Warfighter Ingenuity Gives U.S. Forces the Edge

By Hawk  Carlisle
A U.S. Army Air Forces North American B-25B Mitchell bomber takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) during the Doolittle Raid.

Navy photo

Imagination and innovation: together they can deliver enormous advantage to America and its partners and allies.

With the 75th anniversary of VJ Day fast approaching, Doolittle’s Raiders provide a terrific example of U.S. warfighters imagining creative ways of employing weapons systems to simultaneously deliver tactical, operational and strategic effects.

After the shock of Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II with a focus on North Africa and Europe. But what Americans really wanted was to avenge the attack on our primary base in the Pacific.

By January 1942, war planners were asking, “what if we used Army Air Corps bombers, launched off Navy carriers, to strike industrial and military targets on the Japanese mainland?”

Chief of the Army Air Forces Gen. Hap Arnold tapped Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle to lead the team to develop the tactics, techniques and procedures to pull off the daring raid. The B-25B, the medium-range bomber selected for the mission, had a normal take-off run of 1,400 feet. On the Navy’s new aircraft carrier, Hornet, Doolittle’s Raiders would have less than 500 feet.

Modifications to the B-25B included adding collapsible fuel tanks to one of the bomb bays and, in what might be the first example of “in-flight refueling,” using five-gallon containers to add fuel to the tanks during the mission. To lower weight, Doolittle’s team removed machine guns, the radio and the Norden bombsight. Surprise would have to provide protection, communication silence was mission-critical, and if the Japanese did shoot down a bomber, U.S. leaders did not want them reverse engineering the Norden.

The Raiders also installed new propeller blades, spark plugs and carburetors to ensure maximum fuel efficiency for the one-way flight. The Raiders knew they could not land a B-25B on a carrier deck and they knew the carriers would need to exit the area quickly after aircraft launch to avoid attack from ground- and sea-based Japanese fighters.

Mission planning and execution were characterized by exceptional coordination between the Army Air Corps and the Navy. A Navy lieutenant designed and led carrier take-off practice at Eglin Air Corps Proving Ground in Florida, and Adm. William Halsey, then commander of the South Pacific Area, led the task force overseeing the joint mission.

Doolittle and his hand-picked crew of 80 airmen — 16 five-man crews — drilled in procedures and carefully inspected and maintained their aircraft to ensure the highest probability of success.

The raid came as an almost total surprise. Japanese picket ships identified the task force and radioed headquarters, but Japanese officers did not expect an attack as the ships were more than 600 miles from Japan. The military leaders thought U.S. carriers would have to get within 200 miles, as they had during February raids across the Pacific. The Japanese never considered the possibility the United States could or would launch medium-range Army bombers from Navy carriers.

Warfighter imagination coupled with industrial innovation allowed Doolittle’s Raiders to achieve tactical and operational surprise and impact, while achieving a strategic goal of psychologically damaging a Japanese population whose emperor had assured them they were safe.

This combination of imagination and innovation occurs repeatedly, delivering advantage to America and its allies. What if we put precision navigation and timing capabilities on satellites? What if we hung direct-fire weapons on a surveillance platform? What if we deployed a 3D printing studio in a mobile containerized shelter so when key parts break, Marines could immediately fabricate replacements?

Technology alone often fails to provide the best solutions and capabilities. The best technology offers potential its developers never anticipated, which warfighters unlock as they “improvise, adapt and overcome.”

As the nation develops strategies for emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m confident our men and women in uniform will find innovative ways to use their technology and equipment to help in unexpected ways. The National Guard, in particular, will leverage their training and their access to existing and emerging systems and capabilities to help their states mitigate the risks and impact of the virus.

But while we are finding new ways to leverage our defense industry’s innovation to battle the pathogen, we need to continue to explore ways to use innovation advantage to deter adversaries, to include positioning forces to prevail in the gray zones of space and cyberspace. Potential adversaries know how hard it is to compete with America and allies conventionally, so they’ve moved to engage us using actions short of war in non-traditional warfighting domains. Our men and women in uniform will need to demonstrate the ingenuity and imagination of their predecessors to ensure the capabilities provided by the defense industrial base allow them to maintain freedom of movement and freedom of maneuver in these critical domains. I’m confident they will succeed.

One of the biggest national security advantages is American warfighter imagination paired with U.S. industrial innovation. Our warriors maximize new technology through imaginative application of new capabilities. This collaboration, during development and after delivery, impacts operations at the tactical, operational and strategic level in ways adversaries do not, and cannot, expect. As we progress through an era of peer competition, we should look to the past for inspiration and examples of this type of collaboration and amplification.

Only by fully leveraging service members’ intellectual firepower with emerging technology will the U.S. maintain competitive advantage across the spectrum of conflict.

Retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle is president and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association.

Topics: Defense Department

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