At Razor’s Edge
I’ve been a member of the Air Force Association since 1968, and I have never been more concerned about our ability to retain future air superiority [“A Force at Razor’s Edge,” April, p. 24]. No doubt that investments in Global Hawk, Predators, and Reapers provide important intelligence and air-to-ground joint force enhancements. I wonder, however, if our wargame scenarios ever address the possibility that all of our UAVs get shot out of the sky. Air superiority needs to be priority one, despite budget constraints. Without it, everything else is at stake.
Col. David R. Haulman,USAF (Ret.)Vicksburg, Miss.
Great article and a thanks for telling more of the story by Col. Leo Thorsness and the brave men who survived the cruel and torturous years of captivity by the communist Vietnamese [“Commissioned in Hanoi,” April, p. 56]. We did have a primer mission over Hanoi and Haiphong and three other North Vietnamese target areas by B-52s operating out of U Tapao, Thailand, some six months earlier. These missions proved the B-52s could hit North Vietnam targets and return home safely. That was Linebacker I, directed by President Nixon, which was the predecessor to Linebacker II, the operation spoken of in “Commissioned in Hanoi.” I hope that we see more of the stories by such heroes as Colonel Thorsness in Air Force Magazine. Thank you.
Lt. Col. Sid Howard,USAF (Ret.)Midwest City, Okla.
With reference to the excellent article entitled “MiG Alley” by John T. Correll [April, p. 61], your readers might be interested to know that 27 RAF pilots were also to see combat with the Sabre in Korea. These were officers who were on exchange assignments in the States at the time, particularly with such units as the 4th and 51st FIWs. Two of them were KIA, whilst another was MIA. Although none were to achieve ace status, they did account for six MiGs destroyed.
Dennis W. PritchardCaernarfon, UK
USAF’s Worrying Future
Your March issue was, as usual, informative and insightful—but also very disturbing.
First, members learn from the editorial that the QDR projects reductions in Air Force fighter wing equivalents [“Wars of the QDR,” p. 2]. Then, the “Washington Watch” column informs us that, according to the Chief of Staff, our future Air Force aims to be “sufficient” [p. 8]. In less than a decade, the Air Force is moving from a position of overwhelming dominance (never a fair fight) to “calibrated ambition”—guessing how much power is probably sufficient to win. This will be done with a multirole fighter yet to be produced that is falling further behind schedule as we speak. And what will this fighter compete against? Well, turn a few more pages.
The “Issue Brief” reveals the Russian PAK FA stealth fighter, an F-22 equivalent [p. 22]. Notably, it will likely outperform the F-35 in many areas. Even more frightening to learn is the PAK FA and its Chinese equivalent will likely be produced and exported in great quantities, while the F-22 will never number more than 187.
But the US Air Force will always have its pool of superior trained airmen and maintainers. Not so fast. The first main article is titled “Guard and Reserve in a Time of Trouble” [p. 24]. Will we be losing our bench?
Regardless of the type of fight the nation will face in the future, from peer-to-peer confrontations to counter-insurgencies, some aspects to victory will not change. We will have to clear a way to the heart of the enemy, we will need to destroy their centers of gravity, and we will have to sustain forces on the battlefield. Technical superiority best projected by the US Air Force leverages national strengths while minimizing casualties to accomplish these tasks. The other alternative is to sacrifice the blood of thousands of our soldiers and marines in unnecessary land battles that even the odds for the enemy.
Every indication from the March issue is that the nation is approaching a period where the air superiority and dominance we have come to take for granted may not be there for the next fight. For the first time since World War II, the United States may enter a conflict and find it does not have and cannot guarantee complete mastery of the skies.
The Army uses “hooah” as rallying cry. The Air Force tried “airpower,” but it didn’t catch on. How about a rousing “sufficiency” to motivate the troops?
Maj. Gen. Roger P. LempkeUSAF (Ret.)Lincoln, Neb.
Gen. John Michael Loh’s article was right on target [“The Simulation-Reality Mismatch,” March, p. 30]. There was an interesting earlier example of such a mismatch. During the early months of 1967, System Analysis in the Office of the Secretary of Defense analyzed the projected effectiveness of tactical air in Europe against Warsaw Pact forces. The overall conclusion was that while suffering very high attrition, tactical air would kill very few ground forces. The Air Force challenged the analysis, and it was agreed to conduct a joint OSD/Air Force analysis to agree on inputs so there would be no disagreement on the output. Agreement was very difficult.
The Air Force team was headed by the assistant for analysis from Air Force Plans. At one point, OSD requested that he be replaced. Maj. Gen. Richard H. Ellis, Air Force director of plans, recommended to Harold Brown, Secretary of the Air Force, that he reject the OSD request.
