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Published Airpower Journal- Summer 1999


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The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

––William Shakespeare
Henry VI, Part 2


Strategy and the Revolution in Military Affairs: From Theory to Policy by Steven Metz and James Kievit. Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania 17013-5050, 27 June 1995, 38 pages, free.

Strategy and the Revolution in Military Affairs could just as easily have been entitled What Every Officer Should Know about the RMA. Since its two authors are well-respected military analysts, yet not proponents of any one revolution in military affairs (RMA) theory, they have been able to address this subject matter objectively. As a result, this succinctly written report represents the best synthesis of open-source literature on the RMA published to date.

The body of the report is divided into five sections covering the context within which the RMA is set, the orthodoxy surrounding it, theoretical insights gained from the generation of hypotheses, policy implications of pursuing the current “minor” RMA, and policy options for the future. In regard to the context of the RMA, it can be found to originate in Soviet concepts of a developing military technical revolution (MTR) back in the 1970s and 1980s. In America, a small band of RMA analysts emerged, for the most part in response to the stunning, one-sided victory that took place during the Gulf War. They have focused on defining and describing military revolutions so that the one envisioned as now taking place could be put in its proper historical context.

At a minimum, there is consensus that standoff precision strikes; advanced command, control, and intelligence (C2I); information warfare; and nonlethality are thought to characterize the current RMA. If American forces can harness these new technologies and concepts, they will provide us with many politico-military advantages as proven by the Gulf War. Less consensus exists concerning the significance of the second stage of this RMA, based on advances in robotics, cyber defense, internetted structures, and other forms of emerging technologies.

Because this is still a relatively new field of research, disagreement exists among these analysts concerning what constitutes a military revolution beyond a “discontinuous rise in military capability and effectiveness.” What is needed is a mature theory to work from. Toward the building of this theory, hypotheses surrounding the configurations of military revolutions need to be developed, as does further identification of historical trends in combat effectiveness, military revolution processes, and the patterns they take.

With regard to the policy implications of pursuing the “minor” RMA now taking place, we must ask ourselves about its current utility to our armed forces and the nation they represent. Any cost-benefit analysis must take into consideration increased combat effectiveness against future opponents, likely countermeasures that will develop, our possible overreliance on military power to the exclusion of other forms of national policy, and the potential alienation of friends and allies due to our ever-growing military strength. To this analysis, we must also factor in the political ramifications of a new RMA-based force structure, an alteration in our deterrence capability, and a gradual US slide into strategic inferiority unless we pursue the RMA.

In conclusion, the report discusses policy options concerning future RMA-based paths available. We have three choices, each of which will greatly affect our security posture in the next century. The first is to continue on the path we are now on, aimed primarily at conventionally armed regional aggressors. The second is to put a brake on the RMA to consolidate our military advantages. And the third is to take the revolution in a new direction. It is imperative that we make the right choice and that it be as well informed a decision as possible.

One of the most important attributes of this report is its acknowledgment that both “major” and “minor” RMAs may exist—a position this RMA analyst has long advocated. Further, the discussion of what used to be called low intensity conflict as the potential dominant threat in the twenty-first century is highly significant. The authors recognize that a bandwidth problem may exist. If so, this means the United States is focusing on the wrong type of opponent—in general, a conventional, armor-heavy one like the Warsaw Pact or Iraq. The suggestion of a new, autonomous RMA organization—much like RAND of the 1950s—is a provocative and vital concept. Given the constraints imposed by our conventional military institutions, creativity in military thinking really needs to be actively fostered by such a group.

This report has two detractions. References to Marine Corps RMA contributions are, for the most part, absent. By this I specifically refer to the literature generated as an outcome of the “Fourth Generation Debate.” Additionally, the Russian perception of “Sixth Generation Warfare,” as expressed by Gen-Maj V. Slipchenko, has not been included. Still, these omissions in no way undermine the significant contribution this report represents.

As the authors rightfully suggest, it is now time that we examine currently held RMA assumptions with a set of hypotheses and link them to their potential policy implications. Without the development of a mature theory, the concern is that we will not understand how American force structure, doctrine, and grand strategy should be properly adapted if a “major” RMA is indeed taking place. Because of the national security implications of the policy recommendations made within this report, it is a must read for all military officers.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker
Claremont, California

The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory edited by Col Phillip S. Meilinger. Air University Press, 170 West Selfridge Street, Maxwell AFB, Alabama 36112-6610, 1997, 680 pages, $39.00.

The Paths of Heaven is an excellent introduction to basic airpower thinking as it has evolved from the early theories of Giulio Douhet (The Command of the Air) right through those of Col John Warden (The Air Campaign).The book is arranged chronologically, starting with Douhet and ending with a thought-provoking article by Dr. I. B. Holley Jr. that challenges future airpower theorists to learn from their predecessors and outdo them, both in objectivity and rigorous analysis.

The book provides a good sampling of prominent airpower thinkers from various nations and includes pieces on the usual icons (Douhet, Billy Mitchell, Hugh Trenchard, John Slessor, Alexander de Seversky, the Air Corps Tactical School staff, John Boyd, and Warden). One of the book’s greatest strengths, though, is the editor’s willingness to draw on a diverse group of contributors. Colonel Meilinger includes articles on airpower as conceived and applied by the US Navy, Continental Europeans during the interwar years (1919–39), the former Soviet Union, and NATO. The articles show how divergent trends in airpower development either helped or hindered the organizations and nations involved, as well as provided a historical context for understanding the actions of those actors. There are also chapters on areas with which most US airmen of any service are familiar (nuclear conflict, low intensity conflict, and interservice integration [US AirLand Battle doctrine]) but perhaps understand less well than they would like to admit. I presume much when I attempt to criticize such an undertaking, but the book has some shortcomings—the most glaring of these being the chapter on space power.

