The issue: Are carriers able to perform any part of the SAC mission?
The current discussion of carriers and their aircraft is an outgrowth of the investigation by the Symington Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee into “the conditions and progress ole Department of the Air Force to ascertain if present policies, legislative authority, and appropriations are adequate to maintain a force capable of carrying out its assigned missions.” On motion of the Republican minority of the subcommittee, Senator Saltonstall (Mass.) and Duff (Penna.), the inquiry was expanded to include naval and Marine airpower. The sequence of events relating to this investigation is important in defining the issue.
Between April 25 and May 2, 1956, Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Commander-in-Chief of SAC, testified as to the capabilities of his command. He noted many deficiencies, including personnel turnover and base structure, but the statement which received greatest public attention was that, under current programs, the Soviet Union would pass the United States in long-range jet bombers in 1958-60 and would thereafter progressively increase its lead.
On May 4 at a regular press conference the President’s comment on this testimony was requested. So far as his comment related to the Navy it is as follows:
“I think we ought to broaden our vision a little more widely than looking at one particular phase or part of an organization when we begin to compare our positions with theirs. . . . We have the most powerful Navy in the world . . . and it features one thing, airpower. No one has talked about that. . . . By the time the Department of Defense gets done presenting its full picture, the United States will see that they have a great many bodies of men who have not been idle; who have not been indifferent to the security of the United States and who have carried their responsibilities forward to the point that they will, the United States will, feel a lot better than just on this one piece of testimony. . . . Now we have got a tremendous airpower, a mobile airpower in the sea forces. It hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Let’s wait until we get this picture sort of all before us, and let’s have a talk about it at that time.”
I do not find in these statements of the President any assertion that any part of the role of Strategic Air Command can and will be assumed by the Navy. However, since the statements were made in response to questions directed at General LeMay’s testimony as to loss of parity with the Soviet Union in long-range bombers for the SAC mission, the President’s statements can be read as indicating a belief that a wait-and-see attitude ought to be adopted as to whether the Navy can contribute to the SAC mission and thus compensate for an unfavorable disparity between SAC force and the Soviet long-range bomber force.
Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson, in a prepared statement before the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 8, was a good deal more specific. He defined, national airpower in the broadest terms, including all military aviation of all services, the reserves, our civil air fleet, and aircraft industry. Then, turning to Strategic Air Command, he emphasized that the B-47 wings constitute “the heart of our strategic striking power today” and “the most powerful single element of airpower in the world today.” He then had this to say about naval air:
“Before leaving the subject of strategic aviation I would like to comment on the strategic capability that our carrier-based aircraft add to our retaliatory striking power. We now have in operation fifteen large carriers, all of which carry aircraft with an atomic capability. . . . These carriers are capable of being dispersed widely through the world and they give us the ability to project our airpower into certain areas where we might not otherwise be able to do so, or where land-based aircraft would operate initially only under severe handicap. . . . Under the direction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff their use is carefully integrated into the plans for the employment of our strategic forces. The aircraft carrier today represents one of the most important parts of our over-all security program, providing mobile bases for immediate retaliation against enemy attack.”
There is no question as to what Secretary Wilson was talking about. It was, in his words, strategic aviation, the strategic capability of carrier-based aircraft, employment of carrier-based aircraft in strategic forces, and the provision of mobile bases for immediate retaliation against enemy attack. There is also the suggestion that, not only do the carriers supplement SAC, but they may be able to reach targets which “we” might not otherwise be able to attack.
So there the issue appears to be stated. No one has said in so many words that a deficiency in SAC can be compensated by carrier strength. But I for one am unable to find any other implication in the context of these remarks. Surely the press has widely drawn this inference as indicated, among many other utterances, by questions asked at Mr. Wilson’s press conference one week later, on May 15 (see below).
