The following is a guest editorial from the Gullydad:
Those who are following Washington, D.C. politics these days know about the so-called Congressional super-committee that has been tasked with the creation of an economic package that will begin to reverse the mounting national debt by some combination of spending reduction and/or revenue enhancement. In short, the twelve-person super-committee has been tasked to do what the larger 535 member Congress has not been able to do for many years. Failing to do that by Thanksgiving week will supposedly kick-in a mandatory 10% budget cut across all federal departments and agencies, regardless of any other factors including need, waste, fraud, abuse, stupidity, etc.
If the super-committee is unable to do the job (which has been an easy prediction for months), two things come to mind: 1) Congress can always change the rules and cancel or alter the mandatory budget cut, or 2) Congress can take the easy path (which it usually does) and let the mandatory cuts kick-in while blaming the opposition party for all the problems that causes. Remember that things are the way they are in this country because Congress wants it that way. If Congress didn’t want it that way, they’d fix it.
The easy path is the worst possible idea. Yes, it is easy to sit back and watch while every federal department across the full spectrum of executive, legislative and judicial offices takes a 10% budget cut. There’s got to be at least 10% waste and inefficiency in all of those offices, so the cuts are a good thing. Really? Is it possible that some rational thought might help to weed out some expenditures that should be cut by more or less than 10%? Isn’t that what our Congress is supposed to do with each budget they pass? Just as a for-instance, would it be wiser to cut a larger percentage from the Cowboy Poetry Contest or from the White House Tsars payroll than we cut from some of the more critical programs like Medicaid or defense?
This essay isn’t about politics! Today, the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than it had at the beginning of World War I. That’s right, World War I (1915). If you think we were unprepared for war when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we are less prepared today. Our Air Force has fewer airplanes now than the old Army Air Forces had at the beginning of World War II. We have not had a new military ship or airplane design in the past ten years. Look at your home computer and cell phone technology. Would you be satisfied with ten-year old technology in your own products? Ten year old technology is obsolete. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a heavy toll of our Army and Marine Corps forces. Our reserve and National Guard forces have been abused and overused. And yet, there are politicians who would rather see the Department of Defense take the same cuts as everyone else rather than create a sensible, affordable budget.
And now for a bit of history: From this, take away one name in particular, Commander Thomas D. Davies, U.S. Navy. He is involved in two separate stories, both of which are mentioned briefly here, and both of which get into the budget process. Both stories are covered in great detail elsewhere. Get the full story by visiting the linked websites mentioned below.
Start with the Truculent Turtle. Never heard of it? The Truculent Turtle is the most famous Navy aircraft of all time. Can you name any other? Read about it at www.patron2.com/files/Turtle/turtleproj.html.
Back in 1946 after the close of World War II, the U.S. military was cut back to a peacetime force that was a shadow of what it had been only a year earlier. Government programs that had been ignored for the nearly four years of all-out war took their rightful priority while military budgets were reduced to less than pre-war levels. The Army Air Forces, which proved the value of land-based bombers and fighters during WWII, was still a division within the Army. Its leadership sought status as a separate, independent U.S. Air Force. Lessons learned during WWII were paving the way toward the creation of a unified Department of Defense in which land, sea and air warfare would be equally represented and budgeted as separate services under a Joint military command.
There were problems in creating a separate Air Force. The traditional roles and missions of the military that had previously been divided up among the Army and the Navy, had to be reviewed and redistributed among three services. For clarification, the Marine Corps was and still is a separate organization within the Department of the Navy, exclusively responsible for the mission of amphibious warfare. The proponents of a separate Air Force wanted that force to have responsibility for and control over all air operations. Naturally, the Navy objected to the idea of losing control of air operations related to their mission of sea control, and the Marine Corps could not tolerate loss of their own close-air-support for their amphibious operations.
At the close of WWII, the Army Air Forces had the fastest, highest flying and longest range bomber aircraft in the world… the B-29. In an obvious effort to build upon the roles and missions of a new U.S. Air Force, Army Air Forces generals and many Congressmen sought the takeover of the Navy’s maritime surveillance and reconnaissance mission by claiming that their B-29 was the most capable aircraft to do that job. To win support for their cause, the Army Air Forces began a series of record-breaking flights by the B-29 to demonstrate their long-range capabilities.
