The AF "had to" buy a CAS plane?I confess. I wanted to do this post first in this “2nd Edition” series to keep things in chronological order, but I believed at the time that this myth required some significant off-site research of Government and other documents; it required deeper investigation of the original sources than the myth we exploded in Part 7. Part of the delay in completing my research also came from the Government Shutdown Theater last year, and an off-line 40K word writing project I completed on New Year’s Eve. Today, we go back to the roots of the modern CAS mythology to examine what drove the ‘birth’ of the A-10.
Myth: 'The Air Force only started/proceeded with the A-X/A-10 because they 'had to' due to external pressure. “Insidious” I find this myth insidious because it contains perversions of truth, and those perversions in turn have been:
1. Used to mask or obscure the greater truths that lay behind it and…
2. Employed both by the incompetent and the malevolent to create ‘cartoons’ of history.
There is no doubt that the Air Force factored in the ‘external’ pressures into its decision-making. There are always many forces when shaping major decisions, and we will be covering only a few of them. But external pressure was hardly the only or even primary reason. Nor does the mere existence of the ‘external pressures’ mean those pressures were legitimate, honest, or well-founded. I believe we can show that many, if not most of them, can be filed under ‘none of the above’.
I’ve seen variations on the ‘had to’ claim go so to such extreme wording as to actually read that the Air Force was “shamed” into fielding the A-10. I’ve purposely phrased the myth definition in this discussion as the broadly stated “due to external pressure” to allow readers to discriminate between, and discuss the nature and sources of pressure individually as well as explore their interrelationship along with some common roots as we proceed.
The myth is also tough to nail down and debunk because it is so poorly defined: there is a level of abstraction that could mean different things to different people. To deal with this complication, we will break this myth down into what I have found to be the two commonly intended meanings behind the myth. Thus, we will be exploding two myths instead of one to make sure we address the multiple wrong-headed ideas behind the statement above. If there are other meanings, I do know what they might be. But if they exist, I’m certain somebody will let me know.
The two most commonly intended meanings that I’ve encountered can be stated as something to the effect of:
'The Air Force never wanted the A-10 specifically. They 'had to' buy it.
'The Air Force only procured a dedicated (generic) attack aircraft because they were ‘made’ to do so.
There is a large set of undefined “or else” implications behind both these assertions. No doubt some of those consequences factored into the Air Force’s decision-making process (no defense decisions are ever made in a vacuum), but in both cases we can show that in every step of the evolution in Air Force close air support ‘thought’ from 1960 onward the Air Force decision-makers were always focused on providing the best possible ‘Close Air Support’ to the Army within the externally imposed limits of available technology, defense policy direction and budget-limited force structure, and show that CAS capability was pursued according to the rapidly evolving criteria by which ‘best possible’ was defined.
I could have made this a very short post, if I just wanted to focus on the Air Force’s decision to specifically buy, and then defend the A-10. But this would explode only the superficial aspects of the myth. So I choose to provide the short and easy response for the typical ‘drive-by’ complainants, and then go into a more detailed follow-on discussion of the history to describe how the Air Force came to seek fielding the A-10 to satisfy the CAS mission given the following:
1. The then-current state of the necessary technologies and threats
2. The imposed presumption of a relatively permissive combat environment
ApproachI’m going to cover this myth using a different approach than Part 7. Instead of starting at the present and following the thread backwards in time, for this installment we’ll start with the moment the A-X program was initiated, covering who, what and why. Then we’ll ‘flash back’ in time to look at the activities of key actors, first picking a convenient starting point in the past and then look at their activities running up to the decision. This approach is warranted because there were many threads of concern and action, including those involving the A-7 as the ‘interim’ CAS plane acquisition program. These threads converged to create the whole history. ‘Convergence’ for our purposes is the point where the AF leadership decided to undertake development of what would become the A-10. We’ll also go a bit further to show how the AF defended the A-10 program after it was underway to further remove any reasonable doubt.
After exhaustive investigation, at the root of all the decision-making I found that the three most important players in this story were the Army ‘Airmobile’ Advocates (of course), their enablers in the Kennedy/Johnson Administrations, and a noisemaker or two in Congress. There were even deeper roots to what was happening at that time-- Roots going back to even before the Korean War. But we will spare ourselves from running down the rabbit hole it took me over two months of research to navigate just to get back to this point. The time I consider as well spent, but on top of all the other research I’ve done and experience I’ve gained on in this topic over decades, I’m pretty sick of CAS ‘hardware’ issues right now . We’ll save discussion of that earlier time for perhaps a later installment… or twelve.
Myth Meaning A: 'The Air Force never wanted the A-10 specifically. They 'had to' buy it.
The A-10 Decision: Who, When and WhyLoooooooog post after the fold. Ye be Warned.
“All available evidence indicated the Air Force was fulfilling the close air support responsibilities levied on it to the apparent satisfaction of the Army.”(Goldberg & Smith, p.33).But as we also noted earlier, the study had also discovered the fact that the Army was withholding some categories of CAS for fulfillment by Army helicopters. Specifically, the study found that current Air Force aircraft were being excluded and perceived as not capable of ‘adequately’ performing the helicopter escort and suppressive fire roles  . It also found the Army was filling these gaps with armed transport helicopters; increasing expenditures for what would become the AH-1 Cobra ‘interim’ helicopter gunship and aggressively developing the Army Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS).
The 1966 CAS study made two central recommendations:
"(1) the Air Force should take steps to highlight in official USAF doctrine, tactics and procedures publications the methods for accomplishing those missions for which the armed helicopters were provided and which the Air Force considered part of the close air support function; and (2) to fulfill the requirements for the 1970 plus time period, the Air Force should take immediate and positive steps to obtain a specialized close air support aircraft, simpler and cheaper than the A-7, and with equal or better characteristics than the A-1." (Goldberg & Smith, p.33)On 8 September 1966, General McConnell directed immediate action to design, develop, and obtain a “specialized close air support aircraft” for the Air Force. On 22 December 1966, Headquarters USAF issued a Requirements Action Directive (RAD) for a specialized aircraft designated the A-X. That McConnell initiated the A-X program in December of 1966 however, was only the culmination of trying to kickoff a dedicated CAS aircraft. What would become the AF’s A-X program, the Air Force had been trying to get started for at least a year BEFORE the study had even been commissioned:
In May , General McConnell sent a formal request to Secretary Zuckert recommending the development of a new attack aircraft. He cited the Bohn study and its conclusion that within a fixed budget a mix of lower-cost aircraft with F-4's and F-111' s would be more cost-effective than the presently-approved five-year force structure. He recognized the attractive features of the A-7 as stated in the study (low cost, high payload) but wondered about its slow speed in a hostile air environment. Accordingly, he recommended a research and development program for a close air support-optimized aircraft with the source selection by December 1966. No action was taken, but Zuckert forwarded the memo to Secretary McNamara. (Head, pp 256-7)There are quite a few points concerning the above passage that need to be highlighted at this time.
First, is quite clear that McConnell’s request was made within the framework of building a force mix that would provide a ‘Total Airpower’ solution. Indeed, all of the resources I have examined indicate that the Air Force has consistently viewed CAS as part of an Airpower continuum since it became a separate service and that the Air Force desired a force structure built to provide capabilities to as many of the Air Force’s missions as possible and practical, while those who have always advocated a dedicated CAS asset have consistently either ignored the adverse impact to other missions if the budgets are constrained, failed to acknowledge the additional cost burdens required to sustain the dedicated CAS assets, or implicitly accepted lower survivability for the pilots and planes.
|Sec Def Robert McNamara 1967|
Second, we should recognize that this request was ignored by McNamara and the rest of the OSD. It was made shortly before major US involvement in the Vietnam ‘ground war’: before 50,000 US troops of all types were even in Vietnam. This means that McConnell’s idea to investigate a new dedicated CAS aircraft must have been under consideration well before that time (In February of 1965, there were even fewer US troops, only ~23,000). I had found it extremely odd that McNamara ignored McConnell’s request, because I’ve found several references to a memo McNamara sent to the SecAF and signed 7 January 1965 titled “Close Support and SAW Aircraft” [SAW: Special Air Warfare] ,where several sources referencing it claim that in the memo McNamara ‘directed’ the Air Force to procure a dedicated CAS airplane. In that era, ‘SAW’ usually implied supporting somebody else’s forces in counter-insurgency. Upon digging deeper, claims of McNamara directing the AF buy a dedicated CAS plane appear to be something of an exaggeration.
