For more than a decade now, the U. S. Navy has been testing and as- simulating atomic weapons in order to adapt them to the discharge of its traditional functions in time of war.
To date, no philosophy expressing how these weapons are to be used has been declared. However, no sound naval atomic Philosophy could have been determined or Pronounced until the experience of testing and limited use had been well digested.
It is now timely and proper for the Navy to express an atomic warfare philosophy: the precision delivery of atomic weapons with measured force upon military and related tarots to achieve precalculated destruction. (In this essay, the term “atomic weapons” will include both atomic and hydrogen weapons even though in the public mind, “nuclear weapons” often means thermonuclear” bombs. This is in contrast to Public Law 703, Section lid, 83rd Congress, wherein the term nuclear weapon” is defined as any device utilizing atomic energy. When referring to ship propulsion, nuclear propulsion” will be used.) Before developing this philosophy of naval atomic warfare, it is necessary:
- to document the Navy’s historical use °f force,
- to document the problems—technological revolution and events—which have influenced the Navy’s atomic philosophy,
- to attempt an answer to the question, Will naval atomic warfare ever be used?”
- to document the growth of the Navy’s atomic warfare capability.
The Navy’s Historical Use of Force
For 181 years, the U. S. Navy has used its power for the accomplishment of national aims in accordance with international law and in a civilized manner. Except on the rarest occasions, the Navy has not used its power to do more than sink or capture enemy ships, bombard and blockade an enemy’s harbors, and protect our commerce on the high seas.
With the advent of World War II, two new forces were introduced into American naval combat—the long range naval gun and the naval bomber. For the first time, the Navy became capable of extending and sustaining its striking power far beyond the traditional limits of the shoreline.
Notwithstanding, the Navy used its expanded capability in both World War II and the Korean War in accordance with its traditions—against military and related industrial and transportation targets.
Consider Japan. The total tonnage of bombs dropped by Allied planes in the Pacific War was 656,400. Of this, 160,800 tons (24%) were dropped on the Japanese home islands. Naval aircraft delivered only slightly over 1%—6,800 tons. Of this amount, three- fourths were dropped by carrier airplanes against airfields, warships, and miscellaneous military targets, one fourth against merchant shipping and industrial targets; primarily aircraft and engine factories. The Navy did not participate in the so-called mass bombing raids involving either incendiary or atomic weapons.
The employment of the Navy’s airpower in World War II was indicated by its type of planes—“fighter,” “dive bomber,” “patrol bomber” and “torpedo bomber.” With the exception of a few squadrons of PB4Y “Liberators” and “Privateers” and PV “Harpoons” (whose high-level attacks were confined to minelaying, reconnaissance, and destruction of shipping), the aerial attack methods used by the Navy were of a precision type: dive bombing and torpedo bombing.
The second force, the long range naval gun, was also used in traditional fashion, largely in amphibious attacks to get the Marines safely ashore and to support them as long as they were within range. In a few instances, the guns were used in the designed role—against combatant enemy ships, as in the Battle of Surigao Straits. After the Japanese fleet had been sunk or immobilized, these guns were used for long range bombardments, but still against military and related industrial targets.
The Navy followed its traditional pattern of the use of force during the Korean War with one difference (a difference which was also discernible in the closing months of World War II). While many of the Korean targets struck by the carriers were “tactical” and of naval interest, a large percentage of the assigned targets struck by the Navy were “strategic” ones: industrial, transportation, power systems, etc. The attacks on the Wonsan oil refinery, the Suiho and other North Korean hydro-electric plants, the Hwachon reservoir, the Kashin raid, and many, many others, were by any definition “strategic.” As during World War II, these targets were struck in precision attacks—by dive and glide bombing. Pilots were forbidden to drop bombs on non-military targets. If main or secondary targets could not be located, ordnance was either jettisoned or returned aboard. The ship bombardments of the North Korean coasts and the long siege of Wonsan were against military, transportation, and industrial targets. In the classic amphibious assault of Inchon, Vice Admiral Arthur D. Struble’s orders were specific:
“Unnecessary destruction will impede our progress,” his operation order stated. “Bombing and gunfire will be confined to targets whose destruction will contribute to the conduct of operations —accurate gunfire and pinpoint bombing against specific targets, rather than area destruction, is contemplated.”
