Is the Stage Being Set for a Political Power Grab in the Pentagon?

May 1, 1963

Despite suggestions to the contrary, no one is impugning the personal integrity of the Secretary of Defense in connection with the controversial TFX decision. What is being questioned is the evident desire to concentrate final military procurement authority in a group of politically appointed officials—who could, in certain circumstances, utilize this authority to fill political pork barrels.

Let it be made clear at the outset that nobody, in uniform or out, in Congress or out, has ques­tioned the integrity of Robert S. McNamara. The Secretary of Defense, hypersensitive to printer’s ink, has said, “The press of this country has been fully implicit that I am either subject to political influence, self-interest, or stupid.”

The truth is that the press has implied no such thing. It has, in covering the current tempest over Mr. McNamara’s imperial award of the TFX contract to the General Dynamics/Grumman team, been insinuatin­g in a clumsy way that persons with less integrity than Mr. McNamara could use a position as powerful as his for nefarious purposes. It is fair to say that the spotlight of publicity, emanating from both Congress and the press, is looking for such villains.

What could be done with the kind of power Mr. McNamara legally wields must be stated as plainly as our universal confidence in the personal honor of this particular Secretary of Defense. As exemplified by the TFX decision, his legal right to boss the Defense Department bears the seeds of potentially the biggest power grab in the nation’s history. From the Teapot Dome scandals to Harold Talbott’s inept use of his stationery in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, for which he was fired, the nation has never faced a potential menace of this magnitude. The dis­tribution of the Defense Department budget, now running far in excess of $50 billion a year, can deter­mine the flow of wealth and can, literally, buy votes.

There also can be no reasonable challenge to the thesis, offered here, that the pattern being laid down by Mr. McNamara begets a procurement system that is easily corruptible. It is not the purpose of this es­say to debate the merits of the General Dynamics and Boeing Company proposals. Nor the applicability of titanium and thrust reversers to the TFX design, nor commonality, nor the relative importance of improved aircraft range and load capacity. That is for the tech­nicians, the engineers, and the men who will risk their skins and their missions with this hunk of hardware.

We do submit, however, that the Secretary of De­fense is substituting the judgment of a handful of men for the carefully weighed decision of a small army of experts. The former are political appointees with po­litical gains to seek if, unlike Mr. McNamara, they choose to do so. The latter are removed from the polit­ical arena by their training, their experience, and their dedication. Their input comes from so many angles and is subject to so many internal checks and balances that the political factor, aggressive as it may be, never has failed to be secondary.

Failure of the Secretary of Defense to recognize this situation and the problem of another Administra­tion in another day to replace him with a man of equal caliber, perhaps is nothing more than one facet of his own almost incredible naïveté. Even the unlamented Charles Wilson, with his provocative homilies about bird dogs and patronizing reference to Senators as “you men,” was less exasperating to tribunals on Cap­itol Hill. Mr. McNamara’s relations with the Perma­nent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its chair­man, Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas, have at this writing degenerated to the point where they menace the legislative welfare of many military pro­grams. The haymakers thrown by the Defense De­partment, contemptuous and discreditable to the so-Ions and military services alike, are Mr. McNamara’s responsibility just as fully as his decision to buy the TFX from General Dynamics. The difference is that nobody can argue with his right to place a contract. They can differ with his judgment, both in overruling the Source Selection Board and the reckless use of calumny when his judgment is challenged.

The Secretary of Defense and at least two of his official family—Arthur Sylvester, chief of Public Affairs, and Roswell Gilpatric, Deputy Defense Secretary—have been on the stand before Mr. McClellan to give apologetic clarifications of their language in the public prints. It is interesting and significant that most of what has been said about political influence and self-interest came out of these sessions. Here was the stuff of which headlines were made.

Mr. McNamara himself acknowledged that he could be a man who acted from political motives, personal interest, or simple error. One of the first things he did on the stand was to submit, of his own free will and accord, an accounting of his personal wealth, which is substantial but alien to issues in the current controversy. He called the accounting “a matter of appropriate interest to the committee,” a truism that would be uncalled for in explaining a source-selection decision that came out of existing and proven military machinery.