My efforts to acquire either the memo or the one document source that others reference, namely “The A-X Specialized Close Air Support Aircraft: Origins and Concept Phase, 1961-1970”, have failed to-date. But Douglas N. Campbell, in his doctoral thesis (which became the basis for a book I now have a love-hate relationship with) was very helpful in providing the needed context to understand the memo’s purpose. As Campbell puts it:
McNamara told the Air Force Secretary that the service needed to accept that it would encounter limited wars where air superiority would not be an issue. As such, he wanted it to reexamine purchasing such planes as the A-7 or F-5, and he raised this effort's budget to demonstrate his seriousness.This probably accounts for McNamara ignoring McConnell’s request to begin a new CAS aircraft program in May. It looks like perhaps McNamara didn’t want the AF to procure ‘a dedicated CAS’ aircraft as much as he wanted the AF to procure a ‘particular’ CAS aircraft.
This we DO know. McNamara’s actions were not always justified by whatever the proffered reasons were at the time (see later when we cover the selection of the F-4 over the F-105). Quite clearly, if McNamara had been really adamant the AF acquire a new ‘dedicated’ CAS aircraft, he would have responded to McConnell’s request.
Third, as indicated by the mention of the A-7 in the passage above, the OSD was actively trying to get the Air Force interested in buying the Navy’s A-7 at that time.
Finally, whatever McNamara would have directed at that time, the rationale behind it would have to be capricious and or speculative, i.e., without historical data to justify the need. Why? Because in January 1965, there had not yet been ANY significant CAS activity, none in support of U.S. Forces (except for advisors attached to ARVN units) and there had been absolutely NO ‘fast-mover’ CAS work in Vietnam to be able to declare a need or make a comparison and judgment either way:
The 2,392 strike sorties that the Air Force flew in January 1965, when the Air Force was still primarily supporting the South Vietnamese… …The inventory of Air Force strike planes for close air support at the beginning of the year included only 48 single-engine, propeller-driven A–1E attack planes and 20 B–57 turbojet twin-engine bombers at Bien Hoa, still dedicated primarily to training and supporting the South Vietnamese. Although there were 30 F–100 jets temporarily stationed at Da Nang at the time, these could not be used in South Vietnam until the ban on jets was lifted in February.(Schlight, pp. 309-310)
Sidebar: Bonus Myth SmackdownI want to expand on the ‘ ban on jets’ point for a few paragraphs. This is a perfect opportunity to explode another minor CAS myth:
The Air Force didn’t have any suitable aircraft for use in Vietnam in the early years, and ‘had’ to drag out aircraft like C-47s, T-28s, B-26s, etc. from the ‘boneyard’ or borrow from sister services in order to perform the early SEA missions.Two large realities must be ignored in order to accept such an assertion.
The first point is that the Air Force had been anticipating the need for COIN operations before 1961, to the point that it stood up a ‘special’ unit capable of deploying to any hotspot in the world. This was before even there were more than a handful of advisors in SEA, and Vietnam was just another brushfire in a world full of brushfires. The choice of early aircraft was deliberate:
In April 1961--even before creation of Strike Command—the Air Force activated the 4400th combat crew Training (CCT) squadron at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Fla. Manned entirely by handpicked volunteers, the unit (code name Jungle Jim) was designed to react to small brushfire incidents in any part of the world. 'I.e. self-sufficiency was stressed, since the squadron was expected to operate in every climate and terrain, with little or no outside support. Hence, the latest in USAF hardware was bypassed in favor of the simpler and older--the choice of B-26, C-47, and T-28 aircraft being a case in point. Working closely with the U. S. Army Center at Fort Bragg, N.C.. Jungle Jim pilots practiced operating from primitive airstrips and trained in close air support bombing/gunnery tactics. They learned to pump gas from 55-gallon drums, draw up their own local security plans, become proficient with firearms, and get themselves into top physical trim. (Rowley, p. 8)
|T-28 in Vietnam (Wiki Commons)|
|Early SEA A-1 'Skyraider' operators. Richard G. Head, who provided much of the material within this post is front left.|
Rowley (p.45) notes however that both the T-28 and B-26 returned to SEA:
A vastly improved T-28 and B-26 later rejoined the war. During 1964-65, for example, the On Mark Engineering Company extensively modified and rehabilitated 40 B-26's. Renamed A-26K’s, they reached SEA in 1966, flew interdiction in Laos, and became one of the deadliest truck killers around. Vulnerability, age, and support problems forced them to retire in November 1969.Bottom line: The USAF brought in the ‘old’ planes because they were seen at the time as the most suitable. Even then, the US had to resort to subterfuge to keep the diplomats happy until 1965 when more advanced airpower could be employed. As the US escalated its involvement, more advanced aircraft types were brought to SEA.
Remember these restrictions for the discussion to follow: The Air Force wasn’t even allowed to start taking the ‘strike’ gloves off in SEA until after February 1965. We will show later Congresscritters taking cheap shots at the AF over their CAS effort less than a year later (while at the same time ignoring the general success). Capabilities aren’t turned off or on overnight, and one thing that always seems to get lost in broad-brush disparagement of the AF in SEA seems to be correlating events to calendars, as well as causes or effects that would allow showing proper context.
The A-7/A-10 Common Thread
The A-7 program was not operating in a vacuum; indeed, it had been adopted by the Air Force to perform a significant portion of the close air support mission for the Army. The A-7 was continually affected by .developments in Army Aviation and in other programs of tactical air. Although the A-7 met many of the Army's requirements for a specialized close air support aircraft, it was both heavier and more expensive than what General McConnell envisioned as an optimum Army support aircraft. The concept of a new, heavily armored, propellor-driven  , heavy-load-carrying aircraft had been developing for some time. This was 'essentially the same concept that General McConnell had unsuccessfully proposed to Secretary Zuckert and Secretary McNamara in May, 1965. Now it was given additional backing and named the A-X (Attack Experimental). General McConnell mobilized support for the new aircraft by sending a letter to the Air Staff on January 4, 1967. He stated the Air Force had a growing need for a specialized close-air support aircraft, which will be "more suitable and less 'expensive than the A-7." General McConnell went even one step further than supporting the A-X to the Air Staff. He wrote to the Army Chief of Staff, General Harold Johnson, and stated the Air Force intent to develop the A-X. He stressed that the A-X would be especially designed to meet Army needs for Close Air Support, and asked General Johnson for Army assistance in the development of the aircraft.Later, when there was Congressional pressure to retain the A-7 and not proceed with the A-10, the Air Force could have simply walked away from the A-X/A-10.
But it did NOT:
During review of the FY74 RDT&E budget in September 1973, Congress raised concerns about the A-10 production cost and its lack of versatility. The A-7D had performed well during its deployments to Vietnam, and budgets for fighters were being stretched by development and production of multiple fighter and attack aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marines (not to mention Army helicopters). Underpinning this concern was a rivalry between Fairchild (the A-10 contractor from Long Island, NY) and LTV Corporation (the A-7 contractor from Dallas, TX) and their congressional supporters. Congress wanted a fly-off between the A-10 and the A-7D (in production for the Air Force since 1967), but the Air Force and the OSD did not believe that a fly-off would produce meaningful information beyond what was being obtained from ongoing A-10 testing. The Air Force also stressed that extensive studies had shown the superior survivability of the A-10, and that both the A-7D and F-4 lacked characteristics they were looking for in the A-10.(Jacques & Strouble, p.41)
Did the AF Back Away From Viewing Multi-Role Aircraft as the Best Choice?Now that we have shown that the A-X was actively pursued by the Air Force and in the interim had acceded to OSD’s ‘advocacy’ for the A-7, albeit in a significantly different form than the Navy version and only as long as it was seen as affordable, it might also appear to the casual observer that the Air Force was abandoning the belief that a multi-role aircraft force mix was best. To the contrary, the Air Force still held that the multi-role approach was the proper one, and only pursued a CAS asset like the A-7 with the understanding it would be in addition to other capabilities that would be needed to ‘protect’ it. Unfortunately the SecDef and his OSD seemed to subvert AF plans in this regard all too frequently in order to insert their own planning-- as we shall clearly demonstrate in the second half of this post.
