Air and Space are Indivisible

March 1, 1958
In little more than a decade, the nature of international relations has been radically altered by the concurrent development of thermonuclear weapons, intercontinental bombers, and missiles. International relations soon will be further complicated by man’s capability to travel in the far reaches of space. This era of rapid technological progress could benefit all mankind or it could result in a holocaust which might destroy the civilized world. The United States Air Force intends to do everything within its power to prevent war and to enhance the peaceful benefits that knowledge of space could bring.

To assure peace, the United States has no current alternative but to maintain powerful military forces in a state of constant readiness for war. Since the prime purpose of our military forces is to deter war, our deterrent forces will have accomplished their purpose if they never have to be used in battle. Should the United States be required to use its military forces, however, they must be strong enough to achieve victory.

The basic philosophy of the United States Air Force as concerns military airpower is the requirement for flexible offensive forces second to none. These forces must be capable of selective operations anywhere in the world in support of our national objectives. Possession of a strong defense, particularly a strong air defense, is important, but our possession of first-rate offensive forces is the principal deterrent to enemy attack.

The idea of deterrence through possession of strong military strength is not new. In years past, the deterrent stature of the United States existed in its reserve and mobilization potentials and in the protection afforded by its oceans—as well as in the size and quality of its forces in being. But this has changed. Deterrence can no longer be measured in terms of distance or mobilization potential. The potency and flexibility of powerful striking forces which can retaliate on a moment’s notice, compose the only real deterrent today. This deterrent power can be sufficient only so long as it convinces potential enemies that aggression against the United States and its allies would not pay. The most important responsibility of the United States Air Force is to maintain its deterrent power strong and modern, with forces that are sufficiently flexible to meet all situations in which they are likely to be needed.


Air Force capabilities have always been developed in accordance with assigned responsibilities and are always projected into the future on the same basis. The reason the Air Force builds weapon systems of any type is to produce better combat capabilities. As the state of the art has improved, so have the weapon systems of the Air Force improved. The technological progress evidenced in a comparison between the B-29 atomic bomber of 1945 and the global B-52 jet nuclear bomber of 1945 and the sciences of aeronautics and astronautics will combine to bring progress that is even more significant and astounding in the years to come.

The Air Force embarked on the intermediate- and long-range missile programs because the combat potentialities of missiles offered certain advantages in comparison with manned systems. This is true even with early models of missiles, which will be much less efficient than those we expect to obtain later on. The Air Force has made considerable progress in the research and development of missiles, in detailed planning for their operational use, and in the provision of logistic support of missile systems when they became operational. Building a missile capability has been the number-one priority project of the Air Force in recent years.

There are many reasons why ballistic and guided missiles are compatible and complementary systems to manned aircraft. The alert potential, quick reaction time, and reduced vulnerability to enemy attack of operationally reliable missile systems will result in more effective and economical performance of many Air Force missions. However, weapon selection and the determination of proper force structure will also depend on many other factors such as reliability, accuracy, warhead weight, carrying capability, range, cost, and the type of targets to be attacked.

Although there are many advantages to be gained from exploitation of missiles, care must and will be taken to avoid the danger of going overboard on missiles or, for that matter, on any single weapon system or weapon. USAF studies indicate that even with vastly improved missiles, the strongest force structure, the one providing the best survival insurance, will be one in which missiles and high-performance manned systems are used together in complementary roles. Aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft are mutually supporting systems. They are compatible in development and operational strategies designed to gain and hold a superior advantage in air and space. They are a functionally complete system.

This factor of system completeness must be kept in perspective if the future patterns of airpower are to be seen clearly. Manned aircraft, missiles, and piloted spacecraft which are responsive to the command and control structure of the Air Force are parts of a continuing integrated system. From an operational viewpoint they are a single instrument. Operating under the same control structure, missiles, manned aircraft, and spacecraft will provide great flexibility. If circumstances should rule out mission accomplishment with one method, another method will be responsive to the mission. If more than one method is required, they can be applied simultaneously to the target objective.


