World War II was a dramatic formative experience for a supremely confident group of airmen who were then, or would go on to become, general officers. It permanently colored their views on airpower, producing a deep faith in strategic bombing. The effect on the Air Force was far-reaching and long-lasting.
For these so-called “bomber generals,” the war was the seedbed of an absolutist belief in strategic airpower as decisive in warfare. These airmen, led by Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, believed in the supremacy of manned bombers and utility of atomic weapons. The intense postwar struggle for service independence and the advance of Soviet military power only reinforced this view.
Strategic Air Command’s single-minded focus on the nuclear mission—and the rigid discipline and centralized control required by that mission—hampered the dominant bomber generals’ adjustment to a growing Soviet threat and a war in Vietnam.
The power and influence of these bomber generals grew steadily and peaked in the early 1960s. They held well more than half of the Air Force’s four-star positions. Fighter generals lagged behind. Generalists—those in neither the bomber nor fighter track—were even further back.
That situation would change radically over the next two decades. Indeed, the story of the Air Force in the period 1962-82 is a story of a slow decline of the power of the bomber generals and the rise of the fighter generals to pre-eminence.
The bomber group’s control of key leadership positions in the postwar years alienated non-SAC elements and led to dogmatic doctrine affecting the whole Air Force. The Air Staff was filled with absolutists who zealously pursued high-tech strategic capabilities.
Training and technical demands of nuclear and conventional war diverged. The SAC-dominated Air Force focused so much on its key strategic challenges—the growing nuclear target list, the missile threat, alerts, and dispersals—that it had little time for thinking about conventional war.
As a result, conventional capabilities of tactical forces atrophied. So did their budgets. Munitions stocks fell too low to truly support training for conventional war, and tactical forces were divided geographically and functionally.
Impervious to Change
By the late 1950s, USAF seemed impervious to change. LeMay himself, as vice chief of staff, launched a 1959 study of the Air Force’s perceived conservatism. It found that the Air Force had “defensive, status quo, reactionary positions on most issues” and could identify no “policy or strategic goals … that the Air Force is publicly fighting for, other than ‘more of the same.'”
The proliferation of nuclear weaponry, deliverable by strategic bombers, gave air advocates what they saw as an arsenal of decisiveness. The Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), first developed by the SAC-dominated Joint Strategic Targeting Planning Staff in 1960, provided a script for an all-out nuclear offensive against the Soviet Union.
By the dawn of the 1960s, the most senior officers of the World War II generation were consistently choosing methods of the past over new ideas. They preferred manned bombers to ICBMs, so bombers remained at the top of USAF’s procurement list.
The Air Force sought faster, higher-flying, longer-ranged air vehicles with better communication systems. The KC-135 tanker was developed to extend the range of the B-52 and other bombers. The U-2 was followed by the swift and high-flying SR-71. Ground and airborne command posts, early warning radars, high frequency radios, computerization, and communications and reconnaissance satellites pushed the Air Force toward global responsiveness.
Even as the bomber-dominated Air Force was becoming set in its ways, however, a new era was about to arrive. The Kennedy Administration came to power in January 1961, and, in weeks, its officials were deeply enmeshed in the remaking of US national defense strategy and policy.
The new President respected LeMay’s popularity within the Air Force, and so he selected him to succeed Gen. Thomas D. White as Chief of Staff in 1961. Problems, however, were soon in coming.
Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara demanded the subordination of service interests to national goals, of military judgment to quantitative analysis, and of military chiefs to him and his civilian deputies. He pursued change at a pace that left the services dumbfounded.
The Air Force’s honeymoon with the new Administration was short. Kennedy regarded LeMay’s advice as narrow and unoriginal. The President was dismayed by USAF’s bureaucratic tendencies, and he was not impressed with Air Force policies, either.
Kennedy’s people found the bomber-centric Air Force to be striving stolidly for strategic nuclear supremacy and promoting a doctrine generally suited only for all-out war if deterrence failed. Kennedy, however, wanted options.
