Air Force Progress Toward The Future

Sept. 1, 1959

In Last year’s Anniversary Issue of Air Force Magazine I discussed the Air Force job and how we were going about it. This year I will discuss some of our accomplishments during the past twelve months and examine, in the light of the events, which have occurred during this period, the progress we have made.

There have been many new developments, both in the field of international relationships and in the area of technical progress. The events on the international scene continue to demonstrate the intensity of the vital struggle, which is under way between two opposing and powerful ideologies — that of the free world and that of the Communist powers. Our nation is not engaged in a series of one-time unrelated incidents; it is faced with a carefully planned and precisely coordinated Communist timetable of actions — diplomatic, military, economic, and scientific — which form the basic strategy to establish communism as the dominant world force.

In the technological area, this past year has brought additional new and revolutionary advances. Remarkable breakthroughs in scientific and industrial processes have been accomplished by both sides. In many respects, this progress has advanced the cause of humanity. However, the military application of this knowledge has compressed time, distance, and destruction into compact, lethal packages, which threaten even the most remote areas of the globe. New developments in missile and space technology emphasize the accessibility of our homeland to swift and devastating surprise attack by new and deadly weapons of war. The international situation coupled with the technical advances form positive evidence that our nation must continue to invest a substantial portion of its national resources in measures to better our military security. Furthermore, they prove the need for each individual American to actively contribute if our country is to meet this challenge. The threat is many-sided; the counter to this threat must be fully coordinated and fully mobilized national effort capable of achieving our goals.

During this last year, the armed forces of the United States have made significant headway — not only in the development and production of new and more effective weapons, but also in a more efficient organizational structure and in the quality of the armed forces personnel who are so vital to our continued security. Substantial progress has been achieved — much remains to be done.

Our Strategic Posture

There is no doubt in my mind that the greatest danger, which faces our nation today — and will continue to face us in the future — is the threat of general nuclear war. In all likelihood, there will continue to be Communist probings of varying intensity in many locations throughout the world — probings which might serve merely to intensify could-war tensions or which could lead to other types of armed conflict. This activity is unquestionably a constant threat to our security both from the cumulative results of these actions and from the ever-present possibility that any conflict could be the fuse, which activates World War III. Because of this we must possess the capability to meet and overcome these situations wherever and in whatever form they may appear. However, the main threat — the dagger which is pointed at the very vitals of the free world — is the ever-growing capability of Communist bloc nations to strike swiftly and with deadly power at the heart of free world strength.

The most serious and immediate underlying military threat to the forces of freedom continues to be strong Soviet aerospace power. Just as Soviet aerospace power is the principal threat against us, United States aerospace power has proved to be the primary military deterrent to Soviet aggression. Furthermore, should war occur, aerospace power will play the dominant role. It is on this basis, in accordance with national policy, that the Air Force has continued to develop its strategic offensive capability. It is for this reason that General Power’s Strategic Air Command is maintained in the highest possible state of readiness — in men, materiel, and in combat posture. Today, this command contains over ninety percent of the free world’s nuclear firepower, which could be brought to bear against an enemy in case of armed conflict. Significantly, this tremendous capability has been purchased for less than twenty percent of the Department of defense budget over the last ten years. The long-range B-47 and B-52 bombers of this command — supported by the KC-97 and CK-135 tanker fleet — are poised for immediate action. They represent the heart of free world striking power — a strong right arm for peace.

It has been alleged in some quarters that this country has concentrated excessively on the development of the Strategic Air Command to the point where it possesses a gross “over-kill” capability. I categorically disagree with this allegation — it fails to take into account many operational factors, particularly enemy resistance and the time element. Our strategic objective, in the event of global war, is to eliminate an enemy’s war-making capacity in the minimum period to time. In determining the force requirements needed to do this, we much take into account not only the number, location, and vulnerability of the targets but the reliability, accuracy, and warhead yield of our weapons — as well as countless operational variables and our evaluation of expected enemy defenses. The forces we have today and those we program for the future are no more than we must have to accomplish our primary responsibility for the conduct of the strategic offense in the event of general war.