In the midst of this joint effort, war broke out between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Secretary Brown directed that the OSD analysis be applied to that conflict to determine real-world validity. The results overwhelmingly disproved the OSD analysis. Brown sent a memo describing the application of the analysis and the results to the Secretary of Defense and to Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who sent it to all the services and joint commands. The joint study effort was disbanded.
Lt. Gen. Howard M. Fish,USAF (Ret.)Shreveport, La.
The story “Emergence of Smart Bombs” by John Correll was excellent, and I read it with much interest [March, p. 60]. Actually the idea of using a laser for target marking and weapons delivery was first proposed by the late David Salonimer of the Army Missile Command, Huntsville. He sponsored two small R & D feasibility investigation contracts in 1964. One was awarded to North American, Autonetics division (the company noted in the article for their later work in this field on Paveway guidance), and one to RCA Aerospace Systems, Burlington, Mass.
At RCA, principal investigator Michael Cantella was the first to demonstrate feasibility, first in the laboratory and later in an airborne implementation. The demonstrations involved use of a gated image system (image orthicon TV camera) for a receiver with a ruby laser target marker. The use of an IR laser that came as a successful later development was not possible in this pioneer work since TV camera tubes have poor sensitivity outside of the visible spectrum. The RCA/Cantella airborne system was flown in a Piper Apache aircraft in early 1965 and demonstrated for a few days at each of several Army research centers and at Wright Field to Air Force personnel. I know this to be accurate information, having been involved directly with both Mr. Salonimer and Mr. Cantella in this technology achievement.
Fortunately, as frequently the case in technology breakthroughs, creative follow-on workers grasp, adapt, and carry new concepts to great distances, as was the case with Col. Joseph Davis Jr. and those who came later. (Mr. Cantella has remained active to this day in IR military technology—a renowned consultant for many years at MIT Lincoln Laboratories.)
Paul SeeleyWellesley, Mass.
The article by Mr. Correll on smart bombs in the March issue certainly covered most aspects of this history. However, since laser guided bombs (LGB) received the bulk of this summary, I would like to entertain a few comments about the electro-optical (TV) systems that were first deployed to Ubon Air Base,Thailand. In 1969/70 I was a field representative for Rockwell International/USAF for the (TV) Homing Bomb System (Hobos) and was assigned to Ubon.
The original Paveway Project at Eglin AFB, Fla., in the late 1960s had three divisions. Paveway I was the LGBs, Paveway II was (TV) electro-optical (Homing Bomb System-Hobos), and Paveway III was infrared guidance (which was never deployed).
As previously addressed [in the article], the LGBs deployed to Ubon Air Base in May 1968. In January 1969, the Hobos arrived and made an immediate impact by destroying an enemy storage munitions area, which in this case was housed in a mountain. With only a small cave entrance area for the target, the Hobos flew into the opening and exploded the tunnels of munitions. The mountain burned for two days. Previously, other sorties with various bombs could not damage this target. This demonstration utilized the low flight angle and the three-to-one L/D that was an inherent capability of the Hobos design in this mission. Other major targets that were later destroyed were a five-span bridge brought down by four systems (three on the same abutment) and major mountain roads closed, with systems being launched 12 miles away from the target. Thus, high-value targets that required precise impact angles with standoff capability became the major tasking for Hobos in the Vietnam War.
While LGBs were the majority of weapons launched in Vietnam, approximately 500 Hobos,out of approximately 4,000 built, were launched, and according to USAF records resulted in a CEP of 7.1 feet. In later years, the GBU-15 would even improve on the CEP and was approaching an all-weather capability.
Pete PetersenWinder, Ga.
I just finished reading your interesting “Emergence of Smart Bombs” article in the March edition of the Air Force Magazine. It brought back many memories, and I thought your readers might be interested in a short addendum to the article, with a Navy slant. In January of 1972, I deployed on USS Hancock in VA-212 flying A-4F Skyhawks. There were three A-4 squadrons on board, with VA-55 and VA-164 joining the VA-212 Rampant Raiders. Each of the squadrons had a designated area of expertise with respect to the new “smart weapons” of the time. VA-55 had the required sensors and concentrated on Shrike missions and SA-2 suppression; VA-212 had a small TV mounted in the instrument panel and was the Walleye squadron; and VA-164 brought along a couple of TA-4s and handheld laser designators similar to the “Zots” described in your article. I vividly remember being glad that I was not flying or in the backseat of a VA-164 TA-4F over a target in North Vietnam in a 30 degree angle of bank at 250 knots trying to designate a target. While crude by today’s standards, I’m not sure many folks know that tactical “smart weapons” actually got their start in Vietnam.
Cmdr. Greg Marshall, USN (Ret.) Penn Valley, Calif.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
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