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In the Bowels of Behemoth

The authors now explain, in words measured very carefully, “The main reason the TFX’s performance requirements were not given such an analysis was that in 1961 the Secretary of Defense did not yet have an independent analytical staff. It was not until 1965 that the Systems Analysis office had the charter and the manpower to review systematically the requirements aspects of proposed engineering development programs. Had the office been fully staffed and functioning at that time, the history of the TFX might have been different.”25

But this excuse begins to fall apart on closer inspection. In the first place, when one checks back on the hearing to which Enthoven and Smith refer, we find that in September, 1967, two years after the systems analysis office had “the charter and the manpower,” Dr. Enthoven was still defending the TFX and claiming that both the Air Force and the Navy were satisfied with the plane: “the Air Force pilots who are flying it are terribly enthusiastic about it,”26 while the Navy had come “to the conclusion that for the job of Fleet Air Defense for which it is intended it is the best choice.” 27

In other words, Dr. Enthoven, two years after systems analysis had, by his own account, achieved its full expansion, was still giving a Congressional committee the same kind of misleading information as McNamara was. Enthoven does not disclose this in his book but he does tell us that a year later in the summer of 1968, i.e., after Clark Clifford had taken over from McNamara, systems analysis recommended a sharp cutback in the F-111 program. This recommendation, Enthoven writes, was based on:

(1) the belief that the deep-interdiction mission for which the plane was designed [i.e., the idea that a tactical fighter could also double in brass as a strategic bomber—IFS] was not likely to be a productive use of resources and therefore should be reduced, (2) disappointment over the cost and performance of the plane in relation to alternatives, (3) recognition that the general financial situation of the country required a tougher scrutiny of all defense programs, and (4) realization that the cost and capability of U.S. tactical air forces had grown enormously in the past eight years without a sufficient reason.28

Why did it take eight years, and why did Enthoven wait until McNamara had left the Pentagon to make those recommendations? Could it be that the whiz kids dared not face his wrath by opposing him on the project on which he had so set his heart and staked his managerial reputation?

The answer may be suggested in a paper submitted to Senator Jackson’s Subcommittee on National Security in April, 1968, by Dr. James R. Schlesinger, then director of strategic studies at RAND and now assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget under Nixon. In a paper on “Uses and Abuses of Analysis”29 Dr. Schlesinger asked:

Will the decisionmaker tolerate analysis—even when it is his own hobby horses which are under scrutiny?… Dr. Enthoven has quite properly objected to the canard that analysis is somehow responsible for what are regarded as the mishaps of the TFX decisions, pointing out that the new procedures were only tangentially involved. A more penetrating question it seems to me, is: why did the analysts steer away from the issue? How many hobby horses are there? Are they off limits to the analysts?

In veiled but revealing terms, Dr. Schlesinger then went on to say:

An acquaintance, who has been deeply involved in analytic activities in one of the Departments, recently commented to me on his experience. Analysis he felt had been relevant in only a small proportion of the decisions. Half the time a decision had been foreclosed by high-level political involvement: a call from the White House, interest expressed by key Congressmen or Committees. In an additional 30 percent of the cases, the careers of immediate supervisors were involved. Analysis could not influence the recommendations; it could only serve as an irritant. [Emphasis added.] But, he argued, in something like 20 percent of the issues, analysis was unfettered and contributed to much improved overall results.

This, in my opinion, could only refer to Defense; in no other department had systems analysis been tried long enough or widely enough to provide the basis for such observations. I stumbled, while working on this review, onto a story I cannot prove that a systems analyst under Enthoven did submit a critical memorandum on the TFX very early in the decision-making debates. My information came from within the military bureaucracy but I am pledged not to reveal my source. I was told that a twelve-page memorandum recommended that a contract decision be postponed until a full “systems analysis” could be made. The memorandum argued that the Air Force and Navy mission requirements were too diverse to be met successfully by a single plane. I was also told that Dr. Enthoven in a hand-written note rejected this memorandum instead of passing it on to Gilpatric and McNamara on the ground that it would call down bureaucratic wrath on the fledgling systems analysis office. It would be interesting to hear Dr. Enthoven’s version of this account, which I cannot document.