Since this is the immediately relevant issue, let us dismiss some other issues that can divert attention. On this matter there is no question whether we shall have carriers or not, or in what numbers and of what size; whether carriers can support the land battle in such areas as Southeast Asia; whether carriers can make a useful show of force in the Mediterranean; or whether carriers can attack those naval and air bases from which the control of the seas by the United States and its allies can be threatened.
The issue, to repeat, is: In determining whether the nation has the force required to accomplish the mission of SAC, can the Department of Defense and the Congress properly conclude that carrier-based aircraft can remedy a deficiency in SAC to do the job alone, and if so to what’s degree?
It is now useful to see who has said what on various aspects of this problem.
Mr. Wilson’s May 15 press conference
Secretary Wilson’s next press conference was the occasion for unusually insistent questioning by several members of the press. The relevant passages speak for themselves.
The assignment of a strategic bombing mission to carrier-based aviation was queried:
Mr. Henkin (Army-Navy-Air Force Journal): Are there certain areas where the Navy has a primary strategic mission?
Secy. Wilson: Surely.
Mr. Henkin: Primary strategic mission?
Mr. Norman (Chicago Tribune): Strategic bombing mission is what he meant.
Secy. Wilson: Yes, sir. . . . Why don’t you let the Chiefs fool around with the war plans?
Mr. Norman: We are not interested in the war plans, but we are interested in the statement that’s been made by you and by other administration officials that imply that we don’t need as much Air Force strategic bomb power because we have Navy strategic power which to us sounds like a rather new concept and, therefore, it has not been explained as to what part the Navy plays. . . .
Secy. Wilson: I think we had better let it alone. Everybody knows the Navy has a strategic striking power and when you talk about how much, what kind of a percentage and how much the Air Force can count on them and so forth, but they have their missions and they have strategic power unquestionably or we wouldn’t be justified in spending the money for the carriers like we do. . . .
Mr. Norman: As recently as last week when I asked the Navy about what its assignments are in strategic bombing missions they said they had none, that traditionally the Navy’s job is to control the seas and to protect itself against any attack that might come at them from land, but not the same thing as a strategic bombing mission.
Secy. Wilson: Well, obviously the Navy must have more responsibility or missions than to just protect itself. If they didn’t have any other purpose than that why in the world would you have it? You have got to be reasonable about the whole business. . . .
Mr. Corddry (United Press): We are trying to find why you were . . . emphasizing them as an answer on the strategic bomber side.
Secy. Wilson: Well, they have an important part in our military strength, and we are building one of these big force carriers every year here in recent years, they have, or we couldn’t justify the expenditures; not only for the carrier itself, but the planes that go on it. It’s quite an expensive business.
Mr. Henkin: Is the essential purpose of the carriers strategic air, sir?
Secy. Wilson: The carriers have a double mission. They have got the job of protecting ocean lines, but we used carriers in the war in Korea. I was over there myself when they dropped bombs that came off of carriers in the battle of Korea.
Mr. Henkin: These were tactical missions.
Mr. Norris (Washington Post and Times-Herald): What is that double mission? Would you define that, sir?
Secy. Wilson: Well, there IS a tactical mission, too; you can use them for their multi-purpose things, you see.
Mr. Evans (New York Herald Tribune): You mentioned the first, sir, the first part of the carrier’s mission is to control sea lines, sea lanes; the second is—I didn’t get that.
Secy. Wilson: To assist in a tactical mission, and also in any strategic bombing mission.
Mr. Norman: Sir, do you know of a single instance where a US Navy carrier was assigned a strategic bombing mission at any time in World War II or thereafter? Certainly the Navy, in briefing you for this statement, must have mentioned its capability in that area. They talk about a striking—strategic striking power, but I can’t recall at any time in the past where they claimed this striking power until just very recently. Could you give us an example of some hypothetical case without mentioning any specific target?
Secy. Wilson: I think we better leave that up to the Navy to go into that detail. It is on the order of something that they should talk about.
Mr. Evans: The trouble with that, sir, is the Navy makes a claim and the Air Force contradicts it. That is why we have come to you with it.
