In Defense of Freedom

Nov. 1, 1988

The fundamental duty of our government is to preserve our rights and freedoms. For more than forty years, a policy of deterrence — peace through strength — has served that end well.

In this election year, we are privileged to exercise the most fundamental right of a free society — the right to vote. That entitlement and all the other political, social, and economic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution are rare commodities in the world. Those governments that suppress the rights of their citizens finds the American creed a subversive one. Our freedoms were won by force of arms and when so challenged have been defended by force of arms.

But the price of freedom has always been high. That price today is the massive effort required to create and sustain the military forces vital to the task of deterring potential enemies. When the will and means to deter are lacking, the cost is American blood.

This Association is concerned that complex trends and events — apparently improved relations with the Soviet Union, deficit pressures, partisan politics, and the alleged defense procurement scandal — threaten to sap the will of American leadership to provide those means. There is a chorus of voices singing that we need not, or cannot, or will not, or should not do as much as we have in our own defense, thus jeopardizing the tremendous gains made over the past decade.

The task of defending the nation, however, is not getting any easier. US relations with the Soviet Union are at a forty-year peak. Yet the argument that this improvement allows the US to reduce its commitment to its own defense if fatuous. However real the changes in the Soviet Union, the goals and motivation behind Soviet foreign policy appear not to have changed. Even if they have, nagging questions remain: Will advocates of reform in the Soviet Union remain in power Will Soviet arms-control violations continue Will Soviet support of international terrorism continue

Nor is arms control the panacea some hope. The treaty to ban intermediate-range nuclear missiles is a promising start, but cannot serve as a blueprint for START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty incorporates excellent precedents, but the complexity of the treaty and lingering doubts about verifiability indicate that the road to deep strategic reductions will require much more caution. This nation’s arms-control policy must be predicated on a delicate balance between real arms reductions and deployments that really deter the Soviets. The danger of succumbing to the lure of superficially attractive reductions that exacerbate instability and ultimately reduce security must be avoided.

Without unequivocal evidence of irreversible political change in the Soviet Union, this Association believes that the nation must attend to Soviet capabilities. The Soviet military buildup proceeds today, uninterrupted, with a breadth and depth that remain mind-boggling. Soviet doctrine, strategy, and tactics remain geared to conquest, not to defense. Under such circumstances, security cannot be built on the basis of the goodwill of those who continue to deny the legitimacy of our political and economic institutions. Soviet military capabilities, along with technologically sophisticated threats to US security interests that can develop in virtually any part of the world, dictate that the ability to deter, and if necessary defeat, those who challenge US interests remains a practical and absolute necessity.

But while the task remains daunting, the defense budget is shrinking, and the Air Force is shrinking with it. Retrenchment is a fact of life. The keys to success in managing these reductions will be balance and ingenuity.

Manpower Is Fundamental

The core of the effort, as always, is people. Quality people constitute the bedrock foundation of an effective military. Adequate attention to the basic concerns of Air Force people, both uniformed and civilian, is fundamental to the health, vitality, and effectiveness of US forces. Without this very basic thrust, aircraft will lose their effectiveness for lack of pilots, research and development will suffer for lack of engineers, and maintenance will be degraded as experienced enlisted forces leave the military. Yet the erosion of military pay relative to the private sector, inadequate resources, and on-again, off-again funding make career planning a dicey business. The Air Force Association believes that steps must be taken to provide compensation, direct and indirect, commensurate with the sacrifices the nation expects of military professionals. This attention must extend to the fulfillment of the most basic of humanitarian concerns — a full accounting of those who served in Southeast Asia and whose fates are still unknown. AFA applauds the efforts of the past and those under way to achieve this accounting and calls upon the next Administration to continue them with renewed vigor.

The commitment to people is also reflected in the complementary dedication to providing our fighting men and women with the most effective weapon system possible. In this context, the five elements of strategic modernization — intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles, bombers, command control communications and intelligence (C3I) facilities, and strategic defenses — are and must remain the top priority. If the deterrent capabilities of US strategic forces should falter, there will be no second chance to correct the error.

Yet some of these programs, including the B-1B bomber, the Peacekeeper, and the Small ICBM, have been particularly vulnerable to entanglement in a partisan web of politics. AFA decries the unfortunate trend for certain weapon systems to become inextricably linked to the political fortunes of the political party of the other. Incessant politicking does serious and constant harm to the ability to plan intelligently for the nation’s defense. The degeneration of key policy and program issues into partisan squabbles misleads those adversaries we must deter concerning the nation’s will and capabilities, leads to ad hoc foreign and military policies, disrupts successful programs, creates ill will between the military and Congress, and results in roller-coaster defense budgeting. Ultimately, military capabilities suffer from such willy-nilly decision-making. AFA urges all to set aside partisan interests when considering US security. The defense of the nation cries out for bipartisan consensus.

The Peacekeeper is and should remain the cornerstone of ICBM modernization. The phenomenal accuracy and reliability of the deployed Peacekeeper force belie its critics, and this missile redresses the serious strategic imbalance in time-urgent hard-target capability. The cost-effectiveness and survivability inherent in rail-garrison basing full justify continued deployment of the Peacekeeper. Budget considerations, however, have put the other ICBM modernization program, the Small ICBM, on hold. AFA recognizes the benefits that accrue from such a small, mobile missile — survivability and post-attack capability — and would support continuation of the program, should ample funding be available.