Later (December 1968) when a very different (and increasingly more expensive) A-7D was being developed, a plane with a more powerful engine and much better avionics that were more suitable to the Air Force mission requirements than the Navy’s A-7A , General McConnell was asked why he was going ahead with the A-7D (comment in bold brackets mine):
The main factor is that we had something, and God knows when we would get an A-X. I don't know whether we'll ever get one yet; I wouldn't put much money down on it. It was getting to the point that. . .The Army says the [then relatively ‘new’] F-4 is not a close support aircraft  . Well, it wasn't; it wasn't [originally] built for that, but it did pretty well. And it can fight its way in and out, and it can drop its bombs and run .(Head, p.462)
From all of the above, we can rightfully declare that the “AF Didn’t Want the A-10” Myth as ‘debunked’...though we can be certain it will live on as long as it’s a “GI’s right to B*tch” and the average GI is kept in the dark about the complexities of the back-story surrounding the Army’s and Air Force’s conflicting views of CAS, and more accurately: the eternal conflict over who should ‘control’ CAS. We also see that Gen McConnell pursued the A-7D ‘dedicated CAS’ aircraft program in case the A-X didn’t materialize. The reader will find that the A-7 and A-X (later A-10) sagas affected, and were also affected by, other acquisition efforts for other elements in the force structure.
Myth Meaning B: 'The Air Force only procured a dedicated (generic) attack aircraft because they were ‘made’ to do so.
That General McConnell pursued two different dedicated CAS aircraft, one being a derivative of the Navy’s A-7A and the other being the A-X almost disproves the general myth “The Air Force only procured a dedicated (generic) attack aircraft because they were ‘made’ to do so”. I say ‘almost’, because there will always be someone who would drag up some odd factoid or another (in a manner akin to how some people ‘argue’ Scripture) and try and leverage that one factoid against the entire history and claim it ‘proves’ the myth is true. I think the way to thoroughly debunk this myth is to show it for what it really is: a mask that covers the real issue for which it stands as a proxy. By getting past the proxy, we can eventually deal with the real issue(s).
Dissecting the myth itself reveals the one word that is the key to just about any conflict that arises in and discussion on the topic. That word is ‘dedicated’.
Dedicated CAS: Definition 1If ‘dedicated’ means “the Air Force procuring an aircraft capable of performing the CAS mission, flown by pilots properly trained to perform the CAS mission and available to perform the CAS mission”, then it can be shown that before Eisenhower’s ‘New Look’ National Security Policy and before the ‘New Look’ policy was changed to ‘Flexible Response’, the Air Force has provided a dedicated CAS capability in support of the Army (Not that the Army would ever be happy if it didn’t also control it). The only time since the Air Force’s establishment as an independent service that it could be said to be false, was when not providing CAS capability was consistent with National Security priorities, AND due to the imposed limited budgets that precluded adequate CAS capability (or for that matter development of tactical forces in general) development, even to the extent the AF wanted to develop it. As General McConnell put it in discussing his decision to procure the A-7:
Ever since World War II the Air Force began dedicating all of its funds gradually towards the build-up of a strategic offensive capability and continental defense capability, and therefore didn't have enough money to go into a tactical air capability the way they should have. But that was the philosophy of the government at that time--Massive Retaliation, at places of our own selection with weapons of our own choosing. So we got behind the eight-ball in tactical aviation. (Head, p.280)
Dedication IS, as Dedication IS FUNDEDBut even before “Flexible Response” replaced “The New Look”  (before Eisenhower left office), Eisenhower himself saw that there were exceptions that couldn’t be dealt with under his defense policies so he made changes within his policies. And it was at that time the Army and Air Force both took steps to deal with the exigencies of ‘lower- level’ warfare:
The 1958 Lebanon and Quemoy crises led the Eisenhower administration to reevaluate national and military strategy.., The study concluded that nuclear deterrence couldn’t check crises “at the lower levels of the warfare spectrum”. The Air Force thereupon turned to conventional munitions. Again getting approval to beef up its aviation force' the Army bought the CV-28 Caribou transport and the OV-l Mohawk--a twin engine aircraft suitable for forward air control and light attack roles. (Rowley, p.7)The Army’s Ambivalence
If we’re talking about ‘dedication’ it should be recognized here that the Army itself was at best ‘ambivalent’ towards Air-Ground operations in the same era, and IMHO probably for the same policy reasons. Schlight observes (p 186) that:
A malaise in the area of air-ground cooperation in the 1950s is also suggested by the uneven attendance record at the Air-Ground Operations School (AGOS), the one joint school dedicated to training officers of both services to cooperate on the battlefield. The school, which TAC had been running since 1951 at Southern Pines, North Carolina, to immerse Air Force and Army officers in the doctrine, tactics, and mechanics of air-ground operations, was having trouble filling its quota of Army officers throughout the 1950’s. Instruction at the school was based on the 1950 version of the Joint Training Directive. Both the faculty and student body consisted of Army and Air Force officers with an Air Force commandant and deputies from the Army and Air Force. The Marine Corps and the British RAF had permanent faculty… … During the decade after the Korean War, however, Army interest and enrollment in the school shrank to less than half the quotas assigned to it and many of the unfilled slots went to Air Force officers. It was also discovered that only a small percentage of Army officers assigned to G–2 Air and G–3 Air positions had attended the school.
Dedicated CAS: Definition 2But if the definition is in extremis, where ‘dedicated’ means “an aircraft optimized for CAS to the point that the Air Force believed fielding it would compromise overall force effectiveness, or would produce an aircraft too vulnerable to survive, without support in the threat environment, with aircrew trained ONLY for CAS missions , well then OF COURSE the Air Force objected to and resisted buying and fielding such a CAS force.
So…Freaking…What? This definition is not even worthy of serious consideration.
AF Objective: Capable, Survivable, Affordable CASThroughout the entire A-7/A-10 saga, it can be shown that the Air Force was always interested providing a survivable aircraft capable of performing the CAS missions. When available options were seen as not meeting both the capability and survivability requirements, the Air Force moved to ensure total force capability was not compromised in the process. This is something the Air Force has held close in motivation, speech, and deed with remarkable consistently through the entire history of the CAS ‘controversy’ through the modern day.
Prelude to the Air Force Buying the A-7.We will only be touching the points in the A-7 acquisition process relevant to the discussion, Lt Col (later BGen) Richard G. Head’s dissertation on the subject is literally ‘the book’ on the A-7 story up until 1970 when his dissertation was completed, so we will rely on the dissertation and its source documentation for the bulk of this part of our review. In the rest of this post is where I will expose what I think are some of the more interesting aspects of 1960’s DoD acquisition follies, and we will also get to knock down another fighter acquisition myth in the process.
Head points out that the A-7 story really begins with the analysis of the existing weapons systems by McNamara’s “Systems Analysis” organization:
As the Systems Analysis staff began to look at the capability of the tactical forces in 1961, they came to believe that the U.S. had neither enough tactical airpower nor the right type of aircraft to fight limited war (p.156).This particular statement was in reference to ALL tactical aircraft in all services. Head identifies the Air Force’s tactical force composition shortly thereafter the passage above,
The Air Force had 16 wings of F-100 tactical fighters and 2 wings of tactical bombers in its tactical force structure. In the Air Force plans of 1961, the F-105 was being introduced to replace the older F-100.The Systems Analysis group then proceeded to shake up everyone’s planning. According to Dr. Vicktor Heyman who was one of McNamara’s staff analysts:
The feeling that existed when I came on board was one of flexible response, the need to be able to fight conventional warfare as well as nuclear warfare. In DDR&E the assumption was that the Air Force needed a lower cost and better attack airplane than the F-105. In June/July 1961 the Air Force submitted [to OSD] a set of alternative budgets with the F-105 in all of them, and when they had purchased as many as production lines would allow they put in the F-4. But all were within our 18 wing force, so the question was exclusively one of modernization as far as the Air Force was concerned. Joe Peck in Systems Analysis, who was pulling this material together for what became the 22 September Secretary of Defense guidelines, which led to the first Five Year Force Structure and Financial Plan, put five wings of Navy A-4's into the Air Force structure for tactical fighters.(Head, p.157)This is one of the instances where Head brings something to the forefront that often gets glossed over but is important to the discussion. There was an imposed upper limit on the number of tactical fighter wings at the time, so the focus in the AF was on getting as many mission area responsibilities covered as well as possible within that limit. Combined with the experiences of senior Air Force leadership, who for all practical purposes were men steeped in the lessons of total war from World War II, and the fact that highly-capable guided-weapons of any type had yet to be developed, one can then see why the AF was pursuing fast jets with multi-role capabilities. Something as slow as the A-4, especially compared to the F-105 would be an anathema those who knew ‘speed is life’.