Secy. Wilson: Actually, the statements that are made haven’t been completely contradictory. It’s just a difference in the meaning of the words and the weighing of them. . . .
Clarification was requested as to the capability of carrier-based aviation to reach targets otherwise unreachable.
Mr. Henkin: Mr. Secretary, in your recent Senate testimony you said that naval strategic air was capable of hitting targets that were otherwise not accessible. The President has indicated that this—
Secy. Wilson: What is that I said?
Mr. McDaniel (Associated Press): Your testimony on the Hill last week, Tuesday or Monday, whichever day, the first day up there in your prepared text.
Mr. Henkin: You said that the carriers gave us the capability to project our air force into certain areas where we might not otherwise be able to do so. On the basis of that statement—
Secy. Wilson: A carrier is a floating base if you want to look at it that way, and there are some places we don’t have overseas bases that perhaps we wish we did have or a situation might arise sometime in the future. That is what I was referring to. . . .
The Press (unidentified): What places did you have in mind, Mr. Secretary?
Secy. Wilson: Well, just get yourself a globe and pick out the spots where we have got bases overseas and where we don’t know how far away some of those places might be away from the Continental United States and, you see, it might be pretty handy, if you have the problem, to have some military force a little closer….
Mr. Norman: Then you do then reaffirm your earlier statement that there are places in the world that strategic bombers or other bombers of our Air Force cannot reach at this time
Secy. Wilson: I don’t think I quite want to say that. This refueling business gets into it and all that kind of thing.
Mr. Norman: Well, that was the statement read to the Hill and—
Secy. Wilson: We are interpreting it a little differently than I meant it, but just to take the specific thing and say that the Air Force, given the problem, couldn’t [drop] a bomb anywhere in the world, I wouldn’t quite like to challenge them on that one.
Mr. Wilson himself raised the question of enemy ability to locate and attack carriers:
Secy. Wilson: . . . You can say in one way that it is difficult to make your plans because you don’t know where the carriers are, but it is also an asset on your side that the enemy doesn’t know where they are either. So it’s a—
The Press(unidentified): Why doesn’t the enemy know, Mr. Secretary?
Secy. Wilson: Because they don’t know where the carrier is going to steam the next day or next hour.
The Press (unidentified): They will know if it’s close enough to them to do any damage, won’t they?
Secy. Wilson: They might or might not know.
Mr. Corddry: How could they possibly not know?
Secy. Wilson: Well, you can go quite a distance in one night, you know. You can’t move an air base very fast.
The Press (unidentified): Radar is not inhibited by night, is it, sir?
Secy. Wilson: Well, there is no radar that could follow the carrier.
The Press (unidentified): No radar can follow the carrier?
Secy. Wilson: At great distances. . . .
Mr. Corddry: Mr. Secretary, you made the statement, which I am sure you would like to explain to us, that there is no radar that follows a carrier.
Secy. Wilson: Well, I meant no one has a radar that they can put it on a carrier and follow that carrier mile by mile and hour by hour as it goes around the oceans of the world. I don’t know of any such thing. I think they can follow it a certain distance from shore.
Mr. Leviero (New York Times): Couldn’t that aircraft radar follow a carrier?
Secy. Wilson: Not at those distances, not that I know of.
Mr. Corddry: If they are that far away, then they don’t pose any threat to you, do they?
Secy. Wilson: Well, aren’t we talking about fifty or a hundred miles, something like that? . . .
Mr. Corddry: These radars, sir, sweep the horizon and they could pick up at a hundred-mile distance on the surface a target in World War II, and I am sure that the advances have made that even more possible today. .
Gen. Nathan F. Twining, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, had testified on May 11 before the Senate Appropriations Committee that the amount of striking power the carriers could contribute to the strategic air offensive was “small.” Secretary Wilson was asked his views:
Mr. McDaniel: Mr. Wilson, when General Twining made the flat statement that the Navy’s contribution to strategic striking power would be small, do you agree in your context that he is correct, in the context which you just explained?