Instead of discussing what little doctrine exists relative to space and the need for reasoned, balanced thinking in this area, the contributing author takes the opportunity to argue a thesis for dividing airpower from space power and creating a fourth service. Whatever the merits of the argument, I would say that it is misplaced in this book. Although the discussion is very timely and the essay well reasoned, it is an attempt at persuasion—not a discussion of doctrine. As such, it belongs in the pages of Airpower Journal—not in a book about the evolution of airpower theory.

However, an aspect of airpower thought missing altogether is the increasingly important one known as “operations other than war.” This area is difficult to grasp and understand, but it is making up a larger and larger part of airpower’s everyday commitments around the world. A discussion of what meager doctrine exists and the way it has been applied, for better or worse, would round out the offerings contained herein. Further, the absence of a bibliography—perhaps one focusing on the seminal thinkers (and the availability of their works) addressed in this volume—is a small matter but would provide a ready guide for people interested in reading the original authors.

In summary, The Paths of Heaven provides an outstanding single-volume collation of airpower thinking as it has evolved through this century. The quality of the articles is consistent throughout, and they are thoroughly researched and well written. The book is an excellent primer for people who have heard the names of the famous theorists but aren’t very conversant with their thoughts. It is a must read for any young officer who is serious about learning more about the evolution of airpower thinking.

Capt Golda T. Eldridge Jr., USAF
Hickam AFB, Hawaii

Historians reach out to current decision makers in this discourse on where the Air Force has been and where it is going. From Douhet and Mitchell to space-control theory, today’s best airpower scholars examine the driving intellectual forces of the Air Force mission. Painstaking documentation ensures objectivity. Paths of Heaven should become a primer for military-education programs. Professors of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies offer here a single-source document for the history of airpower theory, filling a void and encouraging further critical thinking.

A detailed history lesson at the start gives way to a more dynamic treatment of current air- and space-employment theory. For example, chapter 6 tells how the Air Corps Tactical School assembled the controversial plan of high-altitude precision daylight bombardment. Later, Col Maris McCrabb summarizes NATO air doctrine concisely with a hint of the future. In chapter 11, Dr. Harold R. Winton retraces the Army and Air Force doctrinal dance between 1973 and 1990. He stops short of Desert Storm, to which he refers briefly as a “dialogue of the deaf”(page 433). I hope that book is in the works. Finally, the theories of John Boyd and John Warden earn a chapter, Russian perspectives are charted, and space and air doctrine is dissected and compared.

At the end, an essay by Dr. I. B. Holley (major general, USAF, Retired) offers context for the various thinkers and visionaries. He ties the common threads from Douhet to nukes with a challenge to service education to keep pace.

The book should serve as armor for senior leaders who make resource decisions and fight the Air Force’s doctrine wars and as a catalyst for the next generation of airpower advocates. I recommend that Air University Press convert this world-class academic compendium to CD ROM format with animated chapter summaries and issue it to all new Air Force officers. The test will come in the decisions they make in their lifetimes.

Col James E. Roper, USAF, Retired
Colorado Springs, Colorado

The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Jupiters, 1957–1963 by Philip Nash. University of North Carolina Press, P.O. Box 2288, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2288, 1997, 231 pages, $18.95.

One can divide The Other Missiles of October into two parts: the deployment of Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM), which was far more difficult than the Eisenhower administration imagined, and their removal by the Kennedy administration after the Cuban missile crisis. The book also delivers great insight into US-allied relationships that dominated the debate about placement and removal of these missiles.

With the launch of sputnik, the Eisenhower administration and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) faced a credibility issue: how to deal with the fact that the dramatic space exploits of the Soviet Union succeeded in decoupling Western European countries from the United States. Nuclear deterrence and allied perceptions were at the heart of the matter. In the discussions following the Suez crisis in 1956, the United States and the United Kingdom obtained a commitment for 60 Thor missiles to be deployed with the Royal Air Force in Britain. One must recall that at this time the United States was still working on Atlas, its first true intercontinental ballistic missile, and thus could not provide a “shield” over Europe. The other IRBM developed by the US defense establishment was the Jupiter. Feeling the domestic pressure to respond to Soviet superiority in space, the Eisenhower administration agreed first to produce both IRBMs and to provide them to allies in an attempt to shore up European nerves more than defenses.

One of the key deficiencies of Jupiter and Thor was their vulnerability: instead of being placed in a silo, they were raised on a launchpad above ground, with no protection. In the words of congressional investigative committees, their launch sites were “vulnerable to saboteurs armed with hunting rifles.” Further, the missiles’ reaction time was not satisfactory—15 minutes from alert notification. Although USAF personnel were to keep the nuclear warheads separate from the missiles, which were to be operated by host-nation personnel, in reality the warheads were mated to the missiles. Moreover, in order to launch the missile, one only had to pump the volatile mixture of kerosene and liquid into it. Thus it was possible for host nations to launch their own unauthorized nuclear strike, a prospect that congressional investigators complained about and that frightened President Kennedy.

