The Ultimate Weapon is Foresight

May 1, 1962

The military point of view is a figure of speech often used to describe something that really doesn’t exist in our country. The views of our military men differ just as much as do the views of congressmen from different districts, or clergymen of different faiths, or scientists of different backgrounds.

Like other responsible citizens, most military men try to study problems objectively and judge pro­posals honestly. But we use different background ex­perience in the solution of our problems. We appreci­ate problems differently because of this difference in experience. And we don’t always agree. So it seems to me wrong to suppose that some kind of thought control produces only one military viewpoint on our problems. There is no such thing in our country. There are many military viewpoints.

[What follows is] from my point of view as a mili­tary man. In our world that has witnessed great changes in the last few years, a military point of view must consider space as a new factor in our foreign affairs. I should therefore like to . . . discuss this new factor that will influence greatly our country’s future. And I am going to describe my ideas that seem valid from my background in aviation and my experience with military problems.

The field of knowledge that is producing our capa­bilities in space today has its origin in the develop­ment of aviation. And the problems of space develop­ment are much the same as problems that confronted the growth of aviation. But our world has changed swiftly since World War II, and it is changing swiftly today. Now, we can no longer take long years to recognize coming problems and more long years to theorize about their solution as we did with airpower in the 1920s and ’30s. In today’s world we have a hostile competitor for the solution of every problem—political, technical, and strategic. On the outcome of this competition depends our military security and our leadership of the free world.

Let me give you an example of the way we were slow to recognize coming problems. . . . Almost half a century ago Dr. Robert Goddard proved the validity of rocket propulsion principles in a vacuum. These are the principles applied today to launch intercon­tinental missiles, satellites into orbit, and interplane­tary probes. They will be applied to launch our lunar expedition and return it to earth. They will probably be applied to control maneuverable vehicles in space some day.

But it took a long time for us to recognize the im­portance of Goddard’s work, even though he con­tinued this work until 1945. In 1929 he demonstrated the first successful liquid-fueled rocket flight at Auburn, Mass.

Many times during these years Dr. Goddard suc­cessfully demonstrated rocket-engine performance, and technical reports on his work were widely published by the Smithsonian Institution.

But it was after that, in 1936, that a representative of the Army Air Corps visited Goddard to assess offi­cially the military value of his work. He reported that there was little military value in it, but that rockets would appear useful to drive turbines. And we did little to exploit Goddard’s work until after World War II. We can’t afford to make that kind of mistake today.

We were not only slow to recognize the value of Goddard’s work. We were also slow to see that it was part of a growing problem.

Goddard’s work was recognized in Germany and Russia as early as 1920. By 1923 a technical study of the rocket in a space environment was published in Germany. By 1929 the first of nine volumes of an encyclopedia on space travel was published in the Soviet Union. In 1930 the German Army, after review­ing the work of Goddard and others, decided to establish a rocket program and to equip an artillery prov­ing ground to develop military missiles. In 1934 the first Soviet liquid-propellant rocket was successfully fired.

In 1937 the German Army and Air Force opened the rocket research station at Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea. This is where they developed the V-1 and V-2 missiles of World War II. Those missiles lacked only nuclear warheads to make them effective stra­tegic weapons. Also in 1937, the Soviet Union estab­lished rocket test centers at Kazan, Moscow, and Leningrad. And after the war, they captured and put to work in the -Soviet Union a number of German personnel and missiles from the German arsenal at Peenenünde.

The strategic problem of intercontinental missiles and space operations was impending when Germany and the Soviet Union decided to pursue the develop­ment of Goddard’s knowledge. We might even say that the conditions for the strategic missile problem were established when Goddard acquired his knowl­edge of rocket propulsion. After all, in our society we can’t keep men’s minds under lock and key. God­dard’s knowledge would be gained by those who wanted it. We cannot control what men will do with their knowledge. And problems arise not only from what men do with their knowledge; they also arise from what men fail to do.

