The Ambassador in Brazil ( Berle ) to the Secretary of State
Sir: I have the honor to report on the Air Force Staff Conversations had between the United States and Brazil which are embodied in a memorandum entitled “Missions and Plans of the Brazilian Air Force”, signed at Rio de Janeiro on April 12, 1945 respectively by Major General Ralph H. Wooten, Commander L. W. Williams, and Colonel John D. Gillett, and by J. F. Salgado Filho, Air Minister, and Major Luiz R. D. O. Sampaio for Brazil. To these are attached a series of annexes which appear to be numbered respectively two to six. These Air Force Staff Conversations are companions to the Naval Staff Conversations and the Ground Force Staff Conversations, and are separately reported upon.
These Staff Conversations were conducted entirely between the officers of the Air Forces of Brazil and the United States respectively without intervention of the Embassy. The Department is therefore not committed. The text of the Staff Conversations is presumably available to the Department in Washington through the War Department, since it appears that they were delivered to the War Department by General Wooten on the occasion of his visit to Washington in April and early May.
(1) Form: The form of the paper consists of the memorandum referred to above designed to set out the conception of the function of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) in defense of Brazilian security and in assisting in the defense of the hemisphere. Detail appears in the annexes. This memorandum is a statement of the desires of the Government of Brazil and is forwarded to the War Department without recommendation by the American officers. It is, however, understood that the American officers participating in these conversations favor the full implementation of the plan as rapidly as possible; and there [Page 615] is no question that the Brazilian Air Force with the backing of the Brazilian Government likewise favors this.
(2) Underlying conception: The primary conception of the Air Force thus to be built is that of an Air Force designed to defend the hemisphere and assist in preserving peace within the hemisphere. The conception assumes a very considerable expansion of the Brazilian Air Force, namely, increase from 14,000 officers and men (1945) to 25,654 (1948); an increase in the actual number of ships in the air (without counting ships working exclusively in cooperation with the Navy) running into considerable amounts. For instance: fighter bombers are to be increased from 60 (1945) to 200 (1949); light bombers from 57 (1945) to 60 (1949); medium bombers from 41 (1945) to 120 (1949); heavy bombers from none to 12 (1948); transport from 9 (1945) to 150 (1949); patrol planes from 21 (1945) to 60 (1948). (See Annex No. 3, memorandum entitled “Training”, page 6.) The resulting force will be presumably very much larger than any other force in South America, and unquestionably larger than the capacity of any other South American country to support with the exception of Argentina. Were it adopted, Brazil would have unquestioned air supremacy so that no nation or group of nations in South America could oppose her. Technically she would have the continent at her mercy. Given her pacific tendencies, this is not of itself a danger. Nor given her size and position, can it be said to be disproportionate to her territory, population and obligations. The fact has to be faced that Brazil with roughly half the territory and roughly half the population of the entire continent is destined to have the major position in the continent, if she is able to develop powers of organization giving her capacity to use her manpower and her resources. Of this last there is still a question. Argentina, with one-third the population, has an unquestionably higher power of organization at the moment. On the other hand, Brazil as an essentially pacific country is not likely to abuse her position; whereas certain other South American countries frequently betray a tendency toward expansionism when they are in a position of military supremacy. Broadly speaking, the political theory of the Air Force Conversations, like that of the Naval and Ground Force Conversations, was that Brazil if armed would be a force for peace and defense, and not for war and expansion; and on the historical and psychological record of Brazil, this assumption seems warranted. Observations as to the size of the force follow in a later paragraph.
(3) Organization: The organization proposed, while not very definitely set out, undoubtedly contemplates substantially the same arrangement suggested in the Ground Force Conversations, and the comments made in Embassy’s report thereon are applicable here. [Page 616] Apparently the Air Force training section is to be, in effect, a section of the Military Commission and subject to it.
Immediately the Air Force section primarily for training purposes is to consist of a chief of section (United States Army Air Forces) and a joint chief to take care of naval requirements; a sub-chief covering flying training with six assistants for various technical arms; a sub-chief of technical training with two assistants; a sub-chief for communications and weather with three assistants; a sub-chief of maintenance and supply with four assistants; a sub-chief of naval operations with four assistants; and a sub-chief of personnel and administration with three assistants. Additional personnel for temporary duty may be assigned from time to time.
The foregoing organization does not seem unwieldy or out of line. It is questionable whether the Brazilian Navy should be encouraged to have a separate auxiliary force, and the naval operations sub-chief would stand or fall by that determination.
(4) Civil air considerations arising out of proposed expansion: While I raise no question as to training (separately considered hereafter) an important general consideration must be raised about the proposed expansion of the Air Force. Brazilian civil aviation is endeavoring to expand in response to a plain and bitter economic need; and a number of Brazilian airlines have to meet their requirements as best they can. It is assumed that in the not too distant future supply of civilian airplanes will be available from the United States. But this will not answer the crying need of trained personnel: pilots, ground crew and maintenance people, weather, communications and airport men, et cetera. At the moment, the expansion of the Brazilian Air Force is directly blocking this line of progress, for men, as they are trained, are absorbed into the Brazilian Air Force and thus do not assist Brazilian civil aviation. Continued expansion of the Air Force will continuously maintain this condition of competition for trained men,—with the Air Force always in a long lead. At the moment, when trained men are scarce, there is a plain conflict of interest between Brazilian civil aviation and Brazilian military aviation, and this conflict must be dissolved. Even in the narrow interest of the United States solution is needed; since, if Brazil leaves her civil aviation unstaffed to build up her military, foreign interests will rush in to fill the gap thus created.