During this past year substantial milestones have been reached — and passed — in our relentless drive to maintain the most effective combat posture possible within the Strategic Air Command. As an example, today SAC has an all-jet bomber force — all B-36s have been retired from our strategic combat inventory. Improved models of the B-52, the B-52G, are being delivered to operational units. A later model, the B-52H, is meeting its development schedules. The B-52H will possess additional range and improved electronics and fire control systems. The supersonic B-58 has successfully completed a substantial portion of its operational testing and will enter strategic units within the coming year. This aircraft, because of its increased speed and altitude performance, will greatly increase the tactical flexibility of SAC units, allow for extremely rapid reaction, and will serve to compound enemy defense problems. Further in the future are the B-70 and the nuclear-powered bomber, both of which are progressing through various stages of development at this time.

Closely associated with the many improvements in our bomber aircraft is the development of air-to-surface missiles. Several highly successful test flights have been achieved by the Hound Dog, a supersonic missile which can be launched by a bomber several hundred miles from the target. This system enhances the penetration capabilities of our long-range bombers and adds substantially to the versatility of the force. In the early stages of development, and as a follow-on to the Hound Dog, is the air-launched ballistic missile. Several successful feasibility flights have been accomplished with such missiles this year. Air-to-surface missiles used in conjunction with B-52, B-58, B-70, and nuclear-powered bombers will add to the free world’s retaliatory forces by increasing the defense problems of an enemy.

Significant advances in Air Force weapons have been made in the accelerated development of our strategic missile capability. The first operational launching of the Thor IRBM was successfully undertaken by a Strategic Air Command crew in December of last year. Last April, Royal Air Force personnel accomplished their initial operational firing of a Thor missile at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Since that time Thor missiles have been deployed and are in place on British bases overseas. The Air Force is prepared to deploy Thor and Jupiter missiles to other NATO countries as soon as the necessary arrangements have been made.

The first of our intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Atlas, will very shortly be phased into the SAC inventory. The Titan ICBM, a more advanced liquid-fuel missile, is showing great promise even in the early phases of development. Four highly successful flights resulted from the first four test firings. The Snark air-breathing missile is in the hands of Strategic Air Command crews. This missile also possesses an intercontinental capability and provides additional tactical versatility to our strategic offense.

Construction on many of our programmed strategic missile bases already has started. To ensure the earliest possible ICBM operational capability, our initial sites are not being hardened. However, later sites will be built in a hardened configuration. I have had the opportunity to visit one of the newer missile silos — a hardened and underground installation of vast scope and complexity. Its achievement is an impressive tribute to the high state of skill and knowledge in the engineering profession of this nation.

The development of the Minuteman solid-propellant ICBM is proceeding rapidly. We are particularly enthusiastic about the operational potential of this weapon system. It will be smaller in size and lighter in weight than the liquid-fuel ICBMs. It will have a faster reaction capability and be easier to disperse and harden than the larger missiles. During this last year, the technical feasibility of incorporating real mobility into the Minuteman concept also has been established. Under this concept, a portion of the Minuteman force will be deployed on railroad cars and trucks — constantly moving at random from place to place over the nation’s vast rail network and highway system. The addition of mobility to the many other operational attributes of the Minuteman missile will greatly enhance the deterrent and retaliatory capability of this nation by compounding an enemy’s targeting problems and by further increasing the survival probability of these missiles in event of enemy surprise attack. We expect this missile to be the backbone of our future strategic missile force.

At this point, I want to spell out the Air Force view on control of the strategic effort — an issue highlighted by recent public writings and discussions concerning the Air Force’s interest in the Navy’s submarine-launched missile, Polaris. To set the public record straight — there has never at any time been an attempt on the part of the air Force to take this weapon away from the Navy. We are not submariners. The air Force has been assigned the primary responsibility for the strategic air offense of our nation and has been responsible or bringing it to its present highly advanced state. It should be obvious that a strategic offensive effort may well lose much of its effectiveness if it is not closely controlled and directed. It is in this light that the Air Force has proposed to combine all strategic forces — no matter what the parent service may be — into a single strategic command, answerable to and directed by the Secretary of Defense through the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This concept, in my opinion, is not a radical departure from any other of the unified commands within the Department of Defense. In fact, I consider the Air Force proposal directly in line with the spirit and intent of the Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 — its sole purpose would be to guarantee the most effective strategic offense possible.