Fortunately for the Air Force—and it was nothing but ‘fortune’ that it happened the way it did, not everyone in OSD Systems Analysis thought the A-4 was a good fit for the 60’s Air Force fleet. Head cites further from an interview with Heyman:
Dieter Schwebs  , who had been on loan to Enthoven from the Institute for Defense Analysis, and a real key figure in these early years, objected on the basis of intuition more than anything else that the A-4 was a terrible attack airplane and that no cost/effective analysis had gone into that Secretary of Defense decision. He and I and another fellow on loan from the Institute of Defense Analysis put together a cost/effectiveness analysis that used the criterion of tons delivered per million dollars expended assuming that you simply bought a wing of each of these airplanes, had peacetime costs for five years, the war started and you paid for attrition. Candidates included the F-105, F-4, A-4, F-100 and A-6. The A-4 did not look good at all in this comparison. The A-6 didn't look good because of cost, and this study assumed that all the airplanes had the same accuracy in weapons delivery on target.
The (Navy) F-4 beat out the F-105; it did so for the wrong reasons. We had big wing tanks on there [sic] which the Air Force never ended up buying. It was able to beat out the F-105 at the longer distances. It was therefore cheapest on a tons-delivered basis, and we were able to point out that it had an intercept capability which was non-existant [sic] in the Air Force. The Air Force didn't like the idea of stopping the F-105 production cold, but they were in a tight corner. They were caught between the A-4 and no more F-105's. (Page 159-160).Beyond the obvious points in the passage, the reader should note the relative crudeness of the modeling and analysis. For all of the vaunted McNamara systems analyses’ and ‘quantitative’ progress, and it was real if limited progress, the casual reader of history would be appalled if they knew how often ‘Systems Analysis’ decisions were little more than manipulation of numbers to promote ‘gut’ feelings, or used to rationalize poorly constructed lines of thought by McNamara’s ‘economists’: men who had little or no consequential knowledge of weapons and/or the military art .
Head noted in his dissertation that in the analysis above, the ability to carry a large payload long distances was over-weighted and that “accuracy and survivability” were assumed to be “equal for all aircraft” (p.161). This is but one example where you can show how Systems Analysis could and did ‘cook the books’ just in deciding how to frame the models. The models were used to emphasize whatever their inexperienced ‘assumptions’ led them to believe was important.
To drive the point home that McNamara’s shop was in many ways 'selling snake-oil' when ‘quantitative analysis’ was the rage. We can again refer to Head’s interview with Heyman (p.164)
McNamara, when I pointed out several years later that we had bought: the F-4 for the wrong reasons (you know, those fuel tanks the Air Force ended up not buying), he said, "No, we didn't. I bought the F-4 because it was as good as the F-105 and gave us much more flexibility”.In other words, McNamara went after the F-4 based upon his own beliefs and NOT because of any ‘analysis’. So we find again that it was merely good fortune that Systems Analysis championed the F-4 for the Air Force. Technically, McNamara ‘directed’ the Air Force to buy the F-4, although Air Force ‘Fighter’ community was more than happy to take that direction since it kept them from having to fight with the ‘Strategic’ community to get it. (Head p.164)
|Lt General Graham|
In a 1970 Interview Head had with Lieutenant General Gordon M. Graham  , Vice Commander, Tactical Air Command, General Graham recalled the decision about what would be modified to meet USAF requirements.
We had to modify the F-4 to meet USAF tactical requirements. General LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff, directed the modifications would be made--and also the Department of Defense, the DDR&E and Systems Analysis people were very insistent that we take the airplane with a minimum amount of expense in modifications. We really made essentially only about five changes. We put bigger wheels on it and belled out the wells in the wings to take larger wheels. We reconfigured the rear cockpit so that you could fly it from the rear. We added an inertial navigation system, the first in any USAF fighter, and we put our own life support equipment [oxygen system, ejection seats] in it, but essentially it remained pretty much the same airplane.One change that the Air Force originally wanted was an internal gun, but the modification needed to put a two-barrel 20 mm cannon was not worth the effort. The gun would have been of marginal value for the weight and space needed to carry it (Sweetman & Goulding, p. 22)  .
In any case, this was not the last time the Air Force would assert it needed a gun for the F-4. Nor would it be the last time that McNamara and his ‘system commonality’ thinking overruled the AF’s stated goal of putting a cannon in the F-4. It would take several tries before the AF prevailed and get its gun. I also find it odd that it is rarely mentioned that perhaps one reason some in the AF viewed the F-105 favorably compared to the F-4, beside the fact that it was already a real program producing real hardware at the time, was BECAUSE it had an internal cannon and the F-4, as a point designed ‘Fleet Interceptor’ being adapted to other missions did not.
The Air Force Buys the A-7-----NAVY BUYS A-7 Backstory-----
We will skip discussion of the well-known TFX (F-111) story except to note that as fallout of all the give and take for the Navy on the TFX, when they tried to replace the subsonic A-4, McNamara and Systems Analysis put the Navy through the same kind of wringer they put the AF through on the F-105 vs. F-4 question…and then some. The bottom line was that Systems Analysis had the A-4 program cancelled to force the Navy to develop a more capable strike aircraft, then shot down the Navy’s first supersonic attack aircraft concept because they didn’t show a requirement for a supersonic capability (in Systems Analysis’ view), and then the NEXT plane they went after and DID get would become the A-7. We’ll skip covering all the Navy’s travails with A-7 development and initial acquisition, as that is as long a story as the USAF-USA CAS controversy. Instead, we’ll touch on what the Air Force had to do to the A-7 and other acquisition efforts just to satisfy their mission requirements.
This is as good a place to begin a discussion about the AF getting the A-7 as any:
The fall of 1963, when the Close Air Support Boards [Howze and Disoway] were submitting their reports, was also the time of the Navy VAL competition. By March, 1964, the contract to build the VAL/A-7 had been awarded to LTV, and General LeMay, the Air Force Chief of Staff, was under fire from OSD to look at the A-7 as the answer to the Army's desires. General LeMay replied tersely to the A-7 proposition before Congress, "I am very unenthusiastic" about the A-7. "Preliminary investigations that we have made so far indicate, cost-analysis-wise, it is not much good. " (Head, p.228, citing a 1964 Aviation Week article as “Reported in Aviation Week and Space Technology, March 23, 1954 [sic], p. 15, under the title, "USAF snubs VAL.")
|Col Fish later as a Lt General|
Head captured General Fish’s recollection of the selection of the A-7 as the AF’s dedicated CAS airplane (p. 278-9):
I thought it would be better if we didn't come up with "Buy the A-7" or "Buy the F-5." One night, about two in the morning I said the way we should present this thing is to list all the characteristics in two columns and say, "Buy the A-7 if you believe in these things," and "Buy the F-5 if you believe these things." Because even within my own group there was a division of opinion as to what we should do; there was no consensus.
We briefed it to the Steering Group, and General Agan said, "Let's take this to the Chief of Staff." So they arranged a meeting for the Chief of Staff, and he said he'd take the briefing with the Secretary. This thing got on a real fast train. I've spent six years on the Air Staff, and I don't think in all the days I've been here that I remember anything like this going quite as fast as this. Zap! We took it on in to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary at about six o'clock at night.
Without there having been any formal announcement that this briefing was to be given to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary, every three-star general in the building showed up in the room, plus some extras. The word was out. This had been a gut issue, and there had been lots of meetings on it.
I gave the briefing, and I ended up with these two slides: "Buy the F-5 if you believe these things," and "Buy the A-7 if you believe these things." [One of the Air Staff officers] said, "There are a lot of things wrong with that list on the left" (meaning the A-7). General McConnell said, "There are a lot of things wrong with that list on the right" (meaning the F-5) . And I knew right then where we were. Up to that minute we really didn't know which way the Chief of Staff was coming down.
The Chief of Staff said, "I think we ought to buy the A-7" to the Secretary. The Secretary said, "I certainly agree. Let's prepare an appropriate piece of paper for Mr. McNamara." I prepared that letter, and I prepared it immediately the next day. It was not coordinated throughout the Air Staff. I prepared it with direct guidance from General McConnell and Secretary Brown.