When McNamara questioned the senior bomber generals with flurries of statistics and abstract analyses, they responded belligerently. The airmen viewed McNamara’s civilians, justifiably, as overconfident, arrogant young theorists lacking experience.
At that time, Strategic Air Command was engaged in a major shift to a strategy of counterforce, which emphasized the use of accurate bombers and ICBMs to threaten Soviet military targets, as opposed to using inaccurate Navy submarine-borne missiles to threaten Soviet cities. The bomber generals insisted upon clear-cut military supremacy of the kind seen in World War II.
Their confidence grew with every advance in the size and lethality of SAC’s forces. Indeed, a 1961 Air Force study argued that SAC’s strategic might had obviated any need for what it called “expensive ‘balanced forces’ and ‘combined operations.’?” This attitude hindered development of conventional capabilities
Relations between the bomber and fighter communities, already poor, grew worse. Nonbomber generals lost key posts. One case in point was LeMay’s replacement of Gen. Frank F. Everest, a fighter general who commanded TAC, with a SAC bomber man, Gen. Walter C. Sweeney Jr.
Sweeney began to “professionalize” TAC in SAC’s image. He imposed SAC’s centralized management control system, which quantified, measured, and evaluated every element of TAC’s supply, maintenance, and operational system. He put command posts in each wing. Lt. Gen. Gabriel P. Disosway, TAC’s recently appointed vice commander and a fighter man, argued with Sweeney and was replaced by bomber Lt. Gen. Charles B. Westover.
LeMay brought on as his vice chief Gen. Frederic H. Smith Jr.—the only fighter general on the Air Staff. Soon, though, the two clashed over whether to reduce SAC personnel, and Smith was replaced.
Many expressed a desire for “indivisible airpower” within the Air Force, but that was an illusion. SAC and TAC never were further apart than in the reign of the bomber generals.
McNamara visited SAC in February 1961 for a briefing, and the Pentagon chief was dismayed by the SIOP’s inflexibility and reliance on overwhelming attack. McNamara sought rational control of nuclear operations. He also had raised the subject of seeking a stable, equalized nuclear balance. This was anathema to the Air Force, which responded with a study objecting to the very idea of strategic parity because it erased the possibility of victory and could, in the generals’ view, damage US resolve to “win.”
The air absolutists sought bigger, faster, farther-reaching aircraft. The plan for replacing the B-52 emerged as the pivotal topic. In the 1950s, the Air Force had proposed acquiring the Mach 3 B-70 high-altitude strategic bomber. The speed and range of the Valkyrie would make it nearly invulnerable to interception by another aircraft. However, it was clear that it still would be vulnerable to missiles. The Soviet Union in 1960 demonstrated its ability to shoot down such high-flying US aircraft when they downed a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers. The SAM threat, as well as concerns about drop accuracies, induced President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960 to make major cuts in the B-70 program.
B-70 Above All
Nevertheless, USAF thought it might convince the new Administration of the merit of proceeding with the B-70. The Air Force was concerned about placing too much faith in what it saw as the “unproven” capabilities of the bomber’s rival—the ICBM. When LeMay took over as Chief of Staff in the summer of 1961, his top procurement priority was the B-70, while production of new ICBMs was well down on his list.
The new Administration took a decidedly different view. McNamara declared that USAF had enough bombers to last until 1967 and that the US should spend bomber modernization funds on ICBMs, which could be operationally ready much sooner.
Seeing McNamara’s opposition, Col. David C. Jones and Col. Russell E. Dougherty—both of whom would rise to four-star status as, respectively, Chief of Staff and SAC Commander—approached LeMay and recommended pursuing a high-speed, low-altitude bomber. LeMay sent them to brief Gen. Thomas S. Power, SAC commander, but he was hostile to the idea and kicked the colonels off the base.
