Lieut.-General Guy Simonds charges that We’re wasting millions on an obsolete air force
The army’s ex-Chief of Staff, foremost critic of Canada’s defense policy, says that in this atomic age of guided missiles we’re still committed to a costly, outdated concept of military strategy based on the airplane
Recently in this magazine I criticized the machinery for the higher direction and control of Canadian defense and expressed the opinion that it was not evolving sound defense policies for Canada. Earlier, I had stated publicly that it was no longer possible to develop a sound defense without organization of our national manpower and instituting a system of national selective service. In response to these views the Canadian Press quoted certain anonymous “responsible officials” of the Department of National Defense to the following effect:
It would seem pointless to draw up elaborate plans for utilization of manpower and industry in event of a violent brief thermonuclear war.
When the hydrogen bombs come down the only immediate plan would be for national survival. Mobilization of the armed forces, let alone industry, might be impossible. After the initial holocaust, there might be little industry left to operate even if the manpower could be re-assembled. And the war might be over.
If the conflict continued after the first terrible phase Canada would try to pick up the pieces and mobilize as best it could . . . The military say they believe nuclear war now is more likely than one fought with conventional weapons.
After spending millions of dollars on the evolution of the CF-100 fighter and embarking on the expenditure of many more millions in the development of the CF-105 fighter and Pinetree and Mid-Canada radar lines, can this be regarded as a satisfactory defense situation for the Canadian nation? And there are great and populous cities in our country that refuse to have anything to do with civil defense, or pay lip service by an indifferent approach to it.
I believe this situation fully justifies my criticisms of the unsoundness of our defense policies, and it is important to retrace the path that has been followed in reaching our present state.
In the world situation today Canada’s military policy must be strongly influenced by our relationship to the U. S. and our other partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Even in NATO the economic and military power of the United States would render impracticable any strategic policy not supported by American political and military leaders.
But there exist wide and uneasy differences of view as to what is the best policy for the Western bloc to frustrate totalitarian aggression. These differences of view exist as much, or even more, between military advisers and experts than between nations that are partners in the alliance.
Canada has both political and military representation in NATO and the means of military consultation with the U. S. through the Permanent Joint Board on Defense. How has our representation and advice operated to arrive at a result so unsatisfactory from the point of view of the defense of Canada, and indeed the whole of North America? One is left with the impression that our views are so inhibited by a desire to avoid coming face to face with the issue of organizing our national manpower that we have been ready to .concur in proposals that seem to avoid that necessity. We have accepted too readily the views of those fanatical representatives of the air forces who believe the airplane is the final arbiter of world strategy.
That air power is the decisive factor in modern war and a deterrent to global war is true, but too many accept without thought the belief that air power is synonymous with air force. I would define air power as the capability to use the air for our own offensive and transport purposes, while denying this use to an enemy.
The introduction of long-range missiles in the form of the V. 1 and V.2 toward the close of World War II foreshadowed as great a revolution in aerial warfare as the introduction of the submarine did in maritime warfare and mechanization did in warfare on land. But the invention of the jet engine at about the same t-irne promised new potentialities too for the airplane. The air forces of the Western powers turned their backs upon the possibilities of the long-range missile as the toy of a mad Hitlerian gambler, and absorbed the potential of their research and development organizations and aircraft industries in the progressive evolution of the airplane in its conventional militaryrole of bomber and fighter.
The advent of first the atomic and then the thermo-nuclear bomb also promised to air forces the fulfillment of a theory they had long maintained but failed to prove in war, namely that air forces could alone enforce strategic decisions and that naval and land forces were no longer of any consequence in the military order of things, This theory was being enounced even thirty years ago, as revealed by General Sir Giffard Martel in The Problem of Security:
“Air-force propaganda is leading the public along dangerous paths’7
It was at this stage (1925) that a wish became father to thought. The air force came to the front with some entirely new proposals. They claimed that they were introducing a new form of warfare by using the third dimension. The whole of the enemy country would be open to attack instead of just a stupid little strip where the military forces met. As warfare depends on the will of the people, the source of that will would be attacked at once. This would be done by bombing attacks on the heart of the country. Land warfare was limited to fighting along the front and was like hitting a man on the skin till he bled to death. By using air warfare you could attack the heart at once. These were the views the air staffs preached. Moreover, warfare of that nature would be handed back to a comparatively small professional air force. The rest of the country would, of course, be heavily engaged in aircraft manufacture, but except for this and shipbuilding they would pursue their normal lives, instead of being conscripted into the army and killed in hundreds and thousands. It is no small wonder that the air-force propaganda of this nature succeeded . . . These claims, which could not be accepted by the other services, were often made in public utterances. For instance, several claims of this nature were made by the Chief of the Air Staff at a public lecture at Cambridge in 1925.
