The interval of peace that followed World War II was short. As soon as the fighting ended, the United States began discharging troops at the rate of 100,000 a week. Between August 1945 and June 1946, the Army Air Forces deactivated 68,000 airplanes. Most of them were cut up for scrap.
Some forces remained overseas, but that was understood to be a temporary arrangement. US occupation forces expected to be out of Germany in two years.
Postwar plans had not counted on a challenge from our wartime ally, the Soviet Union. The Red Army was on the Elbe, in possession of Eastern Europe and much of Germany. Never before in their history had the Russians held a position of such opportunity.
At Yalta in February 1945, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin promised freedom for the nations of liberated Europe. In reality, the Russians had no intention of going home. Their plan was to convert the territory they had overrun into a buffer zone to shield the Soviet Union from invasion.
The Russians consolidated their control in the east and pressed for new advantages in Central Europe.
In a speech at Fulton, Mo., in 1946 Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, declared, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
The only nation strong enough to contend with the Soviet Union was the United States. US forces would not be going home after all.
The Cold War1 and the US Air Force got under way at about the same time. Over the next 40 years, they had a strong effect on each other. The Air Force was shaped by Cold War requirements.
Cold War strategy evolved largely on the basis of what the Air Force’s capabilities made possible.
The atomic bomb was central to military power in the Cold War. It was inherently an air weapon. The Air Force, which did not become a separate service until September 1947, stood first in the nation’s defense. That overturned traditional service roles and missions and generated a backlash from the Army and the Navy.
The consolidated Department of Defense— like the Air Force, created in 1947—struggled to find solutions to a global threat that, until recently, had not even been imagined.
President Harry Truman wanted to cut military spending, pay down the wartime deficit, and give long-overdue attention to the nation’s domestic needs. The Cold War changed his priorities. ...
Table of Contents:
6 Iron Curtain
Challenge in Europe Containment Berlin Airlift Atomic Airpower
9 Massive Retaliation
NSC-68 Korea The “New Look” NATO and the Pact
13 Strategic Force
The “Super” Bomb SAC and ADC Global Power ICBMs
16 Nuclear Strategies and Concepts
Khrushchev Fans the Fires Counterforce and Countervalue Missiles and Bombers Space
19 High Noon
U-2 Incident Bay of Pigs Berlin Wall Cuban Missile Crisis
21 Flexible Response
Nuclear Options Conventional Forces Domino Theories Vietnam
23 (Mutual) Assured Destruction
McNamara and Strategy Retreat From Superiority Parity
Essential Equivalence Arms Control China Nuclear Options and Strategies The Brezhnev Doctrine Conflicts Abroad
31 Problems of Balance
One-Sided Counterforce Team B Scowcroft Commission The Strategic Triad
35 Challenging the Evil Empire
Rearming America Revoking Detente SDI Standoff in Europe Force vs. Force
39 Fall of the Soviet Union
Gorbachev Demise of the Pact End of the USSR The Cold War Legacy
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By John T. Correll
After 20 years of service in the US Air Force, John T. Correll joined the staff of Air Force Magazine, journal of the Air Force Association, in 1982. He was editor in chief from 1984 to 2002. He continues to study and write about national defense and air and space power.
AN AIR FORCE ASSOCIATION SPECIAL REPORT
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Chronology: The Air Force and the Cold War 1945-91
1945-49: Challenge and Containment
May 8, 1945. Germany surrenders. Red Army holds Eastern Europe, Balkans, and Eastern Germany.
March 5, 1946. Churchill says “Iron Curtain” has descended in Europe.
March 12, 1947. “Truman Doctrine” declares US support for Greece and Turkey to fight Communist insurgency.
June 5, 1947. Marshall Plan for recovery of Europe announced.
July 1947. “Containment” concept formulated by George Kennan in Foreign Affairs “X” article.
Sept. 18, 1947. The US Air Force becomes a separate service.
1947-48. Soviet Union converts East European nations into subservient Communist states.
June 26, 1948. The Berlin Airlift begins; ends Sept. 30, 1949.
June 26, 1948. Air Force receives first operational B-36 bombers.
Feb. 26-March 2, 1949. B-50 Lucky Lady II makes first nonstop flight around the world.
April 4, 1949. North Atlantic Treaty Organization created.
May 23, 1949. Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) established.
Aug. 29, 1949. The Soviet Union explodes an atomic bomb.
Oct. 1, 1949. People’s Republic of China takes power.
Oct. 7, 1949. German Democratic Republic (East Germany) established.
1950s: At the Brink
Jan. 31, 1950. Truman orders development of the hydrogen bomb.
Feb. 14, 1950. Soviet Union and China sign treaty of alliance and mutual assistance.
March 15, 1950. The Joint Chiefs of Staff give the Air Force formal responsibility for development of strategic guided missiles.
April 14, 1950. NSC-68, the “blueprint for the Cold War,” prescribes US rearmament and containment of the Soviet Union.
