Morality of Airpower
In regard to the Robert S. Dudney editorial “Of Airpower and Morality,” [June, p. 2], I agree with everything that he says. I also agree that, due to space limitations, he cannot properly [deal with all of] the charges of A.C. Grayling. I understand that enough time has passed for someone like A.C. Grayling to pop up with his new book Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan.
Because most of the participants have died off, they cannot refute or argue with these charges. Grayling is making these charges for two reasons. He considers our actions in World War II to be immoral and unjust and he wants to use them to pillory our war fighters (pilots) of today, every time a precision munition goes astray.
Let me begin by saying that all war is immoral and unjust. However, civilization has come to justify a war of self-defense.
All of A.C. Grayling’s arguments ignore the following:
When we entered World War II, there was a great deal of doubt about our ability to win or to prevail.
Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo all laughed at the Geneva Convention and entered into treaties with no intent on keeping their side of the bargain.
When they fought, they used Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) and were committed to winning at all costs (total war). If someone had come along and placed nuclear weapons or any advanced weapons in their hands, there would be no argument or second thoughts about using them on us.
In short, we were in a battle for our lives with people who were immoral and evil.
In their minds, the more civilian casualties that they were able to cause, the bigger their success would be. There were no “rules of engagement” or restrictions (of civilization—self-handicaps) placed upon them by lawyers or even their own morality.
We were fighting immoral, evil foes who never thought twice about killing us or committing atrocities. Under these circumstances and remembering how we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, most airmen and American citizens had no problem with the morality of how we defended ourselves.
A.C. Grayling’s accusation of war crimes is extremely “ex post facto” moralizing and wrong to boot. If he had lived through WW II or taken part in the air campaign, he would not be arguing this way. In fact, one could argue that it is this ex post facto moralizing that is interfering with our ability to prosecute wars today. If we fight a war today, one could argue against limited warfare with limited objectives because it results in places and “conflicts” like Korea and Vietnam.
In summary, I have to agree with Mr. Dudney and I must say that truth and history is on your side and against A.C. Grayling and any one else who tries to rewrite history in this fashion.
I agree that modern airpower is already tightly constrained. I am not [arguing] and will not argue for disposing of all the rules. I think that when we fight wars, they should be total, and we need to go back to the successful model of how a war should be prosecuted from WW II.
Robert S. Dudney’s editorial in the June issue of Air Force Magazine is both right on and timely both for our air forces and ground and sea forces. For Mr. Grayling to say, ‘The area-bombing campaigns of the Second World War were, as a whole, morally criminal,” and to [suggest that] “city bombing was unneeded, ineffectual, disproportionately savage, unhumanitarian, offensive to Western morals, illegal” shows a total lack of appreciation for reality. Obviously he has not read The Goebbels Diaries (1942-1943), edited and translated by Louis P. Lochner. In his diaries, Goebbels wrote time and time again that Germany could not long withstand the bombing raids by British and American bombers.
In warfare it is not practical to fight winning campaigns, whether on the ground, on the seas, or from the air (or space), without endangering civilian populations and even deliberately selecting targets knowing that civilians will be killed. And in “total war,” as Goebbels used to refer to it, the entire civilian population would be involved. I hope that would be the case if America’s homeland is ever attacked. And it is obvious that in Iraq, even if civilians are friendly to American troops, there are many individuals hidden among the civilian populace for the specific purpose of doing harm to our forces.
Col. John N. Elliott,
Sun City West, Ariz.
Robert Dudney’s comments on the editorial page (“Of Airpower and Morality”) are very much on point and correct. A.C. Grayling’s analysis concluding that the strategic bombing of Germany and Japan during World War II constituted a “war crime” is typical of the left wing’s historical revisionism that serves to justify the proposition that the only unlawful and immoral warfare is that which is engaged in by the United States and its allies.
Grayling [suggests] that precision bombing was permissible, but he fails to indicate that it was impossible without the tremendous casualties associated with daylight bombing. The Royal Air Force concluded that such casualties were unacceptable and switched to the less-accurate night operations.