In any case, Dr. Enthoven was not as powerless before 1965 as he leads the reader of his book to believe, After four years at RAND, he joined the Department of Defense in May, 1960, in the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, when the TFX requirements were being developed. On May 23, 1961, he became Deputy Controller for Systems Analysis (Programming). He rose up the bureaucratic ladder in October, 1962, to be Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Analysis) in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), and in September, 1965, was sworn into the newly established position of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Analysis). All these parentheses were part of the bureaucratic titles and attest the fact that systems analysis was his job from early 1961, soon after McNamara took over.

Dr. Enthoven’s reputation for precocity and brilliance are fully supported by his book, which I found most informative and a pleasure to read. Of all the books on the Pentagon I have come across, this is perhaps the most instructive. I hope to discuss its virtues and its equally revealing limitations in a succeeding article. Dr. Enthoven earned honorable scars from the military and deserves high credit for the part he played in some of McNamara’s most notable achievements—among them his long fight to delay the anti-ballistic missile and a new bomber, and in the scrapping of Skybolt. At the hearing I have mentioned, in September, 1967, before the Jackson Subcommittee, Dr. Enthoven objected to all the emphasis on the TFX and with justice called attention to McNamara’s (and his own) achievements in those early days.30

Why not talk about the B-70, for example? That was a very controversial decision…. We could have wasted $15 billion on the B-70…. Or let us talk about Skybolt. A month after it was cancelled everybody agreed…that Skybolt would not have been a good weapon system. Or why don’t we talk about the Nike-Zeus [the earlier version of the ABM] …. We could have wasted $15 or $20 billion on Nike-Zeus…. I worked on the analyses leading to the B-70 and Nike-Zeus decisions…and Systems Analysis had a lot to do with them. [Emphasis added.]

Now let us go back to the quotation in the Enthoven book from Senator Jackson saying that blocking the TFX might have been “systems analysis’ greatest triumph.” The book does not quote what Senator Jackson said immediately after this:31

Senator Jackson: I think the real question here is why systems analysis wasn’t used before the key TFX decision was made in November 1962…. Techniques of systems analysis were available then, and as we have been told this morning, they were being used during this same period in the fall of 1962 in deciding to cancel Skybolt. I think you will find that Mr. Hitch [Charles J. Hitch, then Comptroller in the Pentagon and Dr. Enthoven’s immediate superior at the time] was not consulted at all in connection with the TFX matter.

Dr. Enthoven: I believe that is correct.

Senator Jackson: Mr. Hitch told me so.

Dr. Enthoven: I believe it is correct that we were not involved in that.

Just why the systems analysts were not consulted and just why these bright and often brash young men did not “put their two cents in” anyway are still unanswered questions. To have volunteered their opinions and opposed both the military requirements and the idea of building a common plane would have meant bucking the Air Force, which wanted the plane; Harold Brown, soon Secretary of the Air Force, then head of research and engineering, which was for “commonalty” in the TFX; the bomber pilots and the bomber admirals who saw in TFX their chance to develop a new strategic bomber disguised as a long-distance tactical “interdiction” bombing plane; both the Boeing and General Dynamics lobbies; and McNamara himself.

Dr. Enthoven may well have felt that systems analysis was still too precariously perched in the bureaucracy to risk sticking its neck out. Considering the passionate attachment McNamara developed for the TFX, his desperate eagerness to make it work and show those blankety-blanks on the Hill and in the military services that he was right, it might well have taken more temerity than Dr. Enthoven could muster to tell his beloved chief that he, one of the maestro’s favorite protégés, thought he was wrong. With so proud and stubborn and super-confident a man as McNamara such unasked advice might well have prevented the rise on the bureaucratic ladder of both Dr. Enthoven and systems analysis.

The 1967 Jackson Subcommittee hearing revealed that the younger men McNamara had brought into the Department were not asked for their opinions on the TFX. The older men like Gilpatric, Zuckert, and Korth clearly did nothing to dissuade him, or to urge deeper analysis. Without the slightest imputation of impropriety to McNamara, one can still say that those around him with an interest in seeing the TFX go to Fort Worth, Texas, and General Dynamics certainly did not urge him to look before he leaped.

