Diplomacy Won the Cold War

 

General Donn StarryStrategic clarity plus skillful diplomacy won a Beltway battle, setting conditions for Cold War victory. This is a story of a star among senior military leaders, U. S. Army General Donn Starry. He was not alone, but was a key change agent when the armed services were floundering post-Vietnam. General Starry, an Army officer, had no power over his Air Force counterparts. Yet, over the course of several years, Starry both kept the scale of the Warsaw Pact threat clear and persuaded senior Air Force staff, with their congressional backers, that there was a win-win solution between the two services. He was one of the leaders at the heart of the AirLand Battle doctrinal shift. General Starry’s story offers lessons for successful leadership and organizational change beyond those rare occasions when orders command action. In addition to leadership lessons, we will have a brief cautionary tale about the dangerous power of a tale well told.

Post-Vietnam Conditions

Not just equipment

In the mid-1970s, the U.S. Army was struggling to reorient from a decade of light infantry combat, while finding its way forward to a next generation of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, and helicopters, plus supporting branches’ equipment. The equipment decisions could have been driven just by Pentagon and Beltway politics, but needed to be guided by both a clear understanding of the emerging Soviet threat and a viable way of defeating that threat.

The Air Force was working through correcting the McNamara fantasy of efficiency through forced common air frames between the Navy and Air Force (see the F-4) and multi-function aircraft (see the F-111). The Air Force was fielding the F-15 as an air superiority fighter, while developing the F-16 and the F-15E Strike Eagle as operational depth attack aircraft, attacking ground targets far behind the “front lines,” but not as deep as strategic bombers (B-52, B-1, B-2). Within the Air Force, there was a long term rivalry between the fighter community and the bomber community

Soviet surge and a desert war

The Soviets were integrating their forces, treating their vast air armadas as deep extensions of fires starting with mortars and extending through tube and rocket artillery. So tactical missiles and airstrikes were both aimed at setting conditions for victory on the ground. At the same time, the Soviets had modernized their mechanized forces, with the T-72 main battle tank and a family of infantry fighting vehicles, carrying infantry along with the tanks and adding light cannon fire from the smaller turrets of these vehicles. They had a range of mobile artillery pieces, rockets, and shorter-range missiles, all intended to blast holes in our defenses and to gum up our response, sliming key points like air bases with “persistent” deadly oil-based chemical weapons that stuck rather than quickly evaporating.

Not only were the Soviets modernizing a much larger force than the U.S. and NATO force, the nature of munitions were changing. Reliable precision munitions, both ground and aerial launched, reaped a bitter harvest in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

For nineteen days, modern war raged in all its violence and chaos as Egypt and Syria launched a massive surprise attack against the outnumbered and unprepared Israel Defense Force (IDF). As the biggest tank battles since World War II left burning hulks strewn across the Sinai sands and Golan hills, new weapons of startling power—wire-guided anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles—seemed to transform the battlefield. Those glamorous, expensive weapons of the twentieth century—the tank and the aircraft—seemed an endangered species.

The 1973 October War didn’t last long as wars go, but even forty-five years later, its influence is still profound. The war revealed the awesome power of tactical guided missiles, a process that still can be seen in today’s laser- and GPS-guided smart bombs.

A Tale Well Told Ain’t Necessarily So

I was prompted to think back and then research General Starry’s story after listening to Bill Whittle’s “The Cold War: What We Saw.” Bill Whittle made the Cold War compelling listening over thirteen episodes by anchoring each episode in one or two compelling vignettes. This worked well until it did not. The wheels came off in Episode 12: The Liberators.

Thirty thousand feet above the Green Spot at Nellis Air Force Base, a loud, uncouth, unpleasant warrior / poet emerges.

Starting with his almost supernatural feel for what a fighter jet can and cannot do, he will spend a decade teaching himself the engineering skill and mathematical language necessary for him to quantify what works in the lethal world of aerial combat, and what does not. Fighting an uphill battle against arrogance, ignorance and intransigence, his legendarily irrefutable Pentagon briefings will forever change the way America builds the fighter aircraft that will guarantee the Air Superiority needed to prevail on the Cold War battlefield of central Germany.

And a fellow liberator, just a kid who grew up hunting in his native Arkansas, will just as effectively revolutionize American ground tactics through sheer courage, concentration and willpower, and usher in the age of Special Forces.

The stories of Air Force Colonel John Boyd and Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock are very entertaining. Whittle name-checked AirLand Battle for credibility but did not explain the term, as that would have undone his storyline. Boyd could not affect the strategic changes needed in both the air and ground domains, precisely because of his personality. The notion that an enlisted Marine sniper, a specialist with a particular set of skills, would reshape, let alone revolutionize American ground tactics, let alone usher in the age of Special Forces is laughable to anyone with a few years of military experience. In reality, the age of Special Operations is more reasonably anchored in the flames of Desert One, the horribly botched rescue attempt in Iran that exposed weakness in individual service and joint special warfare equipment and training. Perhaps Whittle was in a bit of a rush in the penultimate episode, and perhaps he just couldn’t figure out how to spin a compelling tale or two with the real history.

AirLand Battle

The first U.S. Army reaction to the Yom Kippur War and assessments of Soviet modernization was “Active Defense.” Active Defense, as it sounds, relied on precision-guided munitions to continuously shower the massed Soviet mechanized formations until the odds shifted in NATO’s favor. NATO forces would deliberately move back through a series of pre-planned, prepared defensive positions, slowing Soviet forces without allowing the Soviets to decisively engage and steam-roll the smaller U.S., British, and German forces. However, Active Defense seemed to leave the initiative in Soviet general staff hands.