Grayling also fallaciously concludes that, because the bombings had little impact, they were immoral. Had they been successful, they would have eliminated the ability for Germany to manufacture war materiel, by destroying the infrastructure, killing the factory workers, and disrupting the urban utilities and other supports needed to sustain a manufacturing operation.
Germany was able to continue industrial output because of Albert Speer’s decentralization and hardening and because of German air defenses. The success of defensive countermeasures does not make the attack immoral or illegal.
The implications for today’s military are clear. There are anti-American forces in the world who would like to achieve through the legal process that which they cannot achieve through military action: the elimination of the United States as a world power. The self-serving distortion of logic and history engaged in by Grayling is another step along that road.
This is another reminder why we cannot permit our forces to face trial in “international” courts, as has been proposed.
John R. Kachenmeister,
Mr. Dudney did an excellent job of refuting A.C. Grayling’s totally absurd assertions in his book Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan.
I was especially incensed by Grayling’s [obvious] hope that today’s American and British airmen would face criminal prosecution. Just how absurd can a human possibly be? Considering the very nature of a precision weapon and the desire through it to limit death and destruction to a specific target, I would say that we are doing everything possible to prevent noncombatant deaths. Wouldn’t it have been great if we had today’s smart weapons in WW II when our selfless airmen were dying by the hundreds every day while trying to put bombs on target in a vastly more hostile environment than we might face today
This Grayling fellow has it all wrong and should be ashamed for even thinking airpower in World War II and to this very day is immoral. He should be thankful that because of those airmen he has the right to be stupid in public. Otherwise he might be speaking a language other than English.
Col. Frank Alfter,
Mr. Dudney’s editorial “Of Airpower and Morality” strikes a blow for common sense while capturing the dynamic and sophomoric irrelevance of the European intellectual left. Well done.
However, I disagree with the article in one important area. Conventional airpower is best used to create an effect. Thus, it is best employed as the result of centralized planning/control and decentralized execution. May I cite some examples of the effect of airpower in World War II?
In the European Theater:
The Battle of Britain saved England, and it enabled the Royal Navy to remain in England. Consequently, Germany would lose the Battle of the Atlantic coincident with losing the Battle of Britain. US airpower, based in England, arrived over Europe beginning on 17 August 1942 at Rouen, France. Effect: The buildup of US ground forces for the invasion of Europe (most of which sailed across the Atlantic) could proceed relatively unmolested by German air and naval forces.
The strategic bombing campaign targeted cities because the Industrial Revolution brought industry to the city where labor was plentiful. German leadership was so concerned about its centers of industrial production (centers of gravity) that substantial numbers of Luftwaffe squadrons were withdrawn to defend the Fatherland. Truly, the successful Allied invasion at Normandy was the result of tenacious and courageous ground troops. Equally important, the Eighth Air Force daylight bombing campaign caused the withdrawal of Luftwaffe assets to Germany for homeland defense. On June 6, 1944, at Normandy the Luftwaffe flew a pitiful 319 counterinvasion sorties, versus 5,000 Allied fighter sorties. Effect: The Normandy landings were virtually unopposed by the Luftwaffe or German Navy.
During the Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 19-25, 1944), US and Allied bombers carpet-bombed Luftwaffe airfields, enabling 16,000 sorties in five days to be flown in direct support of US ground forces in “The Bulge” against Wehrmacht and SS Armies. The German defeat was the result of US Army troops who refused to surrender and the suffocating effect of the Eighth and Seventeenth Air Forces and our Allies on German ground forces. Effect: German forces were crushed and unable to stop Allied ground forces from entering Germany several weeks later.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels summed it up best: “Again and again, we return to the starting point of our conversation. Our whole military predicament is due to enemy air superiority.”
In the Pacific Theater:
US Army Air Forces raids on mainland Japan (beginning on 18 April 1942) forced the retention of Japanese air defense aircraft in Japan for homeland defense. Later, USAAF raids burned out the Japanese industrial heartland, while B-17 bombers sank Japanese shipping destined to support its far flung garrisons. Effect: Allied airpower made the Allied island hopping campaign possible.
