The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

MILITARY appropriations will again consume the lion’s share of the new Federal budget. But despite the decision of defense officials to press for expansion of the Air Force from 95 to 143 wings, new military appropriations probably will be substantially less than the $65 billion voted for fiscal 1952.

The cutback is possible because of a large backlog of unexpended funds. Although the 1952 defense appropriation was $65 billion, actual expenditures are expected to run about $44 billion. The remainder is in spending authority− money that will be used for planes, tanks, and other equipment on order but not yet delivered.

Civilian officials in the Department of Defense are worried about the inflationary impact of this backlog. Some $110 billion has been appropriated for armaments since the outbreak of war in Korea, and half of this sum represents contracts not yet presented for payment. Although the hills will not come due all in one lump, the added expenditures will be made after shortages of materials for civilian production have really begun to bite. Defense officials are acutely aware that credit controls are not tight enough and that the new tax program probably will leave a large gap between receipts and expenditures.

Moreover, they wish to save room in the new budget for the $6 billion atomic energy expansion program urged by Senator Brien McMahon to produce more tactical atomic weapons. Each military service has been busy thinking up new uses for the smaller tactical atomic weapons when they are available in quantity. The prospect of a vast increase in the supply and versatility of atomic weapons has made the Joint Chiefs of Staff* less insistent on expanding production of some conventional weapons.

The staggered program

Despite the lag in defense production, military equipment is now beginning to pour out of factories in truly huge quantities. Hence it is not premature for top men in the Pentagon to concern themselves with how the tremendous flow of military hardware can be reduced short of war.

In many ways a partial mobilization such as the country has undertaken is more difficult than a full mobilization in which all production facilities are geared to war. This distinction is at the root of the “guns and butter" controversy which has enlivened Washington. The controversy arises from charges made by the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee, headed by Senator Lyndon Johnson, that arms deliveries are far behind schedules and that the guns and butter formula has produced more butter than guns. Specifically, the committee has accused defense officials of reducing original schedules to accord more nearly with actual production.

Actually, Senator Johnson and his committee have measured the defense program by one narrow criterion — that of military equipment on hand. That would be the test, of course, if the country were faced with immediate war. But the whole objective of the defense program is to prevent war by building strength on a much broader basis.

Defense Mobilizer charles E. Wilson stresses that the program has four principal aims: military equipment on hand; additional capacity to produce military items in the event of all-out war; expansion of basic industries; and the maintenance of a stable civilian economy. This four-point program has the strong support of the Administration, and that fact helps explain the relatively placid reception the Johnson Committee’s charges have received.

Where the committee is most vulnerable is in its use of original production schedules as yardsticks. No one denies that these schedules have been changed and in many instances scaled down. But they were drawn more or less out of a hat at a time when military men were being pressed to justify increased spending before the program was established on a broad basis. No adequate account had been taken of the availability of scarce metals such as tungsten and cobalt, or of the concurrent needs of our allies and of the civilian economy.

Defense Mobilizer Wilson called the original schedules little more than pious hopes. One schedule for jet engine production, for example, would have required more nickel than is available in the entire world. Thus original schedules are meaningless as yardsticks by which to measure defense progress.

The trouble with jets

This is not to say that there have not been annoying “slippages’ in some items. Jet engines are the worst bottleneck, and the trouble here is the shortage of machine tools. Harold R. Bover, chairman of the Aircraft Production Board, places the blame on the failure to grant adequate priorities to the machine-tool industry soon enough. Wilson acknowledges the blame, though he believes that the major obstacles in machine tools have been overcome.

In aircraft production the fundamental problem is the long “leadtime”— in other words, the period between the placement of the order and delivery. This varies from eighteen months for some fighters to four years or more for heavy bombers, depending upon whether the model has been fully tested before quantity production is started. Fighter planes ordered after the Korean war are just beginning to come off production lines.

Plane production is complicated, too, by the sensible effort not to “freeze” on any one model in a period of cold war, as well as by the vastly greater materials and manpower necessary to complete today s aircraft. New planes are far heavier and more elaborate than those used in World War II; the electronics equipment in one new jet bomber alone costs more than two entire B-29s. Whereas in 1943 only 1 of every 22 aircraft employees was an engineer, today the ratio is 1 to 8.

Deliveries go up

Two thirds of the eutire military equipment program is made of items requiring “lead-time. But deliveries alone are not a completely accurate picture of the progress. For example, a tank may be 90 per cent completed, awaiting the perfection of a new turret mechanism, and still not show in the’ delivery figures. The same consideration applies to aircraft which actually have been produced but are awaiting minor modifications.

Exact figures on military deliveries are of course secret. By the end of November, however, equipment worth some $17 billion had been delivered under the new program, and deliveries were running at nearly $2 billion a month. Aircraft expenditures had tripled in ten months.

