When Alain Enthoven and the other “Whiz Kids” first hit the Pentagon with their economists’ approach to cost efficiency, they had a majority of the military staff in favor of both their goals and their methods. It appeared we had some young tigers who, with the power of the Office of the Secretary of Defense behind them, might finally achieve some meaningful savings by eliminating duplication of facilities, matèriel, and people among the services. But after about a year they found the fight to win these goals from Congress too tough and chose instead to usurp the roles of generals and admirals.
In his interview “Why the Military Can’t Get the Figures Right” (February/March) and in his book, Mr. Enthoven said that the real generals and admirals are inherently unwilling to adapt to new technologies that might make a favored weapon obsolete, that they showed no serious interest in evaluating weapons and operations and stopping the ones that were ineffective and building on the ones that were effective, that the single greatest need was to create an independent force, outside the professional military, that could look at military decisions in relation to cost and other considerations.
Under Mr. McNamara’s tutelage, they did set up such an independent force. Some results:
1. Under the guise of savings through commonality, the Air Force was made to cancel its F-105 fighter-bomber program and to buy the Navy F-4 interceptor aircraft to be used as a fighter-bomber and for low-level reconnaissance—roles for which it was totally unfit.
At that time, the F-105 was the first and only aircraft designed as a fighter-bomber for the Air Force for its tactical mission. Its design incorporated ideas from “Think Tanks” and hundreds of experienced fighter pilots. It had the 20-mm “Catling” gun installed in the nose for best accuracy and could carry huge loads of ordnance and had a precise, automated aiming and weapon-release system. Contrast this with the Interceptor F-4, which had to be modified extensively even to attach a bomb; plus a makeshift aiming and gun system had to be added. The shape of the F-4 made it highly vulnerable to radar-directed guns and missiles. This “independent force” decision was made shortly before the buildup for Vietnam—a time when the Air Force needed a real fighter-bomber. The Air Force ended up spending more on the F-4 and its modifications than the continued production of the F-105 would have cost, and it still had an unfit weapon.
2. Then, during the war, these pseudo-generals formulated and imposed the incredibly stupid policy of “controlled response.” This was followed by dictating that the Air Force would bomb the same target for several consecutive days for evaluations to be made, for instance, as to how many F-4s would have to be sent with such and such a bomb load and fuzings to destroy, say, three spans of a bridge. The pattern of our operations was so fixed that as soon as the first target for that week had been attacked, the North Vietnamese moved every available defensive weapon from other locations to that target. The Air Force paid an unnecessarily heavy price in crew and aircraft losses using equipment inadequate for the task and flying suicidal missions for acquiring useless data for some future war.
Mr. McNamara and his Whiz Kids might have succeeded in giving us a unified military with little duplication of facilities, matèriel and people, and with enormous savings over the last twenty-five years. But they gave up their chance for greatness when they abandoned their assignment and assumed roles for which they had no experience or qualification.