Air Weapons for the Cold War, 1946-1962

RB-36, B-47A, and F-86A

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Nuclear Bombs and the Cold War
While American occupation troops thoughtfully examined the burned-out heart of Tokyo and the flattened wasteland at Hiroshima, United States policy makers considered the postwar military establishment. Adherence to the United Nations implied a world security system in which armed forces might be dispatched anywhere. Continental defense, center of prewar plans, became secondary to offensive capabilities of global range.

As the United States had the world's only atomic weapons and, in its B-29 fleet, by far the world's best agency to deliver them, it appeared to some that the nation was able to fill the role of world policeman, with little aid from other nations, or even from its own land armies. Long-range nuclear bombing was seen by many as a magic weapon that had ended the war with Japan, would deter any future aggression, and established American leadership in world affairs.


In the years following World War II, most of the world polarized into two camps as hostility and tension increased between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nearly all the remaining sea power was American, but Soviet land forces were overwhelmingly larger than those of the United States. Air power seemed to hold the balance, and since the Soviet air force role was almost entirely tactical support for the Red Army, the Strategic Air Force (SAC) became America's main military asset. Nuclear bombs and SAC bombardment capacity was a major weight in the balance of power.

Metal resources largely determine a nation's potential air power and weapons production. During World War Two's most intense year, 1944, steel production in the USSR was 10.9 million tons, compared to 85.1 million tons for the United States. Aluminum production that year in USSR was only 82.7 thousand metric tons, compared to 1,092.9 thousand metric tons for the United States.

The Soviets had tried to compensate for their limitations in aircraft production by using as little metal and as much wood as possible in the smaller aircraft for close support preferred to the heavy strategic bombers and their escort fighters built in America. Aircraft production during 1944 was 40,245 for the USSR, and 96,369 for the United States. B-47A and F-86A

When 1946 began, the Soviet Union lacked the main elements seen in American air power, having no atomic bombs, long-range bombers, aircraft carriers or jet fighters. Soviet wartime losses, including nearly 27 million people, and its naval weakness, made an attack by the USSR on the United States very unlikely for many years.

Clearly, it would take a generation of Soviet forced economic expansion to approach American resources, but by giving first priority to air defense and strictly limiting civilian allocations, a credible response to American air power was made. Gradually the USSR's industry would expand steel output to a close second to America's, and aluminum production to a million tons, but at a cost of prolonging civilian poverty. Only a strict dictatorship could require such sacrifices, while propaganda promoting communist society might win support from the outside.

Air power in America achieved equal status with the Army and Navy through creation of the National Military Establishment on September 18, 1947, with Secretaries of Air, Army, and Navy, under a Secretary of Defense. On July 18, 1947, President Truman appointed an Air Policy Commission headed by Thomas K. Finletter to formulate "an integrated national aviation policy."

The Commission's report submitted on December 30 called for an Air Force of 70 groups: 20 strategic bomber, 5 light bomber, 22 day fighter, 3 all-weather fighter, 6 strategic and 4 tactical reconnaissance, and 10 troop carrier.

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