Space Force: US Air Force finally realizes it might not be 1947 anymore - OPINION

2018/08/1534228194.jpg
Read: 9469     21:30     14 August 2018    

By David J. Habeger

The creation of the atomic bomb is most frequently mentioned in connection with President Harry S. Truman trying to speed the ending of WWII. Spectacular photographs of postwar tests proved highly influential to a curious public who eagerly absorbed the images of the mushroom cloud over the Bikini Atoll and the outrushing shock wave. During the first test, in 1946, 95 American, allied, and captured warships moored nearby could be seen in the before and after photographs.


The ‘after’ photographs clearly showed that warships were highly vulnerable to an atomic blast, at least nearby.

In the mid-1940s, atomic bombs were still quite heavy, about 10,000 pounds. Only the Boeing B-29 had the internal capacity and raw lifting power to deliver an atomic bomb. In an argument to be settled by an atomic bomb — and that was seen as the only kind of argument America would face — the answer was to fire up a B-29, load one of those bombs aboard and fly off to obliterate the target.

Simple, effective, and glorious. The Army, and the Navy, could have the day off ... and many days more. America's Armed Forces would now be dominated by men who saw themselves as primarily responsible for the victory of the United States in WWII — the ones who flew large, powerful bomber aircraft. My uncle was one of them.

From their viewpoint, other than a kind of worldwide ground police force and oceanic ‘coast guard’, there just wasn’t much need for the U.S. Army or Navy. Their budgets could be diverted to this new form of dominating and massively effective form of destructive power — destruction that was delivered only by a large, manned bomber.

Initially, the Army had been unenthusiastic about aircraft, seeing them as perhaps useful for reconnaissance and artillery spotting. Navy admirals shared that perspective until the guns for which their aircraft were supposed to spot were sunk to the bottom of Pearl Harbor along with their ships. One could argue the Army had its awakening when it was revealed Jimmy Doolittle and his group had successfully bombed Japan.


Taking full advantage of the respect that bombers enjoyed for their role in the World War II victory and the monopoly they possessed in delivering the atomic bomb, the focus of Army pilots for a completely separate military service greatly increased. Influential civilians like Stewart Symington made their own contributions to help turn the dream of Billy Mitchell into a reality.

In 1947, the U.S. Air Force was fully and completely separated from the Army via the National Defense Authorization Act of that year. It got its own secretary and a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in addition to already having the only means by which America could deliver an atomic weapon on an enemy.

Those were heady days for guys like my uncle, who less than 10 years earlier had been learning to fly in an open cockpit biplane. In 1938, flights at 100 miles per hour were still considered worth writing home about. Those pilots' stories, even of biplanes, enthralled Model T-bound, or horse-bound, or mule-bound families. Those sons and brothers definitely had the right stuff.

Unfortunately, the Korean War arrived as an untidy challenge. The use of the atom bomb was discussed continuously, but in addition to the now-better-understood "fallout," the mountainous North Korean terrain would have deflected and dissipated much of the energy released — not unlike the effect of the curvature of the Earth on an attacking naval fleet, dispersed over a hundred square miles of ocean.

Vietnam arrived next, another untidy conflict, and again, no nuclear weapon was used. This despite the fact that the bomb itself had been reduced to the size of a golf bag and could be carried by even fighter aircraft. Worse, by then the troublesome Navy had acquired the ability to execute nuclear attacks from its new and extremely expensive aircraft carriers. And most troublesome were nuclear warheads on missiles, launched by Navy submarines — all but undetectable — secure within the world's oceans.

Well, space opportunities did arise, and it didn’t help the Air Force that two of the first three American astronauts were Navy men. Plus, while exhilarating, rockets lacked the gravitas of the large, manned bombers disappearing into the distance on their way to obliterate a belligerent foe.

Leading cyber-protection for the nation is an important function but the lack of an obvious link to “air” makes that task an awkward fit for the Air Force. Plus it looks too much like an organization looking for relevance, budgetary and otherwise.

The idea of a separate space force for America has been discussed for decades, including when Eisenhower chose to centralize space activity in NASA, a civilian agency. It appears the Air Force just didn’t fully accept that space was the next place where they were best positioned to lead, and to leave their original mission — the "off we go into the wild blue yonder" mission — in the past. President Trump has determined that task was ignored too long by Air Force proper, and now he is taking action himself.


Sorry, Uncle Joe. I know well that you’re the family hero — 33 combat missions over Germany, nearly as many more over Japan and still more over North Korea — but this is how I see it. Your successors failed to keep with the times and technology. Too many are still thinking about the 21st century version of open cockpit biplanes and hundred-mile-an-hour flights, instead of space capsules and 18,000 miles an hour ... or even planes without pilots aboard. They’re the ones who "missed the boat."

David J. Habeger served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years, flying from the decks of the Enterprise and Eisenhower and anti-submarine missions over the Norwegian and North Seas. He also served on the staff of the Ballistic Missile Defense Office and the Office of the Undersecretary of the Navy. He is retired and living in Arlington, Va.



