USAF’s Top Ten Priorities

Sept. 1, 1960

Last September, when I addressed the Air Force Association Convention at Miami Beach, Fla., I outlined the Air Force’s “Ten Most Needed”—a list of weapon and support systems representing the top-priority aerospace requirements for future national security. Today, one year later, despite many new developments and great technical advances, this listing remains valid as a concise enumeration of the Air Force’s highest priority requirements. These are:

1. Intercontinental ballistic missiles.

2. Air-to-surface missiles.

3. Follow-on long-range aircraft.

4. Advanced tactical systems.

5. Ballistic missile warning systems.

6. Long-range defenses.

7. Modern communications network

8. Advanced reconnaissance systems.

9. Modernized cargo fleet.

10. Advanced manned space systems.

In this article, I will discuss the progress we have made in these areas during the past year.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

There is no question that the ICBM has the potential of becoming one of the most formidable weapons all time. Its hypersonic speed, long-range, nuclear warhead, and demonstrated accuracy make it a lethal and extremely effective contribution to our aerospace force. At the same time, reliability, guidance, propulsion, construction, training, and the requirement for continual improvement in individual missile components will continue to be problems requiring the best of our national talent and effort.

The first of our ICBMs, the Atlas, has been operational in the Strategic Air Command for about a year. The early version of this missile, the Atlas-D has a range of more than 6,000 miles. It has demonstrated very high accuracy using radio-inertial guidance. Latter models are guided by a self-contained inertial system. In addition to requiring less ground support equipment and being more adaptable to protective measures, the all-inertial Atlas will be immune to enemy jamming. Early texts of all-inertial guidance have demonstrated far greater precision than initially forecast.

Sixty Atlas test firings have been conducted, of which thirty-nine were completely successful and eight partially successful. One of these, you may recall, was successfully fired a distance of over 11,000 miles last May.

Thirteen Atlas squadrons have beets authorized. These should be in place and combat ready by the end of 1962. The first four squadrons are being constructed in a “soft” configuration—above the ground with no built-in protection against attack. The fifth, sixth, and seventh squadrons will be hardened, and each missile will be dispersed to create a separate aiming point to an enemy. Starting with the eighth Atlas squadron, the missiles will be housed individually in protective underground shelters designed to withstand high overpressures.

It is well to point out here that the degree to which our missiles are protected has a tremendous influence upon an enemy’s offensive force requirements. For example, with a given degree of accuracy and warhead yield, where one weapon is needed to attain a ninety percent probability of destruction against an unprotected target, approximately thirteen weapons are needed to attain the same probability of destruction against targets hardened to withstand a pressure of 100 pounds per square inch. The various configurations in the Atlas program are the result of a combination of several factors: the urgent requirement to attain the earliest possible combat capability, the normal experience of advancing our knowledge and technology, and production and construction lead times.

The second liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile to join our combat forces will be the Titan. We expect an initial operational capability with this missile next year and the authorized fourteen squadrons to be combat ready by early 1964. Early missiles will use a radio-inertial guidance system. Later models will be equipped with an all-inertial system. All Titan missiles will be deployed in a hardened, underground configuration. The Titan II will use storable-liquid propellants, is designed to be fired from within underground launchers, and will have a larger warhead capacity than the early models.

We have had great success in Titan test launches. Twenty firings have taken place—thirteen of these have been completely successful, and two partially successful. The majority of the developmental problems appeared in the early phases of the test series. Now, there is good reason to believe that we are well on our way toward a combat-capable Titan and that we will achieve the programmed force on schedule.

Another ICBM under development is the Minuteman—a solid-propellant missile which will be smaller in size, lighter in weight, less complex, and significantly less expensive than other ballistic missile systems. As a matter of fact, it is expected that the Minuteman will cost less than one-fourth as much as the larger liquid-fueled missiles. It is envisioned that large numbers of the Minuteman will be deployed in underground firing positions, widely dispersed in remote areas of low population density. In addition plans are under way to provide mobility to a portion of the force through the use of missile launchers on roving railroad trains.

The development program on the Minuteman is proceeding at an accelerated pace. For example, eighteen tests were originally scheduled for the underground launch facility at Edwards AFB, Calif. These tests were designed to obtain data concerning underground tube pressures, temperatures, and acoustic levels generated during missile launchings. The results of the first eight tests were so satisfactory that the remaining test firings were eliminated.