Really, the Air Force didn't want the A-7, but they wanted the F-5 less. McNamara, according to my understanding, gave the Air Force a choice to buy a cheaper aircraft than the F-4 which we were buying, and then if we would buy the cheaper airplane, we could have the F-4E with the gun on it, which was going to cost some extra money So the choice was between the A-7 and the F-5. There wasn't any question in my mind as to which aircraft we should have, because the F-5 wasn't as good .... McConnell called me and asked which aircraft I'd pick. I said I'd take the A-7. We really didn't know alot [sic] about the airplane, but once the decision had been made we got the people together to see what changes needed to be made. TAC's big job was to get any airplane.Head points out after this passage that it was “significant that Tactical Air Command wanted two outcomes from the Fish Study--more tactical aircraft and the TSF  F-4.
General Disoway's broad statement that the "AF didn't want the A-7" was a classic opportunity for someone to rip it out of context for it to become a myth. If we take in the context of the total history, such a sweeping statement is an obvious exaggeration. First, the A-7A was little more than a paper airplane at the time and the AF didn't like a lot of what it saw. Obviously the A-7 wasn't what the AF 'ideally' wanted, but it was seen as the best available, and something that could be worked with.
And obviously someone in the Air Force wanted it, so Disoway could not have been speaking for the whole Air Force to begin with. Finally, the AF leadership was in agreement that the A-7 had to have some major changes before it would be suitable for the AF and to work in a CAS role.
Later on, when the TAC Deputy for Operations (General Graham) flew the A-7A-- six months after its first flight--to see what the AF was going to be dealing with, Head quotes Graham (p.331) as follows:
With that, I went out and flew the airplane to see what kind of merchandise we were going to be equipped with... I chose to fly three strike missions .... I loaded it up with three sets of stores, complete combat profile...then I came back and wrote a report that established 47 modifications on the aircraft to make it even safe enough to fly. It needed a bigger engine, etc. Well, we got a good number of those modifications ....my feelings were let's fix it, but don't make it so expensive that it becomes a monster and we don't get very many. If we are going to get some, we have to have at least [360 aircraft. TAC recommended that if A-7's were to be purchased, the request should also contain TSF F-4's (With an internal gun among other things) to protect them.
When the request for A-7’s went to McNamara in a memo from SecAF Harold Brown dated 5 November 1965, it read in part:
“However, the overriding requirement was to determine what weapons system, at comparably low cost, would be most capable of carrying out the missions of close air support in a permissive environment. Under such assumptions …the A-7 (on the basis of ten-year investment and operating costs} has a probable cost effectiveness superiority. The added flexibility provided by the payload range/mission time advantage appears to make the A-7 a better choice providing air superiority is established by the recommended F-4 force (including the TSF version). Put another way, when added to the F-111/F-4 mixture now approved, the combination of the F-4 (TSF) and A-7 appears to cover the widest range of low and medium intensity air-to-air, air-ground situations. The Chief of Staff and I on the basis of the above factors, recommend such a mixture as an addition to the force.”The Air Force asked for 96 F-4 TSF's and 387 A-7's. McNamara responded two weeks later, on November 19, 1965. He ‘approved’ the AF’s procurement of 561 A-7s (a 46%+ increase over the requested number!) including the development of a then-required afterburner. McNamara denied the F-4 TSF with the internal gun for ‘cost’ and ‘schedule’ reasons (Head, p.290). It took the Air Force nine more months to get McNamara off his ‘anti-gun’ position so the AF could then buy an F-4 equipped the way they always wanted it, and about the same time kick off what would become the F-15 in order to counter the latest Soviet fighter designs projected to be fielded after the mid-1970s.
Fixing the A-7’s ShortcomingsTo say the Navy’s A-7A configuration was deficient for Air Force purposes would be a gross understatement, but only those things absolutely necessary for the mission could be afforded. In the initial list of required changes, there were 33 items. The most notable of the initial changes were adding a ‘takeoff only’ afterburner to the A-7A’s turbofan engine, improved avionics suite focused on better detection and identification of targets and increased weapons accuracy, and an Air Force cannon to replace the Navy  cannons. Adding a ‘takeoff-only’ afterburner was not the ideal or even seen as desirable solution, but because AB technology for turbofans was in its infancy, it was seen as a limping half-step of sorts towards a better solution ‘sometime’ later. The Air Force needed more thrust to operate out of as many airfields as possible to stay close to the grunts, but the Navy wasn’t overly worried about the low thrust/weight ratio at that time: they had the luxury of catapults when deployed and long runways at home. Key individuals in the AF side of the program and Air Staff initially sought to put a fully capable AB on the A-7 as soon as possible, and later through their personal initiatives brought about the conditions where it was possible to arrange for a license built version of the Rolls Royce Spey engine (no AB needed) to be incorporated. There was a long process of defining the necessary avionics suite, made longer by the tugging between bean-counters in OSD and the AF insisting on the capability needed to meet the CAS requirements. One example of the disconnect is how the different players viewed the A-7 avionics requirements. The Air Force needed the targeting and accuracy to support the CAS mission, and the Systems Analysis types at OSD only saw the costs and risks. Head gives an example as “expressed by Russell Murray” of Systems Analysis (p. 394-95, ellipses in original):
You can't [sic] hardly argue that the Air Force has to use the Navy gun [because of the different logistic systems]. The M-61 clearly had to go in. We agreed with that. There were a few little changes here and a few little changes there. As a matter of fact, the Air Force put in some things we thought the Navy should have [like FM radios] to talk to ground troops. We wondered why the Navy didn't have that; it seemed to make pretty good sense. Well, we were deeply involved in it; we were a little distressed to see the price going up as much as it was. The big problem came with the fancy avionics… The Navy (and the Air Force) wanted to…take our nice, simple, inexpensive, easily maintained A-7 and put one of these dreadfully complicated systems in it that we doubted would work.”This passage was particularly delicious to read for a couple of reasons. First because the Air Force in particular went to great pains to not put any more avionics in the aircraft than needed to perform the mission to the expected level of proficiency and as cheaply as possible (Head, passim). Second, it should be noted here, that one reason the A-7 came through so strong in studies was the very low unit cost estimates used: estimates that were originally objected to by panel members as unrealistic, but OSD insisted that they be used (Head p. 271).
In the post-mortem to determine exactly where those cost estimates for the A-7 came from, it was discovered that the estimates were not vetted through usual AF audit processes and review/approval. The estimates had come “from LTV to OSD Systems Analysis” to the panel directly. Like I said-Mmmmm, delicious!’
Eventually the AF’s A-7D came into existence…..at a price that was always climbing (really becoming better known) and repeatedly came under scrutiny for possible cancellation. When the unit cost approached that of a new F-4 by 1969, the A-7D was in fact cancelled for cost reasons: it had nearly tripled in unit cost, to nearly $50M in today’s dollars. (Psst.--Nobody tell the Italian Fabulist/Talking Head ). The A-7D was actually cancelled for cost reasons in 1969 -- until the AF almost immediately reversed their course-- but not so fast as they avoided having to go back to Congress to request the funding be reinstated. When the USAF got into the nitty-gritty of the cost/benefits of cancellation and conversion of existing airframes for Navy use, the possible cost savings, and force enhancements were minimal. AF Chief of Staff McConnell submitted a ‘reclama’ that said in part:
The Air Force has now discussed the problem with the Navy and it is estimated that modifying the Air Force version of the A-7 to the Navy version would cost from $800,000 to $1,000,000 per aircraft. This cost together with the cancellation costs and increased unit cost for the Navy aircraft would reduce the budgeted $374.7 million to such an extent that it is most likely the Air Force buy of F-4 aircraft would be on the order of 50-60 aircraft instead of the previously contemplated 120 aircraft. This would reduce the total Air Force tactical fighter inventory below minimum acceptable levels.
Therefore, the Air Force has submitted to this Committee a reclama of the Committee's action to prohibit the procurement of additional A-7 aircraft. The Air Force now requests that the $374.7 million be restored, for the acquisition of three wings of A-7D's. (Head, p. 512)The A-7D funding was restored with the usual Congressional ‘harrrumphing’, but the program moved forward, and the Navy adopted most of the Air Force’s improvements in the later versions of their A-7, cut short acquisition of the Navy A-7A, and cancelled the ‘Avionics System From Hell’ (ILAAS) that would have been FAR more complex than the Air Force's avionics package and had been slated for the A-7B and on.
