.

The Soviets are moving rapidly toward a jet-powered air force and they are neglecting none of their basic elements of combat air power—air defense, long-range bombardment, and offensive tactical power. In the last—offensive tactical powers—the Soviets, with their new twin-jet bombers, are achieving a performance which is as great an advance over the old piston types as the MIG-15 was an advance over their old piston fighters.

The MIG-15, despite warnings, was a great surprise to most Americans. But the MIG-15 was a defensive airplane and has never been used against us offensively. The jet light bomber, on the other hand, represents as great a technical advance as the MIG-15 and it is far more dangerous to us since it is designed for offensive use against our planes on the ground, our bases, our troops, our support, and supply systems.

The Soviets were extremely reluctant to reveal new models last year. They abandoned their former practice of parading test models in flights over Moscow. We have to admit the possibility that their latest developments are being tested in greater secrecy than ever before.

Our own program of expansion was based on the target set for us last year—to build and maintain a modern force of 143 wings.

It was hoped originally that we could have 143 modern wings by 1954, but decisions based on other than military factors caused a postponement of the readiness date.

Much official and public attention has been devoted to management problems in recent years, and the Air Force is attempting to capitalize on all of it. Not content with the employment of many recognized experts in management from business and industry to advise us, we have systematically trained our commanders and staff officers in the principles and practices of economy.

In discussing economy, I should like to register an objection—a very serious objection —against a false and dangerous standard that has been widely advocated in recent months. It seems incredible to me that anyone could propose to judge the efficiency and the effectiveness of a military organization by calculating the percentage of its men intended to manipulate weapons and to be subjected to enemy fire.

This kind of analysis entirely overlooks the fact that what counts in warfare is fire power, and that fire power is not necessarily proportionate to the number of men handling weapons.

The evolution of modern warfare has led from many men with simple weapons requiring little support to a few men with powerful weapons requiring a tremendous amount of support. Obviously, the more ammunition a man can deliver the more help he needs to keep him supplied with that ammunition—and to service his powerful but complex weapons. Judged by such a standard as the one to which I am objecting, Caesar’s legions equipped with simple broadswords were far more efficient than any military force of modern times.

In every combat air squadron the men who remain on the ground are several times as numerous as those who take to the air in combat crews. But the men on the ground make possible the delivery of explosives that are far more effective than all the broadswords or muzzle loaders ever made. If we use any such misleading standard of measurement as the ratio of men firing weapons to those servicing weapons, we would find air forces, like all other military forces, getting less efficient every day.

The simpler the airplane, the more limited its range and the lighter its load of weapons. The primitive airplanes of World War I and the obsolete planes of World War II required fewer men on the ground, and they required many more men in combat crews to deliver the same load. They also had far less effect on the enemy.

It is necessary and desirable that we search continuously for new savings through better management and administration. But these efforts should not blind us to the fact that the greatest waste, by far, can result from mistakes in the composition or the employment of a military force.

Because of the nature of the equipment needed by a modern air force, there is no way to escape the necessity of implementing our program through decisions that have to be made years before their results materialize. In the case of planes that take 2 years to produce, a failure to place orders in 1954 means a failure of deliveries in 1956.

Fortunately, the same is true of enemy forces. What we have to do is watch the trend of developments in the Communist world and plan ahead to make sure that at no future point in time will our own strength be so low that Communist strength can overwhelm us.

Our greatest hope for peace or for victory is to invest our military resources exclusively in those programs and projects which will have the greatest influence on our enemy in restraining him from all-out war—and the greatest effect upon him if the restraint proves insufficient.

One of the consequences of the air-atomic revolution in warfare is that the initial blows in any struggle are likely to be the decisive ones. We can no longer count on having time, as we did in the last two wars, to mobilize our military resources after the fighting has begun. If Soviet industries, and airfields, and transport facilities were left intact while they struck with atomic weapons at those of the West, we would have no chance of ever meeting them again on anything like equal terms.

No matter how strong our air defense, we could not prevent them from getting through with enough bombs to do us enormous damage. That is why we need to have, also in instant readiness at all times, a strategic force of our own capable of doing more than equal damage to the warmaking capacity of our potential enemies. This is the assignment of our Strategic Air Command.