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Space Force: US Air Force finally realizes it might not be 1947 anymore - OPINION

2018/08/1534228194.jpg
Read: 9470     21:30     14 August 2018    

By David J. Habeger

The creation of the atomic bomb is most frequently mentioned in connection with President Harry S. Truman trying to speed the ending of WWII. Spectacular photographs of postwar tests proved highly influential to a curious public who eagerly absorbed the images of the mushroom cloud over the Bikini Atoll and the outrushing shock wave. During the first test, in 1946, 95 American, allied, and captured warships moored nearby could be seen in the before and after photographs.


The ‘after’ photographs clearly showed that warships were highly vulnerable to an atomic blast, at least nearby.

In the mid-1940s, atomic bombs were still quite heavy, about 10,000 pounds. Only the Boeing B-29 had the internal capacity and raw lifting power to deliver an atomic bomb. In an argument to be settled by an atomic bomb — and that was seen as the only kind of argument America would face — the answer was to fire up a B-29, load one of those bombs aboard and fly off to obliterate the target.

Simple, effective, and glorious. The Army, and the Navy, could have the day off ... and many days more. America's Armed Forces would now be dominated by men who saw themselves as primarily responsible for the victory of the United States in WWII — the ones who flew large, powerful bomber aircraft. My uncle was one of them.

From their viewpoint, other than a kind of worldwide ground police force and oceanic ‘coast guard’, there just wasn’t much need for the U.S. Army or Navy. Their budgets could be diverted to this new form of dominating and massively effective form of destructive power — destruction that was delivered only by a large, manned bomber.

Initially, the Army had been unenthusiastic about aircraft, seeing them as perhaps useful for reconnaissance and artillery spotting. Navy admirals shared that perspective until the guns for which their aircraft were supposed to spot were sunk to the bottom of Pearl Harbor along with their ships. One could argue the Army had its awakening when it was revealed Jimmy Doolittle and his group had successfully bombed Japan.


Taking full advantage of the respect that bombers enjoyed for their role in the World War II victory and the monopoly they possessed in delivering the atomic bomb, the focus of Army pilots for a completely separate military service greatly increased. Influential civilians like Stewart Symington made their own contributions to help turn the dream of Billy Mitchell into a reality.

In 1947, the U.S. Air Force was fully and completely separated from the Army via the National Defense Authorization Act of that year. It got its own secretary and a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in addition to already having the only means by which America could deliver an atomic weapon on an enemy.

Those were heady days for guys like my uncle, who less than 10 years earlier had been learning to fly in an open cockpit biplane. In 1938, flights at 100 miles per hour were still considered worth writing home about. Those pilots' stories, even of biplanes, enthralled Model T-bound, or horse-bound, or mule-bound families. Those sons and brothers definitely had the right stuff.

Unfortunately, the Korean War arrived as an untidy challenge. The use of the atom bomb was discussed continuously, but in addition to the now-better-understood "fallout," the mountainous North Korean terrain would have deflected and dissipated much of the energy released — not unlike the effect of the curvature of the Earth on an attacking naval fleet, dispersed over a hundred square miles of ocean.

Vietnam arrived next, another untidy conflict, and again, no nuclear weapon was used. This despite the fact that the bomb itself had been reduced to the size of a golf bag and could be carried by even fighter aircraft. Worse, by then the troublesome Navy had acquired the ability to execute nuclear attacks from its new and extremely expensive aircraft carriers. And most troublesome were nuclear warheads on missiles, launched by Navy submarines — all but undetectable — secure within the world's oceans.

Well, space opportunities did arise, and it didn’t help the Air Force that two of the first three American astronauts were Navy men. Plus, while exhilarating, rockets lacked the gravitas of the large, manned bombers disappearing into the distance on their way to obliterate a belligerent foe.

Leading cyber-protection for the nation is an important function but the lack of an obvious link to “air” makes that task an awkward fit for the Air Force. Plus it looks too much like an organization looking for relevance, budgetary and otherwise.

The idea of a separate space force for America has been discussed for decades, including when Eisenhower chose to centralize space activity in NASA, a civilian agency. It appears the Air Force just didn’t fully accept that space was the next place where they were best positioned to lead, and to leave their original mission — the "off we go into the wild blue yonder" mission — in the past. President Trump has determined that task was ignored too long by Air Force proper, and now he is taking action himself.


Sorry, Uncle Joe. I know well that you’re the family hero — 33 combat missions over Germany, nearly as many more over Japan and still more over North Korea — but this is how I see it. Your successors failed to keep with the times and technology. Too many are still thinking about the 21st century version of open cockpit biplanes and hundred-mile-an-hour flights, instead of space capsules and 18,000 miles an hour ... or even planes without pilots aboard. They’re the ones who "missed the boat."

David J. Habeger served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years, flying from the decks of the Enterprise and Eisenhower and anti-submarine missions over the Norwegian and North Seas. He also served on the staff of the Ballistic Missile Defense Office and the Office of the Undersecretary of the Navy. He is retired and living in Arlington, Va.



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