If the travails of the AF to field the A-7 as the interim CAS aircraft and steadfastly standing by the earlier decision to field the A-10 do not put the ‘dedicated’ in Dedicated CAS, it is hard to see what would fit the definition.
“A Tale… Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing.”When I began deep and (for me) tedious research of the Congressional/Political aspects of the so-called ‘CAS Controversy’ I thought I would have found a lot more ‘meat’ in the history than I did. I certainly found that any claim that ‘Congress’ was gravely concerned would have to be considered a huge overstatement. Mostly I found…noise, repeated over and over.
An ‘Old Marine’ in Congress, Mucks up the Waters.Today’s meddling in the force structure by Know-it-All (Know-nothings) in Congress, most notably
McConnell had taken over as AF Chief of Staff in February, and with the buildup in Vietnam just about to kickoff. Gen McConnell, in one of his first appearances before Congress, had the ‘pleasure’ of being lectured by Rep Pike, who obliquely referred to the A-7 as a ‘glamour’ aircraft:
But I have a very bad feeling that the Air Force wants to buy the glamour planes. There is a great push for advancing manned strategic aircraft, and there is a great push for an improved manned interceptor and I have a very bad feeling that these are the glamour aircraft. They are designed to fight the air battles which we may be called upon to fight at some future date, but there hasn't been any push whatsoever for the type of aircraft we need today.”Got that? What the Air Force considered as essential to effectiveness and survivability, an old Marine attack pilot with stale CAS knowledge viewed as ‘glamour’. Pike had it in for the Air Force for not doing CAS the way he thought it should be done. In February 1965 (remember, this is the same month the Air Force was first allowed to fly something other than T-28s and RB-26s, etc.) Head (p. 326-7) observes:
The month of February saw the publication of the formal report of the Special Subcommittee on Tactical Air Support of the House of .Representatives. The report was entitled Close Air Support and included the conclusions of Representative Pike's hearings during the previous September and October. The Pike Report charged the Air Force with neglect of the close air support mission, failing to provide proper air-to-ground communications, failing to develop a sufficient target acquisition and marking system, slow response times to Army requests for support, and the failure to develop a special close air support.This report was the culmination of testimony and ‘fact-finding’ and contained much of what Pike’s subcommittee had ‘found’ in September and October of 1964, which meant his data was even older.
General McConnell’s recollection of Pike matches well with my review of the Congressional records, although he is kinder in his description than I would have been. Continuing a passage I cited earlier (Head, p.280-1):
…that we had to get something to give the Army close air support. First, it was our job. Second, if we didn't do it, somebody else was going to do it for us. Every once in awhile that would come up on the Hill, especially with Representative Pike. Pike wanted to turn the Army into another Marine Corps since he was an old Marine…More specifically, Pike was a WW2 Marine Dive Bomber Pilot. I suppose that may explain his fetish for slow prop planes, but quite frankly, Pike’s entire history on this topic makes him look like an Army sockpuppet: trying to ‘poison the well’ concerning fast(er) movers working CAS before the tactics and hardware used even had a chance to prove themselves. If so he was fairly successful, because the ‘Pike Report’ was used to beat on the Air Force for the rest of the war. Neither glowing reports from the field, or post-war testimony to the contrary by Creighton Abrams gave Pike’s report the quiet, quick, death it deserved.
Lest one might think I overstate my case, Schlight (p. 352-3) summarizes the situation similarly:
Representative Otis G. Pike, a Marine fighter pilot in World War II, convened a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, to examine the adequacy of air superiority, support facilities for tactical aircraft, and close air support in Vietnam. Citing time limitations, the committee considered only the latter question, and quickly narrowed the close air support issue to an examination of the type of aircraft that should perform the function. The fact that close air support had yet to be performed to any sizable degree in Vietnam, combined with the chairman’s known propensity for Marine aviation, resulted in a final report that relied heavily on a priori positions rather than on evidence from the war. While ignoring testimony favorable to past close air support operations, the committee report emphasized the traditional differences between the two services as reported by the Army and Air Force Close Air Support Boards in 1963. It was the view of the nine committee members that a gulf existed between what the Army wanted as a close air support aircraft and what the Air Force “wanted to provide them.” … …The committee’s expressed unalloyed adulation in its final report for the control system and aircraft used by the Marine Corps for close air support:
In a footnote to the passage, Schlight states the following (emphasis mine):The Navy-Marine Corps doctrine, organization, and the equipment employed in close tactical air support of ground forces are obviously superior to that of the other armed services. They meet the requirements for limited war operations, such as the current conflict in South Vietnam, and are readily adaptable to an escalating conflictVirtually ignoring the Air Force’s argument that multipurpose, supersonic aircraft were both more efficient and more effective in a multiplicity of roles, including close air support, the report strongly urged the Army/Air Force team to emulate “the knowledge, the technique, the capability for effective close air support” as practiced by the Marine Corps. This was a clear call for the Air Force to rectify past omissions and develop a close air support aircraft as had the Navy and Marine Corps. Specifically, it touted the effectiveness of the Navy’s A–7A. The Air Force was unconvinced by the report’s closing disclaimer that it did not want the report “to be construed as a unilateral, or perhaps even a parochial, attack upon one service.”
The Air Force presented its views on close air support in Vietnam to the committee in the form of a detailed analysis called “Close Air Support (1965).”There is no indication in the committee’s final report that this document was used”.
The Pike report was a political hatchet job: a document that WAS OBVIOUSLY a “unilateral, and parochial, attack upon one service".
Army Airmobile MachinationsOne might think I’ve shorted the discussion of the Army’s campaign against the Air Force approach to CAS. Not really. We’ve been covering it from almost the first mention of ‘Flexible Response’ and Secretary of Defense McNamara.
The Army was most enthusiastic about the 1960-61 ‘transformation’ of defense policy. They were most enthusiastic because under Eisenhower’s “New Look” defense policy, with its overarching emphasis on fighting on a nuclear battlefield, the Air Force and Navy had benefitted the most in force structure and acquisition, As a byproduct of the policy change, the Air Force and Navy benefited most in mission allocations. The Army’s role in a nuclear exchange under the “New Look” was not a very pleasant one, but with the arrival of Flexible Response, the Army had the most to gain from a reemphasis on the fielding of forces equipped for the full spectrum of conventional (non-nuclear) warfighting. As it happened of course, the Army was already thinking ‘Airmobile’ thoughts in response to the nuclear-dominated defense policy. Around 1960:
…the focus in the Army was on the nuclear battlefield. Organic aviation was viewed by the Army as the best means of maintaining combat operations in an area characterized by great depth and frontage with the dispersion of many small self-contained units. The major threat was viewed as a sophisticated enemy attacking with masses of armor on the plains of Europe. Counter-guerrilla warfare at that time was viewed as a secondary mission. Nevertheless, the early planners in airmobility perceived that one of the automatic fallouts in organizing the Army for greater airmobility would be much greater capabilities in the lower spectrums of warfare. (Tolson, p.11)
But the Army was already predisposed to look at helicopters as a means of making the Army more flexible and mobile. LtGen. Tolson points to a specific point in time when the helicopter and air mobility became the Army’s ‘Holy Grail’:
The airmobility concept was not a product of Vietnam expediency. It would probably not be practical to make a record of every decision which formed a part of the airmobile concept. It certainly had its roots in both the airborne techniques of World War II and the early doctrine for organic aviation for ground forces for that era. However, from a practical viewpoint, the embryonic decision can be said to be the Army's move to form twelve helicopter battalions on 21 August 1952. This key decision was made to commit the Army to airmobility even though a practical troop-carrying helicopter was still unproven and the helicopter tactics and techniques existed only in the minds of a handful of men. Though the twelve battalion goal was overly optimistic at that time, it dramatized how the impact of Korean experience had influenced Army planners.
In Korea the Army had learned that the difficult terrain in that land mass and the numerical superiority of the enemy combined to provide the communist with an advantage that was not easily balanced by the qualitative superiority of the American soldier and his supporting firepower. Many thoughtful officers had watched the little observation helicopter-turned ambulance-flit  up and down the steep hills with effortless agility. It was not hard to envision the possibilities inherent in hundreds of larger machines carrying combat troops up and over those deadly slopes. The Marines had already demonstrated the possibility of a small unit being carried into combat and the helicopter itself was beginning to mature, with more power and more dependability. (Tolson, p. 4)
Indeed, the roots of disagreement as to how much the Air Force ‘cared’ about Close Air Support reach back to before Vietnam; to Korea and even into WW2. But we shall ignore that part of the history this round, saving it perhaps for another installment where we would focus on ‘Army’ organizational behaviors towards CAS, Airpower and the Air Force.
