The Shadow of Airpower at Geneva

Oct. 1, 1955
You have chosen a wonderful site for your Convention. San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, in an area that has a tremendous heritage in aviation.

The whole West Coast is a great source of America’s strength in the air. Here we find good flying weather, and ideal locations for air bases. Here also is a big part of the greatest aviation industry in the world. In the aircraft factories and at our test centers, aviation history is being made every day.

San Francisco has earned a place in history in another way. It was here a little over ten years ago that the United Nations was born. And just last month, on the tenth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, a meeting of the leaders of sixty countries met to renew and redeclare the world’s efforts for peace.

Earlier today you have been discussing Main Street in this age. The people of Main Street all over the world want peace, and their eyes have been focused on the summit meeting at Geneva. We all joined in hoping that this gathering of statesmen would produce a significant step toward peace in the world.

There can be no doubt that a new mood prevailed, and the hopes for a relaxing of world tension now are higher than they have been for years.

No one has claimed that the Geneva meeting resulted in specific agreements on concrete questions.

Yet, it is generally felt that the world is closer to peace.

We of the Air Force fervently hope this is true.

For years we have said that airpower is peace power. This truth has been demonstrated, and no one can deny that the shadow of airpower fell cross the conference table at Geneva.

It is by no means irrelevant that the United States Air Force navigator showed the Soviets the way to Geneva.

We of the Air Force are proud that American airpower was prominent in the strength needed to negotiate on these great matters.

We are even prouder that our President took the lead in proposals aimed to reduce the paramount fear of our times—the fear of surprise air attack and the great devastation of air warfare.

The world welcomed the President’s proposal to the Soviet Union to exchange facilities for aerial photography. This plan was aimed squarely against surprise attack. I sincerely believe this could be a key step toward peace.

The President’s outline for preventing surprise attack carried with it a sincerity and significance that make a profound impact. His actions should be reassurance to all that he and this nation are champions of peace.

If this proposal is accepted, the Air Force will enthusiastically devote its energies to make this great idea work.

Even the Air Force bases where we are now standing twenty-four hours vigil against a possible Soviet attack would conceivably be made available to the Soviets for this purpose.

In the Air Force we have always put our whole effort into keeping strong and instantly ready as the best means of preventing war. We are ready to devote equal energy to any workable, alternative strategies that promise peace.

While we seek better ways to safeguard until mutually dependable systems for reducing armaments have been worked out.

For, while Geneva commanded attention in mid-July, the eyes of the world were drawn to Moscow in May when the Soviet Union paraded its military might for all to see.

As they readied their air might to celebrate May Day, the rulers of the Soviet Union made a different but no less lasting impression on us. They showed all the world that they too had learned the airpower lesson all too well. The intercontinental jet bombers, the medium jet bombers, and the supersonic fighters flying over Red Square were grim evidence of what many of us had already realized—that Soviet Russia had become a modern, powerful arsenal of airpower.

Just last week—only days after Geneva—the Soviets resumed testing of nuclear weapons.

It is clear that Geneva must be weighed against Moscow. It is also clear that although airpower has been the motivating force behind the quest for peace, it is a force we must keep if we are to have peace.

If we should allow ourselves to become relatively weak in the ear, our efforts to achieve a workable peace would no doubt fail.

This is something that a great many people, even hear in the United States, do not understand. Some have even said, “Lets ban airpower with its nuclear weapons.”

Strangely enough, the man in the Kremlin says the same thing.

What are the alternatives to our nuclear airpower?

Before we hasten to turn kilotons into kilowatts—today’s version of swords into plowshares—let us see what nuclear airpower is doing for the world in its present form.

True, nuclear weapons can wreck horrible destruction. But the very horror they evoke has brought to the world a new awareness of the terror of war. They have awakened redoubled efforts for peace. They have caused aggressors to think twice. They have softened the voices at the conference table.

Has the time come when we can cast away or even neglect the instruments that have brought these great changes?

Am I speaking against disarmament? Far from it. There are those, I know, who through the ages have accused military men of being warmongers. Some people still believe that a military man without a war is an unhappy man.

Most of you in this audience have had your taste of war, and know that nothing could be further from the truth. No one knows the horrors of war better than the man who has had to fight them. The professional soldier knows better than anyone the terrible futility of war and killing and destruction. Those who have had to fight all the wars of the past have been those who learned to hate war.

Today nuclear weapons have brought home the terrific destruction and terrifying impact of war to those who would make war.

For the first time in history, no head of state, whether democracy or dictatorship, can promise the man on Main Street clear-cut and certain victory in war.

The most he can promise is devastation of the lands of another people. He cannot promise his people that their own lands will not be blackened.

This is not good enough. Even in a dictatorship, the people who will do the fighting and the working must be promised more than this.