AirLand Battle recognized the same materiel imbalances and the awesome power of precision-guided munitions, and shifted the mindset from defense to offense. Commanders at the lowest local level were to continuously seek opportunities to strike into the flanks of the advancing Soviet formations. Doing so was expected to disrupt Soviet timetables and frustrate what was believed to be a far more centralized command and control system.

This Army doctrine depended on a great deal of coordination and cooperation with the Air Force, as the sheer number of tanks, infantry vehicles, artillery, fuel, ammunition, and communications targets greatly exceeded Army forces’ ability to service targets in a timely manner. “Service” means damage or destroy. The Air Force, at the same time, was also facing modernized Soviet aircraft and missiles in daunting numbers. It was looking a bit like the Battle of Britain being fought without the English Channel to prevent the ground blitzkrieg. Additionally, the Air Force had a model of success in World War II with the Eighth Air Force running a strategic bombing campaign independent of Army operations. Why, then would they coordinate closely with the Army, and how could this be done without threatening budgets and prestige by giving away responsibilities?

The U.S. Army and Air Force had to come to a position where they both acknowledged they were overwhelmed alone and could each succeed if they cooperated in certain ways. The first step was acknowledging that there was a problem. That was not easy.

Persuasive leadership

A collection of General Starry’s papers illustrate the challenges and the tone of writing that facilitated gradual persuasion within the Army and the Air Force staffs. Press On! was published in two volumes by the Army University Press. Both volumes are still available in PDF form: (Press On! Vol. I, Press On! Vol. II).

Personal background

General Starry’s background hints at his eventual strengths. Starry represents the shift from elite to middle-class family background in the elite officer corps. His father saw action in the early tank warfare of World War I, then came home to Kansas and served for many years in the Kansas National Guard. Donn Starry tagged along with his father, growing up as a sort of unit mascot, and was even allowed, in those days to go with his father to summer training at Fort Riley.

In 1943, Donn Starry enlisted as a private for the purpose of going through a cadet admission program. He was admitted to West Point in 1944, hoping to become an aviator in the United States Army Air Forces. Indeed, he took a chance by only naming aviation on his dream sheet of desired branches. He commissioned in 1948, a year after Congress used the National Security Act of 1947 to create the Department of the Air Force.* Instead of aviation he was assigned to the Transportation Corps, with branch detail to (armored) cavalry.

Starry managed to divert into armor permanently, rather than follow the default path of moving from cavalry lieutenant to transportation captain. So, even though he followed his father’s early Army experience, he showed early on a strong interest in what would become the Air Force. This may have helped him be more empathetic to a different service’s perspective when the needs of his assignments came into apparent conflict with his Air Force peers.

Lieutenant Colonel Starry spent his first Vietnam tour with the Mechanized and Armor Combat Operations (MACOV) Study Group, traveling throughout the area of operations evaluating both the threat and operational and equipment needs for mechanized and armor units. He returned to Vietnam in 1969 and soon took command of the famed 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, “Blackhorse,” leading the major incursion into Cambodia to root out North Vietnamese supposed safe havens.

The Regiment was ordered to force-march 40 kilometers further north to capture the City of Snoul. Within the given 48 hours they reached the city and attacked with incredible ferocity on 5 May, reminiscent of those mounted cavalrymen charging into Ojo Azules, Mexico after Pancho Villa in 1916. Then Major Frederick M. Franks[**] (50th COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT), Second Squadron’s S3, joined in an assault on an enemy anti-aircraft position, when a NVA grenade landed near him. Colonel Starry burst into motion and actually dove into Franks trying to knock him out of the way of the blast. Major Frank’s life was spared with his chicken plate (flack vest), but his left foot was a total mess. Colonel Starry hadn’t worn his chicken plate that day – if he had, he would have only been scratched. Starry remains the only Colonel of the Regiment to date to have been wounded while in Command. With Snoul secured and 148 enemy killed, the Blackhorse began a systematic search of the surrounding area. Colonel Starry turned over the reigns of the Blackhorse to John L. Gerrity, (42nd COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT) on 22 June 1970. The Regiment had captured or destroyed massive amounts of supplies and equipment depriving the enemy of desperately needed succor.

Turning experience into institutional knowledge

Rapidly promoted to two-star, brigadier general, Starry was assigned command of the Armor Center, made the senior proponent for armored warfare in the U.S. Army. In that position, he was involved in two major doctrinal operations, a post-Vietnam study and a first-hand study of the Yom Kippur War. The first doctrinal campaign was instructive to Starry, as he was part of a small senior team producing a major doctrinal publication, FM 100-5.

As commanding general he became deeply involved in the formulation of doctrine, including personally drafting parts of Field Manual 100-5, the capstone manual on the operations of the Army in the field, at the famous conference of senior officers convened by General William E. DePuy at Camp A. P. Hill in the autumn of 1974. Starry began doctrine development with a series of concept papers. The first, titled “Modern Armor Battle,” he wrote himself. It focused on what had been learned in recent war games about current Soviet tactical schemes and from monitoring Soviet maneuver activity, analyzing the new Soviet doctrine of mass, momentum, and continuous land combat, all this preparatory to describing a concept of how to meet and defeat Soviet forces so deployed.