The initial operational date of the Minuteman is now planned for 1962. If this date is met, the Minuteman missile will have been brought from program approval to an effective weapon system in just four years. This will represent a truly remarkable achievement.

After Minuteman, what? Generally, we would hope for an even smaller, less complex, and less costly missile, possessing comparable or improved range, accuracy, reliability, and load-carrying characteristics. Several follow-on systems are presently under study by the Air Force.

Air-to-Surface Missiles

As potential enemy offensive and defensive capabilities increase, the firepower, speed, and penetrability of our own weapons become of even greater importance. Ideally, we must be able to withstand surprise attack while at the same time maintaining the capability for quick and flexible reaction. One answer to this problem is the air-to-surface missile carried by far-ranging aircraft. The movement of such aircraft cannot be predicted by an enemy and their great speed gives them flexibility to cover a wide area and still react on target in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, they can operate without approaching too close to unfriendly borders. Such an aircraft/missile combination would enable use to conduct constant airborne patrols capable of immediate response to aggression anywhere at any time. Moreover, it would, in effect, provide us with a recallable missile capability.

During this past year, we have made substantial progress in air-to-surface missiles. Our first weapon of this type is the Hound Dog, which is powered by a jet engine. It has a range up to 600 miles which it can cover at supersonic speeds. The Hound Dog has been tested successfully and is now operational in the Strategic Air Command.

The follow-on weapon to the Hound Dog is the Sky Bolt—an air-launched ballistic missile which is designed to travel at hypersonic speeds and as far as 1,000 miles. Its guidance will be provided by a combined astro-inertial system. The first aircraft programmed to carry the Sky Bolt is the B-52. However, we are not overlooking the possibilities of using other current aircraft or the tremendous potential which could be inherent in a force of B-70s or nuclear-powered aircraft armed with weapons of this type.

Ballistic missile test vehicles have already been fired successfully from bombers in tests of both subsonic and supersonic launches. These tests, in addition to proving the feasibility of air-launching ballistic missiles, demonstrated that such missiles possess adequate stability and that the necessary flight control techniques exist. The Sky Bolt is scheduled to be operational by 1964.

Follow-on Long-Range Aircraft

I am certain it would be redundant from the standpoint of the readers of this magazine to reiterate all the reasons for my firm conviction that manned vehicles will continue to be necessary. Basically, however, it narrows down to one key point: Our aerospace forces must be properly balanced and unmanned vehicles, by their very nature, cannot meet effectively every combat and support requirement. As we progress in the state of the art for each type of vehicle and its related systems, we can expect our total force to change in relative quantities of missiles, manned aircraft, and spacecraft.

The logical follow-on to the B-52 is the B-70—a Mach 3 aircraft designed to cruise at altitudes of more than 70,000 feet, with an unrefueled range capability at supersonic speeds on the order of 7,000 miles. With such performance, the B-70 could be launched from bases in the United States and reach almost any point in the world within three hours. A combat inventory of a few hundred such aircraft would provide a good part of the flexibility we will need in the long-range striking force of the future.

In addition to its combat potential, the successful development of a B-70 type aircraft will result in another major advance in the science of aeronautics. Its designed speed characteristics, for example, will require initial penetration at the so-called “thermal thicket” —the ever-rising heat condition associated with increasing speeds within the atmosphere. The solution to the airframe fabrication, propulsion, and control problems involved is as important as the conquest of the “sonic barrier.” In fact, the B-70 is an essential step toward higher speeds and performance by large manned vehicles—perhaps multipurpose aircraft capable of performing other combat roles, and certainly the large high-speed global transports needed in the future.

The Air Force, under the present program, has been authorized to build two partial prototype B-70s—that is, the airframes and engines. Work on the first of these aircraft is well under way and we should have it in the air sometime in 1962. In addition, we are carrying on some developmental work on the subsystems needed to make the B-70 a combat-effective weapon system.

An associated national project in the area of long-range flight is the work we are doing on airborne nuclear propulsion. Successful development of such a propulsion system would provide aerospace craft with the long sought objective of essentially unlimited endurance. Although progress in the development of airborne nuclear propulsion has been slow, certain important advances have been accomplished. For example, shielding weights have been reduced to a reasonable level for an airborne vehicle. A prototype engine—actually, a laboratory rig—also has been operated successfully and we know the thrust needed for large aircraft can be achieved.