So devastating was the Allied air bombardment that Japanese Prince Fumimaro Konoye stated (in a 1945 postwar interrogation), “The thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.”
The most powerful force on the face of the earth is a constitutionally restrained military. No member of the US armed forces wants to contribute to wanton collateral damage. Yet, it is not the fault of the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine that despots only respond to military force. The issue of collateral damage is dwarfed by immense acts of barbarism so prevalent in our world then and now. To the sophomoric Euro leftist, I address the following: US and Allied strategic airpower, tanks, infantry, and artillery stopped The Holocaust. The Nazis would never surrender power in the absence of Allied infantry, supported by Allied airpower, occupying the German homeland. Recently, allied airpower stopped “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia. The lesson of World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam, of Desert Storm, of the former Yugoslavia, of Afghanistan, of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and of the next conflict is that airpower is best used to create an effect.
To those wonderful guys who lived and died in the B-17, B-24, B-25, B-26, B-29, … thank you for your service and for your service to your service. You guys did it right.
Lt. Col. Tom Brannon,
The June 2006 issue has a very interesting editorial headlined “Of Airpower and Morality,” regarding the morality of World War II area bombing. The article starts off with the statement, “It must infuriate World War II bomber veterans for critics to suggest they are war criminals.” Having served with the 6th Bomb Group, a B-29 group based on Tinian in WWII, I can state that I, for one, have never felt like a war criminal, and here is why.
In Japan we faced a fanatic enemy determined to fight to the finish regardless of the losses to their own military and civilian populations. The area incendiary bombing efforts of Twentieth Air Force and the shock of the two atomic bombs resulted in a capitulation of the emperor with no invasion losses on either side.
Would it have been more moral to forego these area bombing missions and let our POWs die in prison while our ground forces were faced with the horror of invading and somehow subduing the Japanese civilians and armed forces? Does anyone really believe that the losses on either side would have been less had we launched an invasion of Japan with the ultimate goal of capturing or killing all who opposed our forces
If anything makes me furious it is philosophy professors who come up with theories about how we should have done things differently. Too bad they could not have participated in the real thing before they accused those who did so of being immoral.
President, Sixth Bomb Group Assn.
Regarding Professor A.C. Grayling: What (if any) military background does the professor have?
Has he ever held a command? Has he ever had the responsibility for the lives and safety of a crew? I, for one, am sick of “academics” who presume to pass moral judgment on men who have “been there” and who had to make hard decisions in real time. There is something very wrong in allowing our students to be influenced by academics who probably dislike, nay, hate, men they do not understand.
Capt. Morris Ratliff,
Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Thank you for publicizing the morality issue of mass killings by US military aircrews in your editorial in the June issue of Air Force Magazine.
I have the answer.
In 1967, I briefed my commanding officer that I was ready to kill a million civilians in a pre-emptive attack on Moscow.
As a B-52 bombardier, I aimed and dropped over 35,000 bombs in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, killing untold and uncounted civilians.
So I struggled with the morality of killing civilians for 30 years. Finally VA doctors educated me that mass killing of civilians is morally correct if you are following your commander’s orders and your American duty to your comrades and countrymen.
That’s the answer: Follow your orders and follow your American duty.
Publicize this answer as a comfort to our aircrews. It has comforted me.
Capt. Ken Sampson,
The Totally Integrated Air Force
This article shows a service with a mature and appreciative overall feeling toward its reserve components [“The Totally Integrated Air Force,” June, p. 36]. It is a shame the Navy and Marine Corps don’t feel that way about their air reserve components. Despite being activated for the war in Iraq (apparently against the wishes of active duty admirals), the F/A-18 squadron (at Carswell Field, Tex.), VFA 201, is being deactivated as an economy move, despite distinguished service in the Middle East. Rumors abound that their two other F/A-18 reserve units will be disbanded. According to a recent article in the Naval Aviation Foundation magazine, the Marine Corps will disband their three reserve F/A-18 units (despite two of them being activated for the GWOT). No associate unit activity here, just good old-fashioned “your services are no longer needed” to a pool of vastly experienced people. It would be great if these reports were wrong, but past experience shows a Navy with a condescending attitude toward their reserve components. A retired Navy friend told me stories of how, in the ’70s, the active duty Navy put F-4 Phantoms into their reserve flying units kicking and screaming that the “part-timers” couldn’t hack it (yet they flew Rhinos for almost 20 years). To their credit, there are Navy and Marine Corps Reserve fighter aggressor units, but they fly mostly ’60s-vintage and great Northrop F-5 Tigers. [They have] an outstanding MiG-21 simulator, but it can’t simulate the MiG-29 or new Chinese J-10 fighter anywhere as well as an F/A-18 or F-16. The F-5 can’t deploy to a carrier either. Maybe some of these displaced Hornet drivers will be welcome in [Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve] F-16, A-10, F-15, B-2 associate, or other units.