Secy. Wilson: I don’t want to get into the argument over what you mean by small. A man is small as compared to an elephant; he is large compared to a mouse.
Mr. Corddry: Do you have any idea on a percentage basis as to what the Navy’s strategic striking power is in relation to the country’s total striking power?
Secy. Wilson: I don’t think I would want to state any percentage off-hand… .
Mr. Corddry: I think the American people would be interested in your views on the subject since they are concerned with the adequacy of our strategic bomber force, and you imply that part of your reliance on our current superiority is the Navy’s participation in that function.
Secy. Wilson: I am not going to tell you when and how many jets the Navy have that are now prepared to deliver atomic weapons. I am just not going to tell you that. I shouldn’t do that.
Mr. Corddry: Sir, your department declared down to the last B-52 how many of those had been built.
Secy. Wilson: We did it very reluctantly, I’ll tell you that.
Mr. Norman: Can you be just as reluctant today? We have reached a strange period I think in the Pentagon where none of us know any more what to expect in the way of answers. One day we are told we can’t discuss H-bombs or the capabilities of planes to carry H-bombs, and we find people discuss that rather loosely as soon as they get up on the Hill, and we can’t find out the production rates of the B-52, and yet that is published. . . .
Secy. Wilson: . . . No. Frankly, these different things change in relative importance. At the time when even if it was good for the country to keep the information, you no longer can: things have happened to such a degree at various times and places, it no longer can be done and we have tried to move in the direction of telling as much information as we thought we possibly could, weighing the importance of the people understanding what the facts were as against telling so much to the enemy that we felt we were breaching our own security regulation, and I was never in such a business before. I mostly have been used to putting the facts on the table and discussing the things and drawing conclusions from the facts. . . .
Secy. Wilson: Even General Twining didn’t say that [the carriers] didn’t have any strategic capabilities. He said it was small. He was talking about it as compared to what he thinks Air Force does.
Mr. Evans: Do you agree with that, sir
Secy. Wilson: Certainly it’s not of the same order, but it’s not insignificant by any means.
Statements of the Navy position
Official Navy views have been stated by Secretary Charles S. Thomas, former Assistant Secretary James H. Smith, Jr., and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh A. Burke are much less sweeping than those of his civilian superiors, and even these latter fall considerably short of the expressed views of Secretary Wilson.
Secretary Thomas, is quoted in the New York Times of May 20, 1956, as stating that carriers of the Forrestal class have the “ability to carry a powerful atomic punch (and) take the fight right into the enemy’s front yard.”
Assistant Secretary Smith is quoted in the New York Journal-American for April 28, 1956, as stating that the Navy could hit any land target on earth by launching from shipboard a plane or missile that can go 1,700 miles: “The mobility of a naval striking force permits its attack on an aggressor’s heartland from a multitude of points on an aggressor’s heartland from a multitude of points on the high seas.” He added, “Nor can an enemy afford to attack our homeland while a naval striking force of such retaliatory power roams the high seas unopposed.” It will be noted that these statements of capability probably refer to the future since missiles or carrier-based planes of 1,700-mile radius (without aerial refueling) are not now in the inventory. The statements also fall short of stating that any part of the SAC mission has been assumed by the Navy.
Admiral Burke has twice recently expressed himself as to the capabilities of the Navy for attack upon land targets, once in an interview in US News and World Report for May 4, 1956, and again in the round-up press conference of May 21. In each case he stated that the Navy’s role was control of the seas, including attack upon land targets threatening such control. In the first interview he said:
“Our primary mission is to control the seas, which I know is an overworked—and not understood—expression, too. But what we have to do is to be able to project our military power over the seas—into Eurasia, or any place else which we may have to—and to do that we have to make sure that the supplies arrive and make sure that the reinforcements arrive. And before either of these events occur, we have to strike all possible enemies off their coasts, to disperse the enemy’s strength, destroy his attacking capability and that our convoys are not destroyed en route. So that we really have two very important major tasks in maintaining control of the seas: to strike the military power of the enemy, and to make sure that the supply and reinforcements arrive. That means that we have to be able to defeat any threats may be naval, they may be missiles or aircraft, or submarines, or mines, or motor torpedo boats, or even sabotage and subversion. It doesn’t matter from where or by whom the threats are launched—we must be able to defeat all threats through control of the sea.”