Terrible as they are, should we then denounce these weapons that have sharpened the world’s appetite for peace? Should this be done, even if it was possible for both sides to do so? If this were done, is there any guarantee that it would lessen the chances of war—or erase the main causes of conflict between East and West

On the contrary, I believe it would increase the changes of war—for it would invite aggression without instant and dangerous penalty to the aggressor.

In the meantime, while we weigh the hope of Geneva let us also remember Moscow in May. Let us be sure that we more than match Communist airpower. We know from bitter experience that Communist smiles can change to scowls and velvet can turn to steel. A very wise man once uttered this word of caution, “You don’t take your coat off every time the sun shines in Moscow.”

Last year when I discussed the Soviet air strength, and the knowledge we had of it at that time, I said that the Air Force we are building was planning on the basis of present rather than future Soviet strength. I warned that if the Soviet Air Force continues to improve, we would have to step up our own efforts.

In measuring our airpower against the Soviets, there is one thing I would say here today: We are still ahead, well ahead, in the kind of airpower the Soviets respect!

However, in view of the technological and production achievements of the Soviets, we have decided to speed up our timetable in both offensive and defensive forces.

The aviation industry has responded magnificently to this challenge. Production schedules are being accelerated on two of our newest fighters and the B-52 bomber program has been pushed up. We will now complete the conversion from B-36s to jet B-52s a full year ahead of the time planned when I met with you last year.

Among the fighters, we are speeding up the McDonnell F-101, known as the Voodoo. This is a great airplane. It is very fast and can carry a huge load. It is a big plane, almost as big as a bomber. And it can really fight.

We are also speeding up the little one, the Lockheed F-104. This is a fighter pilot’s dream. We feel confident that it is the fastest, highest-flying fighter in the air, anywhere.

I have been talking about some new planes in the Air Force. Now I want to mention something else new that we are trying to add to the Air Force—that is stability.

Do you realize that in a period of about six years, the planning size of the Air Force has changed eight times? It has gone from sixty-six wings to fifty-five, than forty-eight, then forty-two, ninety-five, 143,120,and finally 137 wings. It is significant that for the past two years we have been set on the latest goal—137 wings. This has meant two years of comparative stability.

It might be obvious to say that it’s hard to make progress if your goals keep changing, but I am afraid that has been the situation in the Air Force for several years. In the period of fluctuating force levels and bouncing budgets, it is a wonder that the Air Force did as well as it did.

However, stability doesn’t mean inflexibility. We all know that a 137-wing Air Force is not a permanent solution of our airpower needs.

The stability of the last two years has given us time to settle down to orderly progress. We have, at least, had time to tidy up our management and administration. Our men and women have been able to produce more in this stable atmosphere. They stay longer at one assignment and at one location.

Some of the SAC and TAC men who have live out of a suitcase for the last year might not agree, but I am speaking of trends. The new stability enables us to get more work per man per year, and more results. It has allowed us to take on the marks of maturity. Most of the credit for this is due to the management and ingenuity of the commanders in the field. Without their full support it would not have been possible. This does not mean that we have developed a “business-as-usual” attitude. It does mean that we were finally able to do many things that we could not do before.

One of these things is to make our Reserve program more effective. We are getting some stability here too. We now have the best Reserve program we have ever had in the whole history of the Air Force. We all owe a tribute to those who have made this possible.

I am determined to do everything I can to continue to make the Reserve and National Guard wings—all fifty-one of them—a solid, effective force—well trained and well equipped.

You supporters of the Air Force have had a great deal to do with the progress we have made and the stability we are achieving. Your efforts have helped to create the conditions under which we could settle down to more efficient, less frenzied operations.

In one way this could make the coming years a period of great danger. The apparent easing of international tension could lull the nation into dangerous complacency. The present strength of 124 wings could be relaxing.

The progress we have made must not be confused with the strength we need.

We still have a long way to go.

We have thirteen more wings to build and we are still two years away from the goal. These wings will take thousands of people to run them, good people, if they are to be good wings. They will take hundreds of airplanes, better than any produced in Communist countries, if they are to be counted as effective wings. We need more air bases, more housing, and more hangars—things just as important as planes and bombs in our ability to hold the peace.

It is up to us in the Air Force and to you supporters of the Air Force to keep your interest in these goals.

I would close with this thought.

If we lose the battle for peace, it will not be because United States airpower failed, but because the United States failed its airpower.

General Twining, this year’s winner of AFA’s highest award, the H.H. Arnold Trophy (see page 68), began his military career with the Oregon National Guard in 1916. He was born in Monroe, Wis., in 1897 and was graduated from the US Military Academy in 1918. He won his wings at Kelly Field, Tex., in 1924, and then instructed at Brooks Field, Tex. In WWII he had tactical command of all Army, Navy, Marine, and Allied AFs in the South Pacific, and he later commanded the 15th AF in Italy and headed the Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Forces. He became Vice Chief of Staff of the USAF in 1950 and succeeded Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg as Chief of Staff in 1953.