Lawmakers respected the voice of military experience and agreed that bombers should remain part of the strategic force—if nothing else, as a hedge against catastrophic failure of ICBMs. Primarily because of the cost of the B-70, however, Congress did not approve immediate post-B-52 production.
Another factor contributing to the clash between bomber generals and McNamara was the degree of importance he and Kennedy attributed to conventional warfare.
In early 1961, some USAF officials openly acknowledged to the new Secretary that the Air Force was unprepared for “limited war” with conventional weapons. TAC’s weakened condition showed in the mobilization for the Berlin crisis of 1961 (as it did one year later in the Cuban Missile Crisis). After Berlin, McNamara sought and received approval to expand TAC from 16 wings to 21 wings and later to 25 wings. He also elevated airlift procurement in priority.
LeMay was worried. In viewing the Fiscal 1963 budget, then in preparation, he complained about the trend: “I think that your strategic forces should come first. … You cannot fight a limited war except under the umbrella of strategic superiority.”
At about this time, the Air Force unveiled its own concept of limited conventional war. It argued that conventional war was not “separate … from general war.” Nor, it said, should the strategies and force structures be differentiated. “Success in limited war is contingent upon maintaining a superior general war capability,” it stated.
In the Cuban crisis of October 1962, LeMay called for massive air strikes on the island, as well as invasion. Kennedy settled for a negotiated withdrawal of the Soviet missiles, but the outcome only strengthened the faith of the bomber generals. “I am convinced,” LeMay said, “that superior US strategic power, coupled with the obvious will and ability to apply this power, was the major factor that forced the Soviets to back down.”
The Turning Point
For all that, the Air Force, by the close of 1962, was starting to feel the ground shift under its feet. It found itself without a successor to its frontline bomber, the B-52; late in the year, Kennedy had canceled the B-70. (See “The Ride of the Valkyrie,” June, p. 76.) In October, the first Minuteman ICBM site went operational, intensifying doubts about the need for bombers. During the Cuban crisis, the President had rejected the advice of the foremost bomber general, LeMay.
This, clearly, was the turning point in the influence of bomber generals on the Air Force and national defense. SAC was stronger than ever, but there were signs that its future was not bright. A mounting Soviet threat compelled SAC to disperse its assets. The air was filled with talk about arms limitations and acceptance of superpower nuclear parity. Equally important, the US was headed toward conventional war in Southeast Asia.
These factors all raised problems for the ideology of the strategic airpower absolutists.
Despite heavy Air Force opposition, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was proclaimed in October 1963. This, to bomber generals, was a bewildering step, given that they still were striving for superiority. Such superiority required high technologies and advanced air weapons to stay ahead of Soviet forces. USAF had been pursuing these for 15 years. Now, however, McNamara was arguing that “sheer multiplication of a nation’s destructive nuclear capability does not necessarily produce a net increase in its security.”
In this context, McNamara put forth two new ideas for strategic forces: damage limitation and assured destruction. The US would strive to limit damage from nuclear attack by pre-empting follow-on Soviet launches, and it would strive to deter attack by threatening a city-busting second strike. The Defense Secretary, in effect, dropped support for the long-held goal of strategic superiority. He did not think it was possible to “prevail” in nuclear war.
The Vietnam War generated more disputes. In early 1964, LeMay opined that, if the US wanted to have an impact on events in Southeast Asia, it should “stop swatting flies” and “go for the manure pile”—that is, attack North Vietnam. He compiled a list of 94 major strategic targets in that country.
It is an indicator of the shift in US strategic thinking that the Commander in Chief, President Lyndon B. Johnson, gave this proposal no serious consideration. Absolutist faith in the power of massive and relentless strategic bombing of enemy objectives was passing out of fashion.