[ . . .]

In January 1974 General [Creighton] Abrams sent Starry and Brigadier General Bob Baer to Israel to study the recently completed Yom Kippur War. The results of this mission had far-reaching effects, both for the American Army and for Starry personally. General Abrams had asked that the two officers return and tell him what he personally as Chief of Staff needed to know about the war, and that they also determine what analysis of that war implied for the new tank under development in the United States (a tank that eventually became the “Abrams”). Starry and Baer, close personal and professional friends for many years, were in full accord as to what they saw in Israel, where they had visited the battlefields and talked at length with senior Israeli commanders, especially General Musa Peled, Commander of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Armored Corps, and General Israel Tal, who was in the process of developing for Israel what became the Merkava tank.

Press On! Vol. I, pp. x-xi

This did not go over well at all in the Army. While there were good reasons to short-cut the usual doctrinal staff development processes, the decision to create an ad hoc group cut this important doctrinal manual off from bottom-up buy-in. General Starry detailed the lessons he learned from this experience in a talk to the Army War College, reproduced in Military Review in 1983 as “To Change an Army.” Here are the lessons he learned from the 1976 FM 100-5 Operations writing and publication process, illustrated using the safe historical example of the contrasting British and German efforts to develop armored warfare doctrine:

  • There must be an institution or mechanism to identify the need for change, to draw up parameters for change and to describe clearly what is to be done and how that differs from what has been done before.

  • The educational background of the principal staff and command personalities responsible for change must be sufficiently rigorous, demanding and relevant to bring a common cultural bias to the solution of problems.

  • There must be a spokesman for change. The spokesman can be a person, one of the mavericks; an institution such as a staff college; or a staff agency.

  • Whoever or whatever it may be, the spokesman must build a consensus that will give the new ideas, and the need to adopt them, a wider audience of converts and believers.

  • There must be continuity among the architects of change so that consistency of effort is brought to bear on the process.

  • Someone at or near the top of the institution must be willing to hear out arguments for change, agree to the need, embrace the new operational concepts and become at least a supporter, if not a champion, of the cause for change.

  • Changes proposed must be subjected to trials. Their relevance must be convincingly demonstrated to a wide audience by experiment and experience, and necessary modifications must be made as a result of such trial outcomes.

Shaping the next iteration of FM 100-5 development, Lieutenant General Starry got draft copies distributed to his corps for testing in Europe, then carried those bottom-up lessons learned back into his next assignment in charge of doctrine. General Starry ensured the doctrine staff owned the manual and extensively consulted with West German army staff, without which the doctrine would be worthless, as their thousands of Leopard 2 tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles were shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. units. At the same time, Starry was collaborating with Air Force senior staff to acknowledge and solve their shared problem of being badly outnumbered by a competent enemy.

Defining the shared problem

Turning to the shared problem presented to the Army and Air Force by the evolution of the Soviet threat in Central Europe, we see Lieutenant General Starry begin communicating both the external problem and the institutional challenges in a series of memoranda. I set out the first one in full (Press On!, Vol. I, pages 2-3), then key pieces of the follow-on communications. I add emphasis and some clarification in square brackets. Consider the clarity of writing, thinking, and understanding of all parties’ positions.

TACAIR Support in Europe

Message to Lieutenant General Edward C. Meyer

Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans

15 November 1977

1. This responds to your WDC 106332 regarding CSA/CSAF [Chief of Staff Army/ Chief of Staff Air Force] discussion on TACAIR [tactical air] support in Europe. [So, the start point is the most senior uniformed leaders in the two services having a discussion about the most important theater of operations in the Cold War. LTG Starry is writing to a senior Army staffer, who is trying to support the Chief of Staff of the Army in a service rivalry.]

2. What are the issues? From the ground commander’s viewpoint:

a. There is a perception that we have insufficient air resources to provide adequate reconnaissance and surveillance, especially that necessary to find second-echelon divisions of first-echelon armies, and to find second-echelon armies. Other platforms can contribute, but because of types of sensory equipment being employed, manned aircraft remain in many ways the best vehicle. [this was long before modern drone development]

b. There is also a perception of insufficient counterair [air-to-air fighter] resources to enable the air forces to keep Soviet air off the backs of priority targets, and off the backs of ground forces fighting first-echelon armies as well. [This is the Battle of Britain without the English Channel problem.]

c. There is a perception that there are insufficient air resources to attack interdiction targets, and there is some confusion as to whether those targets are bridges, road nets, airfields, the so-called “choke points,” or second-echelon forces themselves. Whatever is decided, it’s not just [ground] attack aircraft that are in question. It’s EW [electronic warfare] and other suppression, CAP [combat air patrol] for counterair, and so on. These are expensive [in number of aircraft/crew] missions.

d. The most important perception held by the ground commander is that of the insufficiency of air resources to help service [damage or destroy] the first-echelon army. In some NATO areas it is probably true that the ground forces can cope with target servicing [shooting, blowing up] the first echelon; in most areas this is not the case, however. Defeating the first echelon will indeed require lots of close air support.