It is unfortunate that, so far, this machinery has not been placed under scrutiny to any worthwhile degree. The procedures followed for the TFX have been used by the Air Force since at least 1955 and applied in that time to determining the contractor for sixty-five new systems. In the case of the TFX, a joint service project, contributions were added from the Navy. The result is that deliberations of the Evalu­ation Group and Source Selection Board involved more than 250 persons, a large majority of them civilian experts in the employ of the Air Force and Navy.

When this procedure was set up eight years ago it was recognized by USAF that security was essential, and there has been a closed door outside the pro­ceedings ever since. The reason for this has appeared in official publications, which acknowledge that se­crecy helps guard against special appeals and pres­sure. This could come from contractors or congress­men, to cite the two most obvious examples, and it could delay a program and embarrass USAF. It could imperil the selection of a system and a contractor, or relations with industry, the Defense Department, and Congress itself. USAF personnel, military and civilian, stand under threat of punishment if they violate this confidence. Transgressions are not unknown, but they are rare.

Input to the source-selection procedure comes from all pertinent commands from headquarters down to the people who will train the crews and provide the logistics that support the system in the field. Members of the Source Selection Board represent the military’s highest level of competence, and while the setup is not always efficient, there never has been a challenge to its effectiveness. It has offered maximum defense against political and economic pressures and checked the possibility of abuse of the vast power of contract placement.

There is no better way to prove the system’s effectiveness, and none more timely in 1963, than to point to the fact that the much-discussed and maligned “military-industrial complex,” admittedly a potent combination, has provided the security we need. And it has provided it without becoming the menace that its detractors had envisioned. An important reason for this is the system of checks and balances built into the source-selection procedure.

While Congress was away for its Easter lull Secretary McNamara, perhaps unwittingly, lent credence to the possibility that the balance of power can be shifted. But he did not appear to accept the possibility that the shift could be to a man, or men, less honorable than himself.

In an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors he said, “Any Secretary of Defense must make certain kinds of decisions, not because he presumes his judgment to be superior to his advisers, military or civilian, but because his position is the best place from which to make those decisions.

“This same kind of argument applies when economic interests affected by defense decisions generate, as they inevitably will, political pressures on defense officials.”

He did not lament these pressures and even saw some merit in them, seeing it as his duty, and that of any Secretary of Defense, to resist them, if they are not compatible with the national interest.

What if under the aegis of Mr. McNamara, the military-industrial complex were replaced by a “polit­ical-industrial complex,” and passed along to a man considerably less honorable than Mr. McNamara

If this axis prevailed—and the trend is in that di­rection—the safeguards against political manipulation would be gone. That they are in danger is illustrated, it must be added hastily, not by the TFX decision out of Mr. McNamara’s office, but by the ambition of his civilian secretariat to revolutionize procurement procedures. There is a serious proposal, under review by the military services for the past several months, that would revise the bidding and source-selection procedures for major research-and-development con­tracts.

Authored by John Rubel, one of Mr. McNamara’s more restless aides, the proposal has the single merit of aiming to reduce the number of contractors who put time, talent, and money into formal proposals. From there on it almost certainly will destroy the objectivity of USAF’s evaluation and source-selection system, impair industry confidence, and open the door for political pressures. Mr. Rubel would put the determination of what is significant in a proposed research-and-development program at the secretarial level and have the Service Secretaries pick the con­tractor, with the aid of the Defense Department.

In addition to inviting pressure on the single point where the decision is made, this will not ensure the using commands and those who support them of any control over the timing, quality, and cost of weapons headed for the inventory. Mr. Rubel admits his plan would bring political and industrial pressures on the civilian hierarchy, but adds that the final decisions “should be made by the most responsible decision makers.” On Capitol Hill, if not in the armed forces, he will find critics who will challenge his concept. In fact, a subsequent paper has watered down his pro­posal, but the intent and the philosophy are clear.

