Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers on the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Reading List

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945 by David E. Johnson appears on the 2009 CSAF Reading List in the category “Military History.”

In an October 8, 2008 speech entitled “Fast Cyber and Heavy ISR,” the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norty Schwartz, said of the book:

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers provides an interesting historical example. Johnson examined the difference in the pace and effectiveness between two innovative technologies that emerged ill World War I. The tank and the airplane were two novel military manifestations that received notably different treatment within the defense establishment. In 1920, the speed of mobility was measured relative to the pace of marching soldiers or the animals that carried them. Many accomplished military thinkers allowed the past to restrict their thinking, and that created formidable intellectual constraints. Even the most senior military decision makers were not immune. One well-known general officer commented on the findings of an advisory board report saying, “it seems obvious that a large proportion of the transport permanently assigned to divisions should be animal drawn.” (1) This was in 1920, and yes, there was a lively debate over the need to rely on Army horses in future wars. It may seem amusing to reflect on the military debate over the long-term viability of horse carriage techniques in 20th Century warfare, but I ask if today we might be guilty of one or more intellectual equivalents for 21st Century warfare? As Johnson points out, airplane technology advanced relatively free of intellectual constraints and was therefore better developed for contributing to victory in the next war.

The story is complex and interesting, with a delicate interplay of organizational and cultural drivers, but the conclusion serves as a warning to us today. We are responsible for our own preparedness; we are responsible for developing innovative ways and means for winning the current war and the next. I look to this group to provide us with that innovative focus, and we must continue to challenge ourselves with new thinking and advanced concepts.

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers on the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Reading List