Once the decision had been made to deploy the Jupiters, Air Force general Lauris Norstad, supreme allied commander Europe, had to find takers for these missiles. This task turned out to be as difficult as later cruise-missile deployments in 1989. Due to budget cutting, only 60 Jupiters were deployed—45 to Italy and 15 to Turkey. The deployment to Turkey would later haunt the Kennedy administration. President Eisenhower, already debating the wisdom of deploying missiles so close to the Soviet Union, discounted his own doubts and passed the problem on to the incoming Kennedy administration. Kennedy also questioned the deployment decision but, distracted by other problems and the feeling that Turkish ties to the West and the NATO alliance would be strained, deployed them anyway. Allied insecurity could be relieved only by US nuclear weapons. Interestingly, Italy had accepted the Jupiters to gain additional leverage within the NATO alliance, while Turkey was concerned about weakening US resolve in the face of Soviet aggression and technical superiority.

The deployed missiles soon became a thorn in Premier Khrushchev’s side, especially those in Turkey, which could threaten key cities inside the Russian heartland. Castro’s takeover of Cuba and the Bay of Pigs disaster provided Khrushchev the opportunity to deploy his own IRBMs. This action led to the Cuban missile crisis, but President Kennedy worried that the missiles in Turkey would prove to be a greater liability than asset. During the crisis, the Jupiters were not bargained in a formal sense, but as Nash makes clear, they were part of informal bargaining led by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Their end came quickly and quietly. The Jupiters were dismantled, despite the fact that the military considered them an asset and was not willing to part with them.

Because these missiles were rarely discussed in the extensive literature of the Cuban missile crisis, this book fills a void. One subject to which the author could have devoted more space is the Thor missiles. These IRBMs were deployed in different circumstances but are also related to the Cuban missile crisis, in the sense that Prime Minister Harold Macmillan offered them in exchange for the Soviet IRBMs in Cuba. Nash has done an excellent job of explaining the political and military background against which deployment and removal occurred. The NATO interrelationships make The Other Missiles of October a worthwhile book for NATO scholars as well.

Capt Gilles Van Nederveen, USAF
RAF Waddington, England

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult by Robert P. Newman. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Michigan 48823-5202, 1995, 272 pages, $30.00.

World War II was brought to a close in August 1945 by the atomic bombing of Japan. Few events have generated as many books and articles or as much controversy as the circumstances surrounding the bombing. The 50th anniversary of the bombing saw a watershed of new, reissued, and revised works on the subject. By and large, one can characterize these works as traditionalist or revisionist, providing two distinctly differing views of the bombing.

The traditionalist view maintains that the bombs were necessary to end or hasten the end of the war—that their use saved many American and Japanese lives by avoiding an invasion. The revisionist view grew out of the 1960s, declaring that the bombs were not necessary to end the war because the Japanese were ready to surrender, or that even if an invasion were necessary, it would not have cost many lives. Revisionists typically view the use of the atomic bombs as racially or politically—not militarily—motivated. This explanation is a simplification of both positions, but it is representative of each.

The “Hiroshima cult” Dr. Newman refers to in his title embraces the revisionist views almost dogmatically. In his words, this cult is an “ahistorical group who grew up during the Vietnam era of distrust of the government and the military. The cult has its own holy day, 6 August; its own shrine, Hiroshima; and as stated above, its own written beliefs.” Dr. Newman wrote Truman and the Hiroshima Cult as an answer to what he believes are the historical distortions of the cult. Therefore, the book is not about the development of the atomic bombs or the men who dropped them. It is about the decision to use them and the “what ifs” that historians, traditional and revisionist alike, have batted about for the past 50 years.

The book contains eight chapters, two hundred pages of text, and 70 pages of notes. In that 270 pages, Dr. Newman takes the reader through a thorough discussion of the factors involved in dropping the bomb, the military situation in the Pacific, and, ultimately, the evolution of the Hiroshima cult in the 1960s and beyond. The chapter titles show the direction taken by the author: “Why Did Truman Drop the Bomb?” “Was Japan Ready to Surrender?” “Was the Policy of Unconditional Surrender Justified?” “Why No Warning or Demonstration?” “Was a Second Bomb Necessary to End the War?” “Was Dropping These Bombs Morally Justified?” “Why Has the ‘Japan-as-Victim’ Myth Been So Attractive?” and “What If the Bomb Had Not Been Used?”

Newman has a very readable style made authoritative by his extensive documentation and research. He is so careful with sourcing that one has no questions about the origins of facts or opinions. Further, he tends to drop a bombshell or two in each of the chapters.

In chapter two, for example, he clearly shows that the conclusions contained in the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) summary report about early Japanese surrender were wrong. Newman found them to be based on the beliefs of Paul Nitze, the on-scene team chief, rather than on any facts or material gleaned from interrogations of high-ranking Japanese military and political leaders. Nitze was a strategic bombing advocate; it was his opinion that the atomic weapons were nothing more than “bigger bombs.” He used his position to ensure that the summary report emphasized the role of conventional strategic bombing in ending the war in the Pacific. The USSBS interrogations clearly show that, barring some other change to the status quo, Japan would have fought on for months and bitterly opposed any attempt at invasion. The conventional bombing, while devastating, would not have brought about surrender. The insertion of Nitze’s beliefs as fact in the USSBS summary is no small manipulation of history. The USSBS summary has been taken as gospel for the last 50 years by many revisionists and some traditionalists to support different interpretations of the atomic bombing. Dr. Newman is one of only a handful of researchers to point out this distortion.

