Which Way Is the Air Guard Going?

June 1, 1956
The Air National Guard is composed of eighty-seven tactical squadrons and a variety of support units, including aircraft control and warning stations. But the Guard’s great strength reposes for the most part in the eighty-seven squadrons, which are distributed throughout the nation, in Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Of the eighty-seven squadrons, seventy have an air defense mission. In plain terms this means that the bulk of the Air Guard constitutes a fighter-interceptor force that would be integrated within Air Defense Command immediately in the event of attack on this country.

Modern interceptor doctrine dictates the ability to fly and fight any time of day or night and in any kind of weather. The doctrine can be satisfied only through the means of highly complex equipment, a fact that preordains the need for technicians skilled in the latest electronic devices.

Until the Korean war the Air Guard had no all-weather role. In fact, it had no an-weather equipment. But since the Guard returned from service in the Korean war it has moved consistently closer, by stages, to Air Defense Command and all of the problems inherent in that command’s responsibility to ward off air attack on the United State.

As the Air Defense Command equipment inventory has continued to become more complex, many thinking Air Guardsmen have pondered the future role of their component. As presently constituted, a force primarily of civilian airmen, can the Guard continue to perform effectively an interceptor mission in the modern sense of the term?

Such a group is the Air National Guard Council of the Air Force Association, which met last month in Colorado Springs, headquarters of Air Defense Command, to consider the future of the Air Guard in the light of manned equipment which grows more complex and which eventually may give way to missiles of even greater complexity.

In calling the meeting of the thirteen-member council, Chairman Alfred C. Schwab, Jr., of St. Paul, Minn., proposed that “we study the future of the Air National Guard in an effort to anticipate problems that are already arising in three areas: “The mission, the equipment, and the technical training of Air Guardsmen.”

The chairman laid down these terms of reference:

  1. Mission. Considering the fundamental civilian-airman nature of the Air Guard—completely apart from the influence of equipment as currently allocated, manning tables and organizational structures imposed, and obligatory training requirements—what is the ideal mission for a civilian-manned military air organization today and in the future?
  2. Equipment. Is the Air Guard, as a strictly civilian-airman organization, capable of assuming the full support and operational responsibilities to maintain and operate effectively and economically, aircraft of the Century Series as they are developing? Or is there a less complex type of weapon that will not raise these problems and will fill a needed function in the war plan?
  3. Personnel. What level of technical skill can be expected of a “part-time” mechanic or pilot in relation to the complex electronic brain-type aircraft, power plants, and fire control systems which are developing?

The meeting had historic significance in that it marked the first time a group of Air Guardsmen had convened to undertake an assessment of their own future and had considered the concepts of today that become the facts of tomorrow.

At the moment seventeen Air Guard squadrons augment Air Defense Command’s alert program. In this program, which has been in effect for some eighteen months, two aircraft are on five-minute alert at the end of the runway ready to make intercepts in the same manner as regular units of Air Defense Command. The Guard has experienced no difficulty in performing this job satisfactorily.

But equipment that will fly higher and faster, lock on targets electronically, and fire missiles instead of bullets is in the offing. Next month, in fact, the Air Guard will receive its first squadron of F-86D aircraft which, although obsolescent, should serve as a test bed to determine the degree of electronics maintenance capability in the Air Guard as it presently exists.

There are a number of Air Guardsmen who feel that the Air Guard can move effectively into the Century Series of aircraft—and beyond—only if there is a substantial increase in the number of permanent party people. If this is true, it will mean not only a big boost in the Air Guard budget, but it will change the Guard from a basic force of civilian airmen to full-time airmen.

But both situations could occur if one considers that for the F-86D alone Air Defense Command finds twenty hours per month the minimum for a pilot to be combat effective. There are few Guard pilots, not members of the full-time technical detachment, who could find the time to fly plenty jet fighter hours a month. And more flying time means more money from Congress.

What is the role and the mission of the Air Guard in the thermonuclear age? The Air Force Association’s Air Guard Council did not attempt to find the answer in a single session. Instead study groups were appointed to look into these modern weapons systems.

Bernard M. Davey of Atlanta, Ga., who commands the 116th ANG Wing; Milton O. Barth of New Orleans, and George D. McMorries of Dallas, will explore the impact of the F-86D on the Guard. Dale Hendry, a warrant officer in the Idaho squadron, will study the Falcon-firing F-89H.

The Century Series, including the F-100, F-102, and F-104, will be looked into jointly by Robert Campbell of Los Angeles, lieutenant colonel in California’s 146th Wing, and Ed Mack Miller, captain in Colorado’s 140th Wing.

The F-94C survey will be made by Philip E. Tukey, Jr., of Bangor, commander of Maine’s 101st Wing, and William W. Spruance of Wilmington, will search out the missiles field.

The final study, which will involve Air Force plans and requirements, will be made by Donald J. Strait, commander of New Jersey’s 108th Wing, who, in civil life, is Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Reserve Affairs.

The studies should be of more than passing interest to the military planners for they will have at hand an evaluation of the Air Guard’s ability to handle complex equipment made by a representative group of Air Guardsmen themselves. This has not been the case heretofore. The mission has been defined and the Air Guard has been given equipment the Regular establishment no longer requires in its active force inventory to cope with that mission. Some have felt that this puts the cart before the horse.

In any event, the war planners will have an opportunity to become acquainted with the studies. When completed, they will be consolidated by Chairman Schwab and Robert P. Knight of St. Paul, secretary of the Council, and sent to the National Guard Bureau.

The Council’s studies should provide at least partial answers to the questions posed by its chairman. And, on the assumption that the Guard can find a way to operate the Century Series effectively, the Council has made two concrete proposals that would materially help Air Guard pilots case the transition to electronically-controlled, rocket-firing aircraft.

It proposes that some means be found to establish an Air Guard weapons employment center, similar to those of the Air Force at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. And it proposes that the Air Guard begin to send their pilots on temporary duty to Air Defense Command units for training in the F-86D.

The Council’s thoughts on the project it has proposed for itself were helped considerably by a briefing at ADC headquarters before the business meeting began. After Maj. Gen. George F. Smith, chief of staff for Continental Air Defense Command, had set the stage, four subjects which bear on the Guard’s future were covered in concise fashion and understandable language.

Lt. Col. W. A. Tapscott discussed the radar improvement program; Lt. Col. D. H. Higgins, Jr., briefed the group on SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) Lt. Col. C. J. Butcher talked about weapons; and Col. Ben I. Mayo, Jr., discussed the relationship between the Air Guard and Air Defense Command.

The Council studies, in themselves, may not determine the future look of the Air Guard. But they could serve the very useful purpose of making more people give more thought to the subject. There is always a possibility that the Air Guard, which represents a formidable defense force within itself, could be counted out of the future because of inertia or lack of vision.

Last month’s Colorado Springs meeting of AFA’s Air Guard Council set the stage for considerable thinking about the Guard’s future. The problems are as complex as modern fighter aircraft but the Council’s interest may serve as a springboard to their solution.