This naval record of confining the fighting to the military sphere, and the directly related industrial area, of using weapons selected for specific targets, and delivered by precise methods, is clearly evident in all naval operations from its inception through the Korean War.
Excepting a hydrogen holocaust, naval atomic warfare in the jet-nuclear age can and must be conducted in a manner consistent with this historical legacy.
For the past ten years, the Navy has undergone a technological revolution of a magnitude and a rate never before witnessed in the history of naval arms. Not only have atomic weapons been introduced, but also high-performance jet aircraft, complicated electronics, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, and nuclear propulsion. This revolution has a direct bearing upon a naval atomic warfare philosophy.
The effects of this technological revolution can be summarized in two words: speed and power.
The revolution commenced in the air. As jet engines made it possible for aircraft to fly faster, many things happened. Aircraft became heavier, landed and took off at higher speeds, flew higher, went further, and completed their missions in half the time or less.
As an inevitable consequence, naval aircraft had to compete with land-based aircraft, and naval ships had to change, if an offensive-type Navy was to survive and control of the seas thereby be maintained.
The result was not only supersonic fighter and attack naval aircraft, but bigger, stronger carriers equipped with angled decks, steam catapults, landing mirrors, and complex electronic aids. Higher aircraft speeds made demands across the board—better instruments, new safety devices, longer runways ashore, better metals, better training, more skillful maintenance, better and more powerful defensive ordnance (i.e., surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles), new doctrine and new tactics. All of the material changes cost money.
On the ocean surface and below, ships speeds were also rising, although not in arithmetical progression as in the air. The advent of nuclear propulsion simply meant that cruising speed could be lop speed.
The greatest impact was on the submarine, f he nuclear-powered submarine’s ability to Proceed to station, to fight on station, and t° return from station at full speed (all the while submerged) transformed this type from a single purpose weapon to a multipurpose weapons system.
For surface ships, nuclear propulsion not only meant high sustained speed but spectacular endurance. It also forecast the sim- Plication of logistics as much as it promised the complication of doctrine.
Along with speed, the closely related element of power increased the impact the technological revolution was having upon the Navy. The consequence of nuclear propulsive power has just been mentioned. Concurrently, naval weapon power was not only soaring to astronomical levels but was becoming more varied, complicated, and deadly, and far more expensive.
Few people appreciated the gigantic increase in naval weapon power. It was now possible, for example, for one small naval aircraft carrying one small bomb with the equivalent destructive power which would have occupied more than 20,000 1BM Avengers in World War II. In a single strike, naval aircraft might obliterate every major seaport of any specified maritime nation. In a single salvo, one bombarding ship might deliver more destructive power than earthquaked every invasion beach of the Pacific War. In a single strike, naval aircraft could exceed, by several times, the weapon power delivered by more than 204,000 offensive naval air sorties during three years of the Korean War. Indeed, on a single modern carrier, in the space of a few steps, one could walk about and pat the lethal warheads of weapons whose destructive power exceeded all the ordnance the U. S. Navy had exploded in its entire history.
Naval weapon power had jumped from TNT to thermonuclear weapons, from fission to fusion. Force could be measured not in tons, not even in thousands of tons, but in millions of tons. The mind struggled to comprehend such magnitudes as these: one megaton was the equivalent of eighteen times all the explosives dropped by air on Germany in four years of war. One megaton weapon was the equivalent of fifty Hiroshima weapons.
The combination of propulsive power and weapon power had multiplied a million fold the Navy’s striking power. A task force of nuclear-powered missile submarines, for example, would be capable of moving swiftly and stealthily in the waters surrounding a continent, posing a lethal deterrent and/or striking force in an unknown, unpredictable, and sovereign position. One or more carrier forces would be capable of sending dozens of lethally-loaded airplanes near or far into an enemy’s territory. A task force of jet seaplanes, perhaps atomic-powered, would be capable of posing a similar threat.
Each of these forces would have speed, endurance, mobility, dispersability, and monstrous striking power.
A major problem of this astonishing 19461956 decade was, how could this naval metamorphosis best be exploited?
While the sweeping technological revolution was in itself sufficient to keep the Navy at General Quarters, the events of 1946-56 were equally absorbing—and a little curious. These, too, had a profound effect on the development of the Navy’s atomic philosophy.
Shortly after the end of World War II, the United States found herself in the strange position wherein all our former enemies— Italy, Germany, and Japan—were now friends and allies, while the governments of some of our allies of World War II—principally Communist China and Soviet Russia —were now enemies.