Revisionists routinely claim that using the bombs killed more people than allowing the Japanese to surrender on their own or even executing the invasion in November 1945. What if the United States hadn’t used the bombs? Newman’s research indicates that the consequences of not dropping the bombs in August 1945 would have been grim indeed. Assuming the invasion occurred as scheduled in November and not counting the actual casualties of the invasion itself, Newman conservatively estimates that three hundred thousand people would have died each month the war continued past mid-August 1945, based on death-rate figures from the United Nations and other sources. About 80 percent of those deaths would have occurred in Japanese-occupied territory, where the casualty rate would have certainly escalated as Japan’s position grew more desperate. The rest would have died as a result of combat and the continued bombing of Japanese cities. All things considered, had the fighting gone into 1946, the additional death toll as a result of the Pacific war would have easily exceeded two million people. Again, this does not include the direct cost in American and Japanese lives due to invasion. The three hundred thousand casualties from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while regrettable, pale in comparison, especially when one remembers that in Asia over 17 million people died at Japanese hands from 1932 to 1945.

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult proved a difficult work to review adequately without spoiling it for future readers. I purposely avoided a detailed discussion of “the cult” for this reason. I found it to be so powerful that I read eight other recent works on the subject, both traditionalist and revisionist, to check facts and “sample the competition” before writing this review. Although several works go into more detail about some of the specific points brought out by Newman, none were as compelling or as complete. Truman and the Hiroshima Cult will be the standard to which all other works on the subject will be compared. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the debate on the atomic bombing of Japan. True members of “the cult” will not be swayed, but readers who value reasoning, logic, and fact will.

Lt Col David Howard, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama

The Undetected Enemy: French and American Miscalculations at Dien Bien Phu, 1953 by John R. Nordell Jr. Texas A&M University Press, Drawer C, College Station, Texas 77843, 1995, 233 pages.

The Vietminh’s defeat of the French colonial force at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 is the best known military operation of the French-Indochina War. One still wonders how French commanders could have erred so grievously in selecting and defending a position as poor as Dien Bien Phu from which to conduct military operations. John R. Nordell Jr., in The Undetected Enemy, purports to explain the strategic, tactical, logistic, and intelligence considerations behind the French High Command’s decision to fortify and fight at Dien Bien Phu and to answer what Nordell calls the “decades-old question, ‘Pourquoi Dien Bien Phu?’”(page xii).

Unfortunately, Nordell offers few new insights into the events leading up to the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu. He relates French decision makers’ disregard of logistical and intelligence considerations in their plan to use Dien Bien Phu as a base of operations against Vietminh guerrillas and regulars; Gen Vo Nguyen Giap’s subsequent plan to surround and destroy the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu; and the French High Command’s mistaken assumptions that active infantry patrolling, artillery support, and airlift from Hanoi could make Dien Bien Phu a tenable position. Nordell also presents the standard interpretation of why the French fell into the Dien Bien Phu trap.

Nordell claims to base his narrative primarily on declassified archival documents, memories, and contemporary press reports. Indeed, he does reference recently declassified Pentagon reports. However, he often copies those reports verbatim into his narrative, with little or no explanation. For example, Nordell inserts into his text a turgid, five-page Joint Strategic Plans Committee analysis of the French position at Dien Bien Phu and then simply ends his chapter with no analysis of the contents of that report. In addition, if one closely examines Nordell’s sources, it becomes clear that he borrowed a disproportionate number of his references from other authors’ works, particularly Bernard Fall’s Hell in a Very Small Place and Jules Roy’s The Battle of Dien Bien Phu. One such case is Nordell’s quote of what appears to be a contemporary account: Brig Gen Jean Gilles’s warning to Col Christian De Castries, Gilles’s successor as commander of the garrison at Dien Bien Phu, that “if you lose an inch of ground, you are done for” (page 84). However, closer examination reveals that Nordell’s source is Roy’s The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, rather than Gilles’s or De Castries’s memoirs.

Nordell deserves credit for producing an interesting and well-written narrative of the French High Command’s decision to garrison Dien Bien Phu, as well as American reactions to that decision. However, The Undetected Enemy adds little new to our understanding of why the French chose to stand and fight at Dien Bien Phu. As Nordell’s notes suggest, a better place to find the answer to “Pourquoi Dien Bien Phu?” remains the work of either Fall or Roy.

Capt John E. Grenier, USAF
USAF Academy, Colorado

The Corona Project: America’s First Spy Satellites by Curtis Peebles. Naval Institute Press, 118 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, Maryland 21402, 1997, 368 pages, $36.95.

One of the enduring lessons of warfare is the advantage of taking and holding the high ground. The edge gained from being able to look down upon the enemy, detect his scheme of maneuver, and counter it from a position of dominance has long been recognized by military strategists. The need to deny this advantage to the enemy led to pioneering efforts in aerial combat in the early twentieth century and, in turn, revolutionized warfare. Today, and increasingly so in the future, that high ground is represented by space.

Just as present-day airmen trace their roots to the storied men from Dayton, future members of the US military who ply their trade above the surface of the earth will someday look back to the pioneers of the American space community. One of the central stories of the birth and early growth of our national efforts in space is detailed in The Corona Project. With this book, Curtis Peebles has completed a protracted struggle to bring to light the long-classified tale of how our nation went about preventing another Pearl Harbor during the cold war. Many aspects of that program led to today’s highly protected “national technical means” of intelligence collection, but this account gives the reader great insight into the long and difficult rise of our first space-based reconnaissance capabilities. An aerospace historian with an international audience, Peebles has woven together primary source documents recently declassified on Corona with first-person interviews and has then married this insider knowledge with leading historical texts on the early space period. The combination is a compelling story of American “can do” spirit.

