Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense from the Assistant Defense Secretary (Comproller), Charles J. Hitch, Suggesting that the Use of Air Power Might Not Be Decisive in Southeast Asia, 24 August 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 545-548


24 AUG 1964


SUBJECT: Review of USAF Study: "Relationship of Tactical Air to Ground Forces, Southeast Asia, 1964 and 1969"

The subject study examines the use of land-based tactical airpower as an alternative to the use of U.S. ground forces in the event of a large scale intervention in Southeast Asia by CHICOM/DRV forces. You have requested the Chairman, JCS, to review this study, with particular emphasis on the sections dealing with the use of non-nuclear ordnance in 1964. Completion of this review is expected by August 28. In the interim, my Systems Analysis office has completed a parallel and independent review.

The Air Force study contains the following sentence:

The evidence supports the conclusion that tactical air with nonnuclear munitions can prevent the takeover of Southeast Asia by CHICOM ground forces opposed by minimal friendly ground forces.

However, I cannot agree that the evidence presented in the report is sufficient to support (or deny) such a conclusion. I have attached a paper commenting in some detail on the study. Briefly, my objections are as follows:

Some critically important calculations are incorrect. These include weapons effectiveness and the resulting requirements for combat sorties.

Some significant issues are largely ignored. Among these are (1) the effects of weather, particularly with respect to non-average conditions; (2) the effects of aircraft losses due to enemy action; (3) the logistic support requirements for the proposed force; (4) the vulnerability of the friendly airbases to enemy ground and/or air forces; (5) the ability of the force to conduct the basic interdiction campaign in the event that suppression of enemy airbases should also be necessary; (6) the time required to deploy the proposed force, and the effects of a CHICOM/DRV intervention prior to completion of our build-up; and (7) the use of carrier-based tactical airpower.

Some assumptions are inadequately supported. Among these are (1) the adequacy of the existing airbases to support the large proposed force; and the lack of alternative modes of transport available to the enemy.

Some assumptions appear optimistic. Among these are (1) the high [word missing] rate achieved; and (2) the small number of flak suppression sorties [word missing].

In my opinion, the question of the relationship between tactical air and ground forces in Southeast Asia remains open. Not only is a far more [word missing] and comprehensive analysis needed, but the use of naval and, probably, Army forces, in addition to land-based tactical air, must be considered.

As to who might be the best candidate for such a study, I feel that there is much to be said for CINCPAC, who would ultimately have the operational responsibility for implementing his own analytical recommendations, should it come to that. However, I recommend that you discuss this problem with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the interim, I will take no formal action relating to the current Air Force study.

Charles I. Hitch

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