Before I discuss Air Force capabilities in other types of conflict, I would like to emphasize on point that is sometimes overlooked in the current furor over the respective merits of various weapons. That point is this — the real measure of weapon system effectiveness is the result it can achieve on target. This means that we must be able to penetrate enemy defenses with forces possessing sufficient accuracy to destroy vital targets. Successful penetration by manned bombers can be accomplished today through a wide range of operational tactics, including high- and low-altitude penetrations from all directions around an enemy periphery, and through the use of electronic countermeasures to jam his radars and air defense weapons. In the near future, this capability will be further improved through the use of Quail air-launched decoys to confuse the defenses and through employment of the Hound Dog missile I mentioned previously. The integration of ballistic missiles into our combat inventory will further improve the penetration and survival capabilities of our strategic forces. Strikes by our manned bombers could be preceded by missile impacts on enemy targets, including his defenses. The resulting destruction and confusion would certainly reduce enemy defense capabilities and thus assure that a higher percentage of our bomber force achieves its objectives.

The concentrated effort which has gone into the navigation and bombing training of our crews has resulted in a very high degree of accuracy on target. Thus far, our strategic missile test firings indicate that we are achieving missile accuracy well within design specification — in point of time, far beyond our orgininal hopes. Our ability to penetrate, the accuracy with which we can deliver our weapons, and the wide range of weapon yields at our disposal add up to the fact that the Air Force can perform its most vital mission.

Air Force Capability for Small Wars

The versatility, mobility and flexibility which are basic to aerospace power make any clear-cut delineation of the capabilities of the Air Force in minor conflicts an extremely complex task. Furthermore, the interdependence and close interrelationship between each of the functional commands makes any distinct division by type of war difficult. Each combat command makes its own contributions to the overall effort in either general war or any of its lesser variations. In turn, each of these commands supports and depends upon the others for successful implementation of its tasks. There are few combat elements of the Air Force, which would not be useful in all types of armed conflict. In order to meet the wide spectrum of possibilities in warfare, the Air Force is prepared at all times to provide the exact amount of firepower which the situation requires — up to and including maximum force. Hence all — or any part — of our combat forces are available as necessary — either in an active or a “behind-the-scenes” role. For instance, although the Strategic Air Command is identified primarily as a general war force, the influence of this force upon lesser situations is immeasurable. The Lebanon crisis of a year ago is an excellent example of the role of the Strategic Air Command in such situations — SAC had in position and combat-ready well over, 1,000 modern jet bombers, with crews and nuclear weapons available and ready for takeoff. These aircraft were quietly poise in the background while the more spectacular developments took place on the immediate scene of action. Ground, naval, marine, and tactical air forces were able to move promptly and openly into the trouble area, firm in the knowledge that their deployments were backed up by the invisible but ever-present might of our strategic forces.

USAF tactical forces overseas have both general and small war missions. They are highly adaptable to any type of situation since in many cases they are able to reach trouble areas from their overseas bases more rapidly than forces staging from the United States. The overseas tactical air forces are maintained in the same type of alert posture, which our strategic units provide worldwide. Tactical fighters, tactical bombers, and Matador surface-to-surface missiles — dispersed throughout the overseas theaters — are poised in the same round-the-clock type of readiness. These units possess both a conventional and a nuclear capability. The fast reaction and deadly power of these forces, which in many cases are based in forward areas, provide a highly effective capability for any conflict.

During the past year, the striking power of these forces has been greatly increased by the addition of F-101 tactical fighters and RF-101 tactical reconnaissance aircraft. During this same period, conversion of all overseas tactical fighter units to Century series aircraft was completed. B-66 and B-57 tactical bomber wings stationed overseas have been extended in the program to add to the theater capability for a longer period of time. The transfer of our tactical fighter units in Europe to new bases, which lend themselves more readily to instantaneous reaction, will increase their combat readiness accordingly. Our newest tactical fighter, the F-105 Thunderchief, is being delivered to tactical units. Under development and progressing on schedule is a later model of this aircraft, the F-105D, which will provide a complete all-weather capability for the tactical forces, giving them the capability to navigate and to bomb their targets in any type of weather — day or night.

In addition to the capabilities of our tactical air forces overseas, the Air-Force possesses force specifically tailored for worldwide operations — the Tactical air Command’s Composite Air Strike Force. Its inherent mobility and flexibility allow it to be used in a highly effective manner and thus provide a versatile contribution to our offensive capability. The Composite Air Strike Force is comprised of units specifically organized, trained, and equipped for this specialized use. The high mobility of the Composite Air Strike Force was demonstrated in both the Lebanon crisis and the Taiwan situation. In both cases, its units quickly arrived at the trouble spot ready for immediate and effective action.