Following World War II, the United States and the USSR emerged as the two major world political and military powers. Among other rationales, the USSR’s detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 made it absolutely critical to the American leadership that military developments in the Soviet Union be closely monitored in order to prevent another Pearl Harbor—this time directed against the continental United States and with potentially far more catastrophic results. The challenge was the closed nature of the Soviet Union and the tight security measures that began at its borders. Under President Eisenhower classified, high-altitude, unmanned balloons and manned U-2 aerial-reconnaissance overflight programs were initiated to peek into the Soviet interior. Both, however, featured serious limitations. Since the balloons were subject to the capriciousness of the winds, they could not be directed to collect against specific targets. The U-2 did not have this problem, but its shortfall became all too evident with the shoot down of Francis Gary Powers. Clearly, we needed an alternative, and with a boost from the Soviets’ sputnik launch, space-based collection gained momentum as the preferred option. Project Corona represented that option.

Corona combined the ability of Americans to overcome the technological and sometimes bureaucratic barriers to gaining the “higher ground” of space. Despite many early failures, Project Corona left an extensive trail of significant accomplishments. With 145 launches from 1959 until the project’s end in 1972, Corona missions were successful in debunking the concern over suspected numerical advantages of Soviet bombers and missiles (the famous “gaps”) in the 1960s, providing key understanding of the level of effort the Soviets eventually did put into these programs. The missions also gave the United States a clear edge over any other nation in “strategic” intelligence. In addition to military intelligence, Corona missions provided the West with news of the dramatic failure of the USSR’s moon project. But as Peebles points out, Corona’s greatest legacy stems from the lessons it taught US national leadership about groundbreaking and often costly programs and the fact that they often must be pursued despite what accountants might say. In the long run, our nation is respected around the world because we dare to try.

Peebles recounts three main themes that are set against the strategic drama of the cold war: the development and flight of the satellites, the development of recovery techniques by some unique airmen, and the impact of the information these early spy satellites gave the National Command Authorities. Getting the program literally “off the ground” was an unprecedented challenge. Imagine a groundbreaking development effort whose genesis lay in plans developed in a hotel room and hand-drawn on letter paper. Then try to see yourself as the program manager who must convince the president that, despite 12 unsuccessful missions, the program still needed to go forward. Although each failure actually carried the program closer to the goal of photos from the ultimate high ground, it was still a hard sell. Nevertheless, Ike didn’t hesitate to give the order to press ahead.

Closer to home were the equally experimental methods developed to recover the film as it returned to earth. First with specially configured C-119s and later C-130s, aircrews practiced and perfected techniques that resulted in a midair catch of the film-return capsule’s parachute. This method was successful only due to the flying skill of the airmen and their willingness to experiment with different methods of rigging the hook assemblies. On a few occasions, the capsule went into the ocean and was recovered by US Navy or US Air Force pararescuemen. During one such situation, the capsule landed in the water but wasn’t spotted until late in the afternoon. Two USAF pararescuemen floated with the capsule overnight in a rolling sea and were recovered the next morning cold and drenched but successful in their mission. Airmanship and sacrifice come in many forms.

Peebles provides numerous examples of the impact that Corona photos had on our national decision making. One of the first photos revealed a significant explosion at a Soviet missile-test complex. This event was later determined to be a failed ICBM test launch that caused over 165 deaths, including those of several senior Soviet officials. News of the event eventually came out in the Western press, but no word of it reached the Soviet people until some 30 years later. This contrast reinforced the need for information in an open society and showcased the stark reality of the risks in missile development.

The author’s writing style leads the reader from one theme to another with great ease. One readily wants to look ahead and find out how the significant obstacles that met the program every step of the way were overcome. His research accounts for all of the major aspects of the effort without descending into the minutiae that accompany many official histories. By keeping details tied to the strategic context, the book easily lends itself to becoming required reading for anyone starting out on the path to understanding current space issues.

The accounts of the film-capsule recoveries remind members of the world’s greatest air force of the need to be creative and willing to take risks when the defense of the nation is on the line. Senior decision makers should reflect on the trust the US cold war leadership placed in Dr. Land and the people involved in pushing the technology envelope, despite the soaring cost overruns. Most of the great leaps forward for which Americans are world famous would have never passed the muster of the “whiz kids’” logic. Peebles successfully reminds us that leadership in space requires real people solving difficult challenges backed by strong programmatic support from the top. Anyone suggesting that the US Air Force is the rightful steward of military space for the nation can thank the pioneers of Corona for showing the way upward. And the men and women of Corona can be proud of the way Curtis Peebles has finally shed light on their work.

As airmen, we need to view this project in the same vein as the first aircraft experiments of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Benjamin Foulois, Thomas DeWitt Milling (first bombsight test, 1911), and Charles DeForest Chandler (first Lewis gun test, 1912), in that these pioneers were working on the issues of how, not if, airpower technology could be used for national defense. Men like Merton Davies and Amrom Katz, the acknowledged creators of Corona, saw the path ahead and never gave up on reaching their goal—a global national reconnaissance system. When space travel and eventually space defense become as commonplace as air travel and peacekeeping are today, their names should be remembered for beginning the military’s move to space. The question airmen should be asking when pondering the future of the Air Force is not if but how we will defend our national interests in and from space. Today, we are an aerospace force that depends on both air and space systems to do the mission. Tomorrow, we will see the need for moving some of our most cherished air capabilities to space. We airmen, whether fighter pilot, satellite controller, or logistician, must always be open and willing to pursue new ways that are risky and far different from “what worked in the last war.” The men and women of Project Corona did just that.

Lt Col William T. Eliason, USAF
Washington, D.C.

Eagles by Ray Rosenbaum. Presidio Press, 505B San Marin Drive, Suite 300, Novato, California 94945-1340, 1996, 353 pages, $22.95.