I suppose World War II is one classic example of the kind of problem that can arise from what men fail to do. For a long time, we failed to stop Hitler at any point in his continual march of aggression. And finally he brought much of the world to ruin.

There were many reasons why no nation tried to stop Hitler before his march into Poland. And I don’t wish to oversimplify the reasons. But one important reason was that no nation, or affiance of nations, out­side of Germany had strategic capabilities in being that were clearly superior to the Germans’.

The weapons of all major powers were much alike —and the Germans’ might have been a little better during the 1930s. No nation had the advantage of a breakthrough in new weapons and none held great quantities of arms, but Germany had the greatest quantity. No other nation wanted the burden of a large military establishment, but Germany developed one.

I think we could have obtained enough strategic advantage from the development of our technology to deter Hitler without large standing armies. Let me give you an example. In 1922 our National Bureau of Standards published one of the first studies of the jet-propulsion engine. Stanford Moss at General Elec­tric had already developed the supercharger. This supercharger turbine technology was the essential basis for the design of a turbojet engine. Eight years later in 1930, Frank Whittle, a British Air Force of­ficer, obtained British patents for turbojet engines. And so the stage was set for the American or British development of the jet engine. But it was the Germans who’ were the first to fly a jet airplane. They did it in 1939. It was several years later, during the war, that the British and we began to build jet airplanes. In the meantime, the Germans had them in operational squadrons.

We probably could have had them before Hitler. And if we had had them, Hitler would have’ had to reckon with their superior performance even if he did have a large air force.

Another example. After Marconi invented the radio he reported in 1922 that radar could be developed, and he described how it would work. It wasn’t until thirteen years later that the development of radar was seriously considered in Britain. In the meantime, we had made some important observations and studies of radar in our own country. Again the, stage was set. And when radar was finally developed, it was a real breakthrough that gave the British the margin they needed to win the Battle of Britain in 1940. But we could have had radar much sooner and Hitler would have had to reckon with this too.

Of course this kind of strategic anticipation and de­velopment would have been called an arms race. But we might have deterred Hitler at least long enough for the rest of the world to organize its opposition to him. It would have been a struggle between labora­tories and learning and men’s minds instead of a ruinous war. We didn’t make the choice for the de­velopment of arms in the 1930s and we probably could not have done so in the political climate of those years.

The choice between what our societies will do and what they will not do is always a political choice. And the process of choosing often takes years longer than the action itself after the choice has been made.

Twenty years after the Germans had bombed Lon­don from zeppelins and night-bomber aircraft in World War I, we had only thirteen B-17s. Later the B-17 was the mainstay of our bomber force in Europe in World War II.

Two years after we had thirteen B-17s that flew 140 miles an hour, the Germans flew the first jet aircraft. We could have had B-17s years earlier than that, and we tried to get them. But we spent those years in mak­ing a choice. Part of making the choice was listening to argument.

We heard arguments that Army bombers should not be designed to fly farther than 300 miles from our shoreline. And this argument came seventeen years after the old, early Army bombers under General Mitchell had sunk the captured German battleship Ostfriesland, the light cruiser Frankfort, and the de­stroyer G-102. And later, we sank the obsolete battle­ships Alabama, Virginia, and New Jersey. But still the argument was that bombers weren’t supposed to fly more than 300 miles from our shores. Those years of choice were the years when bombs were falling regu­larly on Chinese cities and, in Spain, on Barcelona.

Most of us think of Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris as the event that dramatized the new era of aviation. And yet, ten years after Lindbergh’s flight, Pan American and Imperial Airways survey flights across the North Atlantic were the eleventh and twelfth successful nonstop transatlantic flights com­pleted out of eighty-five attempts made up to that time. So we didn’t develop aviation very rapidly after Lindbergh’s flight.