Soon after the close of World War II, the immediate events were “Magic Carpet,” “Mothball” and “Crossroads.”1 In 1947 came the drastic reorganization of the military defense of our country. These were followed by the Greek Civil War and the Berlin airlift. Next came the establishment of NATO. A few months later came the Korean War, and within a year the size of the U. S. Navy had doubled.
In 1949 the Soviets exploded their A- bomb, and in 1952 the United States exploded her H-bomb. More recently, there have been alarms in Formosa, fire drills in Indo-China, and, at this writing, revolution in Eastern Europe and hostilities in the Middle East.
In this turbulent decade, one history making event tumbled over the heels of another. New forces were born. A surprising rise in nationalism was seen; an equally sharp rise in neutralism was witnessed. New countries were born, and new alliances were erected. The 1946-56 era saw the Middle East in ferment, Asia in transition, and the great African giant stirring.
Throughout this period, the U. S. Navy struggled with a packed Pandora’s box of its own internal problems—falling prestige of career service, aging ships, drooping enlistment rates, eroding career benefits, blossoming overseas commitments, and soaring costs of naval supplies and equipment.
Each of these events had a profound impact on the Navy, its missions, and expanding capabilities. Each also had an effect upon the development of a naval atomic philosophy.
Will Atomic Warfare Ever Be Used?
The next problem impinging upon the development of a naval atomic warfare philosophy is this barbed nightmare: Will atomic warfare ever be used?
There are many military and political experts who fervently believe it will not. There are as many, or more, who are just as positive that atomic warfare will be, indeed must be, used.
To answer the question, however, atomic warfare must itself be defined. Does the question concern global or local war?2 More important, what kind and size of atomic weapons—thermonuclear bombs of multi-megaton power or atomic weapons of fractional kiloton yield?
If all-out, world-wide warfare between the free world and the Communist coalition using large “massive” atomic and thermonuclear weapons is reflected by the question, the answer is simply “nobody knows.” It is certain that the United States will never initiate such a war; it is also certain that if such attacks are made on the United States, terrible reprisal shall be made.
While it has become clear to people everywhere since the 1955 Geneva “Summit Conference” that all-out thermonuclear war is wholly irrational, or as President Eisenhower said “unthinkable” and “preposterous,” and that there can be no winner to such a war, the U. S. Navy must be more than ready for one. This is true because leaders of men are often irrational. As Churchill once noted, “The deterrent does not cover the case of lunatics or dictators.” On another occasion Churchill noted: “Self-preservation, not for [their country] but for themselves, lies at the root and is the explanation of their sinister and malignant policy.” Whenever the self-preservation of the Soviet dictatorship is at stake, the possibility of thermonuclear war is increased.
In this type of war, the Navy can and Must contribute—and contribute to a degree not yet appreciated. As Sir Winston noted in his last major address before the House of Commons, “Not only must the nuclear superiority of the Western powers he stimulated in every possible way, but the Means of delivery of bombs must be expanded, improved and varied.”
To provide prudently against the outbreak of such a war and to endeavor to survive in case it comes, the United States cannot afford a single reprisal force or system.
By having several systems or methods of retaliation instead of one,” said Secretary °f the Navy Charles S. Thomas, “we force an aggressor to anticipate retaliation by every one of these methods and systems.”
With its inherent mobility and dispersibility, the Navy can give balance, true dispersion, and variety to the United States’ reprisal system. In so doing, an aggressor— even an irrational one—will be uncertain that he can neutralize all parts in a sneak-blitz. No matter how pervasive, no matter how powerful, no matter how stealthy his initial blows, a sufficient part of this nation’s retaliatory force will remain. This Part shall be sufficient for reprisal. The U. S. Navy might conceivably be this fateful remainder—the balance of power for our country’s survival.
It is for this reason that the Navy must be able to contribute powerfully and with variety in what would certainly be an irrational, unthinkable, and immoral war. It is for this reason that it is collaterally prepared to deliver hydrogen bombs and is developing sea-based ballistic missiles. It is for this reason that a ballistic missile must go to sea aboard surface ships and submarines— the latter which Rear Admiral H. G. Rick- over calls the Navy’s “Underwater Satellite”—where it will not invite attack on our homeland and where it can be mobile and independent of foreign soil.
