Guts and Ingenuity
Daniel Haulman’s well-intentioned “Aberrations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” (August, p. 44) has the unfortunate effect of portraying USAF as a patrimonial service seeking to fight only the kind of war it prefers, not the kind of war it may find itself in.
No doubt, the United States needs a modern fighter force. However, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not aberrations. They are a clear product of the “American way of war.” It was the unquestioned superiority of American fighter pilots and their aircraft that caused the Iraqi Air Force to not muster a sortie during the 2003 invasion. The world is aware of the dominance of USAF, and these results will happen more often—not less.
After the initial invasion of Iraq, the war quickly transitioned from a conventional to an irregular conflict, namely, insurgency. Airpower has great utility in insurgencies/counterinsurgencies, but air-to-air combat is not typical. Calling the protracted USAF involvement in the asymmetric wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “aberrations” in order to justify the relevance of fighter aircraft is myopic and damaging to the cause.
The root of this problem is the failure of the Air Force (and Department of Defense writ large) to understand that conflict does not fall along a spectrum from “high intensity” to “low intensity.” Conventional and irregular wars are fundamentally different. A force organized, trained, and equipped for major combat operations is not well-suited for a different type of conflict (e.g., guerrilla warfare) and may, in fact, be at a serious disadvantage. Thankfully, American guts and ingenuity have staved off more serious failures in our recent wars in Asia.
Iraq and Afghanistan, consequently, are not aberrations; they are a fundamentally different type of conflict that is not dependent on aerial combat for air superiority. They cannot be brushed aside as “one-offs” with hopes to never again fight that type of war. A review of history will show that sentiment does not outlast a generation.
Instead, the American fighter force should be supported and justified by its amazing success of not having to be used. Enemies so respect its power they choose to disengage it; Sun Tzu would be envious of such a weapon. This catch-22 is difficult, however, as critics must be reminded that the powerful fighter force is not engaged precisely because it is so powerful. Few weapons can be so efficient.
It is time to stop avoiding and dismissing the unattractiveness of irregular conflicts and accept them for what they are: difficult struggles in which airpower is essential, but it is not the same type of airpower many expect (or want). Once the Air Force understands the fundamental difference in types of conflicts, it can move past its present insecurities and move forward with flying, fighting, and winning.
Billy Had His Chance
In his article “The Billy Mitchell Court-Martial” (August, p. 63), John T. Correll re-examines the familiar ground of Mitchell’s controversial career. However, Correll mischaracterizes and underestimates the importance of the President’s Aircraft Board, generally known as the Morrow Board after its head, Mellon banker Dwight Morrow. The Morrow Board was much more than an attempt by President Calvin Coolidge to divert attention from Mitchell’s court-martial, although that may have been a minor consideration. During this period, US civil aviation was in disarray and in desperate need of federal structure and regulation. Congress, through the Lambert Committee, was considering possible legislation that would combine civil, military, and naval aviation under one authority, as advocated by Mitchell. Under the guidance of Morrow, Coolidge’s old friend and Amherst classmate, the Morrow Board enabled the President to guide and control the inevitable review of the country’s aviation needs. During its short existence, the Morrow Board compiled a great deal of information and opinion on the status of US aviation and called dozens of witnesses to testify, including Mitchell himself. Morrow deliberately provided Mitchell with a public forum for his views, but Mitchell failed to grasp this opportunity. He disappointed even his most loyal supporters by merely reading from his publications, rather than dynamically presenting his case.
The Morrow Board report was issued before the end of the Mitchell court-martial, probably to ensure that it appeared before the long-anticipated and more radical report of the Lambert Committee.
The Morrow Board’s recommendations directly shaped two major pieces of legislation, both of which had a profound effect on the future of aviation in the United States. The first, the Civil Aviation Act of 1926, laid the foundation for the regulation and development of civilian aviation for decades to come. The second, the Army Air Corps Act of 1926, upgraded the status of Army aviation by creating the Army Air Corps. It also provided for the addition of a civilian assistant secretary for air in the War Department and implemented a number of needed measures to improve the status and influence of military airmen.
In his crusade for airpower, Mitchell felt justified in defaming the Army’s hierarchy, flouting military discipline, and defying his lawful superiors. Surprisingly, his activities were largely tolerated until he antagonized Coolidge, a President who would not ignore Mitchell’s willful insubordination, which Coolidge regarded as ultimately an attempt to usurp civilian control of the military. In the end, Mitchell appears to have fatally miscalculated when he assumed that his public popularity and support in Congress would enable him to overcome his adversaries once again.
Ironically, despite the importance of the Morrow Board to American aviation, Dwight Morrow is probably best remembered because his daughter, Anne, married aviation icon Charles A. Lindbergh. Anne Morrow Lindbergh accompanied her husband on many of his flights and was a respected author in her own right.
As a lawyer in the Regular and Reserve Marine Corps for a combination of 28 years and an as avid advocate of Billy Mitchell’s airpower views, I had some observations about your August article “The Billy Mitchell Court-Martial.”
As the article noted, the Mitchell charge was violating Article of War 96, commonly called “the general article” because it comprised a variety of offenses not covered by specific numbered offenses under the Articles of War, such as murder (Article 92) and even dueling (Article 91).