At the press conference held on May 21, Admiral Burke said:
“The primary role of the Navy is to maintain control of the sea. That we will do and that we can do.
“In maintaining control of the sea, the thing that we must do beyond all else is to destroy those threats which threaten our control of the sea.
“Those threats occur in several different areas. One of them is the submarine. Another one is air. Another one is missiles. Another one is mines, and there are others that you can think of.
“The best way to destroy a threat, whether it be control of the sea or some other area, is to destroy the weapons at their bases before they are launched. For that reason, we have developed and will continue to develop the capability of striking the source of our threats.
“In other words we will have the capability. We now have the capability, and we must continue to have the capability to destroy submarine pens, bases, airfields from which planes are launched which threaten our control of the sea. . . .
“[As to whether the Navy should destroy enemy bases in the heartland] . . . that is a very loaded question. No, it isn’t a fair question, either, because when we start in to attack an enemy country we attack from far out at sea. We start our attacks well out at sea. We start our attacks well out at sea because that is a proper place to do it.
“The enemy can bring less force to bear against us than we can bear against him, and we can work our way in. There are occasions when we have a collateral duty to assist in striking targets which are assigned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after a series of long coordination conferences by the local commanders, by the unified commanders, and by SAC.
“Those targets are the result of complete agreements by all those commanders. There are some occasions when an individual target is in doubt. Those particular targets are resolved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Question by Press: Did I understand you correctly in saying that SAC had assigned some targets to the Navy?
Admiral Burke: No, I say there are some targets that are assigned to the Navy as a result of coordination of the commanders.
Question by Press: But not from SAC?
Admiral Burke: It is a coordination business.
Significantly, no contention was made that the Navy had taken responsibility for the destruction of any part of the key SAC target system. The word “strategic” does not appear, nor any reference to Navy participation in the “retaliatory offensive.”
The views of the Air Force
On May 11, 1956, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, was asked to express his views as to the participation of carrier-based aircraft in the SAC mission. He gave the following answer:
“The first priority task facing the United States in any general war is winning the air battle. . . . In a war with the Soviet Union the air battle job would consist of two missions: first, defense against the Soviet air attack and, second, retaliatory attack upon the Soviet Union, especially the bases for its long-range aircraft…. Carrier aircraft . . . have an attack capability with nuclear weapons. The size of this total capability depends on the attack aircraft complement of the carriers (which must also carry defensive fighters, search planes, and the like).
“The portion of the attack capability available to supplement Strategic Air Command, depends upon what priority naval tasks may exist at the time. The targets that can be attacked by such carrier-based planes as are at the time in relation to the combat radius of their attack at the time in relation to the combat radius of their at tack aircraft. The range of carrier aircraft is relatively short compared with their land-based counterpart.
“But we must be realistic about such factors as the probable location of the carriers, as well as the amount of striking power they could contribute [to the strategic air offensive], which is small.”
A comparison of this statement with the expressed views of Admiral Burke discloses no substantial disagreement. Neither indicates that the Navy has undertaken to destroy any part of the SAC target system. General Twining’s statement that the attack capability which the carriers “could contribute” is small is uncontested.
Secretary of the Air Force Donald A. Quarles appears to have made no statement on the carrier issue.
The silence of General LeMay
When Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, SAC Commander, testified before the Symington Subcommittee one would have expected a rather fun exploration of Navy participation in the SAC mission especially from the Senators at whose insistence Navy aviation was added to the Subcommittee agenda. The published record (May 2, 1956, pp. 179-80) discloses the following:
Senator Symington: If at this stage anybody said that any foreign power or any Army aircraft or any Navy aircraft was a justification for failure to give you an adequate Strategic Air Force, it would be the first time that you had ever heard of it as commander of SAC?