Steel production capacity is well along toward the goal of 120 million tons a year, and 4 million tons of new capacity will be added during 1952. Power production is up 21.5 per cent since Korea, and 40 per cent of the additional aluminum capacity will be in place by June 30. Oil refining capacity is being expanded by 15 per cent.

The real question in the guns and butter controversy is whether the country has been enjoying butter at the expense of guns. Both Wilson and Defense Production Administrator Manly Fleischmann emphatically reject the notion that further cuts in materials allocated to civilian production would have made any real difference. Although heavy cuts are now being made in civilian materials, there was no point in such cuts until military production was ready to absorb the materials diverted.

This argument is a fair sample of the strain Wilson has been under in his thirteen months as Defense Mobilizer. Despite the pressure, he has managed to retain both his optimism and his sense of humor while broadening his grasp of a job which surely is one of the most exacting anywhere.

Losses in Korea

Stories of aircraft losses in Korea have been causing concern from a different standpoint. A tally as of mid-December showed that at least 583 Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircraft had been lost to enemy action (and incidentally, Navy and Marine planes account for one third of the American sorties). Accidents have taken a further toll. These figures compare with 308 Communist planes believed destroyed by the Air Force.

The figures, to be sure, are somewhat misleading. Most of the losses were in old piston-engined planes and do not reflect jet mortality. The odd nature of the air war also had a bearing. Communist planes did not come out in strength except over “MIG Alley” in northwest Korea. Many American losses were caused by ground fire, and this was particularly the case with B-29s, which were originally designed as heavy bombers but were used in Korea on tactical battlefield support missions.

The real concern, however, arises from the surprising performance of the Russian MIG-15. It is as fast as or faster than the best present American jet fighter, the F-86, though not so maneuverable. Many of the advances in Russian jet engine design are traced to the jet engines which were sold to the Soviet, Union by Britain in 1948.

It is doubtful whether the limited war in Korea has allowed a fair appraisal of the MiG’s endurance. Presumably Russia is even more pressed than this country for the heat-resisting alloys that go into jet engines (though notable progress has been made by the National Advisory committee for Aeronautics in reducing the need for such alloys). Nonetheless, the threat of the MIG has placed American plane design under more intensive scrutiny. It is an open question whether the concentration on the unwieldy B-36 intercontinental bomber deterred the faster development of better fighter planes.

Taft vs. Truman

With Senator Taft busily gathering delegates in his race for the Republican presidential nomination, President Truman maintains a hard silence on his own intentions. The betting here still is that he does not intend to run, but that he will delay his announcement until the last minute so as to leave open t he possibility of running against Taft. Meanwhile, there are indications that chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, who has been expected to receive the presidential blessing, has been having some second thoughts about the wisdom of stopping from the Supreme Court into active politics.

It is somewhat ironic that another figure talked about as a possible Democratic nominee is the man who indirectly helped give the Republicans their biggest campaign issue. it was the investigation, of interstate crime conducted by Senator Estes Keifauver of Tennessee that set the country to thinking about corruption.

In mans ways the tall, soft-spoken Kefauver would appeal to lay Democrats. From the Administration’s standpoint he has an excellent voting record. His personal stand on civil rights is unexceptionable, though he has straddled on his votes sufficiently to remain persona grata with the Southern bloc. His name and face are well known to millions who watched the crime investigation on television. And, by virtue of his victory over the Crump forces in Tennessee, he has shown himself to be a versatile and energetic campaigner.

But the same qualities which would make him a popular candidate also may queer him with the politicians. Kefauver is disliked by many of his Democratic colleagues in Congress because of his obvious ambition and because of what they regard as the harmful effects of his crime investigation. Moreover, lit’ is a supporter of Atlantic Union, which is viewed by the politicians with a fishy eve. Should the Chattanooga lawyer win the Democratic nomination, it might well send his arch-enemy, Senator Kenneth McKellar, into a final fit of apoplexy.

Mood of the capital

The mood of the Capital remains one of shock and disgust over the scandals in government. Talk of politics is inevitably conditioned by disclosures of impropriety and abuse by the Caudles and the Oliphants. ‘There is every likelihood of new scandals in the disposal of the billions o! dollars’ worth of surplus property after the war, and the investigations of Internal Revenue and the Justice and Treasury Departments seem slated to go further.

President Truman’s remarkable change of attitude toward the wrongdoing in his Administration is viewed hopefully by some Democrats as an indication that corruption will not be a major campaign issue. Mr. Truman confided to one of his trusted advisers last spring that he wished that he had a Truman Committee to do for him what that committee did for President Roosevelt. Whenever there is so much government spending, the President remarked, there is bound to be corruption. But however good the President’s intentions, t he cleanup was a long time in coming. ‘The condoning of “influence’ has festered for main months. I However dramatic the cleanup may be, if would be altogether unrealistic, to expect the Republicans to give up so choice a political issue.