At Cross Purposes
The principles that created SAC’s greatness were now bringing about its decline. SAC’s mission required the utmost in centralized command and control, which stifled innovation, risk taking, and creativity. SAC would not allow its personnel to transfer to theater commands along the Soviet periphery, where many isolated bombers sat on alert. The consequence was that deployed units spent more time than necessary away from families at desolate locations and got no credit for remote tours.
SAC generally kept its people within the command for an entire career. LeMay and Power often did not let their top people go to graduate school or Air Force professional schools. LeMay argued that, if an officer wanted to learn about airpower, SAC was the best place to be. This produced a growing disparity in education between SAC and non-SAC personnel.
In the fighter community, 90 percent of junior-level generals had worked with other services, allies, or US agencies before reaching four-star rank. The obverse was true for bomber generals; 70 percent lacked experience outside the Air Force.
The most senior members of the Air Force’s World War II cohort retired en masse in the mid-1960s. Power left in December 1964. LeMay departed in February 1965. However, many of their strongly held beliefs—most prominently, their faith in the efficacy of strategic bombing—would endure a while longer.
LeMay was succeeded by Gen. John P. McConnell, the vice chief of staff who started his career as a fighter pilot but had spent many years in important SAC positions, even becoming vice commander. He was representative of a more junior group of World War II veterans now moving into positions of leadership.
As squadron and group leaders in World War II, the new leaders generally were true believers in strategic airpower. The more junior World War II generals took charge of an Air Force that faced twin challenges of the Soviet nuclear arms buildup and the prospect of major US combat in Southeast Asia. This cohort took a more pragmatic, less ideological approach.
At this time, the US found itself devoting more and more money to “general purpose forces” in the Army and Navy, with less expended on the Air Force. By 1965, Air Force leaders believed they would be hard-pressed to maintain strategic superiority and also fight a major conventional war.
USAF found it difficult to adjust to the challenge in Vietnam because doctrine remained tied to strategic nuclear warfare. With limited budgets and a doctrine and a force built for strategic warfare, the service was understandably reluctant to get deeply involved in Vietnam.
The irony is that the Air Force would spend more time fighting in Southeast Asia, and spend more money there, than any of the other services. More than 2,700 airmen would lose their lives. The Air Force would deploy more than one-third of its inventory to Southeast Asia and lose 2,257 aircraft. Airmen in Southeast Asia would fly more than twice the combat missions and drop twice the tonnage of bombs as did the airmen of World War II.
As vice chief during LeMay’s last six months, McConnell witnessed a steady erosion of Air Force influence over defense policy. His goal was to broaden the Air Force view of its mission to include conventional war in Vietnam, but without harming SAC.
Vietnam on the Front Burner
The Vietnam crisis flared in McConnell’s first week as Chief of Staff. On Feb. 7, 1965, Viet Cong sappers struck American forces at Pleiku AB, South Vietnam, and the US responded with reprisal air strikes, code-named Flaming Dart I. Three days later, the enemy struck US billets at Qui Nhon, prompting Flaming Dart II.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended an 11-week bombing plan to destroy the 94 targets on LeMay’s list. McConnell wanted an even more intense 28-day campaign. As was true of LeMay, McConnell was anxious to demonstrate the uses of airpower against the most worthy target, the war-making capacity of North Vietnam, and by inference, North Vietnam’s will to fight. McConnell pressed hard for the US to use its airpower, but Johnson held it tightly in check.
McConnell had inherited a bomber-dominated senior USAF leadership, with a long-subordinated fighter-general minority. He almost immediately took action to inject more fighter generals into key leadership positions. Disosway went to TAC. The widely respected Gen. Bruce K. Holloway, a fighter pilot, took the US Air Forces in Europe post vacated by Disosway. McConnell promoted Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Moore, fighter pilot, to three stars and made him the in-country Air Force commander in South Vietnam.