The numbers developed in V Corps [the lead U.S. Army corps in West Germany, led at the time by LTG Starry] after considerable analysis indicated the corps under breakthrough attack might require as many as 400 close air support sorties for the first three or four days of battle, and about 300 a day for the next three or four days—just against the first echelon, in order to balance up the target servicing equation. Now if NATO’s eight corps are attacked by four breakthrough attacks, which is the capability we give the Sov[iet]s, then there will be four corps commanders screaming for about as much air as the V Corps commander thinks he needs. The question is, can they depend on it? The problem is we have never been able to get the air forces to sit down and talk reasonably about the matter in order to describe whether or not there is any chance the corps commanders’ requirements might be met.

e. Without exception the air commanders of our allies do not believe that air support can be provided in the fight against the first echelon. There are a number of reasons for this, which require too much discussion here. The end result is that the ground commander must assume that about all he can expect against the first echelon is support from aircraft that can’t fly the other missions—A10s and Fiats. This amounts to just over 200 airframes in all NATO if memory serves me, and that just isn’t enough.

[The math becomes very obvious: 200 aircraft to service 400X4= 1600 sorties (take off, attack, return and land) per day. No one in the world seriously believes any air force ever could take off, attack, get back to a base, refuel and rearm, and do it seven more times in a day, let alone repeat this superhuman feat four or five days in a row]

3. What are the solutions? The real solution is the one the Israelis have embarked on. They have concluded that, for a host of reasons, they can’t provide much if any close air support in the battle against the first echelon. Therefore they have decided to provide their ground forces with the equipment and the force structure necessary to make up the difference. Their target servicing equations are not much different from ours. They concluded that they needed more firepower on the first echelon; they also concluded that their air forces couldn’t provide it; therefore, from a total force standpoint, they decided to beef up the ground forces—two more divisions, several battalions of artillery, some weapons systems that they hope will redress the firepower imbalance. We too need to do such an Army-Air Force analysis. However, I believe that to be impossible in the real Washington world. Service rivalry for the bucks will intervene. In addition there is a considerable group on the Air Staff of the USAF who do not believe in close air support against the first echelon. Most of them are SAC [Strategic Air Command, big bomber] pilots, but they are influential, and they all believe [Tactical Air Command or top fighter pilot General] Dixon and [Army Training and Doctrine Command General] DePuy, now Dixon and Starry, are a couple of nuts. It was largely for that reason that Dixon and DePuy steered around doctrinal issues from the outset. I too have pursued that course, but it is increasingly apparent that sooner or later we must address ourselves to the doctrine. Probably we should delay that as long as possible, for if we start I’m afraid the resulting debate will be very long, very acrimonious, and in the end probably counterproductive.

4. Utility of such a meeting? Depends on where Jones stands with regard to the arguments outlined above. So far he’s been supportive of Dixon and DePuy, and of Dixon and me. But he has not been put to the test—someone else was carrying the mail. The Chief will have to judge this one. Is it worthwhile to try and smoke this out at that level, or to continue at Dixon-Starry level? . . .

5. Smile.

“Jones” was Air Force Chief of Staff General David C. Jones. “Dixon” was General Robert James Dixon, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Tactical Air Command, the senior advocate for the exact forces under discussion. He, from this 1977 assessment, was working constructively with his Army counterpart (General DePuy and then General Starry). Instead of demonizing the Air Force staff, Starry points to the political reality of congressional budget battles and to the Air Force rivalry and very different perspectives of SAC [bomber pilots] and TAC [fighter pilots]. Starry and Meyer had long experience with equivalent rivalries and differing communities within the Army, starting with infantry versus armor.

The next message from Starry to Meyer came a year later. It showed little progress, explained just how deep the fault-lines were, and showed strategic patience. (Press On! Vol. I, pp. 4-5)

Army-Air Force AirLand Battle Issues

Letter to Lieutenant General E. C. Meyer

Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans

28 December 1978

A belated response to your letter of 30 November concerning the future of our work on the air/land battle.

Two areas you singled out for improvement, allocation procedures and mission priority assignment, TAC and TRADOC have not tackled at all yet. Not that they don’t need improvement, it’s just that every move toward revised allocation procedures or priority assignment based on the advent of a host of single mission aircraft is immediately viewed by the Air Staff in Washington as an attempt to crack the roles and missions egg. So sensitive is the Air Force to this matter that DePuy and Dixon avoided it like the plague. I have been waiting until I had a better measure of [Dixon’s TAC successor, Air Force General] Bill Creech. I now believe that with him we can find a way to address ourselves to this important problem. I need not remind you, however, that whatever we do will fly directly in the face of everything NATO is doing—the centralized control of air by the ATAFs [allied tactical air forces], essentially driven by the bomber mentality, the central fragging [daily orders] of air sorties from BOERFINK, and so on.

Indeed, the NATO air allocation system and BOERFINK itself are simply reincarnations of the command-control and allocation arrangements in the Battle of Britain. BOERFINK itself is a reincarnation of the 11 Group central control headquarters on the southeast coast of England in WW II. Doctrinal revision of allocation procedures and priority assignments will, in the face of that deep a bias, be a formidable task indeed. I suspect that in the end we will have to seek a JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] decision taken in concert with the NATO Military Committee. TAC and TRADOC can do the spade work and bring in a recommendation; but for the life of me I can’t see how we will ever resolve the issue without raising it to the highest levels—simply too much ingrained inertia on both sides of the ocean.

[ . . . ]

In sum, we are a long way from resolving any of the issues and concerns you properly cite. Work is in progress—not enough, not fast enough, with not enough resources applied to problem resolution. But then nobody ever suggested this would be easy. So we’ll press on.

