Viewpoint: A New Era of Jointness?

Feb. 1, 1983
It is instructive, at this great distance, to read an account of the events leading up to Pearl Harbor. That December 7, branded by President Roosevelt as a day of infamy, has now become simply another historic benchmark, with bumper stickers urging us to remember Pearl Harbor aimed at Mr. Honda, not at Admiral Yamamoto. The Jumbos coming into Honolulu International are, often as not, loaded with Japanese tourists who dutifully visit the Arizona Memorial. As for the military situation in the western Pacific, we are looking toward the Japanese for help, forty years having changed Japan from an enemy into a trusted ally. The Rising Sun—World War II’s detested Meatball—now graces F-15s built, like Toyotas, in Japan.

But to get back to Pearl Harbor and December 7, 1941—the American military were neither as inept nor as somnolent as the public has been led to believe, although there was some of both in the predictable routine of the US fleet, which assured the Japanese the ships would be at their berths any Sunday. A more basic problem, however, lay in the clear separation of functions between the Navy and the Army. And since the Air Corps, still struggling for an identity, was part of the Army and subordinate to infantry generals, the separation applied particularly to it.

Thus, when Commander Minoru Genda of the Imperial Japanese Navy devised the plan for the attack on Pearl, he was not unduly disturbed at the thought of long-range reconnaissance spotting the Japanese task force. The Navy in Hawaii had little in the way of long-range patrol aircraft, and the Army Air Corps, while possessing bombers having a radius of action sufficient to discover the Japanese before their own aircraft would have been in range, was not in the business of doing naval patrols. Instead, the Air Corps took care of inshore threats. On December 8, our aircraft were parked wingtip to wingtip while the Japanese fleet approached undetected.

We all know that happened. Regardless of what one may think of Japanese ethics in striking before a declaration of war—a war both sides knew was coming—it was perhaps the most successful single air attack in history. Commander Genda felt the initial success should have been exploited, but that part of his plan was overruled. Years later, Genda became a lieutenant general and commanded the newly created Japanese Air Force—or Air Self-Defense Force, to use the curious euphemism required by the pacifistic constitution we devised for Japan. Anyway, one relaxed evening, this distinguished former enemy told a small group of us that we would still be trying to get the Japanese out of the Rockies if his plan had been followed.

We have been through a lot of action since December 7, 1941, with some notable victories and a few defeats along the way, but despite that shared dismal experience in Hawaii, the Navy and the Air Force have generally trod their separate paths. Even when it made more sense than usual to work together, as in the Mediterranean, there have always been difficulties and not a little reluctance.

Now, it would seem, a new era is dawning, one in which the Navy and the Air Force are going to take some positive steps toward carrying out President Eisenhower’s dictum that our forces could no longer fight separately. To this end, the CNO and the Chief of Staff have signed a general agreement and, more to the point, five specific ones. These provide for increased joint training and joint procurement of common items, not including, it goes without saying, common fighter airplanes. There is no advantage to either service in chasing that rainbow again.

Under one of these agreements, the old B-52, armed with Harpoon missiles, has gained the new mission of antiship combatant. Each service, under these agreements, will take more advantage of each other’s service schools, presumably making it clear it is an honor, not an afterthought, to be selected. Implicit in all this cooperation is the intention to improve Navy and land-based mutual support. When we consider the problems Southwest Asia presents, nothing could be more timely.

The Army had had its problems with its progeny in the years since the Air Force finally broke the last ties. During the period of massive retaliation when SAC reigned supreme, the Army was almost made to look redundant. Then came the doctrinal disputes and a determined effort by the Army to create a new Army Air Corps. The A-10 owes its existence to the doctrinal dispute over the mission of close support. It was conceived, not by tacticians but by doctrinaires, to knock down the case for the Army’s proposed attack helicopter. The A-10 won this battle, although the war remains unresolved, or at least, it has remained so until now.

AirLand 2000 is an Army concept for fighting a war in Europe, and there is a key place in this concept for the Air Force. While the Army visualizes mass use of helicopters, the essential roles of air superiority and deep interdiction remain jobs for the Air Force.

Aside, perhaps, from the fact that the Air Force’s AWACS is now committed to fleet support, and the B-52, with a sea warfare mission, has entered the heretofore private domain of the Navy, there is nothing dramatic in what is taking place—just a common-sense effort to make certain we are doing the best we can with what we have.

It has not always been that way. Services, after all, are justified and funded on the basis of their roles and missions. Encroachment by any service on another’s preserve always sets off the alarm, which is both understandable and as it should be. The fact remains that this country is putting its reliance on an All-Volunteer Force in a period when we have never been more endangered. We can no longer afford interservice sniping, or even the well-meaning but uncommunicative sort of liaison of 1941. The new trend toward professional understanding and mutual support is very good news at a time when good news is hard to come by.