Ballistic missiles have sometimes been erroneously referred to as the ultimate weapon. It is extremely doubtful whether there ever can be an ultimate weapon, although experience has shown that a single weapon or weapon system can be decisive at a certain time or place. Missiles should be considered as but another step, albeit a very important step, in the evolution from manned aircraft to true piloted spacecraft.

In discussing air and space, it should be recognized that there is no division, per se, between the two. For all practical purposes air and space merge, forming a continuous and indivisible field of operations. Just as in the past, when our capability to control the air permitted our freedom of movement on the land and seas beneath, so, in the future, will the capability to control space permit our freedom of movement on the surface of the earth and through the earth’s atmosphere.

The Air Force has been pioneering in the fringes of space for several years with manned aircraft. The Bell X-2, a rocket research plane, carried Capt. Iven Kincheloe up to approximately twenty-five miles above the earth at 1,900 miles per hour. the X-15, which is now in the development stage, is designed for speeds and altitudes much greater than those of the X-2. The next step is the Air Force program to fly at hypersonic speeds, circumnavigating the globe many times before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. As a weapon system, this program will represent the first major breakthrough in sustained piloted spaceflight. With this system it will be possible to resolve many of the problems involved in either placing man on a continuous orbit around the earth or sending him soaring into outer space and to nearby planets. At the rate things are going, it is technically feasible for manned spaceflight to become routine in a very few years. The current technological race is producing technological advances at an unprecedented rate. Engine thrust has been increased many times over what was considered excellent a few years ago; and personal equipment has been improved to a point where it will be adequate for manned spaceflight to the moon.

Air Force Experience Factor

It is natural for the Air Force to have a major operational interest in the integration of air and space capabilities. Since the beginning of controlled flight in a heavier-than-air machine over fifty years ago, the Air Force has used the airplane as its basic system. During these years it has accumulated a vast amount of development knowledge, operational experience, and practical skills. Today, as the United States Air Force stands on the threshold of the space age, this know-how … the Air Force maturity in the science of flight … is a tremendously valuable and important asset. Through constant exploitation of the range, speed, altitude characteristics, and carrying capability of aircraft, the Air Force has developed techniques of air warfare, which were brought to a high state of perfection in World War II and which were improved even more during the Korean War. Strategic air warfare, the capability to penetrate deep within an enemy’s defenses and attack his vital sources of power, is but one product of Air Force imagination, skill, and experience.

Today, the operational structure of the Air Force reflects this intensive experience in excellent equipment and a dedicated body of professional airmen. predominant characteristics of this structure are quick reaction, flexibility, firepower selectivity, mobility, and penetrative ability. With an infinite number of combinations of range, speed, routes, altitudes, and tactics, and operating in a medium that is undivided, unobstructed, and unlimited, the United States Air Force can accomplish an infinite number of tasks. The forces can be shifted rapidly from task to task or from one locality to another. They can be adapted quickly to various requirements for firepower in war and to employment for humanitarian, political, and psychological purposes in peace. Missiles can be exploited most efficiently and effectively when combined with this extensive operational experience.

Missile development and the probing of piloted craft into the fringes of space have been tremendous undertaking, surpassing even the Manhattan Project in scope and goals. In the not too distant future, efficient ballistic missiles and true piloted spacecraft will enter our forces as operational weapons. The Air Force will be ready to receive them and use them effectively, although the new problems and challenges can be expected.

The United States and its allies must maintain the capability to exert a steady unremitting pressure against war in the years ahead. This can be done if United States airpower is the best airpower. To be the best it must be ready night and day, for every day of every year, to execute a counterstroke which is powerful, swift, and deadly. Such a force will make an aggressor reluctant to attack. The Air Force is dedicated to creating for our country the best airpower it is possible to produce.

The above material is the preface by the Air Force Chief of Staff, from the forthcoming book the USAF Report on the Ballistic Missile, edited by Lt. Col. Kenneth F. Gantz, Editor of The Air University Quarterly. The publisher of the book is Doubleday & Co., Inc. The appearance of this material in Air Force is with special permission.