General LeMay: That is right. The missions of the services are assigned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have this mission and no other service has it assigned.
The Navy has a corollary mission of assisting in strategic bombardment within their capabilities, but it is only a corollary mission. It is not a primary mission. . . .
Senator Symington: And again I want to be sure. Over all the years that you have run Strategic Air Command if anybody brings up as an excuse, or reason for shortage in SAC, the capacity of another service, or another country, to do the job, it will be the first time to your knowledge it has even been brought up?
General LeMay: Yes, sir.
Senator Saltonstall: At the same time we have been told, General LeMay, by several responsible persons, to be very frank I can’t remember which ones, that the plans of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, in event of a war or in the event of a strike on this country, have been coordinated. Do you agree with that?
General LeMay: Yes; we just explained to you how we went about coordinating our part of it with the other services. I think that is a fair statement that they have been coordinated.
Senator Saltonstall: And they are in a better state of coordination today, as shown by those charts that you given us, than they have been in the years past? Are you working toward a better coordination?
General LeMay: Yes, sir.
Who is deciding what?
The press for May 25, 1956, contained excerpts from a “hitherto secret staff paper written for a Hoover Commission task force” dealing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among other disturbing conclusions it declares that the JCS are unable “to agree on major issues that affect the future growth and strength of their respective services and to use organized scientific advice, primarily the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group.” Can it be that participation of carrier-based aircraft in the retaliatory atomic offensive is one issue upon which no definite decisions have been made?
If decision has gone by default on the military side, have the civilian chiefs of the Pentagon come to their own conclusions, and upon what basis of fact and analysis? It is a pecularity of the organization of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that none of the nine Assistant Secretaries of Defense is charged with responsibility for studying and advising upon the capabilities of various types of force. It would seem, then, that if such issues are to be decided on the civilian side the job must be done by the Secretary of Defense himself.
The reader must judge whether the record here set forth suggests that firm decisions have been reached upon the type of patient study the issue requires.
Here’s why carriers are vulnerable, according to alleged AF documents reported in N. Y. Times: With carrier aircraft limited to 1,500 miles range (without refueling) carriers must steam close in to hit Eurasian targets. In so doing, they must enter restricted waters where they are subject to easy electronic detection, mines, submarines, and land-based air. Map shows approaches to Red land mass.
The N. Y. Times story also points out that carriers operating in the Mediterranean would be hard put to avoid detection by airborne enemy radar. It takes a fast carrier force three days to steam the length of the Mediterranean, but a pair of B-36-type aircraft can scan the same area electronically during a single twenty-four-hour period.
With the problem of the Navy’s strategic air capability still unresolved on a policy level, alleged Air Force criticism of the carrier as a strategic weapons system came to light in a copyrighted story in the New York Times. On May 20, Times reporter Anthony Leviero disclosed what was said to be an Air Force study of carrier capabilities and limitations. General Twining made it clear that the document had no official Air Force status, but the information it contained raised questions that are still officially unanswered.
The Air Force position, as outlined in the Times article, is that carriers, especially giant super-carriers of the Forrestal class, are ineffective strategic weapons. Or, at the very least, that they cannot be counted on for any part of SAC’s job. In general, carrier criticism fell under the general headings of vulnerability, mobility, and strike capability.
On the question of vulnerability, the Air Force document, as reported by the Times, pointed out that, in order to hit Eurasian targets, carrier forces would have to steam into waters heavily infested with mines and submarines and likewise within easy range of superior-performance land-based air. In these waters they would be easily detected electronically by land-based reconnaissance aircraft.
Mobility of carrier task forces, says quoted AF document, sounds better than it is. Big carriers can’t make it through Panama Canal, hence would take two and one-half weeks (see chart) to steam from California to England. An entire wing of forty-five B-47s has made same trip in twelve hours and landed equipped and ready to begin offensive operations upon arrival. AF paper also was quoted as citing Navy dependence on overseas bases, a point on which Navy spokesmen have often criticized the Air Force. Navy construction overseas has been heavy since World War II.