AFA also applauds the tremendous success of the two-bomber program to modernize the air-breathing component of the triad. The unjustifiably maligned B-1B bomber is deployed and capable right now of performing its mission. Those who engage in politically motivated attacks against the B-1 serve the nation’s security poorly and fail to consider the synergistic effects of systems and tactics that permit the bomber to penetrate to its targets. The B-2 Stealth bomber is the other critical link in the bomber-modernization program and will virtually negate the Soviet investment of billions of rubles in air defenses.

In the future, however, the very basis of strategic deterrence might shift. If research proves the technology feasible, deployment of defensive systems would enhance deterrence by complicating attack planning and reducing the chances of a successful nuclear strike. Continued research and development in the Strategic Defense Initiative is essential in view of the spread of nuclear and ballistic missile technologies and continuing modernization of Soviet strategic offensive and defensive arsenals.

The Mix of Requirements

The primacy of strategic requirements does not detract at all from the urgency of balanced modernization of conventional forces. Burgeoning threats in the developing world, ranging from terrorism to low-intensity conflict to very intense local conflict, the imbalance of forces in Europe, changing requirements, and the global reach of the Soviet military require flexile and modern non-nuclear aerospace systems with a wide range of capabilities. Indeed, the treaty to ban intermediate-range nuclear forces has removed one rung of the “escalation ladder” and renders particular urgency t this conventional modernization.

In this context, the Air Force’s ability to provide close air support and battlefield air interdiction for ground troops is crucial. The Army and the Air Force have cooperated closely in the effort to upgrade these capabilities. AFA supports the economy of the A-16 and A-7F in these roles. The Army, too, agrees wholeheartedly with the basic approach taken the Air Force.

The Air Force, with the support of the Congress and the Administration, has enjoyed tremendous success in developing a new generation of tactical and theater weapons, while upgrading and improving the readiness and sustainability of extant forces. Deployment of the C-17, the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, and the F-15E will further enhance the tactical forces, and the Advanced Tactical Fighter will provide a crucial technological edge in the mid-1990s.

AFA applauds the Air Force’s success in restoring the nation’s space-launch capabilities and developing a new generation of launch vehicles. This success will allow the Air Force to support its forces with vital space assets. All of these initiatives deserve continuing support.

The budget crunch threatens future gains. Tactical forces are being cut back in an effort to protect the readiness gains of the past. Yet, even with a smaller force, readiness and sustainability will decline if the deep cuts recently imposed on the Air Force continue. Furthermore, production of a large number of systems will be starting or peaking in the early to mid-1990s. This modernization, needed to replace aging systems and old designs, is in jeopardy. Only a long-term, steady commitment to the nation’s defense needs can avoid the “Calvin Coolidge Air Force” — one plane with which the pilots take turns. Space assets, too, will have to compete for scarce funds on an equal basis.

The ability to support this modernization is also endangered by the recent alleged procurement irregularities, which complicate already tense industry and government relations. Continued development and deployment of state-of-the-art military systems require a stable and intelligently designed procurement system and close government/industry cooperation. No law can legislate morality; regulations cannot eliminate greed. Wrongdoers must be punished. But a new round of piecemeal procurement reforms, approved before recently established reforms have been completely digested, would be self-defeating.

Naysayers seize on the alleged scandal to argue that defense industries are corrupt and that enriching them is wrong. Such an argument demeans the honest, competent efforts that are overwhelmingly prevalent in the defense business and, furthermore, trivializes the security needs of the United States.

Modernization also rests on an industrial base that has, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past decades. Foreign competition, perverse incentives imposed by the procurement system, and inadequate funding and planning have undermined industry’s ability to satisfy US defense and mobilization needs. This Association believes firmly that the tremendous effort needed to determine the causes of the relative decline of American industry and to implement solutions will be critical to the future economic and national security of the US. Without such an effort, the nation will be relegated to the status of a second-rate power, incapable of meeting its own defense needs. Strong support for an expanded, balance research and development effort is critical to this effort.

A source of serious concern to this Association is the fundamental redefinition of the role of the military in meeting US national security needs inherent in the negative chorus of “needn’t, can’t, won’, and shouldn’t.” Defense, critics argue, must be cut to reduce the federal deficit, because a reduced deficit is critical to national security.

Legitimate social and economic concerns must not be confused with the national security. Defense did not cause, nor does it perpetuate, the deficit. This Association believes that the nation’s military resources ought to be based on valid requirements and the types of threats posed by our adversaries. Nor can the military services cure the nation’s drug problems. Any effort to involve the military in law-enforcement operations, beyond the already considerable contributions in the area of surveillance, should be regarded with skepticism.

Elections symbolize the freedom to choose. The poet Dante, it was recently paraphrased, “reserved the lowest circle of Hell for those who do not care — for those…who, endowed with freedom and power, make no use of it’ the kind of men who, observing a battle between tyrants and those who would be free, remain indifferent.” The policies that lead to weakness are often tempting and easy. But that weakness, in turn, tempts our adversaries. The first line of defense is always the moral courage to care and the clarity of vision needed to achieve a consensus and to support those forces that fight for freedom. Without it, the peace and security that underlie all free choice cannot be secured.