Spring Branch, Tex.
Space and Counterspace
John Tirpak’s excellent piece “Space and Counterspace” [June, p. 42] notes among other things that the Air Force Research Laboratory has had two projects, the XSS-10 and XSS-11, to “explore rendezvous, proximity, and station-keeping techniques with very small satellites.” As a photo caption puts it, “The XSS-11 experiment is a satellite that can rendezvous with a target and inspect it.”
This modern technology exploration calls to mind an Air Force space system development program in the early ’60s at the then-new Air Force Space Systems Division: the SAINT (Satellite Interceptor) program, or Program 621A, in which I was a junior project officer.
The unmanned SAINT was being developed to rendezvous with a target satellite and inspect it with various sensors. An Atlas D/Agena B combination was selected for the launch vehicle. The Agena B would maneuver the SAINT’s Final Stage Vehicle (FSV) into a co-orbit with the target satellite and then be jettisoned. The autonomous FSV would inspect the target over a period of time while station-keeping with it at a short distance.
The prime contractor was RCA.
The SAINT program was terminated by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara early in December 1962, just shortly before its planned first launch later that same month.
AFRL’s current satellite inspection initiatives assuredly use very significantly improved technologies and need consider dramatically changed military space circumstances. At the same time, I think that the SAINT program of old is an admirable albeit truncated early bit of our USAF space history.
West Palm Beach, Fla.
Treating Khobar’s Wounded
[Regarding Rebecca Grant’s article, “Death in the Desert,” June, p. 48]: I was a flight surgeon and triage officer at Khobar Towers during the attack 10 years ago. This attack produced many casualties, with 19 airmen losing their lives. Many more lives would have been lost except for the exceptional training and implementation of self-aid and buddy care by both wounded and nonwounded airmen. As expected, medical personnel coordinated efforts to care for the wounded. More important, however, were the airmen without formal medical training, who relied on basic first aid training given to all airmen. Medical personnel are not always at the site of the attack. For lives to be saved, care must be rendered within seconds or minutes of when the injury occurs. Further, after the initial treatment of injuries, these “buddies” can monitor the wounded for signs of shock. The airmen of the 4404th, with conviction and honor, performed all these actions. From the airman holding an intravenous bag to the pilot assisting as we sutured wounds, all performed immeasurably.
In my medical training, I was adequately prepared to treat patients with injuries. I was not prepared for the magnitude and importance of the self-aid and buddy care that snapped into motion after the blast. The actions of these airmen exemplify the courage and honor of all our troops, and I was honored to have seen this firsthand.
R. Morris Treadway Jr., M.D.
On Course for Tankers
The article entitled “Charting a Course for Tankers” by John A. Tirpak was fair and balanced but, most of all, timely [June, p. 64].
The KC-135 was a superior airplane, with seven series produced by Boeing and another 42 derivatives that can be identified by suffix and prefix—some designations being duplicate but the mission was different. The Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter (Model 367) design was massaged by Boeing’s engineers to come up with the Model 367-80 (the famed airplane that rolled twice over the Sea Fair Hydroplane Races in Seattle). This was a $16 million private investment by the company that resulted in a two-year test program. A four-engined, piston-powered, straight-winged transport was morphed into a four-engined, jet-powered, swept-winged airplane. The 367-80 had the same fuselage diameter as the KC-97. When the Air Force looked at the airplane, they asked for a wider fuselage to meet its requirements. What came next was the Boeing Model 717 that was one foot larger in diameter than its predecessor. This airplane received the USAF designation of KC-135. A total of 820 -135s of all variants were built at Boeing’s Renton plant. Of these, 732 were KC-135s.