McConnell moved generals with tactical experience into important leadership positions. Lt. Gen. William W. Momyer, head of Air Training Command, assisted Disosway at TAC in increasing and improving pilot training to meet the demands of Vietnam. In 1966, Momyer received his fourth star and was given command of 7th Air Force in South Vietnam. In late 1966, fighter Gen. James Ferguson became commander of Air Force Systems Command, the key position for development of new weapons. Also in 1966, McConnell brought Holloway from USAFE to be his vice chief.
In 1967, he named a bomber officer, Gen. John D. Ryan, to command Pacific Air Forces. In 1968, the Chief gave command of SAC to Holloway. When Ryan came back to serve as vice chief, bomber Gen. Joseph J. Nazzaro went to PACAF. Meanwhile, in 1968, Momyer succeeded Disosway as commander of TAC. Momyer’s vacated office at 7th Air Force was filled by a generalist, Gen. George S. Brown. Thus, though bomber generals still held many top Air Force positions and some gained experience in conventional war, more and more battle-seasoned fighter generals were moving up.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s abandonment of the quest for strategic superiority and growing reliance on ICBMs freed up some bomber crews to fly missions in Southeast Asia. This marked a major change. Only a few years earlier, SAC resisted committing bombers or tankers to the war. But Ryan, as SAC commander, was more willing to deploy B-52s to Southeast Asia, sending 30 of the big bombers to Guam in early 1965. He also accelerated the adaption of some B-52s to conventional capability.
SAC Holds the Reins
However, SAC’s centralization and control of the Pacific bombers rivaled that of Twentieth Air Force in World War II. The Army-dominated Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) staff nominated targets, but mission planning was done at SAC offices. In March 1965, SAC set up a liaison office at MACV; it reported to SAC, not the theater air commander.
The Vietnam experience slowly wore down SAC’s traditional insularity. In fact, SAC Lt. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem II saw the Vietnam War as a great escape from the routine at SAC. He set up a popular rotation in theater, by which deployed SAC personnel could “see the world.” He called the B-52 missions “the greatest training we ever had,” in that they revitalized the bomber fleet, helped boost morale, and enhanced aircrew opportunities.
In 1968, fighter general Holloway became the commander of SAC. Increasingly willing to liberate aircrews and aircraft from the routine of alert, Holloway sent aircrews to Southeast Asia on TDY orders for up to 180 days. Many aircrews began to average 14 months of TDY every three years, without credit for a remote tour or a campaign ribbon.
Given the insatiable demand for pilots in Vietnam, USAF decided to spread the burden more widely, and new opportunities arose for SAC pilots to serve in fighter units. Many SAC pilots found it difficult to make the transition to the aggressive, individualistic ethos that valued flying skills in a dynamic arena, however, as fighter culture favored decentralization and delegation.
Until December 1972, the fighter community conducted most of the dangerous bombing in North Vietnam. SAC performed well in the relatively benign environment of other missions, but it was understandably reluctant to risk its great bombers against the SAM and MiG threat up North.
The Vietnam War rejuvenated the tactical air forces. Budget pre-eminence shifted to general purpose forces, and, by 1965, the planned size of the fighter force had doubled. Types of cockpits available signaled a shift in the composition of USAF’s flying population. More fighters meant more fighter pilots, who gained additional opportunities for command and thus promotion.
The ratio of fighter generals to bomber generals began to shift. In 1963, the two groups had roughly equal numbers. Within a few years, though, fighter generals would outnumber bomber generals by nearly two-to-one.
In August 1965, when Disosway returned from Europe to take command of TAC, replacing Sweeney, he sought to build and support a force to fight the air war in Vietnam. He immediately dismantled the SAC-style centralized maintenance and management control systems. He stocked his staff with fighter pilots. For the rest of the war, TAC worked with 7th Air Force, developing precision guided munitions, radar warning systems, fixed-wing gunships, F-4E Gatling guns, and electronic warfare aircraft.
TAC’s decentralization helped to alleviate pressure on depots and delays in maintenance, supply, and reporting during the Vietnam buildup. “Maximum base self-sufficiency” programs led to greater capability and responsibility for the fighter wings, which required fighter pilots to get involved in administrative duties around the base.