We had to choose many times between what we would do and what we would not do in aviation. And there were all kinds of arguments about each choice. An aeronautical authority of his day said that air­planes would never fly faster than 440 miles per hour. There were other arguments that there was a maxi­mum size and weight for airplanes and therefore a maximum range that airplanes could attain. Later there were arguments about the sound barrier—we could never fly faster than sound. And there was the argument about the heat barrier. All these arguments turned out to be wrong. But they prolonged the time it took to make our choice. But the political choice between things we would do and things we would not do was determined by much more than these tech­nical arguments. There were economic arguments—and there were philosophical arguments.

In the 1920s and 1930s when we were developing aviation we had also pursued a policy of disarmament —mainly naval disarmament. The public attitude was to support a policy of isolationism if possible and neutrality at most. The popular idea that our country should never become involved in what we called “Europe’s wars” was a very powerful idea. And it cer­tainly influenced the political choice between the de­velopment and deferment of new weapons.

Now we face the problem of choosing what we should do and what we should not do about the de­velopment of military capabilities in space. And there is technical argument, economic argument, and philo­sophical argument about our political choice.

The popular ideas accepted by the public today will probably influence the political way we choose our capabilities in space. The powerful ideas of to­day are not the neutrality and isolationism ideas of the 1920s and 1930s. The powerful ideas of today are new and peculiar to our time.

Not too many years ago, for example, the public was accustomed to the idea that the Defense Depart­ment would provide for our external security. The job of keeping America secure was the military’s, under the direction of the President, and with appropriations voted by the Congress.

Today a new phenomenon has tended to disasso­ciate this public image of security from the Defense Department. This phenomenon fogs the vision. It out­modes classical ways to deal with security problems. And it confuses our efforts to develop a workable national military strategy.

This phenomenon is a condition in which many people question whether “security” will in fact be provided by the armed forces if they are called on to perform.

Historically, the armed forces provide security by protecting lives and property from enemy forces. If the man on the street comes to believe that this type of protection will involve the destruction of the per­sons being protected as well as the aggressor, then to him, obviously, the cure has become as painful as the disease.

To a person who believes this, military action no longer promises the security traditionally sought from military forces.

It makes little or no difference that this image of modern war may not be valid. If it exists at all—and very few will question that it exists—then it serves to divorce security from military forces in the public mind.

This is the subject I want to deal with at this point. I feel this is vital background not only to the solution of modern military problems in space but to many other problems as well.

An ancient Greek once wrote that the art of war is, in the last resort, the art of keeping one’s freedom of action. This thought has stood up through the ages and is pertinent here.

When all is said and done, we maintain mili­tary forces to give us freedom to exercise national power. Some of our new strategic literature tells us that our present posture gives the statesman too little freedom of action, too little room to maneuver. It says that today’s nuclear posture doesn’t lend itself to con­trol, that limited actions won’t remain limited. And it also says that missile forces don’t give enough time for decision and negotiation.

I don’t subscribe a hundred percent to all these ideas. I think there are many ways that you can main­tain a nuclear posture and still have freedom of action. And I am certainly not suggesting that we stop build­ing missile and manned weapon systems—they are go­ing to be needed for some years to come. But I do recognize this:

Each dominant war system that has emerged in this century has tended to increase the danger attached to the exercise of national power and to complicate the statesman’s job. Instead of making his work easier and giving him the variety of options he desires, these new weapons have closed in steadily on his maneuver room until today he senses he has none at all.

Seapower was an ideal tool for the diplomat. War and the threat of war were far removed from his shores and there was all kinds of time for decision. This offered the diplomat lots of maneuver room.

But each succeeding war system, built on an expand­ing technology, has cut into the statesman’s art. Large land war systems, for example, resulted in wide damage, huge costs, and they couldn’t always be con­trolled for the purpose of national power. The first World War was a good example of how such systems could expand war beyond control.

More recently, the jet bomber came on the scene to remove land and sea barriers. It offered almost unre­stricted access to an enemy’s forces. It reduced the time for decision. And, with its atomic payload, it in­creased the scope of destruction.

Finally, today, the ICBM has severely limited the statesman’s maneuver room. In a word, then, security has declined and the exercise of national power has been restricted as technology has advanced.