In early 1946, the Navy had no aircraft that could compete with the B-29’s long-range endurance. It did have one patrol aircraft, the Lockheed P2V, undergoing development under the direct supervision of Commander Thomas D. Davies in the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics. Knowing that the Army Air Forces were gearing up for a battle over the Navy’s maritime mission, CDR Davies directed Lockheed to study ways in which the P2V could be enhanced to improve its long-range endurance. That study, nicknamed Operation Turtle, indicated that a highly modified P2V could fly about 12,000 miles without refueling. A B-29 had just flown a record-breaking flight of 7,500 miles from Guam to Washington, D.C.
At CDR Davies’ urging, the Navy requested approval by the new Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, for a P2V flight from Perth, Australia to Washington, D.C. as a test of the new aircraft’s over-water navigation and crew endurance capabilities. Coincidentally, the distance from Perth to Washington, D.C. is 12,000 miles. To make a very long story short, in 1946, CDR Davies and a crew of three other Navy pilots flew “The Truculent Turtle” from Perth, Australia to Columbus, Ohio… a distance of 11,236 miles in 55 hours and 17 minutes, shattering all existing endurance records and setting a record that would last for forty years. Only some unfavorable weather enroute kept them from making it all the way to Washington, D.C. That flight was enough to convince Congress that the Navy had the means to perform its mission of maritime surveillance, which remains a Navy mission today.
This is just an aside, but it does have some bearing on military funding. After the flight of the Truculent Turtle, CDR Davies was involved in another aviation feat. In 1948, the U.S. Air Force owned the only aircraft that was capable of delivering a nuclear weapon over great distances… again, the B-29. The Navy didn’t want the Air Force to be the only service with a long-range nuclear weapon capability (and the funding that went along with the mission). The Navy had a long-range carrier-based bomber in development, but it was a year away from production. To show that the Navy already had a long-range weapon delivery capability that was versatile enough to be land-based or sea-based (aircraft carrier), flight tests were performed to show that the P2V could be launched from a carrier deck (although it had to land on a runway). CDR Davies was the test pilot who flew the P2V from a carrier deck on numerous occasions, so that the Navy could retain a share in the long-range nuclear weapon delivery mission.
The rest of the story: In 1949, the Air Force developed a gigantic new bomber designed specifically to carry the massive nuclear weapons of the time. The B-36 had six piston-driven engines and could fly unprecedented distances without refueling. (Sustained usage of the B-36, however, showed that the plane was grossly underpowered. Additional jet engines were added to the wings of later B-36 models.) The nation’s first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, had previously been the Secretary of the Navy. He supported the purchase of B-36’s for the Air Force, but he also supported the carrier Navy and the purchase of the first modern aircraft carrier to be built since the close of WWII. Regrettably, Secretary Forrestal had a nervous breakdown and was replaced. President Truman named an old ally, Louis Johnson, to be the second Secretary of Defense. For a much better and more detailed account of this story, visit the Naval History Magazine website linked below:
In Louis Johnson’s first days in office, without consulting anyone in the Navy hierarchy, he abruptly cancelled the Navy’s new aircraft carrier (only five days after the ceremonial keel-laying). The billion dollars that was designated to pay for the carrier were transferred over to the B-36 program. This happened while the Secretary of the Navy, John Sullivan, was out of town, giving a speech in New Orleans. Sullivan was so outraged at the news of the carrier’s cancellation that he immediately resigned his office. Showing solidarity, his Deputy Secretary of the Navy, W. John Kenney, also resigned.
What followed has long been called “the revolt of the admirals.” There was great concern among the senior officers (and many junior officers) about the future of the Navy. Carriers had certainly proven their worth in WWII. In fact, aircraft carriers had replaced the battleships as the Navy’s primary weapon systems. But now the SECDEF had just ordered the Navy to reduce their carrier force down to a total of four… four carriers compared to more than one hundred carriers just a few years before!! SECDEF Johnson replaced John Sullivan as SECNAV with a loyal lawyer from Omaha, Francis P. Matthews, who knew nothing whatsoever about the military or the workings of the federal government. The Navy was left with no one in the Secretariat who could counter SECDEF Johnson's pro Air Force stance.