Turning now to lesser and local war, will tactical atomic weapons be used? Suppose the Communists suddenly attacked Formosa or invaded the Republic of South Korea. Would the United States use tactical atomic weapons?
The answer is uncertain, although it should not be. Two sinister shibboleths, probably Communist inspired, have grown, gained, and induced silence. These are:
- He who first uses an atomic weapon, large or small, loses not only the war but the peace which follows.
- He who first uses an atomic weapon ignites a chain reaction which must progressively lead to all-out atomic war.
Increasing evidence of these shibboleths is seen on every hand. In the spring of 1955, during the Formosa crisis, a prominent political journalist wrote that the first United States atomic weapon dropped on Chinese Communist troops could achieve what years of Soviet propaganda had failed to achieve: the splitting of the Western Alliance. More recently, a visiting Asian dignitary tells us that atomic warfare, whatever its lofty aims, can result in nothing but tragic destruction. An influential newspaper editorializes that reliance on atomic weapons tends to convert all wars into big wars, that world opinion is coming to regard atomic warfare as immoral. Other well-known writers warn that the use of A-weapons will instantly alienate the neutrals of Asia and Africa; that we will immediately and automatically lose the ideological war and therefore the peace; that in using atomic weapons we shall have proved the Communist propaganda theme so prevalent in Asia that the white man hates the yellow and black man and seeks to subjugate and, failing that, to destroy him.
The discerning reader will quickly note in these statements two errors: (1) a failure to distinguish between precision atomic warfare and massive atomic retaliation; (2) a readiness to ascribe immorality to a weapon. In themselves, atomic weapons are no more immoral than artillery shells, torpedoes, or conventional bombs. Use determines immorality.
Unfortunately progress in the art of building atomic weapons has meant only one thing to the layman: bigger bangs. The public concept of atomic warfare, in our country but especially abroad, is preserved in mental pictures of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the numerous tests at Bikini. This is not the full picture.
Notwithstanding, the above arguments have induced silence despite these presidential statements:
“In any combat where these things [tactical A-weapons] can be used on strictly military targets, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be used exactly as you would a bullet or anything else.” (Press conference of April 1, 1955.)
“We have learned to make weapons which reduce fall-out to a minimum and whose destructive effect can be concentrated on military objectives.” (Press conference of October 4, 1956.)
Atomic warfare can be kept limited only if the world—friend and foe alike—knows the types and small sizes of weapons which could be used and understands the vast difference between precision atomic warfare and mass destruction warfare. Unless the difference between precision atomic warfare and massive retaliation is made clear, and our intention to use precision weapons delivered by precision means made known, the United States is irretrievably headed toward nuclear impotence, or drifting into what has been termed “atomic isolationism” and being powerless to respond to “nibbling aggression.”
Knowing this, the Communists have striven (and, it must be acknowledged, with surprising success) to keep our eyes glued upon the massive retaliation ball, stalling development of military, economic, and ideological alternatives. Despite this, as shall be documented herein, the Navy has been developing military alternatives- -precision atomic warfare—involving the accurate “eyeball” delivery of very small tactical A-weapons.
In reality, any debate on whether or not atomic weapons shall be used in a localized war is an academic one. Indeed, the question has already been answered: at Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. The question is no longer whether but in what manner atomic weapons will henceforth be used.
The plain truth is that we are approaching the point of no return, when we shall have no choice other than to use atomic weapons in whatever type war we are forced to fight, for five reasons:
- Growth of Weapon Technology. The art of designing and building atomic weapons has grown by quantum strides. Atomic weapons can be built in a variety of forms and sizes to accomplish a variety of tasks. They can be “tailor-made” with greatly drying explosive yields, very small as well as very large—a not-understood fact of great importance.
- Military Efficiency. From the military commander’s viewpoint, the variety of weapons and yields (small as well as large) provides the best, and in some cases the only, solution for a given military problem—the destruction of a fast, deep-diving submarine, the certain kill of a bomber, or the neutralization of a military build-up. Certainly, such weapons give the commander greater speed, flexibility, and efficiency for accomplishing his mission. Tactical atomic weapons mean greater force delivered at less risk and cost—something every military commander wants.
- Economy. The cost of creating and maintaining modern military forces is rising so rapidly as to endanger the economic stability of the nation. To control burgeoning military costs, budgetary ceilings are necessarily applied. This inevitably leads to reductions somewhere—and reductions are most often made at the expense of nonnuclear forces and weapons.