The “roles and missions egg” refers to the assignment of responsibilities to each military service by laws passed by Congress, exercising its Article I, Section 8 powers. These laws became the basis for allocating dollars to each service to meet the tasks given by Congress. Since the Air Force came out of the Army, it has always be zealous to guard against the Army stealing back any more than the most limited aircraft capability. Here, you had an external threat, on which both services were seeking budget dollars in the name of preventing World War III and world domination by the Soviet Union. Yet, senior staffs were deeply fearful of the internal threat of zero sum defense budget battles.

Here, again, General Starry has assessed that his counterpart, the top fighter pilot in the Air Force, is a good-faith partner in solving the common problem. He refines the sources of opposition to both senior Air Force staff, the NATO alliance tactical air command structure, and the weight of historical air force culture. If it worked in the Battle of Britain, surely it will work in the Battle for Central Europe. That deep, emotional belief is tough to challenge. The British had rightful pride, the Germans had ugly experience, and the Americans adopted the British position as their histories intertwined in Britain in World War II.

Things came to a crisis point in 1980 with the Air Staff group of colonels, each of which desperately wanted to become a general or at least get a great retirement job in the defense aviation industry.

Joint Army-Air Force Issues

Message to Lieutenant General Glenn Otis

Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations

21 April 1980

1. I have in hand a 28 March Air Staff paper which nonconcurs in the CSWS MENS on a roles and missions basis.

2. At the same time we are having extreme difficulty getting anything at all done with TAC. Despite Lew Allen’s instruction to Creech to proceed in the requirements business with TRADOC, the TAC staff is apparently completely cowed by the Air Staff. In fact, since the meeting with Shy [Army Chief of Staff General Edward C. Meyer], Lew [Allen], Bill Creech, and me in which we agreed to work out together all these joint problems, nothing much has been done. The 22 December Air Staff memo on BAI is ample evidence. The Air Staff has likewise intimidated the USAFE [U.S. Air Force Europe] staff to the extent that Creech and I can’t work issues realistically; everywhere we turn it’s a roles and missions issue.

A few months later, momentum had shifted in the bureaucratic battle.

Joint Army-Air Force Issues

Message to General E. C. Meyer

Army Chief of Staff

21 July 1980

1. Wednesday Bill Creech and I met to resolve a couple of issues which had stymied our staffs, as well as to review the progress on our joint studies. The meeting was fruitful and I am encouraged to believe that in the AirLand business we are on some fertile ground.

2. In February I reported that we were working a response to the 22 December Air Force position paper on apportionment and allocation of offensive air support. We solidified a response which TAC will submit unilaterally to the Air Staff. Bill feels that is the best tactic.

While purely an Air Force document, it corrects the essential differences we had with the original paper. It now enables the corps commander to determine the targeting priorities for BAI while allowing the Air Force to make the most effective application of their resources in this effort. The settlement of this issue should allow rapid progress on the AirLand forces interface (ALFI) concept. Both our headquarters are anxious to attack this subsequent priority issue and I anticipate resolution soon. After appropriate staffing, we will forward the ALFI concept as a TAC/TRADOC pamphlet to the Army and Air Staffs. At that point Glenn Otis will have to work out the Air Staff concurrence and subsequent inclusion of the concept in JCS Publication 2.

Notice how Starry is falling back into a supporting role to Air Force General Creech. By taking the Army’s name off documents, the service rivalry issue is reduced. Now it is fighter versus bomber pilot, with the assets under discussion all being fighter aircraft and the bomber colonels in the position of contradicting a fighter general about fighters. Then, the fight is carried forward in two joint publications, getting first Army and Navy staff (each led by a four-star general) buy-in, followed by the Joint Staff, including the Navy and Marine Corps, who had to address similar issues in operations across the shore.

In 1981, four years after the first communication laying out the basic problems, Starry gets the senior Army theater commander to work with the senior Air Force commander in NATO to reach agreement, putting more pressure from the field back onto the Pentagon.

Management of Air Assets

Letter to General Frederick J. Kroesen

Commander in Chief, US Army Europe and Seventh Army

23 July 1981

As you recall, sometime ago we had some problems getting USAF agreement to Battlefield Air Interdiction [attacking ground targets behind the “front lines’] procedures that would satisfy our ground commanders’ needs in fighting the second echelon battle [the enemy forces coming behind the first attack]. As a direct result of your work with USAFE, the USAF has taken a position on the BAI issue which I think will improve the synchronization in future AirLand battles. A copy of the recently signed USA and USAF agreement on Apportionment and Allocation of Offensive Air Support is attached.

This agreement reconciles Army and Air Force positions on management of air assets.

That was a lot of reading. Imagine the thousands of hours Starry himself must have expended over the years to reach a satisfactory result. This was not the only fish he had to fry. It would have been easy, natural, to express contempt toward those guys, the Air Staff weenies, and to make fiery speeches in briefings and articles. That, however, would not have solved the deadly serious problem facing the United States in Europe.

Notice the Creech-Starry partnership advanced the ball before the Reagan defense build-up rained money on every service. There is surely a great story to be told about Air Force General Bill Creech. As an old Army veteran, even an ancient air defense artillerist, I cede that happy task to an Air Force veteran. I have offered a brief tour of one of the long bureaucratic battles U.S. Army General Donn Starry helped shape with patient, persistent diplomacy, setting conditions for Cold War victory. He remains an example of successful strategic leadership, where you can seldom snap your fingers, stomp your feet, or bellow an order to produce results. Success comes more from persuading others over whom you have no direct power. That persuasion must be supported by careful work to lay out the facts relevant to all parties to the discussion and decision. Such long, hard work can be made much harder by hurling insults and casting aspersions, however deserved we feel them.