An attack by Soviet Russia on the United States or on any of our NATO allies would bring this ready force into action. Its job would be to deliver atomic bombs against those targets in enemy territory which are most vital to his military operations. I cannot begin to explain the amount of planning and organization that has been required to put us in a position to carry out this mission. Nor can any of us fully comprehend the power of destruction that new developments have created. The idea of our ever having to use it is horrifying to all of us. But if we did not have it as part of our Defense Establishment, we would be inviting the global war which we hope to prevent.

Should a war against the West be started by the Soviets, one of their first moves might be a large-scale sneak attack on our air bases, ports, industrial centers, and on other strategic targets in this country. Therefore, the Air Defense Command must be ready on a moment’s notice to send up our interceptors to engage the attacking planes. We have been setting up radar installations to pick up enemy planes while they are still many miles away from our most vital targets. If the attack were made at night, as it probably would be, our interceptors would have to be able to locate the invaders in the dark. I need not stress how much would depend on the effectiveness of this operation, nor the importance of our having the best equipment to carry it out.

By readiness to counter an attack we do not mean that we should have in being all the forces needed to fight a war. We mean only those that are required to give us a clear advantage in the first round of such a war if it were forced upon us. The maintenance of forces for any other purpose is of lesser importance. If we could not protect ourselves against the first onslaught of an enemy equipped with atomic weapons, and deal him harder blows in return, there would be no second round in the conflict.

Since the performance and range in aircraft is steadily increasing, we can expect that, after a few more years, direct, two-way atomic warfare between the United States and Soviet Russia would become possible on a decisive scale. In such an event the victory would go to the nation possessing the strongest and most effective weapons and the strongest and most effective air force to deliver those weapons at long range.

In case of all-out war, as these units move out from the United States for the air campaign against the heart of the Soviet Union, the first strike of that campaign would already be under way. These strikes, if they must be made, would overshadow all the campaigns that ever have been fought on the face of the globe. The greatest land mass on earth would become one battlefield, with carefully spaced and carefully timed air units moving across it from many directions at once. This method of attack would require a worldwide control of men and planes far more complete than General Lee or General Meade could exercise over their 5 miles of battleline at Gettysburg.

Only an attack such as this, resulting from years of planning and preparing, could be carried out without staggering losses. At the same time it is difficult to conceive how such an attack, if carried out successfully, could leave any nation with the ability or the will to continue fighting a modern war.

This is the possibility that the Kremlin has to contemplate when it ponders the problem of when to begin World War III. In my opinion, no other consequence could possibly disturb them one-tenth as much or be one-tenth as effective an influence for peace. ?

20 comments
  1. jayessell says: April 9, 20109:22 am

    Great find Charley, especially with this weeks arms treaty.

    I wonder if the aircrews ACTUALLY expected to survive nuking their adversaries.
    Wouldn’t destroying receding aircraft have a much lower priority than destroying approaching ones?

    Stalin was nuts, but he considered his own ass first, THEN the principle of Global Communism, THEN what was good for his country THEN what was good for the citizens of his country.

    Thanks to M.A.D., both sides knew it wasn’t possible to destroy enough fast enough in a first strike to avoid catastrophic retaliation.

    I wonder what the declassified Soviet battle plans of that era said.

    Could it have been:
    A first strike against the USA is unfeasible due to…. ???

  2. KD5ZS says: April 9, 20109:47 am

    Not much mention of ICBM development. Sputnik and data from U-2′s would really change that.

  3. TomB says: April 9, 201010:45 am

    See…Here’s the thing.
    The US Constitution provides for raising and supporting an army, but no appropriation of money for it for more than two years. Now, the Government is supposed to maintain a navy. I think the intent was to raise an army when it was needed, hence the militias and local regiments that were in existence until the Civil War. Even now, I believe most of the Army’s personnel and material are kept locally in National Guard units. These are maintained by the states at the pleasure of the President.

    The Air Force, it could be argued is provided for as part of the Army, just as the Marines are an offshoot of the Navy.

    However, the Air Force is neither local nor temporary, other than Air National Guard units.

    I don’t think I’d argue for abolishing it, but I am curious how it is covered in law.

  4. StanFlouride says: April 9, 201012:03 pm

    It turns out that during pretty much the entire 40 years of the Cold War the Pentagon exaggerated the strength and preparedness of the Soviets. Over and over they inflated numbers and the CIA overstated the threat.

    Eisenhower was completely aware of this and warned the American people of the dangers of the Military Industrial Complex.

  5. jayessell says: April 9, 201012:14 pm

    Wiki ‘Bomber Gap’.