General Martel adds: “This practice has now, fortunately, ceased.” Unfortunately', if this statement is true of Britain it does not apply on our side of the Atlantic.
The air forces failed to fulfill these more extravagant claims during World War II. They failed to fulfill different, but equally extravagant, claims in the Korean campaign. But, they now say,
atomic weapons have created a new and totally different picture; what happened or failed to happen in the past is neither here nor there.
In Britain in the period of which General Martel writes, the air forces gained acceptance of their theory, to the detriment of the navy, and the army, because the air-force argument was in accord with political expediency. The RAF discovered, however, that to provide balanced offensive and defensive forces was beyond the national means. To ignore defensive forces left the home base exposed to the very knockout blow they claimed they could deliver against an enemy by bomber forces. Anything approaching a fully effective defense could only be provided at the expense of limiting the size of the offensive bomber force to a level that would render it too weak to deliver a knockout blow, even if a fully effective defense had been technically possible.
“Jobs for all the boys”
In selling their theory the British air staffs spoke in terms of a force of two hundred modern long-range bombers. Later, in war, when a force of this size was not achieving any decisive result, five hundred became the magic number, then a thousand, then “if only this force could have been doubled.” But by this time, the co-ordinated action of sea, land and air forces had brought World War II to an end.
Today history is repeating itself. The incessant propaganda of air forces and a massive and powerful aircraft industry are leading the public and political leaders along dangerous strategic paths. The present version of the “air forces-thermonuclear” concept of strategy has developed in three phases, the first perhaps starkly realistic if all its implications are accepted, the last two, definitely militarily unsound and for this reason bearing the unpleasant suspicion that military thinking is tainted with motives of “jobs for the boys” and “keep the air forces on top of the heap at any price.”
The first phase involved the adoption
of “massive retaliation with thermonuclear weapons at times and places of our own choosing” as the principal instrument of deterrence and the principal means of defeating an aggressor if deterrence failed. The arguments for this policy might be summarized something like this: the Western nations, and particularly the U. S„ are the most advanced technically and most highly industrialized in the world, and have an established lead in atomic and thermo-nuclear weapons and aircraft. The nations of the Communist bloc are technically and industrially backward but command great resources of manpower. It would be unsound and the height of folly to compete with them in the medium that suits them best—military forces of massed manpower. We should on the contrary exploit our superiority in atomic and thermonuclear weapons and aircraft design.
The U. S. could never dare risk knowingly falling behind in the air-poweratomic-thermo-nuclear race. To maintain a safe margin of superiority is very costly. Having regard to economic factors and conflicting demands on manpower, if superiority must be maintained in offensive aerial warfare, why not go one stage further and make the threat of its use the hinge pin of Western strategy? The best way of deterring a would-be « aggressor is to make it unmistakably clear that any major aggression will be met by retaliation with thermo-nuclear weapons on the heartland of the leading aggressor nation.
This is realistic reasoning provided it is accepted as only a temporary situation. To regard it as otherwise is to ignore certain facts and certain lessons of history. The most important fact is the ascendancy of the offensive in aerial warfare, which has existed since the middle Thirties. Every indication points to the continuaton of this ascendancy. Of the lessons of history, the first is the danger of underestimating our enemy and the second is that no new weapon has ever remained the monopoly of one nation.
Another important consideration is that the strategic concept of the knockout blow delivered from the air places the highest possible premium on the initiative —so long as Russia remains inferior in terms of thermo-nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery, this is not too disadvantageous, because it enables the U. S. to neutralize a Russian initiative in conventional warfare, by countering and seizing the initiative in thermo-nuclear retaliation. But it is difficult to see how täie democratic bloc would ever sanction tile initiative in starting hostilities as military aggressors.
The position may be far from favorable when the Russians reach a situation where they are confident they possess all the means of administering an aerial knockout blow. How will the Western alliance then deal with the process of encroachment and erosion by “minor” or "proxy” aggressions?