Advanced Tactical Systems

A long-time Air Force objective has been a tactical all-weather capability to react quickly and selectively on a global basis. Our newest tactical fighter, the F-105D, represents a long stride toward this goal. With its capabilities for precise navigation, quick reaction, long range, and improved weapon delivery, the F-105 can be used in a wide scope of military operations. Its capacity for close air support of ground troops, in particular, is far superior to anything the Air Force has been able to provide in the past.

The F-105 possesses an improved loitering capability and can deliver its weapons against ground targets at supersonic as well as low subsonic speeds. It is equipped with the highly accurate short-range air-to-surface missile—the GAM-83 Bullpup—which can be armed with either nuclear or nonnuclear warheads. It also can deliver free-falling bombs, including a new family of extremely versatile nonnuclear weapons designed to ensure far more effective support of surface forces.

Future tactical fighters also must possess an “across-the-board” reconnaissance/strike capability. With such a weapon system, we will be better able to accomplish the Army’s requirements for reconnaissance and close air support, as well as other phases of the tactical mission. We need aircraft which can find and attack targets of inexact and unknown locations, including the mobile systems which an enemy can be expected to develop. In addition, these aircraft should be capable of random dispersal to off-base sites where they can be launched and recovered. This means that future tactical fighters should be able to operate from very short, relatively unprepared surfaces with a minimum of ground environment support. Studies show that we can develop this type of equipment. We have taken the first step in this direction by establishing a specific operational requirement (SOR) for a short takeoff and landing (STOL) tactical fighter/reconnaissance aircraft. This aircraft will give us the increased flexibility to fulfill the complete tactical mission spectrum from supersonic cruise at long range, either high or low altitude, to slow speed maneuverability in the close support role. Advanced aerodynamic engineering will make this performance possible in the one weapon system, rather than in several as has been the case in the past. The next step is a suitable vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Propulsion principals and hardware leading to this critical requirement are presently in the development stage.

Tactical missile systems also have been significantly improved during the past year. Introduction of the Mace-A as a replacement for the Matador has increased our all-weather missile strike capability. Further improvement in accuracy and reliability will be provided by the Mace-B. Ballistic missiles are under study as a solution to our specific operational requirement for tactical missiles having greater mobility, survivability, and performance than those now available.

Ballistic Missile Warning Systems

Warning is the key to effective military response. Each additional minute of warning in effect saves X number of bombs and missiles to be added to our striking forces, and gives us additional time to alert our defenses.

The first of three programmed Ballistic Missile Early-Warning System (BMEWS) sites is completed and undergoing final tests in Greenland. This site alone will be capable of detecting missiles aimed at a large portion of the United States. Next year, a second site located in Alaska will become operational. The third site will be in England. The completed network will provide extended coverage and should give us an average of fifteen minutes’ warning of an approaching ballistic missile.

Also under development is a Missile Defense Alarm System (Midas). This will be a satellite system employing infrared sensors. A series of Midas satellites orbiting the earth will be capable of detecting hostile missiles just after launch, while in the boost phase. Together, the Midas and BMEWS will provide more reliable warning of missile attack and will be able to cope with a wider variety of conditions and tactics.

Two attempts to launch prototype Midas satellites have been made. The first failed because of a malfunction in the booster staging. In May of this year, the second Midas was successfully placed in orbit. A large amount of significant telemetered information was obtained on the first five orbits of this flight, prior to the satellite becoming unstable. This data, when correlated with the information obtained earlier from other tests, indicates conclusively that Midas will do its job.

Long -Range Defenses

The objective of the Air Force in its air defense planning is to establish a defense in depth ranging as far out in front of us as possible. Ideally, we would like to destroy enemy forces over his territory. Such defenses must be divided into two categories—defense against air-breathing vehicles and defense against ballistic missiles.

The current program—which includes the Air Force’s manned interceptors and Bomarc missiles, in addition to the Army’s Nike weapons—provides for a defense in depth against the present threat of aircraft, air-breathing surface-to-surface missiles, and short-range air-launched missiles.

In recent months the Bomarc has established an excellent record of successful flights under various conditions. Of the last nineteen Bomarc-A missiles launched in the current series since May of this year, fifteen have been completely successful. In the Bomarc-B program, the last four missiles have been launched successfully and met their test objectives. Included in these tests have been multiple launches, kills against the supersonic Regulus II, firings out to distances of 270 miles and to within less than fifty miles, intercepts at altitudes of more than 40,000 feet and simulated kills of a realistic bomber target, a radio-controlled B-47. In its recent tests the Bomarc has clearly demonstrated its technical soundness and its flexibility—in other words we know beyond any doubt that it can perform the task for which it was designed.