The combat capability of this force has increased over the past year, not only as a result of the experience gained during these two emergency deployments, but also due to intensive training, improved techniques and procedures, and continued advances in unit equipment. As an example, over eighty percent of the pilots within General Everest’s Tactical Air Command have taken part in practice emergency deployments at least once during the past year. Many of these pilots have been involved in several of these excises. In response to practice alerts, they have taken off from their home bases in the United States, accomplished a transoceanic flight using inflight refueling —either across the Atlantic or the Pacific — and landed at an overseas base fully prepared for action. The value of such training as a method of increasing our combat effectiveness is apparent.

The equipment used by this specialized force is, in general, similar to that used by the overseas tactical air forces. However, new and specialized equipment has been developed to increase the flexibility of this organization. As an example, adapters have been devised which now allow the refueling of tactical fighter aircraft by KC-135 aircraft of the Strategic Air Command.

When Air Force combat capabilities are measured in total — with a full understanding of the power and versatility of modern aerospace power — it is readily apparent that the ability of the Air Force to provide forces to meet any type of situation with speed and precision is substantial. The characteristics of our modern equipment are designed with this purpose in mind. As the capability of the Air Force increases in each of its functional fields, its capability for all types of war increases accordingly. Naturally, our aim is to do as much as possible without disturbing the day-to-day readiness of those forces which have immediate tasks to perform in the event of a fast-breaking all-out nuclear conflict. Nevertheless, I am confident we can meet both challenges — and meet them successfully.

Our Defensive Posture

This nation is faced with the ever-present possibility of a surprise attack against our offensive forces. We must therefore, take all possible measures to protect these forces so that we can assure an enemy’s defeat, even after he has conducted an initial surprise attack against us. We are taking positive steps in this direction through better warning, a high state of alert, wider dispersal, hardening, and improved air defense weapons.

The most critical of these factors is warning — warning so that we can react — not only defensively but offensively. Our North American continent early-warning network against manned jet aircraft and air-breathing missiles is practically complete. A western extension to this network continues from the Aleutians to Midway Island. Eventually, an eastern extension will join with the NATO system. As the emphasis in weapons of war shifts from manned aircraft to missiles, one of the most critical requirements is the early establishment of an adequate ballistic missile early-warning system. In this respect, the Air Force is progressing rapidly in the establishment of a ballistic missile early-warning sites has already started, with negotiations for the third site under way.

Sizable numbers of our total forces are now on alert and could be off the ground and on the way to their targets within minutes of warning. The size of this alert force is increasing as improved alert facilities and dispersal bases become available. We also have the capacity to maintain significant portion of our strategic bombers on airborne alert, should it become necessary. This type of alert is made possible through employment of air-refueling operations and carefully scheduled flight routes, which permit airborne alert aircraft to be directed to their targets. The strategic bomber dispersal program now under way will afford additional protection. Eventually, we hope to disperse our strategic bombers so that no more than one B-52 squadron, with its associated tankers, nor more than one B-47/B-58 wing, with its associated tankers, is located on a single base. Dispersal in this manner gives us the added bonus of being able to launch more aircraft faster in case of surprise attack.

As I mentioned earlier, we are hardening our missile sites.

Substantial progress has also been made in improving our active air defense weapons. Close coordination with our Canadian neighbors, the development of surface-to-air missile capabilities, and an improved interceptor force add up to a highly efficient active air defense. At the present time, the majority of the Air Force’s interceptor units are equipped with subsonic Century series aircraft. This number is increasing steadily, and within the coming year all regular units of General Atkinson’s Air Defense Command will be equipped with this type of interceptor. In the past twelve months, the F-101B and the F-106 have entered our combat inventory. The F-106 Delta Dart, our latest interceptor, is a Mach 2 aircraft which can carry either the conventional high-explosive Falcon missile or the MB-1 Genie atomic rocket. The F-106, the highest-flying, fastest all-weather interceptor in the free world today, has been delivered to operational fighter-interceptor units at McGuire AFB, N.J.; Geiger AFB, Wash.; and Andrews AFB, Md. Other interceptor units will be equipped with its increased range and advanced armament control system, represents a significant upgrading of our air defense capability. Under development is the F-108, a radical departure in interceptor design and concept. Actually, this Mach 3 aircraft will be a far-ranging mobile missile launcher capable of operating independently of ground control. A substantial portion of the wind-tunnel testing on this new aircraft has already been completed.