The policy of “massive retaliation” declared by Mr. Dulles has had disadvantageous repercussions already. It has provided the most positive spur to the Russians to press the development of atomic and thermo-nuclear weapons and, vehicles of delivery. It would seem, too, that they have decided to alleviate the cost factor, and retain powerful conventional forces at the same time, by a parallel development of atomic energy for industrial purposes, a solution to which the Western powers might well give greater emphasis. At the same time, it has led many of the smaller powers in NATO to slacken their efforts to raise and maintain military forces. They can reason like this: if the theory of “massive retaliation” succeeds as a deterrent, there will be no war; if it fails, we shall be smashed beyond recovery. Therefore, why continue to overstrain our already strained economy to maintain forces that cannot defend us in any event?
What if the Russians surprise us?
There is also the risk that when we in the West know that destruction hangs over our heads if we initiate thermonuclear warfare and retaliation in that form, the Communist powers will again set about the process of piecemeal "conventional” aggression. Possibly, with these risks in mind, the U. S. and other NATO powers made no appreciable reduction in their conventional military forces, in this first phase.
In the second phase, the realization of our defensive weaknesses, and the unexpected speed of Russian progress in atomic and aeronautical development, gave rise to deep and earnest heart searchings. There was the danger that should the Russians take the initiative in thermo-nuclear warfare, the Strategic Air Command of the United States Air Force —the agent of massive retaliation—might be surprised and caught on its bases and destroyed at a first single stroke. There was the added danger that lack of defense might sap the determination of democratic peoples to sanction the use of “massive retaliation.” Thus plans for distant-early-warning lines and elaborate new fighter defenses came into being.
Distant early warning to secure Strategic Air Command against a surprise attack is militarily sound; the effort to build an effective defense based on the radar-controlled, winged, manned fighter is not. An adequate defense that can reduce the effects of attack to bearable proportions is not attainable in terms of present thinking. We are chasing a willo-the-wisp. It may be possible in the near future to produce a defense that would be effective against the ultimate winged bomber plane, but by the time this result can be achieved we shall be confronted with the new challenge of the intercon-
tinental ballistic missile. In the meantime the greater proportion of the scientific and technical industrial resources of the democratic world are going to be absorbed in competing in a losing race.
The existing imbalance as between the power of the offensive and the weakness of the defensive in aerial warfare cannot be corrected by continuing evolutionary development of the winged manned fighter. If a defense can be evolved that can deal effectively with the ballistic missile, it will also deal with any possible version of a winged bomber. The reverse is not true. All our efforts in the field of research and development in aerial warfare should NOW be directed to seeking an effective defense against the ballistic missile.
In the meantime, if our security is based solely upon “massive retaliation with thermo-nuclear weapons,” we must accept the risk that we too may be struck a devastatingly destructive blow against which we cannot protect ourselves. That is the factual situation, whether we care to admit it or not. The recent trend of thinking has been to concentrate on continental defense, at the expense of supporting overseas allies. But it should be realized now that there is little if any chance of providing a defense against the intercontinental ballistic missile, unless the missile is tracked during the launching stage of its flight. Looking at the problem of our future defense, from the most selfish, nationalistic point of view, the holding of the “outer perimeter” in Europe and the Far East becomes not less, but more important than ever before. If, to bolster an ineffective defense, which will still be ineffective, we risk the loss of the “outer perimeter,” we are hazarding our future security for a negligible temporary advantage.
And if this policy of chasing a will-othe-wisp is continued at the price of further reductions in the naval and land forces of the Western powers, we shall become solely dependent upon the threat of “massive retaliation” to deal with even marginal and minor aggressions.
We have reached the “third phase” of the development of the air-force-thermonuclear concept, with the evidence given before the U. S. Senate Armed Services Committee this year by Generals LeMay and Partridge. It might well be termed the phase of “the great hedging of the bets” by the more fanatical exponents of this concept. As far as can be judged by the text of evidence that has been published, both express misgivings as to the weakness of the offensive and defensive elements of U. S. air power in the years immediately ahead, and the effectiveness of the Dewline, and both, like Oliver Twists, ask for more.
At the beginning, I quoted a statement by officials of the Department of National Defense: “After the initial holocaust, there might be little industry left to operate, even if manpower could be re-assembled ... If the conflict continued after the first, terrible phase, Canada would try to pick up the pieces and mobilize as best it could.”
The White Paper on defense published in 1955 included a statement that in the event of thermo-nuclear attack everyone not directly involved in an urgent military role would immediately be caught up in the problem of rescue, rehabilitation and maintenance of essential services. We have not taken the steps necessary to organize, allocate or train our people for this situation.
I leave it to the reader to decide whether the statement I made in an earlier article—that our machinery for defense is not evolving sound defense policies for Canada—is justified. -fa