- Common sense. It is foolish to build an airplane which costs one or several million dollars and risk its loss to a rifleman’s bullet or an anti-aircraft shell as it attempts to deliver $90 worth of machine gun ammunition, a $100 rocket, or a $180 TNT bomb.
- History. With the possible exception of Poisonous gas, it is an historical fact that man has never refrained from using the ever more terrible weapons that he develops.
It is therefore reasonable and prudent to assume that any local or larger scale war involving the United States will, indeed must, see the use of tactical atomic weapons.
Growth of Navy’s Atomic Warfare Capability
Let us now trace the growth of the Navy’s atomic warfare capability.
Until 1950 the U. S. Navy had no real atomic capability. Atomic weapons were too big for existing naval aircraft; they were of a type and size requiring high altitude delivery; they were very few in number; the only atomic weapons were bombs; and the mission of strategic air warfare was not a naval one.
Two other factors (which at the time seemed unrelated) are pertinent as to how and when the Navy grew into the atomic warfare picture.
First, the United States initially had a world-wide monopoly of A-weapons. No other nation had them or seemed likely to have them for several years. Second, no nation had intercontinental aircraft capable of reaching the heartland of the United States. (The nullification of these two advantages made it obvious that United States atomic retaliation capability should not be restricted to a single service or a single weapons system.)
Recognizing the impact that the jet engine would have, the Navy revealed its plans in 1948 to build a new type aircraft carrier. This carrier, sponsored by Admiral Marc A. Mitscher and based upon studies initiated by him, had features jet aircraft would demand. Its plans called for flight decks long enough and strong enough, hangar decks high enough and elevators big enough, and catapults and arresting equipment strong enough to operate the faster, heavier airplanes.
Moreover, all the operating, battle, and engineering lessons learned in four years of the Pacific War were incorporated in this new design. Extensive modernization plans were also drawn up to convert the Essex and Midway classes to operate the faster, bigger, and heavier aircraft.
With such ships, it logically followed that planes capable of carrying atomic weapons could also be used from their decks.
The next factor influencing the Navy’s entrance into the atomic weapons field was the rapid progress made in the art of building the A-weapons themselves. The initial models were heavy, bulky, and exceedingly intricate. But even in 1947, it took no prophet to foresee that in a few years, atomic weapons would be lightweight, more compact, and with explosive yields ranging from far less than the Hiroshima size (20 KT) to multiplied times that power. It was likewise obvious that atomic fission could be applied to other weapons besides bombs—projectiles, warheads, depth charges, and rockets.
Concurrent with these developments came the reorganization of the country’s military machinery. Roles and missions of each of the services were spelled out. Strategic air warfare3 was assigned to the Air Force. The Navy would continue to have responsibility for controlling the seas, including the capability of controlling the land areas from which threats to the seas might be projected.
As secondary functions, the Navy was assigned two collateral tasks: (1) “to interdict enemy land and air power and communications through operations at sea”; (2) “to be prepared to participate in the overall air effort.”
These, then, were the diverse factors which influenced and resulted in the Navy’s entrance into the atomic warfare field.
Accordingly, in 1948, the Navy organized its Heavy Attack Wing, humorously referred to in some quarters as the “poor man’s SAC.” The AJ-1 “Savage” aircraft was designed (1946), tested (1948), and delivered to the fleet (1949). By 1949, the art of building A-weapons had advanced to the point where jet fighters (such as the F2H “Banshee”) and the propeller aircraft (like the AD “Skyraider”) could deliver them. In traditional fashion, the Navy also pioneered the techniques of precision delivery of atomic weapons by a variety of techniques—“dive” bombing, and “loft” bombing or “over the shoulder” bombing.
The Development of the Navy’s Atomic Warfare Philosophy
For a few years following the end of World War II, there was some reluctance and lethargy within the Navy for entering the atomic warfare-nuclear propulsion field. Part of this reluctance was rooted in the Navy’s traditions; part of it was due to technical considerations; part was ignorance of the capability of atomic weapons; part the effect of security restrictions.
It soon became evident, however, that the Navy had to adapt itself to the jet-atomic age in order to discharge its basic and traditional responsibilities. As this conclusion was reached, the Navy’s atomic warfare philosophy began to develop in accord with the historical pattern of the use of naval force.
There was one early hiatus, however, which merits full attention.