When McNamara came into DoD with a mandate from Kennedy to create a force for ‘Flexible Reponse’, there were people already there ready to steer the Secretary in the direction they wanted DoD to take:
…there was a nucleus of Army aviation oriented officers both in the office of the Secretary of Defense staff and Army Staff who recognized the possibility of capitalizing on Mr. McNamara's attitude to sweep aside ultraconservative resistance within the Army itself. Finally, there was an opportunity to present to the Secretary of Defense for his signature directives that would cause the Army to appoint an evaluation by individuals known for their farsightedness and to submit recommendations directly to the Secretary of Defense in order to avoid intermediate filtering.(Tolson, p.19)
The Essential McNamara Memos…Written by Army Airmobile InsurgentsI would estimate the majority or totality of the CAS conflict between the Army and Air Force would have been dead and buried by now, if not for the activism of the Army Airmobile ‘insurgents’ seeking to transform the Army. Schlight observes (p.242):
On April 19, 1962, Secretary McNamara signed and sent two memos, one personal and one official, to Secretary of the Army, Elvis J. Stahr, Jr., expressing his dissatisfaction Army attempts to incorporate aircraft into its ground units. Both memos noted that greater mobility and potential monetary savings could be realized by substituting air for ground transportation in many areas. The memos exhorted the Army to take a bold new look at its mobility in land warfare and to explore the feasibility of breaking with traditional means of mobility, by looking closely at what would be required for aviation to achieve “quantum increases in mobility.” While the tenor of both messages seemed to equate mobility with transportation, the reference in the memos to “aerial artillery” and to aircraft serving as “weapons platforms” opened the way for a broader interpretation of mobility to include weapons, as well as of .personnel, which in this case, would encompass the close air support role These memos provided implicit support for the ongoing airmobility experiments. Nevertheless, while they lauded the doctrinal concepts that had emerged from the earlier Army studies on the air mobility division, airmobile reconnaissance regiments, and aerial artillery units, they decried the fact that these concepts had not been put into effect. These memos appear, therefore, to have been vehicles to apply pressure from above to implement the ideas of the revisionist aviators, and references to aerial artillery and weapons platforms suggested that close air support should be among the roles investigated. They also encouraged the Army secretary set up a “managing group of selected individuals” to reexamine its aviation requirements, and the personal memo named nine of the Army’s leading uniformed and civilian organicists to head up the review committee.
Why blame the Army Airmobile actors for a SecDef memo? Schlight cites Bergerson as his source for the following:
A student of the bureaucratic decision making process in the Pentagon has examined the background of these memos and concluded that they were written for McNamara’s signature by an Army colonel on the secretary’s staff, working together with a sympathetic civilian in the systems analysis shop. In addition, to bypass the Army hierarchy, which was not yet fully comfortable with the idea of airmobility, these authors included the suggestion (order) that the final report of the board be sent directly to the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense without staff review. The authors clearly wanted to avoid giving the uniformed Army staff, sections of which were opposed to the idea, an opportunity to water down the recommendations. Opposition to airmobility within the Army stemmed basically from those who saw in the growth of Army aviation a threat to the funding of other weapons systems. Although the opponents included some artillery and airborne officers, the main resistance came from armor officers who believed that, within a fiscally constrained Army, room would have to made for any new airmobile units by their displacing existing armor divisions.
So in doing an end-run around the Army’s own leadership, ‘insurgent’ Airmobile advocates set wheels in motion that would have to transform the Army first. B*tching about Air Force CAS, before there had been any full CAS effort was just another step in bringing their overreaching Airmobility concepts to fruition.
In closing, I must admit that I am quite frankly, as some may have guessed by this time SICK of hardware discussions, when the problem is with people, doctrine and organizational identities.
Wrapping Up….As I earlier warned, the threads of the REAL A-X/A-10 story were many. The CAS debate affected and was affected by other programs and world events. There are entire facets of the history we didn’t even come close to touching. The A-7 history up to the proposed A-7F would have been worthy of a series of posts itself. There were a multitude of pivotal events that I could not cover in even a tortuously long blog post such as this one (Head’s dissertation on the A-7 decision process was over 600 pages after all).
We did manage to pull most of the major threads together to clearly show the AF ‘cared’ about CAS, pursued an interim and definitive CAS plane for permissive environments and defended it against all comers. We’ve shown the AF didn’t and doesn’t think CAS needs to be done in a way the Army appears to insist that it be done, and the Army will probably never be happy because of ‘some’ in the Army’s (IMHO pathological) insistence on controlling things beyond their ability to efficiently and effectively control. See my 2011 ‘Sidebar’ on the relative merits of the POVs.
One can’t undertake a project of even this limited scope without repeatedly being reminded or first made aware of aspects to ‘History’ that are important in their own right. Things that are often ignored, to the point that too many people all too frequently end up ‘doing violence to the phenomenon’ of whatever they claim to be describing.
Warfare and the selection of weapons and forces to carry out warfare of any kind is perhaps among the most complex of human pursuits, yet we are too often treated to comic-book synopses of what is far too nuanced to ever be able to adequately explain to the post-modern ‘bumper-sticker’ thinkers that ooze out of academia and through the halls of government these days. It seems most historians and historical journals are ill-equipped to adequately describe the history of technological development (though there are notable exceptions). Military academic publications tend to be written as advocacy papers, and are rarely, if ever, ‘balanced’. Meat Servos seem to be always ‘for’ whatever mount they were ‘servo-ing’. And Congressional records, almost without exception contain exactly what politicians or those testifying want the record to show and nothing else.
On the subject of Close Air Support, both sides acknowledge the Army ran an ‘Insurgency’ in the 60s . Read Bergerson’s highly-praised and in retrospect, quite-flawed but personal catharsis titled “The Army Gets an Air Force”. Compare it to Schilght’s “Help from Above” (which has niggling problems of its own): the insurgency against the Air Force (and ‘heavy’ Army) plays large across the spectrum of the recorded histories. The disagreements come when one begins to discuss the ‘rights and wrongs’ of the insurgency and the furies it unleashed.
No Great Truth Can Ever Be Explained on a Bumper Sticker…Including This One.Read widely, but read ‘deeply’ too. And sharpen your ability to synthesize disparate data from
multiple sources and arrive at your own conclusions. Beware the ‘narrative’.
Endnotes1. l already covered the Army’s culpability in choosing to fill these gaps with their own assets in lieu of developing a methodology working with the Air Force, so we won’t revisit the ‘whys’ again here except to say in my research this time around I found even more evidence pointing to the Army’s fetish for, insistence upon, and apparent “neediness” (approaching doctrinal psychosis IMHO) to directly control as many of the assets on the battlefield as they can get their hands on, regardless of their relative inability to effectively and efficiently wield them. At the core of this need I think I see an institutional insecurity that deserves its own thorough exposure “someday”.
2. See Part 5 of the original CAS Myth series for discussion on the evolution of A-X requirements to replace props with turbofans.
3. One of the interesting things that tend to be ‘forgotten’ in discussing Airpower and CAS in particular during this era was the environment was changing as well. The dominant requirement for survivability from WW2 through about 1969 was the ability to gain speed and altitude to deal with airborne threats. As radar-guided AAA and the proliferation of SAMs (crewed and MANPADs) occurred, they became the major perceived threat and the pre-Low Observable era’s response to the threat was to fly increasingly lower to minimize exposure.
4. In the end, and contrary to naysayers the F-100D/Fs, then the F-4C/Ds, when all was said and done, were the principle CAS aircraft for the entire Vietnam War (Schlight,p.310) .
5. This passage also illustrated the recurring theme in all Air Force statements concerning CAS aircraft performance: the ability to get to the fight, fight, and get home again. If there was an ‘Army’ corollary to this thinking, other than the ‘Ground Commanders must control CAS’ it would be that in the end, they only cared about how well a CAS aircraft could find and hit a target, without any serious consideration as to how hard the target would be hit, or the ability to survive to hit more targets in the future. In reading Tolson’s Air Mobility: 1961-1971, I eventually concluded one of LtGen Tolson’s real raison d’être was to try and convince the Army itself that helicopters would be survivable in less-than-permissive environments. Tolson’s history is rife with marginalizing the difficulties the Army had in keeping helicopters from getting shot down in the kind of environments the AF was, and has continually been, prepared for…and quite vocal in its defense of ‘survivability’ as a design goal.