On top of this, there is an ad hoc study under way in the Pentagon that is considering the impact of simply abolishing the procurement organizations of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The full task, under this program, would be assumed by the Defense De­partment in a modern and overwhelming Service of Supply. The argument behind this effort, if it materi­alizes, probably will be that the fighting forces today are in specified and unified commands in event of war and that their logistic support justifies the unified approach. Congress has made it clear it does not tend to let unification go this far.

The serious consideration being given to these pro­posals may, in fact, be responsible for some of the Defense Department’s conduct before the McClellan Subcommittee. There is strong evidence that Mr. McNamara has gone to extremes in his response to the TFX inquiry to discount the effectiveness of the USAF source-selection procedure.

In his initial reaction, the Secretary told the hear­ing, in a thirty-two-page defense of his action, that his decision was determined by: (1) the fact that the competing designs both met the requirements and (2) that the General Dynamics proposal provided “minimum divergence from a common design” for the Air Force and Navy and (3) that General Dy­namics was more realistic about its costs.

On this basis, there was no uniformed USAF witness who would contradict the Secretary. On the basis of these standards, the early testimony discloses only that the military were disappointed, not that they would be contentious or make any effort to refute the Secre­tary’s case. Then, in one of the most inexplicable moves of the entire conflict, Mr. McNamara, accom­panied by Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the Presi­dent and friend of Mr. McClellan, marched up to Capitol Hill and gave the Senator a list of questions to be put to the military witnesses.

Mr. McClellan acceded, and the result was that three generals and an admiral were forced to chal­lenge their civilian boss on the record, however re­luctantly. The questions went into technical details far removed from the factors the Secretary himself had cited as the basis for his decision, and with which the uniformed men did not quarrel. The effect of Mr. McNamara’s queries was to shift the focus to explosive points where the military men had no choice but to dispute his judgment.

On top of the fact that Mr. McNamara did not consult with USAF and Navy chiefs before reversing their decision, this conduct has not gone past USAF procurement officers without causing a shudder. De­signed to force military witnesses to express disagree­ment, the motive in Mr. McNamara’s questions would appear to make the TFX imbroglio look to the public and Congress like a revolt of the generals.

There has been no such revolt. Gen. Curtis E. Le-May, USAF Chief of Staff, told the Committee he was not bothered by the reversal and said it was the prerogative of the Secretary to do what he did. He did say he was surprised to some degree because USAF never had been reversed before and because the civilian secretariat did not find it necessary to discuss the reversal with him.

Mr. McNamara may find this hard to believe, but there is nothing in the record to indicate that Con­gress or the military services want anything but a procurement system that is above reproach. They thought they had it. They are confident that a military contribution to the source-selection system has virtues that cannot be guaranteed by a political contribution.

The civilian secretariat in the Pentagon is made up of political appointees. It is the job of these policy makers to improve the effectiveness of military par­ticipation, not to kill it, or to substitute a grab for power that would menace not only our security but our very pattern of government.

How the TFX Misses the Mark for Both the Navy and Air Force

It’s Not Up to the State of the Art

A unique position in the history of US combat air­craft unquestionably awaits the F-111 (TFX) for it is the first not to make maximum use of the latest technology available for a given mission.

Recent congressional testimony by experts from both USAF and the Navy has emphasized that the F-111 will be superior to current operational aircraft in many ways and that the design finally selected is worth buying. How­ever, this testimony, certainly the most detailed and penetra­ting ever released on a new weapon system, makes it clear that the F-111 does not come close to meeting the original specifications of either the Navy or the Air Force. Experts at higher levels in DOD have not questioned either service’s specifications. So it must be concluded at the F-111, in any of its multipurpose roles, will be substantially inferior to any 1960-1963 state-of-the-art aircraft designed specifically for any of these roles.

The most serious compromise forced on the F-111 concerns range and flying time. Years of operational experien­ce have left no doubt that short range and limited endurance are the most critical factors restricting the usefulness of all jet-powered fighter aircraft, regardless of service. For instance, adequate defense of a fleet or any target against modern bombers with air-launched missiles must be conducted several hundred miles from the target. Current fighters are marginal in such roles: their loiter time in the intercept area is short, and they only have the fuel to accelerate to supersonic speeds for a very brief period and usually to make only one pass on incoming ­aircraft.