After reading the first few pages of a book, have you ever asked yourself why you picked it up in the first place? Well, Eagles, by Ray Rosenbaum, was such a book, and my commitment to Airpower Journal to write this review was the only reason I finished it.

Eagles is the fourth installment in Rosenbaum’s “Wings of War” series. It centers on Maj Ross Colyer, veteran fighter pilot, natural leader, and all-American boy who can do no wrong. He has, of course, a beautiful wife who develops a career in journalism to be productive during his long absences.

Colyer’s exploits in this book include realistic descriptions of the early years of the US Air Force, the introduction of jet aircraft—especially the F-80 Shooting Star—the Berlin airlift with its disorganized start, and the first year of the Korean War. The author does portray these significant events with historical accuracy. The reader quickly realizes that the Air Force’s safety record was horrendous at the beginning of the jet age, tactical control of combat aircraft was primitive by today’s standards, and organization of airlift forces was haphazard.

The book begins with Colyer flight-testing a P-51 at Wright Field, Ohio, and suddenly being diverted to search for wreckage of an F-80. Shortly thereafter he is selected to fly in the Berlin airlift. He flies a C-47 across the Atlantic to Germany, becomes depressed because he has to fly transports instead of fighters, and flies several missions into Berlin. Colyer is then handpicked to fly a small aircraft—the Norduyn Norseman—covertly into East Germany to pick up a defecting Soviet atomic-bomb scientist.

After that assignment, he flies as a passenger to Langley Field, Virginia, where the C-54 he is in crashes, nearly killing him, but he survives and is grounded for a few months with a severe hand injury. While recovering, he finishes his engineering degree and eventually returns to flying—this time to his dream, the F-80, which is still having mechanical problems. Colyer then goes to McChord Field, Washington, and finally to Korea.

Rosenbaum effectively immerses the reader in the disastrous first year of the Korean War, a conflict that caught America unprepared. Ineffective and crude tactical air control causes one disaster that results in the death of Colyer’s sponsor, General Cipolla. Colyer is given the job of correcting this command and control problem, which he does with a dramatic and successful mission.

Large segments of Eagles spend considerable time describing the atmosphere of the cold war by examining the life of a talented Soviet MiG-15 pilot, Yuri Pavel, and his training of Chinese pilots who are preparing to assist North Korea. The third world conditions of China in 1950 are revealed as Pavel attempts to teach his inexperienced students. The last fighter battle in the book is between Pavel and a young F-86 pilot, Kyle Wilson. The Soviet loses, but Wilson is shot down, captured, and makes an unlikely escape.

The historical significance of this book is offset by serious literary shortcomings. These include stereotyped characters, a predictable and dull plot sporadically punctuated by unbelievable events, and trite and artificial dialogue that is simply out of place. The language is unintentionally awkward, as illustrated by the liberal use of terms such as mug, alcohol-fogged brain, flaming hell, and awesome. Transitions between major scenes are also awkward, with the reader required to pause periodically to regain “plot situational awareness.”

Although it has some historical value, Eagles serves another purpose—motivating budding writers, because if a story like this can be published, you too can learn to write! I do not recommend this book, even if it is free.

Maj Phil Bossert, USAF
Scott AFB, Illinois

Blankets of Fire: U.S. Bombers over Japan during World War II by Kenneth P. Werrell. Smithsonian Institution Press, 470 L’Enfant Plaza, Suite 7100, Washington, D.C. 20560, 1996, 350 pages, $39.95.

The 50th anniversary of the atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the resulting controversy over the display of the Enola Gay, provided ample evidence of how few people were able (or perhaps willing) to place these events in context of the strategic-bombing campaign waged against Japan. Ironically, this subject has suffered more from mistreatment than ne-glect (e.g., see Dr. Jeffery J. Roberts’s article “Peering through Different Bombsights: Military Historians, Diplomatic Historians, and the Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb” in the Spring 1998 issue of Airpower Journal).

Although arriving too late to join that debate, Blankets of Fire surpasses previous works by asking better, although not unique, questions, such as “How did an air force committed to daylight, high altitude, precision bombing of point targets end up dropping bombs on cities and civilians? And, after all was said and done, how much did the bombing contribute to the defeat of our enemies?” The answers benefit from the author’s unique blend of scholarship and practical experience. In the process Dr. Werrell presents a comprehensive look at the B-29, its World War II operations, and its impact.

Many readers will recognize Dr. Werrell from his other works, including past contributions to APJ and its predecessor (Air University Review). As one might expect, Blankets of Fire is thoroughly researched, well written, and supported by extensive sources and statistics. Moreover, Werrell explains in the preface that he feels he was destined to write this book. While stationed in Japan in the early 1960s, he piloted a WB-50, a derivative of the B-29 used for weather-reconnaissance flights. This experience not only provided incentive for the book but also gave him significant expertise and some insight into events without the potential biases of an actual participant.

Beginning with the evolution of US strategic-bombing theory, Werrell establishes the basis for both the doctrine of daylight precision bombardment and the development of aircraft such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and a long-range heavy bomber that would become the B-29. He then takes us through the complex and troubled development history of that aircraft. Sometimes called Gen Henry “Hap” Arnold’s “three billion dollar gamble,” the B-29 was the most ambitious aircraft program of the war—and the most expensive (surpassing the $2 billion spent to develop the atomic bomb). Plagued by technical difficulties—including engines prone to catch fire—contractors, maintainers, and crews fought the difficult and often dangerous “Battle of Kansas” trying to field operational aircraft with trained crews. Werrell concludes that they were ultimately successful, but this was a balancing act—fielding something good enough and soon enough in a wartime situation—and readers should judge for themselves.