The KC-135 is a perfect match for SAC’s bomber force. The tankers permitted high-altitude air refueling at comparable airspeeds, thereby shortening the refueling times in a safer operating envelope for both airplanes.
Boeing had developed the flying boom for air refueling and first installed the system on KB-29Ps. The same basic boom design was later installed on the KC-97s and KC-135s. The reason for boom refueling is that it provides greater offload capability than the probe and drogue system—the latter being adequate for tactical aircraft but not large bombers and transports.
Today, both the Air Force and Boeing are recovering from the tanker lease fiasco, from which a number of lessons have been learned by both parties. Now is the time to apply these lessons in light of history and a fuzzy view of the future.
Firstly, a tanker airplane is a national asset whose use must be at the direction of the sovereign nation. USAF and the nation cannot risk having a foreign-built tanker in its inventory. Remember Operation El Dorado Canyon during which the US performed retaliatory strikes against Libya.
Then-President Ronald Reagan authorized a raid on Libya. Operational planners had their hands full in determining the targets and available aircraft for a strike on Libya. A B-52 raid was out of the question for both political reasons and the potential dilution of SAC’s EWO posture. A pair of aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea were able to launch A-6s only against Benghazi. The best available USAF aircraft to work in concert with the Navy was the F-111F Aardvark supported by EF-111A Raven (AKA Sparkvark) jammers. For USAF to pull off such a long strike with these aircraft, extensive refueling support and diplomatic clearances were required. When the Americans asked France and Italy for overflight permission for such a raid, they were denied. Hence, the 1,800-mile overflight resulted in a 3,200-mile flight along the western seaboard of Europe, entry near Gibraltar, for the final leg into Tripoli. Four refuelings were required on the outbound route. Should a foreign nation build the next tanker, they could well tell the United States not to use the airplane for specific missions. We could call their bluff but risk losing future logistical and technical support.
Secondly, there is a proposal being floated for a two-airplane buy. While this may sound good in the politically correct environment, it lacks technical and economic rationale. The C/KC-97 program was for 888 airplanes, while the KC-135 order was for 820 airframes. Today such large orders will never be repeated due to sheer economics. According to John Tirpak’s article, the new tanker buy would be in the 520 to 640 range. A split order would drive up the unit cost over a smaller number of airframes from each company. These costs involve engineering, system integration, flight testing, production tooling, spares, and ground support equipment, plus different subcontractors. Then there would be different training requirements for both aircrews and maintainers. Afterwards there would be two aircraft management teams and repair/modification depots.
In this era of tight budgets, USAF and the nation cannot afford a foreign or a split tanker buy. These facts must be thoroughly briefed to members of Congress, lest we fall into a geopolitical, technical, and economic abyss.
Alwyn T. Lloyd
The Rand Corp. report underlines the fact that USAF should not rely on only one type or model of tankers. That does not mean that Airbus—sorry, the Northrop Grumman KC-330—should be chosen by the US Air Force as a complement to the Boeing KC-767.
Relying on two types of tankers is not new. For more than 20 years, USAF has relied on both the KC-135 and the KC-10.
Boeing is offering many “all-American” options to USAF top brass: a tanker version of the 767, 777, and C-17. The planes, the technology, the workers, and the plants are there in the US.
Time is running out. The KC-135s are getting older, and the delays are giving time to Airbus to develop the KC-330 and the first-ever European flying boom. United Kingdom and Australia have bought, respectively, 12 and five Airbus A330 tankers mainly because the KC-767 was not yet selected by USAF.