The first of the Air Force’s long-range (200-mile) Bomarc surface-to-air missiles have been delivered to operational units and soon will be actively contributing to the air defense of our country. The Bomarc was first fired by an Air Force crew in August of last year. Since then, it has demonstrated its ability to intercept and destroy targets of long ranges and great altitudes. It has also proved its complete operational compatibility with the SAGE system, through which it is launched and controlled. Multiple launches and intercepts by remote control from great distances and under a variety of other operational circumstances have proved the versatile and deadly capability of this missile. Initial firings of the ‘B’ model — an even longer-range version of the Bomarc — recently took place at Patrick AFB, Fla. These firings successfully proved the capability of the new solid-propellant booster which it uses.

Significant advances have also been made in the SAGE, Semi-Automatic Ground Environment system. In March, the whole northeastern region of the United States was placed under the active operational coverage of this system — first of many areas to be so equipped. New developments in transistors and miniaturization have opened the door to hardening the control centers — a great step forward in achieving greater security. SAGE will provide the type of air defense combat information, which is so vital for successful control of an aerospace battle. During peacetime, SAGE equipment also will be used for air traffic control. In July of this year, steps were initiated to integrate Federal Aviation Agency facilities into SAGE centers. The physical location of SAGE, division areas is being adjusted to coincide with air traffic control boundaries.

Of critical concern to the Air Force as strategic missiles enter the picture is, of course, development of an antimissile missile defense. Incorporation of such a defense into the over-all air defense system at the earliest possible date is mandatory. The hypersonic speed of incoming ballistic missiles and the wide area of potential destruction contained in their warheads emphasize the need to destroy such weapons as far from the potential targets as possible. This requirement poses one of the greatest challenges ever placed before the scientific and engineering brains of this country, who, I am happy to say, are seized with the problem as a highest priority project.


Trying to recap the progress of the Air Force over the past twelve months by limiting the discussion to the combat forces is about as revealing of the over-all product as a photograph of an iceberg — the majority of which is under the surface. Backing up our combat forces are important supporting commands such as the Air Materiel Command, the Air Training Command, the air Research and Development Command, the Military Air Transport Service, the Continental Air Command, the Air Force Security Service, the Air University, the Air Force Academy, and various overseas commands. Without the tremendous effort exerted by these and other organizations, the combat forces could not do their jobs. For example, a swift military airlift capability is a must. Although a substantial airlift augmentation will be provided by the Civil Reserve Air Fleet during wartime — in fact, we would not be able to accomplish our objectives without this contribution — there are two compelling reasons for the maintenance of a strong military airlift capability in being. First, airlift must be immediately available when needed. Second, we must have airlift to accommodate unique, outsized cargo. The Military Air Transport Service, the troop carrier aircraft of the Tactical Air Command, the transport aircraft of our Reserve Forces are, therefore, most important members of the Air Force team. Units of the Air National Guard are additional plus factors in computing our aerospace strength. Another vital activity is the air Force’s close working relationship with the Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Air Force participation in lunar probes, orbiting satellites, and other experiments designed to further this nation’s position in aerospace is discussed at length in the Space Digest section of this magazine.

In this article, I have highlighted only some of the tangible milestones of Air Force progress these past twelve months — some of the markers on the course along which the air Force is rapidly traveling. We have had some difficulties in holding to our course, but this is to be expected in the type of high-speed, high-powered program under which the Air Force is operating today. Our aim is to continue on course, to surmount the problems which may bar the way, and to produce for this country the world’s foremost aerospace power — the priority requirement for national survival.

General White has been Chief of Staff, USAF, since July 1, 1957. His military career, stretching back to 1916, has encompassed attaché duty in both Russia and China, combat commands in the Pacific Theater in World War II, and more than a decade in top-level posts at Hq. USAF. During the war, General White commanded the Seventh Air Force in the Marianas and on Okinawa. His postwar assignments included posts as Director of Plans, Hq. USAF; DCS/ Operations; and Vice Chief of Staff. A West Point graduate, General White was an infantry officer from 1920 to 1924, when he entered Air Corps flying school.