Just where were they headed? The narrative lays out the political and military calculations that initially committed them to the China-Burma-India theater under the code name Matterhorn in April 1944. The logistics of staging out of India and the austerity of the advanced bases in China became legend, with the operation proving little other than a baptism of fire for men and planes. Werrell notes that a change of commanders—an impatient Arnold sending in the hard-driving Maj Gen Curtis LeMay—produced few tangible results but enhanced LeMay’s reputation as a combat leader and innovator.

Initial operations from the Mariana Islands paralleled more than built upon the China experience. (This is one of the strengths of Werrell’s narrative: going beyond mere chronology to examine the effects that operations or developments in one area really had on plans or operations elsewhere.) The first daylight raids on precision targets in Japan were characterized by high abort rates, inclement weather, and poor bombing accuracy—disappointing but not altogether surprising results. Because Arnold wanted more and couldn’t wait, he again called on LeMay. Werrell examines the command shake-up and the chain of events that led to the first fire raid on Tokyo during the night of 9–10 March 1945. LeMay’s change in tactics to low-level attacks at night was a calculated risk whose results set the stage for the devastation to follow.

As the title implies, incendiary raids against urban Japan serve as the focus for the book. However, Werrell addresses other operations that, to date, have received little notice compared to the fire raids and later atomic bombings. In particular he looks at the continued attempts and new techniques used to hit precision targets and the efforts devoted to naval mine laying.

Werrell gives a short but thorough overview of the issues and arguments regarding the atomic bombing, in the end asking, “Was the atomic bombing morally justified? Do the ends justify the means? These are difficult questions, especially many years after the fact when so many aspects of the situation remain in dispute and the terrible pressures and context of that time have long passed into history. The critical step was not the decision authorizing the use of the atomic bombs, but the earlier decisions that allowed the cities and civilians to be the targets of area bombing, first by Japan and Germany, then against Germany and Japan.”

A chapter entitled “Futile Victory?” summarizes the lessons from the campaign and its impact on the war. Low-altitude incendiary attacks at night broke completely with prior doctrine and were devastatingly effective. However, the strangulation of Japan, in part due to the B-29 mining campaign, meant that these attacks had far more effect on Japan’s will to fight than on its economic capacity to continue the war.

Obviously, one would recommend Blankets of Fire to readers interested in serious study of strategic bombing or the war in the Pacific. Other facets of this story—advanced weapon development and acquisition risk management as well as command relations and expeditionary war fighting—have special relevance as we look to the future. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Dr. Werrell’s study provides an unusual opportunity for us to consider air warfare as a whole by examining all the ingredients (technology, doctrine, logistics, training, etc.) that went into this air campaign.

Maj Pete Osika, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama

Foundation of the Force: Air Force Enlisted Personnel Policy, 1907–1956 by Mark R. Grandstaff. Air Force History and Museums Program, Washington, D.C., 1997, 299 pages.

Writing some years ago in this country’s most prestigious historical journal, a leading scholar of military affairs pointed out an interesting paradox. Although service in the ranks has been a common experience shared by millions of our countrymen since colonial times, American historians have largely ignored the experience of enlisted military service as a subject of scholarly inquiry (Richard H. Kohn, “The Social History of the American Soldier: A Review and Prospectus for Research,” American Historical Review 86 [June 1981]: 553–54). For the nation’s air arm, that scholarly neglect has been admirably remedied by Mark R. Grandstaff’s Foundation of the Force: Air Force Enlisted Personnel Policy, 1907–1956.

In this carefully researched account, Grandstaff—a Brigham Young University history professor, Air Force Reserve officer, and former Navy enlisted man—examines the origins and progress of the Air Force enlisted component from the founding of the Aeronautical Division of the US Army Signal Corps in 1907 to the stabilization of Air Force enlisted personnel policy in the mid-1950s. Focusing primarily on professionalization of the noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps, the author sorts out the tangle of laws, policies, and historical events associated with formation of the independent Air Force’s rather distinctive military personnel system. The result is a major contribution to our understanding of the institutional and cultural history of our service.

In the broadest sense, Foundation of the Force is as much an inquiry into a specialized facet of labor relations as it is a study in military history. Informed by wide reading in the literature on business and personnel management, Grandstaff treats the evolution of the Air Force enlisted corps as an aspect of the ascendancy of big business in twentieth-century American society. Airpower Journal readers will be most interested in what this book discloses about the organizational culture of the Air Force enlisted corps.

On that score, Grandstaff emphasizes strong elements of continuity with the past. Amid the host of changes associated with the 40-year evolution of the Army’s air arm into a separate service, the cultural world of enlisted airmen changed very little. From its inception as an adjunct of the Signal Corps, the Air Force was centered on technology, and technology demanded enlisted men be able to master complex aviation skills. By the 1920s, if not before, Army Air Service troops were valued more for their technical proficiency than for excellence in traditional military pursuits. Over time, the advance of aviation technology further escalated requirements for skilled technicians and the need for increased functional specialization. According to Grandstaff, most enlisted members of the “old” Air Force (i.e., the Army Air Service/Army Air Corps/Army Air Forces) “were clearly technicians first, and soldiers, a distant second.”

The challenge of attracting and retaining a talented, technically oriented “work force” led old Air Force policy makers to adopt the assumptions, beliefs, and practices of the civilian business world. The result was a “progressive” approach toward recruiting, training, and retention that placed much more emphasis on opportunities to acquire a marketable skill than on appeals to an individual’s patriotism, desire to serve, and spirit of adventure. In that sense, the official Army Air Service recruiting motto of “Earn and Learn” was more than a little revealing.