The Fighter Advantage
As in previous wars, fighter pilots flew close air support missions in direct contact and coordination with ground forces. They flew far more missions over North Vietnam than did bomber officers. This broad combat experience gave fighter pilots a key advantage in a military that prized combat and command experience.
Tactical forces began to make serious inroads into USAF’s R&D budget, long dominated by SAC programs. Formal proposals came forward for an all-purpose tactical fighter, an air superiority fighter, a close air support attack fighter, and an airborne lookdown radar system. These would all evolve into fielded systems. Meanwhile, cost and other factors blunted SAC’s ability to procure a new heavy bomber.
McConnell was committed to an Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft (which became the B-1), but it was snarled in delays and almost no one in the Pentagon supported production. Faced with retirement of older B-52s and with no real prospect of producing the AMSA, McConnell accepted DOD’s proposal to modify F-111 fighters into FB-111 medium bombers.
For bomber devotees, political developments brought more troubling news. The Nixon Administration accepted, in principle, US-Soviet parity in strategic might. It endorsed “strategic sufficiency” and officially abandoned the faded concept of “superiority.” It opened negotiations with Moscow to achieve roughly equivalent force capabilities.
Six months after Nixon took office, a frustrated McConnell retired and was replaced by Ryan who, as a young officer, took part in the great bomber campaigns of World War II and spent the bulk of his career in SAC. Ryan personified SAC virtues; he was a terse, no-nonsense, aggressive field commander who eschewed the Washington social and political whirl. Ryan, however, recognized the value of his “broadening” PACAF experience and expanded the program begun by McConnell.
In March 1972, North Vietnam invaded the South, and the US responded with an airpower assault code-named Linebacker. The burden of planning and executing Linebacker fell on Gen. John W. Vogt, the new commander of 7th Air Force. Vogt, a World War II ace and former fighter squadron commander, had had an unusually broad career. Vogt and his staff performed with extraordinary skill. They waged the air campaign systematically and with a flexibility of execution. Their most important weapon was the PGM, which gave Air Force fighters an estimated 100-fold increase in accuracy and effectiveness.
New Era Dawns
Unshackled from previous restrictions, Vogt used the new precision of his fighter force as the key in a broad interdiction campaign that destroyed many strategic targets, while keeping civilian casualties to a minimum.
It marked the beginning of a new era in the Air Force.
In December 1972, SAC was ordered to execute a strategic bombing campaign—Linebacker II—using all available assets. Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, the Chairman of the JCS, told the commander of SAC, fighter general John C. Meyer, that he wanted the people of Hanoi to hear the bombs around the clock, but he cautioned Meyer to minimize damage to the civilian populace.
The field commander assigned to execute this campaign was the 8th Air Force commander, fighter Lt. Gen. Gerald W. Johnson. However, SAC headquarters selected targets, decided the weight of effort, and prescribed all routing north of the 20th parallel.
SAC advanced a simple plan. The B-52s would fly at night, formed into three-bomber streams of approximately 48 bombers, spaced four-to-five hours apart. The bombers would remain in formation for electronic countermeasure integrity and were to take no evasive maneuvers. The first night, Dec. 18, three B-52s were shot down. There were no losses on night two, so night three’s routing, altitudes, and times mirrored those of the first two nights.
The enemy downed six B-52s and damaged several others in night three, forcing Meyer to revamp Linebacker. However, the ruthless intensity of the modified bomber offensive revived beliefs in the decisiveness of strategic bombing.
Following the US exit from Vietnam in 1973, SAC and the tactical air forces shifted course. SAC resumed, without further distraction, its race to stay up with Soviet strategic advances. The tactical air forces targeted the Soviet Union’s overwhelming conventional forces. The SAC-TAC dialogue of the Vietnam War period receded.