    Which makes more sense…

    Misleading your adversary that you have more bombers than you actually do, then they build more trying to catch up.

    or…

    Misleading your adversary that you have fewer bombers than you actually do, so their defenses will be insufficient?

  6. Charlene says: April 9, 201012:50 pm

    The Soviets had tons of bombers; what they were short of at this point in time was bombs, as we now know.

    At one point – over a year after this story ran – the USSR was in possession of 150 nuclear devices, all of which were destined to be dropped over central Europe if war were to occur. The expectation among Kremlin types was that only one out of four bombs would actually detonate, and the real war would be fought with conventional weapons *if* the Soviet Union’s command and control centres survived the American first strike, an eventuality they considered unlikely.

    There was no plan to bomb the US, partly because they simply didn’t have the materiel and partly because they knew their long-range bombers would almost certainly be shot down long before they made it from Verhoyansk or Murmansk to the US border. As one general said, it didn’t make sense to spend a billion rubles just to bomb the Canadian Shield back to the Stone Age.

  7. KD5ZS says: April 9, 20101:58 pm

    Likewise there would be little to gain by attacking the then Soviet Union. However the Germans, Poles, Czechs/Slovaks, Hungarians, etc., where very glad to see the Russians leave!

    I used to work with a gentlemen who grew up in Budapest in the 1950′s and he once told me how scary it was to live there because his father was a dissident.

  8. Toronto says: April 9, 20106:47 pm

    Charlene: But didn’t Soviet bombers follow the then-accepted 12 mile line off the coast of Alaska, Canada, and the mainland USA into the late ’60s? Perhaps TU-95 Bears and TU-16 Badgers? (Okay, they were probably more reconn than bomb threats, but still.)

  9. Toronto says: April 9, 20106:48 pm

    BTW – it’s a “Live under the Sea” cover issue! Where’s Homer?

  10. StanFlouride says: April 9, 201010:09 pm

    Jon Stoltz of VoteVets.org comments in his blog on the conservatives insistence that MAD is still an effective deterrent even though our enemies are no longer states but facile and state-less terrorist groups.
    http://www.huffingtonpo…

  11. jayessell says: April 10, 20101:38 pm

    Stan..
    When I read that article, I got the opposite impression.
    Terrorists would just relocate.
    M.A.D. works against Russia as there is no place for them to run to.

  12. Firebrand38 says: April 11, 201012:09 pm

    @TomB: Textbook stuff…The USAF was established under the National Security Act of 1947 http://www.nationalmuse… & http://www.nationalmuse…

    You might also want to read this piece as well http://www.ndu.edu/inss…

    Constitutionally, Article I, Section 8 states: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…”

  13. galessa says: April 11, 20102:58 pm

    Iraq or Iran, anyone?

  14. r peltier says: April 12, 20104:58 am

    From the picture, those bombers sure do fly high!

  15. jayessell says: April 13, 201010:27 am

    Charlene… Re #6:

    They thought…

    a first strike unlikely
    or
    surviving a first strike unlikely?

    English is a goofy language!

    PS: How you doin’?

  16. Firebrand38 says: April 13, 20101:03 pm

    jayessell: Goofy language? People in glass houses jay. I just mailed something to a friend in Finland and the first part of the address was MAANPUOLUSTUSKORKEAKOULU! :)
    Eye of the beholder I guess.

  17. Jari says: April 13, 20102:13 pm

    Firebrand: Exactly, that’s a perfectly good, serious Finnish word. Then again, you could try saying this quickly several times on a row “Keksijä keksi keksin. Keksittyään keksin keksijä keksi keksin keksityksi.” ;)

  18. KD5ZS says: April 13, 20104:22 pm

    I’ll stick to the “Sheik’s sixth sheep is sick” tongue twister.

    English has a Mickey Mouse system for spelling!

    I just couldn’t resist that after the “Goofy” comment!

  19. Johnny Q says: April 18, 201010:38 am

    The great historical irony is that nobody really believed in deterrence at the highest levels of either US or Soviet policymaking. They constantly assumed the enemy was going to try to get first-strike capability on them, would accept the loss of several of their largest cities if it meant the “won” the resulting war, and, at least in the US, the politicians constantly worked FOR first-strike status themselves. The idea that deterrence stabilized things is false — it may have prevented the actual attack (with no small amount of that hesitation attributable to luck), but it was absolutely not taken seriously by either the military men or the politicos.

  20. Firebrand38 says: April 18, 201012:35 pm

    Johnny Q: I’m assuming that you can reference a source for that assertion?

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