One noted sociologist has categorized military members as primarily “institutional” or “occupational” in their professional values, behaviors, and attachments (Charles Moskos, “From Institution to Occupation: Trends in the Military Organization,” Armed Forces and Society 4 [1977]: 41–49; see also Moskos’s more recent The Military: More Than Just a Job? [New York: Pergamon-Brassey, 1988]). Institutional orientation denotes a strong attachment to military life as a calling, with emphasis on traditional customs and on such ideals as “service before self.” In contrast, occupationalists identify principally with their particular functional specialty and emphasize the job over membership in the organization. Grandstaff finds that previous generations of Air Force leaders earnestly crafted a personnel system whose incentives and rewards inexorably (if unintentionally) promoted a pronounced spirit of occupationalism in the ranks.

Grandstaff’s findings have important implications for the Air Force of our day. Writing about the early years of the cold war, he probably is correct that popular perceptions of an opportunity-rich and (compared to the older services) less “military” Air Force served to reduce traditional objections to a large peacetime military establishment. But one doubts whether that “kinder and gentler” image has much utility in this post-cold-war age of the Aerospace Expeditionary Force. In fact, the more pressing question now concerns the degree to which occupationalist tendencies spawned by the personnel policies of yesteryear are inhibiting the efforts of current leaders to engender a force-wide commitment to “core values” and an expeditionary mind-set.

Foundation of the Force casts much needed light on a neglected but vitally important aspect of Air Force history. It also serves as a timely and ironic reminder about the long reach of the law of unintended consequences.

James Titus
Maxwell AFB, Alabama

When the Airlines Went to War by Robert J. Serling. Kensington Publishing Corporation, 850 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10022, 1997, 310 pages, $24.00.

When the Airlines Went to War is an excellent description of the indispensable role played by US commercial airlines in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War. It is an interesting, historically accurate, entertaining, and well-written book that offers many practical lessons for today.

Serling skillfully explains chronologically the contributions of the airlines, including many vignettes about unusual missions, tales of survival, and the interaction of various personalities. Several themes resonate throughout the book, including the impact of strong leadership both in private industry and the military; the role of professional organizations; the technological advance of aviation and the subsequent improvements in safety and utility; the importance of long-term planning; and the indelible link among the military, government, and industry.

Serling begins in the post–World War I period, when the fledgling US airline industry was disorganized, struggling, and unsafe. Former colonel and West Pointer Edgar Gorrell, Billy Mitchell’s chief of staff in the American Expeditionary Force, is named the first president of the Air Transport Association (ATA) of America, which the major airlines formed in 1936. The purpose of the ATA was to give the airlines a unified voice in Washington, but Gorrell took it further by making it a clearinghouse for technological development and operational methods to improve air safety.

When the ATA was founded, the airlines had operated their own air traffic control system. Gorrell changed that by lobbying Washington successfully for federal funds to build a modern control system, weather stations, and navigation aids. Also that year, Gorrell began working with the airlines to develop a plan for quickly mobilizing in the event of a national emergency. This plan was partially implemented in 1938, when a major hurricane ravaged the east coast, and was fully implemented just after Pearl Harbor, when FDR nearly nationalized the airlines. This plan was the precursor to the creation in 1951 of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which today constitutes one-third of the total strategic airlift capacity of the US military.

At the beginning of World War II, the airlines initially turned over half their fleet of 359 aircraft to the Army Air Corps. But as crucial as these aircraft were, the experienced and skilled manpower provided by the airlines was just as important. This manpower included pilots, navigators, radio operators, maintenance and dispatch experts, aeronautical engineers, chief executive officers (CEO), and many others. This core of people trained tens of thousands of others in a short time, and by the end of the war, over three hundred thousand personnel were in the Air Transport Command and the Naval Air Transport Service, running a global airlift of unprecedented proportions.

Each airline made particular contributions, most based on the knowledge of the geographic areas they had concentrated on prior to the war. Over 44 airlines contributed, including the “big five” at that time: Pan American, Trans World Airlines, American, United, and Eastern. Although many of the CEOs were bitter rivals, during the war they all willingly contributed to the effort, many even refusing to make a profit on war contracts.

Two critically important airline contributions are worth mentioning. In December 1941, the airlines flew numerous sorties to Alaskan bases to prevent those outposts from being overrun by the Japanese. And during the first 75 days of the Korean War, the airlines supplied most of the trans-Pacific airlift until adequate military reserves could be called up.

This book contains many interesting anecdotes that prevent it from being too dry. Stories include one that explains how the first Air Force One, called the Sacred Cow, was created and another that describes how Eastern Airlines CEO Eddie Rickenbacker survived for 22 days in a raft after ditching in the Pacific Ocean. Other vignettes include accounts of the tough wartime conditions in which aircrews routinely flew, including severe weather, actual combat, and the practice of flying 250 hours in one month (today’s maximum is 125 hours).

The book’s only shortcoming is that it spends most of its time on World War II and briefly summarizes in only two chapters the monumental Berlin airlift and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. But overall, Serling supports his thesis that the airlines played an indispensable role in all these conflicts. According to Gen Hap Arnold, “the contribution to the military of our competitive civil carriers in equipment, trained personnel, operating methods, and knowledge has been of first importance in this war.”

I highly recommend When the Airlines Went to War. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of airpower in general and air mobility in particular.

Maj Phil Bossert, USAF
Scott AFB, Illinois


Disclaimer

The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.


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