The Academy in the Aerospace Age

June 1, 1959

“This nation must continue to provide from the ranks of its youth a ready and confident group of men whose lifelong ambition is to lead in the air defense of this country and in the adventure of space pioneering as it pertains to national defense and advancement.”

Ever Since military and civilian educators began to plan for the Air Force Academy in 1948, the foremost question has been this: What does an Air Force officer range guided missiles, and nuclear weapons; in an era when man stands at the threshold of space; in a period of rapid social change and great political decisions

The question is not an easy one to answer, yet the survival of the free world may well depend upon our answering it correctly. As Brig. Gen. Charles A Lindbergh has said of the Academy:

“There are few, if any, places where influence exerted today can have more effect on the future of the country, of civilization, and of mankind.”

The development of a curriculum suitable for Air Force officers in this explosive age is enormously difficult. Within a very few years we have witnessed the utilization of nuclear energy, the development of weapon systems with supersonic and hypersonic speeds, the introduction of long-range ballistic missiles, and the opening of the way to outer space.

What lies ahead in war or in peace no man can precisely predict, because no one knows the ultimate capacities of the sources of energy we have tapped. We only know that an unlimited future lies ahead and that our defenders must be alert to the latest implications of scientific developments and forever faithful to our ideals. We cannot exactly foresee what new forces leaders of the next decade may exploit for good or evil ends, but it seems safe to predict that the doors to knowledge which have been opened in the last twenty years will lead to others just as revolutionary.

In some quarters it is felt that all of our future officers should be scientists because of the growing importance of long-range ballistic missiles. This view is based on the theory that no one but scientists will be needed to devise the push buttons for operation of guided missiles. Obviously, we will need many scientists, in and out of uniform, to perfect the long-range missiles and to devise new weapon systems. But we will need more than scientists. We will also have great need for officers who possess the technical knowledge, the skill, and the adventurous spirit to pilot manned vehicles through air and space.

In the annual Wright Memorial Lecture to our Cadets last December, Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, said: “How many of you have ever stopped to think of the heretofore unheard of things that could become the day-to-day problems which will face you during your career Which one of you will have to tackle the problem of logistic support of a moon base Who will be a satellite commander Fantastic Absolutely not. You men will have these and other problems just like them dropped right into your lap, and you must be prepared to handle them.”

But our educational program must do even more than turn out men with knowledge of space weapons and vehicles. It must produce men who understand the society and economy which support the armed forces and the military organizations they may eventually command. Our young officers must be graduated with a basic knowledge of their economic, social, and political heritage. They need to be able to explain our defense requirements clearly to political leaders who have the responsibility for making great decisions for the employment of military power. They need to merit and obtain the cooperation of civilian populations at home and abroad.

If world conditions require the United States to maintain a powerful deterrent Air Force for years to come, Air Force commanders must manage that force economically to earn the taxpayers’ continued support. On top of all these responsibilities, our air commanders must be able to lead other men, to plan and — if necessary — to execute military strategy and tactics.

In view of all these requirements of the aerospace age, the air Force Academy did not establish its curriculum o a pattern of producing officers with superior knowledge in the military field alone. Military training became only a part of the curriculum; for it was determined that only a broad educational background would prepare future Air force officers to meet the diversity of problems they will encounter. The central purpose of the curriculum became one of providing Cadets with the fundamentals of knowledge upon which future specialization will be provided through graduate education in the nation’s leading civilian colleges and universities and through professional graduate programs of study in armed forces schools.

Based on this philosophy of education, our academic program has been built on a broad foundation of courses in the liberal arts and sciences. Upon this foundation the Academy has developed advanced academic courses to orient Cadets to the needs of their future profession. A curriculum enrichment program has evolved which enables Cadets to take elective courses and thereby to develop their full academic potential and to prepare themselves more fully for Air Force career specialties. The Academy’s airmanship program has been carefully planned to give profession-oriented instruction in navigation, military and leadership studies, and physical education.

Our program is under constant evaluation and undergoes frequent revision. For example, the Academy added astronautics to the course of study following the swift advent of the space era. This year we have adopted new physical requirements for pilot training. We desire that a majority of our graduates qualify as pilots. Yet we must consider that some of the nation’s youths who rank the highest academically and display the greatest leadership ability do not meet the physical standards for pilot training, particularly the 20/20 visual qualification. It would be a loss to the Air Force and the nation not to educate those young men who may become outstanding in a critical non-flying career field such as scientific research and development.

The most foolish thing we could do would be to limit our preparation of the future officer to technical proficiency in the present tools at our disposal. We cannot anticipate the manual skills that will be involved in future weapons or vehicles any better than the Military Academy of 1914 could anticipate the skills that Maj. (later Gen.) Carl Spaatz would need in 1929 to keep the “Question Mark” in the air for over 150 hours. We can be grateful that when the time came to test the endurance of early aircraft engines there were men willing to do it.

When imagination and aggressive leadership of a Strategic Air Force in Europe were needed to crush the German war industry, General Spaatz was quite equal to the task. As first chief of Staff of the United States Air Force in 1947, he set the course of air leadership that has been a critical factor in the continued survival of the free world. As a writer, editor, and adviser since retirement, he still evidences those qualities of leadership and devotion to duty that were cultivated as a Military Academy Cadet and practiced in peace and in war.

No, we cannot and do not pretend to prepare Ai force Cadets with all the technical skills they will need for aerospace operations in future years. There will be a time and place for that as each new vehicle or weapon comes into use. We can expect, however, that there will always be a call for the same qualities of leadership, dedication, and courage that have typified aviation adventurers of the past. We will prepare officers to answer that call. Our responsibility is to determine the essential core of knowledge and those skills of judgment and decision that must form the basis for effective future Air Force command. That, I believe, we are doing.

In addition, we are performing the primary task of the Academies as defined by the Service Academy Board: “To develop and strengthen a desire in each student for a life os service to the nation as a professional officer in the armed forces.” Our faculty and staff are devoted to this task.

General Eisenhower once said: “My function and the ultimate function of the professional officer is to make himself unnecessary because the objective of the armed forces is peace, not war.” But in the meantime — and “meantime” can be regrettably long — this nation must continue to provide from the ranks of its youth a ready and confident group of men whose lifelong ambition is to lead in the air defense of this country and in the adventure of space pioneering as it pertains to national defense and advancement.

To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, I hope that we will continue through the years to produce capable and sensible men. If we do that, I am confident that our graduates will go on to become the capable and sensible pilots, scientists, managers, and commanders we will need to defend the United States in the aerospace age.

Maj. Gen. James E. Briggs succeeded the late Lt. Gen. H. R. Harmon as Academy Superintendent in 1956. A 1928 West Point graduate who won his wings in 1930, General Briggs is a rated command pilot. During World War II, he served in Europe, later in Washington. He was Deputy Commander, FEAF Bomber Command, at the beginning of the Korean War.