* The Birth of the United States Air Force

** I had the honor of serving under Major General Fred Franks when he commanded the 1st Armored Division in West Germany. You could not tell he had an artificial foot. He had not only fought to remain on active duty but reportedly took dance lessons during his long recovery to develop a level of physical poise equal to that of any man with two good legs.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

     

    Clifford A. Brown:

    Imagine the thousands of hours Starry himself must have expended over the years to reach a satisfactory result. This was not the only fish he had to fry. It would have been easy, natural, to express contempt at those guys, the Air Staff weenies, and to make fiery speeches in briefings and articles. That, however, would not have solved the deadly serious problem facing the United States in Europe.

    … I have offered a brief tour of one of the long bureaucratic battles U.S. Army General Donn Starry helped shape with patient, persistent diplomacy, setting conditions for Cold War victory. He remains an example of successful strategic leadership, where you can seldom snap your fingers, stomp your feet, or bellow an order to produce results. Success comes more from persuading others over whom you have no direct power. That persuasion must be supported by careful work to lay out the facts relevant to all parties to the discussion and decision. Such long, hard work can be made much harder by hurling insults and casting aspersions, however deserved we feel them.

    Skillful diplomacy, indeed. Reminds me somewhat of lessons learned in university politics. I wouldn’t have thought it was at all comparable to Armed Services politics, but I guess I’m not surprised. It helps a lot when your accomplishments can also be other people’s accomplishments, though it may take some work to get them to see and use them that way.

    • #1
  2. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well.  After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command.  The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.  

    • #2
  3. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well. After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command. The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.

    It wasn’t so clear cut. Yes, the bomber community was defunded to pay for new fighters (F-22 then F-35), but the B-1 actually briefly got the funding it needed to prove it wasn’t a fleet of hangar queens. B-2s were B-2’s and gucci, so ACC liked them.. B-52’s weren’t modernized to keep up with the CAF (Combat Air Forces). Space command had the ICBMs, but since those things are so inexpensive to operate, didn’t raid it to fund other things.

    The real change happened when Air Combat Command (ACC) and Space Command allowed nuclear readiness to atrophy to the point where ACC didn’t realize it had inadvertently flown 6 nuclear armed cruise missiles across the country; while nearly simultaneously Space Command had responded to a Taiwanese request for “Helicopter Batteries” by sending them ICBM fuse components.

    Those two incidents caused the USAF to take away Bombers from ACC and ICBMs form Space Command and give the responsibility for them to Air Force Global Strike Command.

    • #3
  4. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Instugator (View Comment):
    “Helicopter Batteries” by sending them ICBM fuse components.

    Well now, since a helicopter is just 10,000 parts flying in loose formation, and an ICBM is a bunch of atoms just waiting to fly apart together, I think we can understand the mistake.

    • #4
  5. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well. After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command. The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.

    It wasn’t so clear cut. Yes, the bomber community was defunded to pay for new fighters (F-22 then F-35), but the B-1 actually briefly got the funding it needed to prove it wasn’t a fleet of hangar queens. B-2s were B-2’s and gucci, so ACC liked them.. B-52’s weren’t modernized to keep up with the CAF (Combat Air Forces). Space command had the ICBMs, but since those things are so inexpensive to operate, didn’t raid it to fund other things.

    The real change happened when Air Combat Command (ACC) and Space Command allowed nuclear readiness to atrophy to the point where ACC didn’t realize it had inadvertently flown 6 nuclear armed cruise missiles across the country; while nearly simultaneously Space Command had responded to a Taiwanese request for “Helicopter Batteries” by sending them ICBM fuse components.

    Those two incidents caused the USAF to take away Bombers from ACC and ICBMs form Space Command and give the responsibility for them to Air Force Global Strike Command.

    I remember how shocked I was to read about the loaded ALCM’s being flown – to Barksdale, I think?  I just remember how nukes were managed in the old days and seeing the results of Nuclear Surety Inspections.  A non-trivial number of careers ended over failed inspections and operatives successfully penetrating ground alert areas.  

    • #5
  6. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Great post Clifford.

    As a 19-year old “speedy-five” in Nam, I wasn’t yet into strategic theories, but I did wonder from time to time about the “mixed tactics” of the period.  In Vietnam, battalion-level skirmishes with the helicopter providing mobility and close air support, while halfway around the world, divisions sitting in the Fulda Gap (and to a lesser extent on the Korean DMZ) waiting to fight a more conventional war.

    Very easy to see that the Army could suffer from an “identity crisis”.

    • #6
  7. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well. After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command. The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.

    It wasn’t so clear cut. Yes, the bomber community was defunded to pay for new fighters (F-22 then F-35), but the B-1 actually briefly got the funding it needed to prove it wasn’t a fleet of hangar queens. B-2s were B-2’s and gucci, so ACC liked them.. B-52’s weren’t modernized to keep up with the CAF (Combat Air Forces). Space command had the ICBMs, but since those things are so inexpensive to operate, didn’t raid it to fund other things.

