Air University Review, September-October 1967
General G. P. Disosway
With national emphasis on strategic deterrence following World War II there was not enough money, equipment and other resources to concentrate on tactical air power. Even the Korean conflict, with its heavy emphasis on tactical air operations, did not greatly alter these circumstances.
This did not mean, of course, that tactical air, which had proved a decisive
element in World War II and had been revalidated in
Tactical Air Command was the focal point of this effort, and it struggled to
meet an ever increasing range of obligations worldwide with limited resources.
It would be pointless to enumerate all the specific advances that were made
during the fifties. Suffice it to say that tactical air power did become a
vital part of our national defense structure, with the ability to deploy strike
forces quickly on a global basis and serve as a lower-spectrum
deterrence to aggression. This capability was clearly demonstrated during the
Mobility, speed, and rapid response were not the only areas that demanded attention during the austere years. Quality of performance across the full range of tactical air operations was addressed with equal vigor and imagination. Concepts and doctrine did not change; techniques and equipment did, with vast improvements in fighter, reconnaissance, airlift, and communications (command and control) areas. It can safely be said that by the 1958-60 period, when a new era began to dawn, tactical air power had reached a high state of readiness despite the necessary limitation of resources over the preceding years.
The change came with remarkable suddenness. In January 1961 the then Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, declared Communist intention to foment “wars of liberation” in lieu of conventional limited war or general war. Simply stated, this meant that the main thrust of aggression would come from within a target country by clandestine operations and insurrection. It did not mean the end of across-the-border aggressions but rather added a new and dangerous dimension to the continuing threat to world peace.
The shift in cold war strategy brought about a change in national defense emphasis, to provide greater flexibility in response to threats and to ensure a broader selection of options. General-purpose forces, including tactical air power, became the center of attention in early 1961. From that point on, major effort was exerted within the Air Force to bring our tactical air forces up to a peak of combat readiness and to ensure that necessary resources were made available. Although this accelerated effort applied to tactical air forces around the world, here again Tactical Air Command was the focal point. It is interesting to review, from a statistical standpoint, the growth that occurred in the four-year period of expansion beginning roughly in early 1961.
At the start of the period, TAC had seven tactical fighter wings and fewer than 600 jet aircraft. By mid-1964, it had fifteen wings with more than 1400 jet fighters, including a large number of F-4C Phantoms. Our tactical airlift force enjoyed similar growth, from four to six wings and an inventory of more than 315 of the versatile C-130 Hercules. Aerial reconnaissance, which proved to be so vital during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, had been vastly improved and increased, with the addition of a second wing and introduction of the RF-4C, equipped with advanced sensors, radar, and cameras, TAC’s personnel strength also had increased by nearly 70 percent, for a total of about 70,000 officers and airmen.
Far more than physical growth was recorded by TAC in this period. Our people
achieved remarkable progress in command and control communications for closer
coordination between air and ground forces. Close air support techniques were
improved, tactical airlift made impressive gains, and aerial reconnaissance
moved rapidly ahead with better equipment, technology, and application.
Finally, the Air Force became deeply involved in counterinsurgency or special
air warfare, and TAC was ready with effective forces when the
Through innovation, imagination, and professionalism, the Air Force has written a remarkable chapter in its history in meeting the demands of counterinsurgency, close air support of ground forces, aerial resupply, reconnaissance, and all other tactical requirements. Air power has even deprived the enemy of the shelter of jungle foliage) darkness, and bad weather. While the fighter, reconnaissance, and airlift crews must be credited with an outstanding collective effort in ensuring the success of tactical air power in Southeast Asia (SEA), we must not overlook the magnificent contributions of others, some of whom seldom attract attention or draw plaudits.
The forward air controllers, or FAC’s, who
constantly patrol the hostile skies of
Never before has the U.S. Air Force put into combat more professionally skilled
and dedicated personnel than those who have served and are serving in
Because of the stepped-up air actions in SEA over the past two years, Tactical Air Command has undergone a number of readjustments. The principal change, other than supporting SEA requirements by deploying forces and personnel, has been the accelerated training for combat aircrews and maintenance personnel. The replacement training unit (RTU) program has been implemented throughout the command and is in addition to our normal combat crew training activities. At the same time TAC has continued to maintain its ability to respond to other contingencies with combat-ready forces.
We have no way of divining the future or predicting how much more will be required of tactical air power in the years ahead. There is one certainty, however, and this is simply that tactical air will bear an important burden in the defense establishment’s role in supporting national objectives. It is equally clear that Tactical Air Command will face growing responsibilities in combat readiness, training, test and evaluation of equipment, and professional skills.
A great deal of our effort right now is concentrated on the test and evaluation of new ideas and equipment. TAC now maintains five specialized centers for fighter operations, reconnaissance, airlift, tactical air warfare, and special air warfare. Dozens of tests are being conducted constantly, of everything from a new rifle for our people to a major new weapon system like the F-111 tactical fighter. New communications and electronic equipment, with emphasis on transportability, ruggedness, and simplicity, is an essential need that is receiving major attention.
Among the new major aircraft weapon systems being tested and evaluated
before entry into the TAC inventory are the F-111, A-7, A-37, O-2, and OV-10.
Each will be an improvement in a specific area of tactical air operations in
speed, range, or strike capabilities. The A-7, though subsonic, is designed for
close air support and will carry extensive ordnance without degrading its loiter time in the battle area. The Cessna A-37 is
currently being tested for use as a special air warfare strikerecce
weapon system. The OV-10, a new development in the forward air controller
function, will have a strike, reconnaissance, and counterinsurgency capability.
A companion piece for FAC activities is the military version of the Cessna 337,
designated the O-2. Both aircraft are designed to extend and enhance the FAC
and will replace the O-1, which has performed outstandingly in
These are but a few of the improved systems that will become operational in the near future. However, nothing is static, and the more distant future calls for new developments to meet the requirements of the 1970s and ’80s. Flexibility and survivability are dominant factors. One of our most pressing problems today is to make sure we get the right equipment for tomorrow.
Hq Tactical Air Command
General Gabriel P. Disosway (USMA) is
Commander, Tactical Air Command. He completed flying training in 1934 and
served with the 55th Pursuit Squadron,
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this
document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of
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