Early in the decade being discussed, a splinter group viewpoint was expressed which suggested that the Navy, in theory at least, was the logical service to discharge the nation’s strategic air warfare mission. It was a mistake, this group said, pointing to the final months of the Pacific War, to consider the Navy’s airpower as “purely tactical”; its bombers would also be able to “mount and sustain strategic blows.”
This group believed that naval aircraft could deliver the atomic bomb most effectively. In fact, “we can do it better” was the gist of their argument. This theme was based on the fact that short ranged naval bombers, launched from carriers near an aggressor’s territory, would have inherently superior performance to intercontinental bombers, while their crews would have far better chances for survival. Participation in the strategic role, moreover, was the best and fastest way to get the Navy into the atomic warfare era.
Upon this premise, two conclusions were reached: (1) the outcome of any future war would be determined by strategic bombing; and (2) the Navy’s primary mission should be the delivery of an atomic attack on the capital and industrial centers of the enemy.
It is to the Navy’s credit that this proposition never gained more than fractional support. In fact, the conclusions were later publicly disavowed by the Secretary of the Navy, who stated that they were “at complete variance with Navy Department policy and views.” However, the proposition had sufficient back-spin for the opponents of the so-called “super-carrier” to seize upon it and torpedo the just-commenced USS United States. Here was eloquent proof, opponents said, that the Navy wanted to build a supercarrier in order to “muscle in” on the strategic air warfare role. Such an effort, they said, was not a naval mission, it was of dubious military value and, in any case, would Je an unjustified waste of the taxpayer’s money.
So prevalent did this view become that Rear Admiral Ralph Ofstie rose before a Congressional Committee in 1949 to make a Powerful denial:
'‘There is a widely held belief,” he said, that the Navy is attempting to encroach on strategic air warfare and that this was a principal consideration in planning the so-called ‘supercarrier.’ This is a misconception which is quite at variance with the facts. We consider that strategic air warfare as practiced in the past and as proposed in the future is militarily unsound and of limited effect, is morally wrong and is decidedly harmful to the stability of the postwar world.”
A Philosophy of Naval Atomic Warfare
In one pithy sentence of 38 words, the Navy has declared a philosophy of naval atomic warfare, a philosophy which was in complete consonance with its past. Naval atomic warfare had to be:
- Militarily sound
- Morally right
- Helpful to postwar security.
Can this philosophy, pronounced before the existence of hydrogen weapons, be applied to all-out thermonuclear war as well as limited atomic war?
In the case of a hydrogen holocaust, the answer is “no.” By no stretch of the imagination can a global thermonuclear war be militarily sound, effective, morally right, or helpful to post-war security. It is none of these.
Notwithstanding, in the tragic event of such a war, the Navy’s philosophy should still call out weapons which are tailored to the target, which are as “clean” as technically feasible, and which are delivered by the most precise system which the atomic explosion shall permit. The Navy must never he content to fire a missile or drop a bomb on a target and choose its warhead to compensate for the weapon’s delivery error. Target destruction is the criterion, and explosive yield must be chosen accordingly. The delivery system should then be selected to ensure the required accuracy. Constant effort should also be expended to improve accuracy to insure a continued downward trend for the destructive force needed for a given target.
Scrupulous care must be taken, moreover, that such collateral participation, however significant and necessary, is not given the connotation of “we can do it better.” Naval preparedness to participate in an all-out thermonuclear war stems from dire necessity to guarantee our national survival. It should be perfectly understood that this preparedness does not indicate an avidity to expand it to a primary naval mission; nor is it needed to justify the building of modern carriers, missile ships, and submarines. To give strength and balance to the nation’s entire reprisal system, the Navy’s inherent and traditional flexibility, mobility, and dispersability make it mandatory that these qualities be exploited.
In the case of localized war, it is submitted that atomic warfare can and must be conducted in accordance with our naval heritage and in compliance with these four principles, so long as weapon design, delivery method, and type of burst are controlled. The explosive yields of tactical naval weapons should be very small. Weapon design must reduce the fall-out peril to a minimum. The delivery method must always endeavor to place the weapon at the precise point of aim, and the acceptable margin of error should be limited to tens of feet. The altitude or place of burst must be compatible with the target and the surrounding areas.