    The real change happened when Air Combat Command (ACC) and Space Command allowed nuclear readiness to atrophy to the point where ACC didn’t realize it had inadvertently flown 6 nuclear armed cruise missiles across the country; while nearly simultaneously Space Command had responded to a Taiwanese request for “Helicopter Batteries” by sending them ICBM fuse components.

    Those two incidents caused the USAF to take away Bombers from ACC and ICBMs form Space Command and give the responsibility for them to Air Force Global Strike Command.

    I remember how shocked I was to read about the loaded ALCM’s being flown – to Barksdale, I think? I just remember how nukes were managed in the old days and seeing the results of Nuclear Surety Inspections. A non-trivial number of careers ended over failed inspections and operatives successfully penetrating ground alert areas.

    When I was JAG eons ago I was TDY to Whiteman AFB for an administrative discharge proceeding. One of the hearing panel officers related the story of a young airman being discharged for letting two young women into his silo bunker with pizza. The officer asked the airman what had been said to him to induce this security breach. The young man responded that they said if he didn’t let them in he was a “f*$&ing lifer“. The officer told the young airman,  “Well that is certainly something that we can  do something about!”

    • #7
  8. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well. After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command. The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.

    It wasn’t so clear cut. Yes, the bomber community was defunded to pay for new fighters (F-22 then F-35), but the B-1 actually briefly got the funding it needed to prove it wasn’t a fleet of hangar queens. B-2s were B-2’s and gucci, so ACC liked them.. B-52’s weren’t modernized to keep up with the CAF (Combat Air Forces). Space command had the ICBMs, but since those things are so inexpensive to operate, didn’t raid it to fund other things.

    The real change happened when Air Combat Command (ACC) and Space Command allowed nuclear readiness to atrophy to the point where ACC didn’t realize it had inadvertently flown 6 nuclear armed cruise missiles across the country; while nearly simultaneously Space Command had responded to a Taiwanese request for “Helicopter Batteries” by sending them ICBM fuse components.

    Those two incidents caused the USAF to take away Bombers from ACC and ICBMs form Space Command and give the responsibility for them to Air Force Global Strike Command.

    I remember how shocked I was to read about the loaded ALCM’s being flown – to Barksdale, I think? I just remember how nukes were managed in the old days and seeing the results of Nuclear Surety Inspections. A non-trivial number of careers ended over failed inspections and operatives successfully penetrating ground alert areas.

    When I was JAG eons ago I was TDY to Whiteman AFB for an administrative discharge proceeding. One of the hearing panel officers related the story of a young airman being discharged for letting two young women unto his silo bunker with pizza. The officer asked the airman what had been said to him to induce this security breach. The young man responded that they said if he didn’t let them in he was a “f*$&ing lifer“. The officer told the young airman, “Well that is certainly something that we can do something about!”

    Hmmm.  Sounds like OCS material to me…

    • #8
  9. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well. After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command. The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.

    It wasn’t so clear cut. Yes, the bomber community was defunded to pay for new fighters (F-22 then F-35), but the B-1 actually briefly got the funding it needed to prove it wasn’t a fleet of hangar queens. B-2s were B-2’s and gucci, so ACC liked them.. B-52’s weren’t modernized to keep up with the CAF (Combat Air Forces). Space command had the ICBMs, but since those things are so inexpensive to operate, didn’t raid it to fund other things.

    The real change happened when Air Combat Command (ACC) and Space Command allowed nuclear readiness to atrophy to the point where ACC didn’t realize it had inadvertently flown 6 nuclear armed cruise missiles across the country; while nearly simultaneously Space Command had responded to a Taiwanese request for “Helicopter Batteries” by sending them ICBM fuse components.

    Those two incidents caused the USAF to take away Bombers from ACC and ICBMs form Space Command and give the responsibility for them to Air Force Global Strike Command.

    I remember how shocked I was to read about the loaded ALCM’s being flown – to Barksdale, I think? I just remember how nukes were managed in the old days and seeing the results of Nuclear Surety Inspections. A non-trivial number of careers ended over failed inspections and operatives successfully penetrating ground alert areas.

    When I was JAG eons ago I was TDY to Whiteman AFB for an administrative discharge proceeding. One of the hearing panel officers related the story of a young airman being discharged for letting two young women unto his silo bunker with pizza. The officer asked the airman what had been said to him to induce this security breach. The young man responded that they said if he didn’t let them in he was a “f*$&ing lifer“. The officer told the young airman, “Well that is certainly something that we can do something about!”

    Frequent SAC joke was that a Domino’s pizza delivery vehicle would be the easiest way to penetrate security.  Once at Grand Forks (83) a guy dressed up as a chaplain with corresponding ID talked his way into the alert area.  Everyone involved up to one level below the group commander was relieved. 

    • #9
  10. Dave Carter Podcaster
    Dave Carter
    @DaveCarter

    Fantastic piece, featuring some acronyms I hadn’t heard in a very long time, but which spoke a language I haven’t quite forgotten yet.  As a sidebar, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting chaired by then-retired General Dixon. This was in 1992, I believe, and Gen Dixon had been asked by the CSAF to explore the feasibility of shifting the F-15 fighter training mission at Tyndall AFB from Air Combat Command to the newly rechristened Air Education and Training Command, which meant shifting Tyndall from an ACC base to AETC. 

    I managed to sit in on the meeting, as wing historian, to record the proceedings and document the impending transition. We all knew General Dixon’s reputation, and everyone was appropriately on the edge of their seats as he walked around the room talking to various people at whim.  He stopped in front of me and said, “How the hell did you get in here?” (I was the only enlisted guy in the room.) 