In combating the air-breathing threat, a new problem will be the advent of hostile long-range air-to-surface missiles launched by bombers out of range of present air defense weapons. Although such a threat does not now exist, potential hostile powers will probably have a Hound Dog type missile in a year or so. It also is logical that they should undertake development of a weapon like our Sky Bolt. Longer range fighter-interceptor aircraft and air-to-air missiles are required to counter such a threat—to attack enemy bomber aircraft before they can launch their nuclear missiles or decoys. We have under development a fire-control system and guided air rockets for adaptation to a suitable long-range fighter interceptor—should the threat develop.

Defense against ballistic missiles poses a most critical problem. The optimum ballistic missile defense must have the capacity to destroy enemy missiles in the launch or boost phase of their trajectory. The next best alternative would be to destroy the missiles during mid-course flight. Least desirable—truly a last ditch defense—is to attempt to destroy missiles as they reenter the atmosphere over the target.

In line with this reasoning, the Air Force has supported a vigorous research and development program for a system which would attack hostile missiles at their most vulnerable time of flight—as soon as possible after launch, before burnout, and prior to the time the relatively small warhead has separated from its huge booster. An active missile defense of this type appears to us to present the greatest hope of an effective counter to the ICBM threat. Moreover, such a system would be effective against offensive missile refinements, such as decoys or multiple nuclear warheads. We are working closely with DoD’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) on several approaches to the development of such a defensive weapon.

Modern Communications Network

During the past year significant strides have been made toward our goal of instantaneous, reliable, and secure communications. In my discussion on this subject a year ago, I specifically mentioned the need to extend our tropospheric scatter systems and to increase the channel capacity of our equipment. In this respect, almost 200,000 .channel miles of tropospheric scatter communications were added to Air Force networks during fiscal year 1960, and close to a million additional channel miles are programmed for installation in the next twelve to twenty-four months.

The past year also marked the completion of the Air Force’s automatic message relay system—the only completely automatic, high-speed, teletype communication system of its kind in the world. But even this network with its tremendous capacity—ultramodern by today’s standards—represents only the threshold of the efficiencies which will he required in future communications systems.

The vast potential of space operations is being exploited rapidly to meet fast expanding communication requirements. Research over the past year has indicated the possibility of establishing passive communication satellites, such as further versions of Echo I. If future tests yield favorable results, limited operational systems of this nature could be available in 1963-65. In addition, an active communications satellite is in the development stage. Active systems for long-range communications, including the control of mobile forces, can be expected in the 1965-70 time period.

There is one other extremely significant advance in the communications field which I should mention here. The Defense Communications Agency (DCA) has been established within the Department of Defense to provide unified management of long-range strategic communications.

Advanced Reconnaissance Systems

Information concerning the military activities of potential enemies is a basic requirement for sound defense planning. One source of such information is reconnaissance which, in this era of high-speed, lethal, and long-range weapons, has assumed greater importance than ever before. Yet, it is in this field that we face some of our most difficult problems. We need a capacity for determining an enemy’s long-range strike capabilities, for tactical reconnaissance of surface battle zones, and the ability to conduct damage assessment. We are making every effort to improve our position in each of these areas. One project in an advanced stage of development is the Samos satellite system. This would be most valuable in reducing the danger of a surprise attack against us.

Modernized Cargo Fleet

Although today’s MATS fleet is generally adequate to support approved critical wartime requirements— in a quantitative sense—it does not possess a sufficient number of modern aircraft. For example, there is an urgent national requirement for a strategic airlift capability which can more adequately support a quick-reacting, mobile Army force. Our C-124s, which comprise the backbone of the airlift fleet, are eight to ten years old. The C-133s are the only modern transport aircraft in this force, and these aircraft represent a relatively small portion of our total MATS fleet.

To meet the strategic airlift needs of all the services and the specialized requirement for rapid deployment of Army troops and equipment, we must possess a modernized MATS with cargo aircraft capable of:

— Moving large and heavy military equipment

— Flying far enough to minimize dependence on en-route bases.

— A minimum turn-around time with a minimum of ground equipment.

— Operating from existing airfields without requiring lengthening of runways.

— Carrying troops.

— Airdropping troops and equipment.