On top of that, what kind of security screening will DOD have over plants and employees of European—not to say mainly French and German—suppliers of the Airbus A330 tanker offered by Northrop Grumman? Should the US armed forces have to rely on foreign suppliers, especially French ones, for spare parts and support
How could Rand recommend Boeing 747s and 777s and Airbus A340-500s and A340-600s as tankers? All these aircraft are too heavy and large to operate from all but the world’s most developed airports. Probably only 50 tankers in this class could be effectively employed. Any new tanker should not be heavier and not much larger than the KC-10. The Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330-200 and A340-200 are the only in-production airliners that are real options. The Boeing 787 could be included with a different tanker/transport fuselage using the same wing and landing gear from the Boeing 787-8 (KC-787). Note: The KC-135 and Boeing 707 share the same wing, landing gear, and other components, but have different fuselages. Relative to the KC-10, the KC-787, A330-200, and A340-200 all have 20 percent longer wing spans. The KC-787 is 18 percent lighter, the A330-200 is 10 percent lighter, and the A340-200 is seven percent heavier than the KC-10. The KC-767 has seven percent less wingspan and is 43 percent lighter than the KC-10. The KC-767 has a 19 percent greater wingspan and 60 percent greater cargo volume and is 24 percent heavier than the KC-135R. The KC-767 could use more of the world’s airports and provide more booms for the same cost than any other of the above options. Was the Boeing 737-600, with a 737-800 wing, or the Airbus A319 evaluated by Rand to provide more booms and more operational airports
David A. Carlson
Jollys to the Rescue of Misty FACs
In reference to your article on the Misty FACs, June 2006 [“A Day in the Life of the Misty FACs,” p. 84]: The crewman who welcomed Capt. Charlie Neel aboard Jolly 04 was flight engineer SSgt. Bob Baldwin, who then made the call all aircraft commanders wanted to hear, “The survivor’s on board, let’s get the hell out of here.”
We may have come in fast; I know we left fast. I landed and put the aircraft in a slight left yaw to provide a better view for the flight engineer and for the survivor to have an easy access to the door. I recall that Captain Neel was able to pull himself hand over hand along the refueling probe, which expedited his time to the cabin door. The other crew members were myself (the rescue crew commander, Walter “Rich” Blackwell), copilot Capt. Joe Bowers, second flight engineer Sergeant Bowers (no relation), and pararescue Sgt. Marty Roepstorff. A combat photographer was also on board.
Captain Gruters was assisted on board Jolly 07 by Sergeant Hindman (pararescue) who entered the water, and flight engineer SSgt. Elmer Holden, who pulled him aboard. The other crew members on Jolly 07 were rescue crew commander Maj. Arthur Anderson and copilot Capt. Ernie Betancourt.
The F-4 Gunfighters had taken care of the boats coming from shore and suppressed much of the gunfire. There was, however, small-arms fire being directed at Jolly 07, the helicopter closest to shore. Captain Betancourt stated that the rounds were falling short of the helicopter during the pickup. Jolly 04 was about 30 to 40 clicks seaward from Jolly 07, and numerous large columns of water were coming up outboard of Jolly 04, probably from mortar fire. Both Jollys completed their recoveries and egressed out to sea, out of range of the hostile fire.
Lt. Col. Walter R. Blackwell,
In the June 2006 “Airpower Classics” article about the B-24 Liberator [p. 96], Mr. Boyne indicated that Liberators made their Pacific combat debut in November 1943. According to the book They Fought With What They Had, by Walter D. Edmonds, Liberators first saw action in Java on Jan. 17, 1942. These were three LB-30s (export version of the Liberator) flown by the 11th Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bomb Group. In those dark days against heavy odds, three LB-30s operating from Singosari were staged through Kendari (Celebres) to bomb a Japanese-held airfield at Langoan. After their bomb run, the formation was attacked by five Zeros, and two of the Liberators were forced down with the claim of one Zero. A handful of LB-30 Liberators continued to fly various combat missions until the fall of Java, around the beginning of March 1942 when the survivors were evacuated to India or Australia. Mr. Edmonds’ book provided a fascinating account of the very tough fighting that the Army Air Forces endured in the Southwest Pacific in the first four months of the war and underscores some very hard lessons that the US learned about air superiority and the employment of offensive airpower.
Col. William P. Thornton,
Warner Robins, Ga.