Today’s Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which replaced the Articles of War, retains the general article as Article 134. The general article contains no offenses in its text, just the requirement that the offense prejudice good order and discipline or discredit the service. Also, no offense under the general article (96 or 134) could be a capital offense.
The specific offenses under today’s general article can be found in The Manual for Courts-Martial, the manual by which the President as Commander in Chief implements the UCMJ. The courts recognize that the military has unique offenses that the President and military lawyers in the field must be able to create and to punish under the general article. One example under Article 134 today is adultery.
Also, not all military offenses can be foreseen, so a general article had to be and is available so commanders could and can create offenses to cover misconduct that ever creative service members commit, offenses not punished in by the civilian judicial system, such as a military member jumping from a warship into the water (I prosecuted two such cases).
For those interested in Mitchell’s airpower views and posthumous influence on its development and use, the best reading is the 1945 congressional hearings concerning the Gold Medal awarded to Mitchell via his son in 1947. The title: “Hearings Before Subcommittee #8 on Military Affairs, House of Representatives, 79th Congress, First Session, H.R. 2227 and other bills, 31 May 1945.” The subject is the authority of the President to award Billy Mitchell a “Medal of Honor.”
The reading can only be described as stunning, a complete but unfortunately posthumous vindication of Mitchell’s views. It also confirms the shabby, disgraceful treatment accorded him by the old War and Navy Departments.
A Gold Medal, not a “classic” combat Medal of Honor, was awarded to Mitchell’s son in 1947.
Col. Charles A. Jones,USMCR (Ret.)
I, like many others (I’m sure), enjoyed reading John Correll’s “The Billy Mitchell Court-Martial.” Among other things, he brought to my attention that Mitchell preferred the folded-down collar over the high collar uniform—something that I hadn’t noticed before, even though it’s right there in the photographs. What amuses me about this is that of the two “Heritage Uniform” prototypes unveiled a few years ago, the high collar uniform was named “The Billy Mitchell Uniform.”
Lt. Col. Christopher A. Bohn
Maxwell AFB, Ala.
I really enjoyed the historical articles in the July and August issues of Air Force Magazine. I was in grade school while the Berlin Airlift was going on. General Billy Mitchell died the year I was born. Nineteen-and-a-half years of my 20-year Army career were in Army Aviation. I firmly believe knowing where we’ve been will help us not get lost as we go forward!
New London, Ohio
Astounding Science Fiction
I read with interest the item in the August issue about the F-35 radar tracking a ballistic missile in flight [“Air Force World: F-35 in Ballistic Missile Defense,” p. 16].
Back in 1960 I came up with the idea of a manned ICBM interceptor. Instead of the head-on pass at an incoming missile that the current unmanned ABM defenses are designed to do, my idea was to utilize a tail chase. An interceptor launched from northern Canada, headed south, could match trajectories with an incoming ICBM and have about 90 seconds in which to discriminate between warhead and decoys, instead of the few seconds available in a head-on pass.
Of course, first lieutenants, as I was then, aren’t supposed to propose entire weapon systems. Instead of abandoning the idea, I wrote it up in a story and sold it to Astounding Science Fiction [magazine].
Maybe it wasn’t so crazy after all.
Col. Joseph P. Martino,USAF (Ret.)
I was a bit chagrined to see the hated “d-word” used in a photo caption accompanying Rebecca Grant’s otherwise technically precise RPA article (“RPAs for All,” August, p. 54). I understand that the RPA operational community disdains the use of “drone” as a term for their aircraft. While the mainstream media may not know any better, Air Force Magazine knows what a drone is and should be setting the example, not following their misguided lead.
Col. Bill Malec, USAF (Ret.)
I was rereading the July 2012 issue of Air Force Magazine and read your editorial entitled “Long Roads to Redemption.” While I understand the subject was directed at those brave warriors who are only recently being recognized for their achievements, I would like to add a bit to the annals of aviation history, which, like Gary Powers, John McKone, and Bruce Olmstead, has long been forgotten.
In 1954, while USAF and the free world awaited the deployment of the U-2, North American Aviation was asked to modify six F-100A Super Sabres, to carry the Fairchild K-17 and K-38 surveillance cameras, as substitutes until the U-2 could be fielded. Operation Slick Chick was headed by Capt. Cecil H. Rigsby and Capt. Ralph W. White as project officers. Rigsby took three of the RF-100As to Europe with Capt. Bert E. Dowdy and Capt. Edgar H. Hill. White took the remaining three to the Pacific with Captain Boone and Captain Moomaw.
The Slick Chick RF-100s were the first F-100s in Europe, stationed at Bitburg, West Germany, assigned to Det. 1, 7407th Support Squadron. In the year between arrival and deployment of the U-2, a total of six overflights of Soviet territory were made—two by each of the assigned pilots.
I am not certain of other pilots, but I know now-Colonel Rigsby was awarded Air Medals for each of his two overflights. The operation was closed down in June 1958. None of the RF-100A airframes survived.
Lt. Col. Robert Dunham,USAF (Ret.)
Do you have a comment about a current article in the magazine? Write to “Letters,” Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209-1198. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.) Letters should be concise and timely. We cannot acknowledge receipt of letters. We reserve the right to condense letters. Letters without name and city/base and state are not acceptable. Photographs cannot be used or returned.—the editors