For purposes of illustration, let us transpose in terms of time just three occasions during the Korean war when, if repeated now, modern precision atomic weapons might be used by the Navy in accordance with the four given criteria of naval atomic warfare:
- When the Red Chinese armies were streaming from Manchuria across the seven major Yalu river bridges into North Korea in October-November, 1950, naval aircraft were ordered to sever these vital arteries. The JCS order passed to Commander, Seventh Fleet was limited: to demolish only the Korean approaches and first over-water spans of the key bridges and thereby prevent the entrance of effective Communist forces into North Korea. Despite the temporary destruction of four bridges and heroic efforts made during a month of naval air attacks, the task could not be accomplished with TNT bombs. With small precision atomic weapons, however, the bridges could have been demolished, and with small damage, perhaps none, to the Manchurian sanctuary on the north side of the river.
- From February, 1951, until June, 1952, the Navy was ordered to interdict the rail and road system of northeast Korea in order to force the retreat and defeat of the Communist armies fighting in the south along Korea’s waist. Despite intense and costly efforts, successful at times, the task was never fully accomplished. Had precision atomic weapons been used, the key rail and highway bridges, rail and road junction, selected tunnels, and marshalling yards could have been immobilized with little damage other than to the transportation complex itself.
- As a third example, naval aircraft led the June, 1952, and subsequent attacks on the North Korean hydro-electric complexes, principally the vast Suiho plant across the Yalu river near Antung, Manchuria. The attacks were as successful as TNT bombs would permit, the Suiho complex being out of service for many weeks. Had precision atomic weapons been used, these electric power complexes could have been permanently pulverized.
As knowledge of the Navy’s philosophy of the use of atomic weapons is made clear to our friends and to our foes, two important results can be achieved. First, we avoid the semantical traps set by the Communists that the use of atomic weapons cannot be limited and the user will lose the war. If limiting a local war wherein precision atomic weapons are used is not possible, then indeed there is but a single choice—diplomacy or total war. The second result is that we improve our military flexibility by developing military alternatives.
In conclusion, the Navy should abide by these principles in the prosecution of naval atomic warfare:
- Naval atomic warfare should be militarily sound, effective, morally right, and helpful to postwar security.
- There should be no hesitation or reluctance, for either moral or historical reasons, for naval preparedness to participate in a global atomic war. To give flexibility, mobility, and dispersion to the nation’s deterrence system and to survive in the unhappy event that this deterrence system fails, the Navy must assume a significant, if not a predominant role, in both the deterrence and reprisal tasks.
- In both localized war and all-out nuclear war, the Navy must look to the peace which always follows. As Admiral Arthur W. Radford once said, “Victory in war is not an end in itself. The true end is a prosperous United States and a stable, peaceful world. Our military strategy must be phased to obtain that objective.”
- Declare that in the event of aggression, the Navy will be prepared to use precision atomic weapons. The small size and controllable yields of these weapons should be publicized, and it should be known that they can be delivered by precise methods; that the resulting explosion will not cause widespread or unrelated damage.
- Continue to sponsor requirements and develop doctrine and tactics for the use of smaller, more discriminate, “cleaner” weapons to be delivered by precision methods.
- Re-emphasize the Navy’s philosophy and publicize the profound difference between a local war fought with precision tactical weapons and a global holocaust fought with massive weapons.
In conclusion, the Navy’s strategic objective with atomic weapons should be: precision delivery with measured force to achieve precalculated destruction of military and related targets.
*The opinions or assertions in this article are the private ones of the writer and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Navy Department or the U. S. Naval Institute.
1. “Magic Carpet” was the “Bring the Boys Home” transportation movement. “Mothball” was the program to preserve large numbers of reserve ships. “Crossroads” was the first post-war atomic test to determine the effects of atomic bursts upon ships.
2. As used herein, the term “local war” is intended to mean a war fought between a limited number of nations in a restricted geographical area. In this sense, the Korean War was a local war; World War II was a global one. For lesser actions, and in certain circumstances for local wars, the writer believes it imperative that the Navy retain its flexibility and a full capability for using conventional (non-atomic) weapons.
3. This is defined as follows: “Air combat and supporting operations designed to effect, through the systematic application of force to a selected series of vital targets, the progressive destruction and disintegration of the enemy’s war making capacity to the point where he no longer retains the ability or the will to wage war. Vital targets may include key manufacturing systems, sources of raw materials, critical materials, stockpiles, power systems, transportation systems, communication facilities, concentrations of uncommitted elements of enemy forces, key agricultural areas, and other such target systems.”