Certain naval aviators took note of the disparity in treatment between the Navy and the Air Force and sought ways to bring the arguments in favor of carrier aviation to the attention of Congress. Several highly ranking admirals testified before Congress in direct opposition to Secretary Johnson's testimony and against the testimony of their own SECNAV Matthews. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and several other admirals lost their jobs for taking that risk. Two naval aviators secretly took up the challenge to gather information about the B-36 program, and within a week they produced a nine-page paper with 55 specific points that were germane to the B-36 procurement process. That paper became known as the "Anonymous Document" that could be used as a "point paper" in discussions or testimony in Congress.
Among other things, the Anonymous Document, which called the B-36 the "billion dollar blunder," pointed out that both W. Stuart Symington, the Secretary of the Air Force and Louis Johnson, the SECDEF, had personal financial interests in the B-36 production. Additionally, the Document questioned the need for a large fleet of B-36 bombers whose only mission would be to drop nuclear weapons on the enemy, including helpless civilians. It argued for a mix of bomber types to cover all the possible nuclear and conventional bombing scenarios that might be encountered in wartime. And there were multiple points made in the Document about the inferiority of the B-36 as a weapon system. We all know that the Air Force went ahead with the B-36 production and later regretted it when it became a logistical and a maintenance nightmare.
Okay, are you ready for this? The two naval aviators who created the "Anonymous Document," which found its way into Congressional offices and was used in Congressional testimony, were CDR Cedric R. Worth, Special Assistant to Under Secretary of the Navy Dan A. Kimball, and CDR Thomas D. Davies, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air. Got that?... CDR Thomas D. Davies was the pilot in command of the Truculent Turtle for its record-setting flight.
The Defense establishment including the U.S. Air Force soon realized their mistake (even if they wouldn't admit it publicly) of robbing the carrier Navy in favor of the B-36 procurement when war broke out in Korea. With no land bases from which to operate in the area, our carrier forces, albeit greatly reduced from what they had been during WWII, brought the air war to the enemy because the U.S. Air Force couldn't get there.
We say that if we don't learn the lessons of history, then we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. Prior to WWII, politicians in this country were downplaying the possibility of war or the need to prepare for war. “Why would the military ever want to go to war?” they asked. “War is not in our national interest,” they said. Everyone should understand that our country does not go to war because the military wants it. We go to war when the civilian leadership of our country makes the decision to go to war… usually as a last resort when negotiations fail or when we are attacked without notice. Those who were around in 1941 can remember the Pearl Harbor attack. Immediately afterward, thousands of men stormed their military recruiting offices to sign up for duty. Our military increased in size so rapidly that there were no weapons with which to train those going through boot camp. Men marched with brooms on their shoulders because there were no rifles. In the Vietnam War, bombers took off from carrier decks with half loads of bombs because we had let our supply of weapons fall below acceptable readiness standards.
Funding the military should be a steady-state function with built-in consistency. It takes years to develop a weapon system or to create a regiment of combat-ready troops. Yo-yo budgeting of the military is not a good idea. I don't feel the least bit qualified to argue about one weapon system vs. another. There is a system in place within the Pentagon for the services to iron out the overall priorities of the whole military based on the world situation. From there, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) set the priorities for procurement. One problem is that we cannot afford what the DOD thinks we need, and we can afford even less when the DOD budget is arbitrarily cut by 10% (or more). Adding to the problem is that some Congressmen can bastardize the system by buying weapon systems that are produced in their districts even when the DOD hasn't given those systems a high priority.
Technology is pricey. How can we afford bombers that cost nearly a billion dollars apiece? The B-2 bomber is so expensive we're afraid to use them for fear of losing one to the enemy or by accident. We have to fly the B-1's and B-2's halfway around the world to drop their bombs in the middle-east because we're afraid to base them closer. During WWII, we cranked out bombers almost as fast as our assembly-line technology created automobiles. Airplanes were so inexpensive in the 1940's that we could afford to manufacture them by the thousands. We sent more bombers on raids over Europe per day than we now have in our entire Air Force inventory. In fact, on some bad days we lost more bombers in raids over Germany than we have in our inventory today.
Bottom line: If the Department of Defense is forced to undergo a sizeable budget cut, why don’t we reduce some huge personnel costs by lowering the number of civilian “experts” in DOD, many of whom have been hired in the last three years, and many of whom draw salaries in excess of their military counterparts. Let’s not reduce the pointy end of the spear any more than we have to. Don’t sweat the petty stuff, and don’t pet the sweaty stuff. Keep an eye on Iran; watch China like a hawk.
- Gullydad, Captain, U.S. Navy (retired)