Faced with this kind of dilemma, the statesman has tried to increase his maneuver room by other means. This search for security, excited by arguments over nuclear weapons, has taken two main directions in the last several years. One involves nuclear disarmament. The other addresses various ways to deter nuclear war. These are the powerful ideas of our time.

Most people recoil from the idea of building mili­tary space capabilities because they see this as a further cause for instability and a needless extension of a nuclear arms race that, in their view, has already gone too far.

When you lump their arguments together with those of the very logical and calm fellow who asks why try to deter nuclear war by taking the nuclear weapon into space—since we can already do an impres­sive job with it from here on earth—when you get the total effect of these arguments, then you have a lot of tough opposition to military space systems. You have economic, technical, and philosophical opposition.

But there is one point which all of these ideas miss.

Their entire emphasis is on the nuclear weapon. Some of them favor nuclear disarmament or nuclear arms control. Others strive for nuclear deterrence. They all look on nuclear weapons as the last and final form of weapons that man will devise—and as weapons that will always determine the outcome of wars.

They look on space operations merely as an exten­sion of the use of nuclear weapons.

This may not be the case at all.

Our national security in the future may depend on armaments far different from any we know today. And, believe me, they won’t be ultimate weapons either.

Perhaps they will be weapons that enable us to neutralize earth-based ICBMs.

Perhaps they will be weapons that strike with the speed of light. That kind of speed makes the 15,000­mile-an-hour ICBM a relatively slow-moving target.

If a new generation of space weapons can neutralize an aggressor’s ICBMs, then the world will enter a new era in warfare, or in the prevention of warfare.

What I am saying is that space capabilities may bring about the technological disarmament of nuclear weapons.

Let me give you one brief example of what I am talking about: Beam-directed energy weapons may be used in space. And the energy directed by these weapons could travel across space essentially with the speed of light. This would be an invaluable char­acteristic for the interception of ICBM warheads and their decoys.

We’ve looked into the phenomena associated with this kind of weapon. We have evidence from scientific papers they have published that the Soviets are also interested. And Khrushchev himself has boasted pub­licly about “fantastic weapons.”

Suppose the Soviets were first to develop advanced weapons of this sort and to employ them aboard maneuvering spacecraft

If they could neutralize our ICBMs with such a sys­tem, they could change the balance of decisive power in their favor.

If they could neutralize satellites and spacecraft with such a weapon, they could prevent us from developing an equal defense against their ICBMs.

And they could even prevent us from going into space for peaceful purposes.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that with such a capability an enemy would have the potential to dominate the world. He would have the military superiority essential to support all forms of aggressive policies to pursue his objectives.

Never before has there been so great a need to be certain of the steps we take to guarantee our security. For centuries, successful national military strategies have been based on principles of war learned in equally as many centuries of military ex­perience. Those lessons came hard. And they came at a great cost in lives and in gold and in national power.

When Nathan Bedford Forrest said that the secret of success in battle was “to get there first with the most men,” he was recognizing principles of war that have been successful for more than 2,500 years. We ignore those lessons at our peril. Modern war is far too destructive to apply those principles exactly the way General Forrest would have applied them. Today, the desired way to apply those principles is by stra­tegic anticipation and development. For if we are not the first with the most capability, we are very likely to be too late with too little.

In the past fifteen years it has been the Soviets who have been too late with too little:

• The atomic bomb canceled the advantages of Soviet capabilities for mass aggression at the end of World War II when the Soviets maintained extremely large military forces and began to build modem air forces.

• The development of our effective air defenses with nuclear weapons circumvented slower Soviet efforts to develop a long-range-bomber striking force.

• The rapid development of the B-47 jet bomber force in the Strategic Air Command frustrated Soviet intentions to control the aerospace in areas vital to our interests. It also countered their ability to employ their masses of men and aircraft in long wars of at­trition. It forced them to build strong air defenses and, by diverting their resources, retarded the development of their strategic striking forces.