Fighter ground attack operations present an even more serious situation today. Improvements in radar and anti-aircraft missiles make it necessary to attack defended targets at very low altitudes and high speeds. Under these conditions the range and time in the air of any jet fighter, with even the smallest wing, is extremely limited.

The new variable-sweep wing on the F-111 is intended to overcome these critical deficiencies in current fighters. It allows the wingspan to be adjusted for maximum efficiency in all flight regimes. The wings will be tucked back with minimum span during on-the-deck supersonic attack. They will be swept back about forty-five degrees during supersonic action against other aircraft at high altitud­e. And they will be extended straight out to their widest span for loiter, high subsonic speed cruise to a battle area, or for ferry, and for landing and takeoff.

Without the variable-sweep wing there would be no chance for the F-111’s performance to be significantly better than that of current fighters. However, the mere inclusion of this device in the design does not guarantee that its maximum benefits will be realized.

The main additional requirement is for a high fineness ratio fuselage—long and thin. During supersonic attack at low altitude, wave drag is extremely critical, as shown on the curve at right. An aircraft with low wave drag must have a long fuselage if it is to have enough internal volume and fuel for long range and loiter time.

Originally the Air Force called for an aircraft about eighty feet long with a fineness ratio about twelve. The Navy insisted on a maximum length of fifty-five feet so the airplane would fit on every elevator in the carrier force. An F-111 the size of the operational A3J Vigilante (now called the A-5), some seventy feet long and weighing 72,000 pounds, was not acceptable. The Navy’s F-111 design (fineness ratio between eight and nine), would have had about three times the wave drag and considerably less fuel capacity than the Air Force’s and was practically without range on the deck at Mach 1.2.

The compromise F-111 is around sixty-three feet long, weighs about 60,000 pounds, and has nearly double the wave drag, and much less range at either low or high altitudes than the Air Force proposal.

It is difficult at this juncture to understand why the Secretary of Defense did not exert his leadership in this area. Increasing the F-ill length to nearly eighty feet would not only have met the Air Force needs, but would also have made it possible to meet and in most cases ex­ceed the Navy’s major requirements for high loiter time, a large radar dish, and large equipment and armament loads. And it is possible, if not ideal, to move aircraft eighty feet long on the sidedeck elevators of most US carriers.

—J. S. B., JR. [John S. Butz, Jr.]

How Hitler Helped Give Air Superiority to the Allies

One of the historic puzzles of the story of airpower in World War II is the fact that the Germans had an out­standing twin-jet fighter—the ME-262 —flying in early 1943, but it never played a decisive role in combat. This weapon, easily within the grasp of the Luftwaffe, could have changed the course of the war. Gen. Jimmy Doo­little, when given the first Allied in­telligence reports and accounts of its sighting by British Mosquito pilots, concluded that if the ME-262 ap­peared in sufficient numbers, daylight raids on Germany would be impossible. In good visibility conditions American bombers and fighter planes would be helpless targets in the sky.

But the ME-262 never became a ma­jor threat. The reason: Decisions on development, production scheduling, and mission were made by Adolf Hitler. Much of the early ME-262 de­velopment was carried on surrepti­tiously by the manufacturer and in defiance of an order from the Fuehrer. Production of the aircraft was delayed about two years while emphasis was kept on obsolescent types.

And while the aircraft was designed as a fighter and possibly could have won the air war by providing superiority in that role, Hitler became obsessed with the idea that it should be a bomber. “In the aircraft you present to me as a fighter plane I see the ‘Blitz Bomber,’ with which I will repel the invasion in its first and weakest phase,” he told his airmen. And, he added contemptuously: “Of course, none of you thought of that!” It was true. None had.

The ME-262 was modified to fill the bomber role but never appeared over the D-Day beaches where the Allies had absolute air superiority.