Real progress has been made toward these goals during the past year. Specifically, $50 million were allocated in the fiscal year 1961 budget for the development of a high-speed, turbine-powered cargo aircraft. This aircraft is being designed to carry outsize cargo, troops, and large payloads. Its speed and range performance will provide a fast-reacting inter-theater capability. In addition, $200 million were authorized for limited procurement of aircraft already under development or in production. This interim modernization program will provide a number of C-130Es—range-extended models of the C-130B—and cargo versions of existing jet aircraft.

Advanced Manned Space Systems

Several Air Force programs are directed primarily toward piloted operation in the far reaches of aerospace. These are the X-15, the Dyna-Soar, and the Air Force’s extensive space medicine program. In addition, the Air Force is involved in other basic and applied research projects which have far-reaching implications upon manned space activities. One example is the Air Force’s Discoverer program. The recovery of an intact capsule released by an orbiting Discoverer satellite on August 11, 1960—a most significant first in international space achievement—is an excellent indication of progress the Air Force has made in such research.

The X-15 program, which is being conducted in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Navy, is primarily a research effort to explore the problems of manned flight at extremely high speeds and altitudes. Although the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft is not an orbital vehicle, the vast amount of useful data which is being obtained from this program qualify it as an important step toward manned space operations. The X-15 is a single-place, air-launched, rocket-propelled, research aircraft designed to operate at high aerodynamic heat rates and temperatures and to provide a suitable environment for the pilot and integral aircraft equipment under these conditions. During recent X-15 flights, pilots have attained speeds of almost 2,200 miles per hour and altitudes of more than 135,000 feet—faster and higher than man has ever maneuvered before.

Ground testing of the larger rocket engine, the XLR-99, which will take the X-15 to even higher altitudes and speeds, has been successfully completed. The significance of this should not be overlooked. It means that today the United States has, ready for flight, a controllable rocket engine which will provide a variable thrust up to 50,000 pounds. We hope to have an X-15 equipped with this remarkable engine in the air before the end of the year.

The next step—and the first development program pointed directly toward a manned space system—is another Air Force project in conjunction with NASA— the Dyna-Soar. Eventually, the Dyna-Soar will have global range—with the ability to operate at orbital speeds and altitudes. The Dyna-Soar, in effect, is the first vehicle which will combine the advantages of manned aircraft and missiles into a single system. This vehicle will utilize the boost-glide principle, obtaining its initial high speeds and altitudes from a booster such as the Titan. Then, operating on aerodynamic principles, it will maneuver and make a normal landing with full control at a preselected site on the earth. It is interesting to note that although the Dyna-Soar will attain peak speeds of over 15,000 miles per hour during flight, its proposed landing speed is to be less than that of some of our present-day combat aircraft.

The Dyna-Soar program is being planned in three steps. The first will employ full scale, unmanned gliders to be boosted by Titan missiles into suborbital flight. Later, heavier manned gliders will be used. In the second step, both manned and unmanned gliders will be propelled to global range or orbital flight with larger boosters. Finally, studies will be made of potential applications resulting from the Dyna-Soar development program. These actions, in turn, will lead to the more sophisticated manned aerospace systems we need for the future. Included in these will undoubtedly be self-powered vehicles with unprecedented performance, which the pilot can control in all phases of flight.


Generally speaking, I feel that the over-all advances made during this past year represent considerable progress. Technological successes, however, are not the whole story. In our concentration on hardware we cannot overlook the one common denominator of success in any field—people. Individual intelligence, initiative, courage, and judgment have not been outdated by push buttons and fantastic technical performance. It may seem obvious, but it is often forgotten, that the “mixed forces” of manned and unmanned systems we hear about so often refer to both hardware and people.

It has been repeated time and again—and not only in the Air Force—that to meet the threat we need “force in being,” because in case of war there will be no time to produce additional or improved hardware. Neither, I might point out, would there be time develop the trained personnel and the leadership we need to use our weapons most effectively. In simple terms: We must keep our personnel as ready, alert, and capable as we expect our weapons to be. The need to maintain the edge of training and leadership honed to its keenest over an indefinite period is perhaps the greatest challenge which the United States Air Force has ever faced. Meeting this challenge will require moral courage comparable to the tradition of wartime courage the Air Force already has established.

As the dawn breaks on additional new developments and possibilities, there also will be a continuing need to review our military concepts—to assure the most effective and efficient employment of this nation’s total military resources. This, in fact, we have already begun to do—but I foresee the time when changes may well be much more drastic than they appear now. In the face of all this, the Air Force’s goal must remain the same—to produce and maintain for this country the world’s foremost aerospace power—an absolute necessity for minimal survival.