Nixon’s Secretary of Defense, Melvin R. Laird, encouraged Ryan and the then-Secretary of the Air Force, Robert C. Seamans Jr., to bring younger officers into the ranks of four-star generals. In 1973, Seamans broke a longtime service tradition and selected Gen. George S. Brown, a man who had neither commanded SAC nor served as vice chief of staff, to be Air Force Chief of Staff.
Brown was a bomber squadron commander in World War II but also commanded a fighter wing and served as operations director for 5th Air Force in the Korean War and commanded 7th Air Force in Vietnam. The selection of this generalist broke SAC’s grip on the top USAF post. Less than a year later, new Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger selected Brown as JCS Chairman. USAF’s new Chief was Jones, an officer who had commanded bombers in the Korean War, but also had commanded a fighter wing and served as vice commander of 7th Air Force in the Vietnam War.
The fighter forces refocused heavily on NATO Europe, where modernizing Soviet forces posed a huge conventional challenge. The ferocity of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, moreover, seemed to USAF’s fighter generals to prefigure battles in the future. In late 1973, Gen. Robert J. Dixon, a fighter general and TAC commander, received orders to enhance the Air Force’s working relationship with the Army, in the person of Gen. William E. Dupuy, the Army’s commander of Training and Doctrine Command. Spurred by the need to fight outnumbered on the NATO front, the services in 1975 formed a formal joint air-land forces application team. TAC’s embrace of decentralized operations during Vietnam expanded in the 1970s. Under the commands of Momyer (1968-73), Dixon (1973-78), and Gen. Wilbur L. Creech (1978-84), TAC pushed responsibility and authority far down the hierarchy.
Abandoning the B-1
When Jimmy Carter entered the White House in 1977, TAC was procuring new fighters and Military Airlift Command new transports, but SAC still was having difficulty buying the B-1. The Air Force could not control B-1 costs to the satisfaction of Congress. Jones, unwilling to pay what he saw as a high political price for the B-1, directed the Air Force not to lobby for it. Carter, anxious to redeem a campaign pledge, canceled the bomber. Jones, in a fateful move, decided not to attempt a pro-bomber end run in Congress.
By 1982, the sublimation of Air Force tactical airpower to Army requirements was codified in “AirLand Battle” doctrine in FM 100-5. The Air Force fighter community had finally moved to the top rung of the service’s missions, but at a price. The fighter community had neglected its ability to take the initiative in combat.
Doctrinal, procurement, and budgetary shifts toward tactical airpower showed in the form of more wings, aircraft, and pilots. In 1975, bomber generals on the Air Staff outnumbered fighter generals two-to-one, and in the major command positions by four-to-three. By 1982, there were no bomber generals in key Air Staff positions, and fighter generals outnumbered bomber generals in major commands by five-to-four.
The selection of a Korean War veteran, Gen. Charles A. Gabriel, as Chief of Staff in 1982 capped the ascendancy of the fighter community within the Air Force. He has been followed in the Chief’s chair by seven fighter generals in a row.
This is a cautionary tale. If uniformed Air Force leaders of the 1950s and 1960s suffered from a narrow focus on strategic bombing, the newly dominant fighter generals of the 1980s displayed similiar tunnel vision regarding AirLand Battle concepts. They oriented the Air Force heavily toward support of Army forces against Warsaw Pact formations.
The dangers of parochialism were obvious to some, and the provincial realm of the AirLand Battle finally was thrown off a decade later, in Operation Desert Storm.
Maj. Gen. R. Mike Worden has been selected for assignment as director of air and space operations for Air Combat Command. He has been an F-4 and F-16 pilot, and commanded the 406th Air Expeditionary Wing at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This article is adapted from his 1998 book, Rise of the Fighter Generals: The Problem of Air Force Leadership 1945-1982, Air University Press, available at http://aupress.maxwell.af.mil/Books/Worden/Worden.pdf. This is his first article for Air Force Magazine.