I believe the truth is that for internal “political” reasons within the Pentagon, McNamara had to balance off his veto of the B-70 and any new strategic bomber by giving the Air Force its long-distance interdiction bomber and the Navy its new fighter-bomber for the carrier fleet. He honestly thought he could save money by using the new “swing-wing” to build a common plane. The Navy’s bomber admirals and Boeing went to the McClellan Committee as a means of counterattacking McNamara and under-cutting the improved kind of civilian systems analysis he was applying to the B-70, to Nike-Zeus, and to Skybolt. For McNamara it was not merely a question of whether the TFX would work but whether he was to maintain his authority over the military bureaucracy. This was the leverage which won the contract for Fort Worth, for Texas, and for General Dynamics.

The pity of it is that neither the McClellan Committee nor the two new books from McNamara’s devoted entourage deal with the deepest and most important of the issues raised by the TFX. As I wrote in The New York Review just two years ago, there were three errors involved. The first and least important was giving the contract to General Dynamics; I believe Boeing would also have botched the job of meeting those fantastic specifications. The second was in trying to build one plane. The third—and most important—was in surrendering to the pressure of the Air Force for a new bomber when missiles had made the bomber obsolete and to the pressure of the Navy for a new missile weapons system just so they could go ahead with their expensive and equally obsolete game of carriers and bombers. The McClellan Committee report really deals only with the first. The McNamara apologists do not go beyond the second. The nearest Dr. Enthoven comes to the third question is still very distant from the central issue. He writes:

Systems Analysis studies suggested that there is reason to question the value of deep interdiction against industry and lines of communication in both Europe and Asia…. Historically speaking the case for the deep-interdiction mission is poor. Neither in Germany, in Korea nor in Vietnam were U.S. forces able to choke off, through bombing alone, the production of war material or its movement to the front.

But that does not touch the basic issue, which is the obsolescence of the strategic nuclear bomber in the missile age. The fundamental objection to the TFX is that under cover of a demand for new tactical aircraft the bomber generals were smuggling in a new strategic bomber. But what of importance would there be left for bombing after the first missile exchange in a nuclear war? What purpose could “deep interdiction” serve except a kind of mechanical blood-lust, a compulsive desire for the last full measure of destruction when the main concern should rationally be to preserve some modicum of life on both sides so humanity could go on?

To spend billions on a new strategic bomber in the name of an obsolete form of deep-interdiction bombing just to appease our bomber generals and the aircraft industry was the kind of expensive lunacy only a rich country like ours could indulge. The same holds true for the bomber with the Phoenix missile the Navy wanted and is getting in the VFX. This is to defend our carriers from a nonexistent Soviet bomber. I came up two years ago with a passage from a House Appropriations Committee hearing in 1968 in which Chairman Mahon of Texas got Air Force Secretary Brown to admit there was no sign that the Russians were building a new bomber, and that such defensive planning as the Phoenix missile represents is meant to counter the kind of bomber we think the Soviets ought to be building if they were playing the bomber game our way!32

How can we bring the military monster under control when this, the ultimate idiocy in the TFX affair, goes unmentioned either by the McClellan Committee, by Muskie and Javits in their “Individual Views,” or in the post mortems of whiz kids like Enthoven and Yarmolinsky?

This is the first of two articles. Next: The “Systems Analysis” we need and the whiz kids never practiced.

  1. 25

    Ibid., pp. 262-3.

  2. 26

    The hearing transcript is reprinted in Planning, Programming, Budgeting: Inquiry of the Subcommittee on National Security and International Operations, Senator Henry M. Jackson, for the Committee on Government Operations, US Senate (Government Printing Office, 1970, $3.00). This brings together a great deal of material on the problem of “systems analysis.” For this quotation see page 235.

  3. 27

    Ibid., p. 238.

  4. 28

    How Much Is Enough?, p. 265.

  5. 29

    Planning, Programming, Budgeting, pp. 127-8.

  6. 30

    Ibid., p. 244.

  7. 31

    Ibid., p. 245.

  8. 32

    See my book Polemics and Prophecies: 1967-70 or The New York Review, January 2, 1969, or Part I, p. 751, House Appropriations Committee hearings on the fiscal 1969 Defense Budget, Executive Session, February 26, 1968.

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