In the same manner, the rapid development of our missile-warning systems and second-generation bal­listic missiles has frustrated Soviet efforts to seize a strategic advantage in this area with their ICBMs.

We have maneuvered our strategic advantage to counter the Soviets in each of these developments. But each time they have come closer to winning the con­test for strategic advantage. The race for missile domi­nance has thus far been marked by an uncomfortably close margin and it has not been clear who enjoyed the margin. And it is a well-known fact that the Soviets now lead us in the field of booster thrust for both missile and space development.

One danger to our security will come from Soviet efforts to exploit this situation. Another and greater danger can come from our willingness to accept and perpetuate this status quo—either through fear of de­stabilizing this relationship, or through resigning our­selves to arguments that nothing can be done about it.

In this situation, one significant strategic require­ment for both sides is to develop the capability to neutralize opposing ICBMs. But we could become pre­occupied with the requirement stated this way.

We could become so preoccupied that we might overlook an equally important one—to retain forces that can control the aerospace. This includes the area from the earth’s surface all the way up to and includ­ing what we now know as “outer space.”

Controlling the aerospace from the earth’s surface on out into space is going to take modern versions of missiles and manned aircraft, and it is going to take manned and unmanned spacecraft. It would do no good to leapfrog into “outer space” without a simul­taneous ability to control the lower aerospace.

I have said many times that I believe we should never replace tested and reliable weapons with new and unproven ones until we are sure the new one can either do a better job or a necessary job that cannot be done at all by the old systems. In short, I believe in having in-being protection along with progress.

Achieving that protection in being along with progress will require a great deal of wisdom and cour­age in the years immediately ahead. We will need in-being forces that can control each stratum of the aerospace. At the same time, we will have to plan for the future. The long lead times to develop modern weapon systems and the fact that those weapon sys­tems could hand the developer a decisive advantage will demand that we handle our military resources with a balance far more delicate than ever before.

So when I call for the development of military space capabilities I am not forgetting that there is a simul­taneous requirement to update our capabilities in the other strata of the aerospace.

Nevertheless, there is this fact of very long lead times between inception and a combat capability with modern weapons. This means that we have to start now on the systems of the future. I think we can start with what we know now.

Military space capabilities will eventually be the choice made by our political process. What we should do is to expedite the process by recognizing the ad­vantages of developing military space systems as quickly as possible.

We can be reasonably sure of one thing. Whatever we do, the Soviets already have recognized the importance of these new developments and they are moving at full speed for a decisive capability in space.

If they are successful, they can deny space to us. I don’t believe it is necessary to dwell any longer on the strategic consequences of such a situation.

All of us join in hoping we will make real progress toward disarmament and true peace. While we wait for distinct signs that we are in fact making progress toward disarmament, we must continue to make ade­quate preparations for free man’s defense. To prevent a fatal technological surprise in the 1970s, those prepa­rations must include capabilities in space.


There is much opposition to military space system developments:

• Some call it a needless extension of a nuclear arms race they think has gone too far already;

• Others ask—why take nuclear weaponry into space when it can work lust as efficiently here on earth

Both schools miss a basic point because they look on nuclear missiles as the ultimate weapon and mili­tary space operations as merely on outward exten­sion of present-day strategy and technology. They must consider the important possibility that

• Future security may depend on weapon sys­tems unlike any we’ know today, systems that might operate at the speed of light;

• Space deployment of such systems might enable neutralization of earth-based ICBM systems;

• With such capabilities an enemy could dom­inate the world;

• Our strategic philosophy must be geared to such future possibilities—to prevent fatal techno­logical surprise in the 1970s.

Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, is probably the world’s most noted airman. Prior to his present assignment, he served as Vice Chief of Staff and as Commander of the Strategic Air Command. A native of Co­lumbus, Ohio, his service career dates back to 1929, when he completed flight training after receiving his B.S. in Engineering from Ohio State University. The above article is a slightly con­densed version of an address by the General at Assumption Col­lege, Worcester, Mass., March 28.