    No pressure, right? I popped out of the chair like my ass had been spring-loaded and explained that I was the historian.  “Historian, eh?” Dixon said, adding, “I’ve read some Air Force histories. Most boring [expletive deleted] I ever read.”  At which point I heard the words, “Then you haven’t read mine,” escape from my lips.  He smiled. I nearly passed out. Then the meeting continued.  His reputation as a “nut,” was most likely equal parts true and cultivated.  Thanks for this highly informative article! 

    • #10
  11. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well. After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command. The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.

    It wasn’t so clear cut. Yes, the bomber community was defunded to pay for new fighters (F-22 then F-35), but the B-1 actually briefly got the funding it needed to prove it wasn’t a fleet of hangar queens. B-2s were B-2’s and gucci, so ACC liked them.. B-52’s weren’t modernized to keep up with the CAF (Combat Air Forces). Space command had the ICBMs, but since those things are so inexpensive to operate, didn’t raid it to fund other things.

    The real change happened when Air Combat Command (ACC) and Space Command allowed nuclear readiness to atrophy to the point where ACC didn’t realize it had inadvertently flown 6 nuclear armed cruise missiles across the country; while nearly simultaneously Space Command had responded to a Taiwanese request for “Helicopter Batteries” by sending them ICBM fuse components.

    Those two incidents caused the USAF to take away Bombers from ACC and ICBMs form Space Command and give the responsibility for them to Air Force Global Strike Command.

    The terms “Fighter Mafia” and “Bomber Mafia” weren’t that far-fetched.  When it came to budget time, those two groups went hammer and tongs against each other.

    • #11
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    The terms “Fighter Mafia” and “Bomber Mafia” weren’t that far-fetched.  When it came to budget time, those two groups went hammer and tongs against each other.

    I debated rolling out those terms, but left them out as needing further explanation. It is my impression that, after we and the Russians were no longer on hair-trigger to blow up the world, power shifted from bombers to “fighters.” Never mind that “fighters” encompass light bombing missions (F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 variants) and ground attack missions (A-10). 

    • #12
  13. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee
    @RobertELee

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I remember the SAC/TAC battles well. After Desert Storm I always wondered what happened when they were merged into Air Combat Command. The mindsets were so different that I assumed the TAC people overwhelmed the SAC remnants, but I was long gone by then.

    • #13
  14. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee
    @RobertELee

    Dave Carter (View Comment):

    Fantastic piece, featuring some acronyms I hadn’t heard in a very long time, but which spoke a language I haven’t quite forgotten yet. As a sidebar, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting chaired by then-retired General Dixon. This was in 1992, I believe, and Gen Dixon had been asked by the CSAF to explore the feasibility of shifting the F-15 fighter training mission at Tyndall AFB from Air Combat Command to the newly rechristened Air Education and Training Command, which meant shifting Tyndall from an ACC base to AETC.

    I managed to sit in on the meeting, as wing historian, to record the proceedings and document the impending transition. We all knew General Dixon’s reputation, and everyone was appropriately on the edge of their seats as he walked around the room talking to various people at whim. He stopped in front of me and said, “How the hell did you get in here?” (I was the only enlisted guy in the room.)

    No pressure, right? I popped out of the chair like my ass had been spring-loaded and explained that I was the historian. “Historian, eh?” Dixon said, adding, “I’ve read some Air Force histories. Most boring [expletive deleted] I ever read.” At which point I heard the words, “Then you haven’t read mine,” escape from my lips. He smiled. I nearly passed out. Then the meeting continued. His reputation as a “nut,” was most likely equal parts true and cultivated. Thanks for this highly informative article!

    He certainly had read how you’d like to preface a history!

    • #14
  15. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    I’ve become convinced that the creation of the U.S. Air Force was a mistake.  Presently the Army is the only service not to have its own air wing (notable exception, rotary wing).

    Even the Marines have their own air wing.

    The lack of coordination during Vietnam between the Army and Air Force is a prime argument, and the independence the World Wark II era 8th Air Force had from the Army presaged the problems that were had in Vietnam.  In fact, Eisenhower, as Supreme Allied Commander, had no authority over the 8th Air Force and had to beg for bombing support for some ground operations.

    The above story of Starry’s accomplishments in getting the Air Force to provide the appropriate support in Germany further adds to my argument.

    Perhaps a mitigating factor in today’s upper echelon military is the reduction in influence of the service chiefs when it comes to military operations and where the Goldwater Nichols Act placed operational control through the Secretary of Defense, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and then directly to the regional combatant commanders.

    In fact, the Wikipedia article on Goldwater Nichols specifically mentions the bureaucratic tussle over the AirLand Battle doctrine as a prime reason to reorganize the U.S. Military’s upper chain of command.

    • #15
  16. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    That was a great post.  Despite all the infighting and bureaucratic friction detailed in the post, which had I been around at the time I would have considered (because of the jealous guarding of rice bowls, equities, and agendas rife through all the services) something akin to the Don Quixote tilting at windmills, the efforts resulted in the AirLand Battle doctrine.

    ALB is the one doctrinal paradigm I’ve ever seen that all the force, from platoon to echelons above corps, from the tankers to the grunts to the loggies to the aviators, could wrap its head around and say, “got it.  I know what I gotta do, here.”

    Move fast.  Strike hard.  Finish quickly.

    • #16