Carrier speed doesn’t mean much in the Jet Age, says Times quote from AF document. “Full throttle steaming of a carrier for a period of six hours represents approximately twenty minutes flight time for modern jet aircraft. … At medium altitudes and above, one twenty-second ‘sweep’ on an airborne search radar can accurately survey an area of approximately 15,000 square miles or an area greater than the combined states of Massachusetts and Connecticut.” According to the document, two B-36-type aircraft could radar-scan an area of about 1,540,000 square miles in three hours.
On mobility, the Times reported the Air Force document as equally skeptical about carrier task forces. Leviero quoted the alleged AF document as follows, “On 27 June 1950 President Truman authorized air and naval aid for the Republic of Korea. On the same day 748 Americans were evacuated from Kimpo and Suwon, and pilots of the Far East Air Forces destroyed seven North Korean fighters over Kimpo. Six days later, on 3 July 1950, carrier-based planes of the United States Seventh Fleet made their first air strike.” Carrier mobility is further restricted, said the document, by the fact that the big ones cannot go through the Panama Canal, and it cited a situation whereby it would take a carrier force two and one-half weeks to go from California to England as against twelve hours for a jet bomber. And the bomber would be ready to fight upon arrival. The alleged study also said that Navy forces were just as dependent on overseas bases as is the Air Force, a favorite Navy argument being that the carrier force does not depend on “politically unreliable” overseas bases on foreign soil.
Seventy percent of a carrier’s planes must stay with the ship for defensive purposes, the N. Y. Times story points out. In a task force that includes seventeen carriers this would mean that about 1,190 planes would be held just for defense. This figure, according to Rep. Robert T. Ashmore (D., S.C.), is about the same number of aircraft allocated for protection of one-half the United States.
Only three out of every ten carrier aircraft would be able to put bombs on mainland targets, the others being retained for defense. “In the future,” said the AF study reported in the N. Y. Times, “the defense of ships against aircraft may be improved by surface-guided missiles.” “On the other hand,” the report went on, “the defense of ships will be vastly complicated and made more difficult by air-to-surface missiles, which can be launched by aircraft beyond the range of a ship’s detection radar, but which could use the ship’s defensive radar as one of many possible means of aiming…”
These drawbacks might be worth living with, the so-called Air Force document implied, if the carrier force possessed a strike capability large enough to influence the early phases of a nuclear war. But the documents cast serious doubt on the Navy’s ability to deliver. In addition to the vulnerability cited above, the document was said to point out that carrier tactics involve a “sacrifice of offensive capability that results from the normal allocation of seventy percent of the available planes for defense of a carrier tack force.
During Operation Mainbrace [North Atlantic Treaty Organization maneuver] six carriers were unable to conduct aircraft operations (defensive or offensive) for a period of more than twenty-four hours due to rough seas and bad weather.”
What it all added up to was an assertion that carrier strike forces are so vulnerable to air and sea attack, so limited in mobility, and so deficient in striking power that they could not, and should not, be expected to bear any of the responsibility for knocking out strategic targets. Or, in other words, Navy carrier strength could not in any way be counted in the picture when totting up Strategic Air Command’s alloted war tasks. Whether or not our policy makers were so planning was not clear, as outlined in the article beginning on page 40. But there seemed room to question the advisability of a carrier construction program adding up to ten of the Forrestal class when (1) their contribution to the winning of a nuclear air battle would be, in General Twining’s own words, “small”; and (2) General LeMay’s SAC and General Partridge’s ConAD on whom the winning of the air battle would depend, were suffering from financial malnutrition.
You pays your money and you takes your choice. Without astronomical hikes in spending you can’t have both.—End
Mr. Berry, a graduate of Washington State College and Harvard Law School, is a first lieutenant, USAR (Infantry). He served in World War II and in Korea.