6. While historians have long agreed on this shift as being a significant policy event, there is something akin to a cottage industry for ‘Revisionism’ in the History Departments of today’s academy, including revising the history of the policy shift in various ways up to and including it never “really” happened. These people are generally products of the post-modern education system, and it shows. They are invariably strong on governmental gossip (‘CYA memos’. ‘beliefs’, opinions, etc.) about ‘defense policy’ but are equally weak or weaker on the ‘ins and outs’ of actually framing, interpreting and executing the defense policy (military doctrine, force structure, operations). Their grasp of the impact of economics on policy and execution of same (and vice versa) is also often questionable. For an example of such drivel, see “The Myth of Flexible Response” by Francis J. Gavin (PDF).
A tip for Francis and his ilk: It wasn’t all about looking at NATO and Central Europe in a nice, neat 1960’s window box. It was just as much about dealing with proxies of other world powers and their little “wars of national liberation” around the globe without resorting to raining down the kilotons until, oh, about 1989.
7. Ironically, the “CAS mission” itself is considered diverse enough to encompass many distinctly defined missions and, with constantly evolving mobility, sensor, and weapons technologies the definition of CAS itself has evolved in turn. (Head,Schlight, passim)
8. Dr. Dieter Schwebs is an interesting character in the CAS story. Lt Col Head mentions in his footnotes that Dr. Schwebs had flown IN Stukas during the Battle of Malta which indicates he was probably a ‘gunner’ (‘flown’ IN vs. ‘flown’) yet in a rather self-serving GAO “walk down memory lane” by a handful of GAO ‘heavy-hitters’ (including one that was one of McNamara’s boys, Schwebs is recalled as having “…been very high up in the German government, working in the Hitler era, in the development of missiles. He had a great background. He had come from Germany and had worked in the Defense Departments of the British and US. Governments for a while in connection with missile development” and later it is mentioned “Dieter was a part of the systems analysis group in the Department of Defense. He was a GS-18 over there. But he fell into disfavor because the man had a fatal flaw. He was absolutely too open, too honest, and forthright. So we finally hired him as a 15, didn't we? He had a scientific Ph.D. and was also a test, pilot.”
I found another reference to Schwebs in a book written by the late, delightfully named (and decidedly unmissed by most Americans) “radical journalist” Alexander Cockburn . There is a passage in Cockburn’s “Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era” where on page 8 he mentions his brother finding Schwebs, one of the “designers of the V-2”, a weapon that had destroyed Cockburn’s childhood home. Schwebs also shows up as a critic of the AWACs, F-15, and other weapon systems at the GAO.
There appears to be quite a story unto itself (one that may not ‘add up’) in Dieter Schwebs, but he seems to have been hit-or-miss in his concerns and beliefs, like the rest of Systems Analysis, based upon the way history has played out. IMHO he had a solid ‘hit’ in his criticism of the A-4.
9. See the late Gen Glenn A. Kent’s thoughts concerning the difference between ‘computers’ and ‘analysts’.
10. To call General Graham a ‘top fighter pilot’ would be an understatement. He was a ‘triple ace’ in WW2, having shot down 16 1/2 enemy airplanes, with another probable and 10 damaged in only 73 combat missions flying P-51 Mustangs. And he did this while leading men in combat as either a Squadron or Group Commander for all but a couple of months of his tour. He spent the first part of the war as a gunnery instructor and flying instructor, obviously sharpening his own skills as well. I’d be interested to know how many of his students might also be found on the ‘Ace’ list.
11. In my estimation, the SUU-
12. The ‘TSF’ F-4 was an F-4 concept with improvements based largely upon what was needed to install an internal cannon in the nose. It eventually ‘became’ the F-4E. Head relays the following in a footnote on Page 262:
It is significant to note this distinction between the F-4 which was flying in the Navy and Air Force in 1965 with no internal cannon and the TSF/F-4E which was an attempt to get an internal cannon into the aircraft in addition to the airplane's missile armament. The philosophy in the 1950's when the original F-4 was designed was that advances in radar and heat-seeking missile technology had rendered the air-to-air cannon obsolete. When this missile technology did not prove capable of solving all the complex problems of close-in air-to-air battles, a major portion of the Air Staff's effort in 1965-66 was spent in establishing a requirement for putting an internal gun in the F-4. Systems Analysis resisted any change in the armament on the F-4 until it was firmly established that the gun would not disturb the radar set in nose of the aircraft, and that the radar could be satisfactorily modified. The placement of the gun in the lower part of the nose section was going to require extensive miniaturization of the radar set. (The radar was valuable in finding enemy aircraft well beyond visual range and was also used in certain modes of ground attack.). This miniaturization had not been proven technically feasible, and Dr. Enthoven, in a later interview, stated that he was skeptical of the TSF for that reason. Many officers in the Air Staff and in Tactical Air Command, however, were willing to take the TSF F-4 with no radar set in the nose if they could get a gun in the aircraft. A clear statement of the position of the operations profession was later given by a Fighter Weapons School publication: "Despite arguments to the contrary, supported by volumes of cost analysis data, the need for an internal gun in fighter aircraft has long been the consensus among fighter pilots." Major Thomas G. McInerney, "F-4E Cat [Category] III," USAF Fighter Weapons Newsletter, March, 1969, p. 30.Head somewhat overstates the part about guns having been ‘thought of’ as obsolete in the 50’s. If one takes in the breadth of fighter design history, one will find this a truism for ‘interceptor’ aircraft (such as the F-101, F-102, F-106, and Navy F-4) of the era due to insufficient speed margins for overtaking bombers. All fighters? Feh, not so much (Think F-100, F-104, F105). Of course, interceptors were the dominant fighter type the US was producing for a short while, so we will forgive the overstatement. Oh, and you probably know "Major T.G. McInerney"
13. The Navy had installed two Colt (License-built Hispano Suiza) Mk 12 20mm cannons, one on each side of the A-7A. This was in the same manner as the A-7s design precursor, the F-8 Crusader. The F-8’s guns, vaunted ‘Last Gunfighter’ sobriquet notwithstanding, were notoriously unreliable under G’s.
14. ‘Flit’ is an interesting choice of terms. I have repeatedly encountered this word in reviewing Army ‘airmobile’ documents or others describing Army helicopter flight operations. One use in Andrew Krepenevich’s Book “The Army and Vietnam” has stayed with me. On page 122, Kepenevich quotes retired LtGen. John Norton as “ruefully” observing:
“We should have done less flittin’ and more sittin’.”
Key SourcesA-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) Systems Engineering Case Study; D.R. Jacques,D.D. Strouble; Air Force Institute of Technology; 2010. Note: This document had disappeared for a time with the unannounced and abrupt dissolution of the AF Center for Systems Engineering at AFIT. http://www.afit.edu/cse/casedocs/files/A-10%20Systems%20Engineering%20Case%20Study%20Final%20Posted.pdf
Army-Air Force Relations: The Close Air Support Issue, Report R-906-PR; A. Goldberg, D. Smith; RAND; 1971. Note: This appears a redacted and publically available version of report C/GDS-83 “The Close Support Issue (U)” http://www.rand.org/pubs/reports/R0906.html
Help From Above: Air Force Close Air Support of the Army 1946–1973; J. Schlight,; Air Force History And Museums Program; Washington, D. C; 2003
Airmobility 1961-1971: Vietnam Studies, Department of the Army; Lieutenant General John J. Tolson, Washington D.C.; 1999
Decision-Making on the A-7 Attack Aircraft Program: Richard G. Head, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation; Syracuse University; December 1970
Phantom; B. Sweetman, J. Goulding; Janes Information Group; June 1984
Post -World War II Fighters; 1945-1973; M. Knaak, Office of Air Force History, 1976
THE AIR FORCE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA: Tactics and Techniques of Close Air Support Operations 196I – 1973; R. Rowley, Air Force Historical Studies Office; 1976.
Plane in The Middle: A History Of The U.S. Air Force's Dedicated Close Air Support Plane: D. Campbell, A Dissertation In History; Texas Tech University; 1999,
The Army Gets an Air Force; F. Bergerson,; Johns Hopkins Press; 1980.