June 25, 1950. Korean War begins.
Oct. 25, 1950. Red Chinese forces enter the Korean War.
Jan. 1, 1951. Air Defense Command, previously abolished, is restored to full status as a major air command.
July 14, 1952. The Ground Observer Corps begins its round-the-clock skywatch.
Oct. 3, 1952. Britain tests its first atomic bomb.
Oct. 31, 1952. The United States tests its first thermonuclear device.
Dec. 9, 1952. NATO adopts strategy 14/1; will rely on US nuclear weapons in defense of Europe.
June 5, 1953. B-47 bomber achieves initial operational capability.
July 27, 1953. UN and North Korea sign armistice agreement, producing cease-fire in Korea.
Aug. 12, 1953. Soviets explode a thermonuclear device.
Oct. 30, 1953. NSC-162/2 inaugurates the “New Look” strategy.
Jan. 12, 1954. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles makes “massive retaliation” speech.
April 7, 1954. Eisenhower formulates the “Domino Theory.”
May 1, 1955. Warsaw Pact created.
May 5, 1955. West Germany joins NATO.
June 19, 1955. B-52 bomber achieves initial operational capability.
July 21, 1955. Eisenhower proposes “Open Skies.” Soviets refuse.
Nov. 26, 1955. Pentagon gives Air Force operational control of ICBMs and all land-based missiles with range greater than 200 miles.
Jan. 17, 1956. DOD reveals the existence of SAGE, an electronic air defense system.
July 4, 1956. CIA U-2 reconnaissance aircraft makes first overflight of Soviet Union.
Oct. 23-Nov. 10, 1956. Hungarian Revolution suppressed by Soviet troops.
Nov. 18, 1956. Khrushchev tells West, “We will bury you.”
May 23, 1957. NATO adopts strategy 14/2, “Massive Retaliation.”
June 11, 1957. SAC receives first Air Force U-2.
June 28, 1957. SAC receives first KC-135 jet-powered tankers.
July 31, 1957. The DEW Line is reported to be fully operational.
Aug. 1, 1957. US and Canada form North American Air Defense Command.
Aug. 21, 1957. Soviet Union test-launches world’s first ICBM.
Oct. 4, 1957. Soviet Union puts Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into Earth orbit.
Dec. 6, 1957. The first US attempt to orbit a satellite fails when a Vanguard rocket loses thrust and explodes.
Dec. 17, 1957. First successful US launch and test flight of an ICBM, an Air Force Atlas.
Jan. 31, 1958. US finally places a satellite in orbit with Explorer I.
July 15, 1958. First major deployment (to Lebanon) of Composite Air Strike Force.
Sept. 9, 1959. Atlas missile declared operational by CINCSAC.
1960s: Superpower Standoff
Feb. 3, 1960. France tests its first atomic bomb.
May 1, 1960. CIA U-2 is shot down over the Soviet Union.
July 20, 1960. First flight of Polaris, the first US submarine launched ballistic missile.
Aug. 10, 1960. First successful flight of Air Force/CIA Corona, the first US photoreconnaissance satellite.
Aug. 17, 1960. Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff created to coordinate targeting of Air Force ICBMs and Navy SLBMs.
Jan. 6, 1961. Khrushchev declares support for “wars of national liberation.”
Feb. 1, 1961. Ballistic Missile Early Warning System operational.
Feb. 3, 1961. SAC’s EC-135 Airborne Command Post “Looking Glass” begins operations.
April 12, 1961. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin makes the first manned spaceflight.
April 17, 1961. CIA-supported Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba fails.
July 1961. Fifty percent of SAC’s bombers and tankers maintain 15-minute ground alert.
Aug. 13, 1961. Construction of Berlin Wall begins.
Sept. 6, 1961. National Reconnaissance Office created to operate intelligence satellites.
Oct. 26, 1961. US and Soviet tanks confront each other at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
Nov. 16, 1961. Air Force’s “Operation Farm Gate” commandos arrive in Vietnam.
June 16, 1962. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara publicly announces “No Cities/Counterforce” nuclear targeting doctrine.
Oct. 14, 1962. Air Force U-2 obtains photographic evidence of Soviet ballistic missile sites inCuba.
Oct. 27, 1962. First 10 Minuteman I missiles go on alert.
Oct. 28, 1962. USSR agrees to remove missiles from Cuba, ending Cuban Missile Crisis.
Aug. 5, 1963. Limited Test Ban Treaty signed by US, Great Britain, and Soviet Union.
Aug. 30, 1963. US and Soviet Union install round-the-clock teletype hotline between thePentagon and the Kremlin.
April 21, 1964. The number of US ICBMs on alert pulls even with the number of bombers on alert.
Oct. 15, 1964. Khrushchev deposed, succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev.
Oct. 16, 1964. Chinese explode a nuclear device.
Dec. 22, 1964. First flight of the SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft.
Jan. 1, 1965. Air Force activates first SR-71 wing.
Feb. 18, 1965. Secretary of Defense McNamara announces change of strategy from “No Cities” to “Assured Destruction.”
March 2, 1965. Sustained air operations against North Vietnam begin.
May 1965. C-141A Starlifter, USAF’s first jet-powered transport, reaches initial operational capability.
March 10, 1966. France withdraws its armed forces from NATO.
Jan. 12, 1968. The Air Force announces a system for tactical units to carry with them everything they need to operate at “bare” bases equipped only with runways, taxiways, parking areas, and a water supply.
Jan. 16, 1968. NATO adopts strategy 14/3,”Flexible Response,” replacing Massive Retaliation.
Aug. 20, 1968. Soviet and Warsaw Pact armed forces stamp out “Prague Spring” political liberalization movement in Czechoslovakia.
Nov. 12, 1968. Brezhnev Doctrine: Soviet satellites must conform to Soviet direction.
March 2-Aug. 13, 1969. Soviet and Chinese forces clash along border in Asia.
June 24, 1969. NSDM 16 calls for “Strategic Sufficiency.”
July 20, 1969. US astronauts make first lunar landing.
1970s: Detente in a Dangerous Decade
July 30, 1970. Israeli Air Force shoots down five MiGs flown by Soviet pilots in Middle East “War of Attrition.”
September 1970. C-5 airlifter achieves initial operational capability.
Dec. 16, 1970. SAC receives first FB-111s.
Dec. 30, 1970. First squadron of Minuteman III missiles (with multiple warheads) becomes operational.
Feb. 21-28, 1972. President Nixon visits China.
May 26, 1972. SALT I and ABM treaties signed.
Aug. 15, 1973. Air Force aircraft fly their last combat missions of Vietnam War.
Oct. 12-Nov. 14, 1973. US Nickel Grass airlift resupplies Israel in the Arab-Israeli War.
March 4, 1974. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger announces “Limited Nuclear Options” strategy.
April 30, 1975. Saigon falls to North Vietnamese forces.
June 30, 1977. President Carter cancels B-1A bomber program.
Dec. 16, 1978. US and China establish diplomatic relations. US transfers recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
June 18, 1979. SALT II treaty signed.
Dec. 27, 1979. Soviet forces invade Afghanistan and overthrow the government.
1980s: Confronting the Evil Empire
Jan. 3, 1980. Carter withdraws SALT II treaty from Senate consideration because of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
March 31, 1980. Air Defense Command inactivated.
July 25, 1980. Presidential Directive 59 establishes “Countervailing” strategy.
Aug. 22, 1980. Department of Defense reveals existence of stealth technology.
June 18, 1981. First (and secret) flight of the F-117A stealth fighter.
Oct. 2, 1981. President Reagan reinstates the B-1 bomber program.
July 1, 1982. US Air Force activates first ground launched cruise missile (GLCM) wing at RAF Greenham Common in England.
Sept. 1, 1982. Air Force Space Command is established.
December 1982. Air launched cruise missile reaches initial operational capability.
Jan. 17, 1983. NSDD-75 calls for rollback of Soviet power and expansionism.
March 8, 1983. Reagan delivers “Evil Empire” speech.
March 23, 1983. Reagan delivers “Star Wars” speech.
Sept. 1, 1983. Soviets shoot down KAL 007 airliner.
Oct. 10, 1985. The Peacekeeper ICBM reaches initial operational capability.
April 15, 1986. In Operation El Dorado Canyon, US Air Force F-111s take off in England, refuel in air six times, strike targets in Libya, return to base in England.
October 1986. Reagan holds to Strategic Defense Initiative at Reykjavik summit.
Oct. 1, 1986. B-1B bomber achieves initial operational capability.
May 5, 1987. The last Titan II ICBM is taken off strategic alert.
Dec. 8, 1987. US and USSR sign Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Dec. 7, 1988. Gorbachev reverses Brezhnev Doctrine.
July 17, 1989. First flight of the B-2A bomber.
Nov. 10, 1989. Fall of the Berlin Wall.
1990-91: Fall of the Soviet Union
July 24, 1990. SAC ends more than 29 years of continuous Looking Glass airborne alert missions.
Aug. 2, 1990. Iraq invades Kuwait.
Oct. 3, 1990. East and West Germany reunify.
Nov. 17, 1990. Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty signed.
Jan. 17, 1991. Operation Desert Storm begins; ends with Iraqi surrender Feb. 28.
July 1, 1991. Warsaw Pact formally disbands.
July 31, 1991. US and USSR sign START agreement.
Aug. 19, 1991. Communist hardliners attempt coup in Moscow. It fails Aug. 21.
Sept. 27, 1991. US strategic bomber crews stand down from round-the-clock alert.
Dec. 26, 1991. The Soviet Union ceases to exist.