The Embassy has repeated requests from civil airlines and the rudimentary government civil aviation organization to train pilots and ground crews. Yet ground crews are being excellently trained by Paul Riddle at his school in São Paulo in considerable numbers for the Air Force; and additional numbers are to be trained under the provisions of the paper under reference.[Page 617]
Some arrangement should be worked out by which the pilots, ground crews, maintenance people and other technicians trained under this program or any substitute program, instead of being immobilized in the Brazilian Air Force, will be placed on reserve and used for civilian airlines. In this way the training facilities will provide ground, maintenance and air men available when needed, but engaged in civil aviation. There is probably no practical way by which the United States Government can be of major assistance in civil aviation. The proposed organization outlined in the paper will be the substantial aviation instrument with which we have to work. Consequently it should be made to do double duty: both staffing Brazilian civil aviation and training Brazilian military aviation. This should not be too difficult to work out.
The logic and necessity of this are demonstrated by Section III of the paper, and particularly page 5. This section provides among other things that, to offset inadequate surface transportation in Brazil, provision must be made for 10 transport squadrons.
(5) Airways traffic control and air communications: I regret that I am not in agreement with the policy further proposed in Section III, paragraph 4 (page 5 of the paper) relating to airways traffic control, communications, and to a less extent weather service. The ideas are further developed in Annex No. 5. Briefly, this proposes centralizing, under the Army, a director of air routes which shall include a division of air communications, weather and air traffic. This apparently is not limited to military communications. This officer is supposed not only to plan a communications system for Brazil, but he is supposed to exercise traffic control over all airways, including operation of all control towers throughout Brazil, civilian as well as military.
The thought behind this is understandable. The Army officers had in mind that an Air Force is useless without communication and tower control systems; that a civilian system would hardly meet military needs; and that it was asking a good deal of Brazil to have a double system of military airfields and civilian airfields. Therefore they proposed centralization, entirely under the military. In the abstract there is much to be said for the conception; but the fact is that it will not work, and indeed the Minister of Aeronautics, Salgado Filho, has indicated to me that his mind is running along different lines.
Military control of the airfields does not work too well even for the military themselves. In the United States, a major general will receive and scrupulously follow the orders of a technical sergeant in the control tower. In Brazil, even a second lieutenant will at once assert his rank and give orders from the plane to the tower, instead of [Page 618] vice versa. For instance, in bad weather where a number of planes are circling the field and the tower attempts to regulate their descent, the ranking officer will undertake to control the situation, or land on his own; and a number of accidents have already occurred. Equally, in such elementary matters as loading the planes, et cetera, the Army jurisdiction is exercised because officers the world over and especially in Brazil like to take care of their friends, and occasionally to exhibit their power. At least one very bad accident took place recently because of just this fact. Further, the civilian airlines are asked to fly the planes and assume responsibility for the lives of passengers; but if they get within radio range of the control tower of a military field, especially in bad weather, they are completely in the hands of men about whom they know nothing, over whom they have no control, and whose primary obligation is to their military brethren.
In the control tower itself the situation is no different. Given a lieutenant and a couple of sergeants who are trained for and do know the control tower business, and the arrival on post of a colonel who does not, and the colonel will promptly give orders which these men are bound to obey.
These considerations were cited to me by the Minister of Aeronautics as inclining him to the belief that civilian airways would have to be separately controlled by a civilian organization, the Army being under orders, wherever it made use of a civilian field, to abide by the traffic control and communication systems of the civilian authority. The fact is that the Brazilian Air Force is vastly interested in flying, and only indifferently interested in ground control and maintenance; and at least eight or ten years will have to pass before they realize that the pilot and flight crew are only a small part of an integrated team.
With regret, therefore, I feel that our Army Air Forces should be told to separate the civilian from the military, possibly using their training to provide technicians available for civilian control, but on no account undertaking to assume joint responsibility for the probable fiasco of attempting military control over civilian air communications and airfield control.
I am not sure that the same observation would apply to weather reports. Quite conceivably the military could undertake the meteorological work.
(6) Use of American craft: The paper is wholly sound in suggesting that the Brazilian Air Force be equipped with American craft and matériel. The terms are not stated; but it is obviously to the advantage both of Brazil and the United States to assure that air equipment shall come from within the hemisphere. Failure to do this will simply mean that in time Brazil will be flooded with obsolete air equipment from Europe.[Page 619]
(7) Cost: The estimated cost of the program outlined in the paper runs from approximately $9,000,000 for the year 1945 up to $23,000,000 for the year 1948 to which must be added an amount equal to about another $1,200,000 annually for training. In addition to this, as the paper states, the projected Air Force “will require a tremendous expansion of Brazilian industry to produce the many and complicated items of equipment, parts and munitions …13a as may be required from the United States.” Since military aviation is not only static, but rapidly entering a new phase of change, it may be expected that these costs will be greater than the present estimate. I personally would prefer to trim down the program somewhat, spending a good deal of this money in airports where they can. be serviceable throughout the country, primarily for civilian use but equipped for take-over in time of war; and take the expansion of the Brazilian Air Force on a pretty slow time schedule.
On the other hand, I should recommend the staffing of the airfields and air bases contemplated by the paper, which appear to be set forth in an exhibit attached to Annex No. 2, though Annex No. 2 as such does not undertake to list them. As before stated, where these bases are primarily used for civilian operation, I should prefer that the training mission develop technicians which can be used as civilians and taken over by the Army when the field is being used for military purposes. Probably further studies should be made as to additional fields which the military might open.
(8) Radio ranges and existing facilities: There being no other practical method of keeping certain facilities in operation, I agree in the proposal that an interlocking radio range system should be established along the principal air routes, along the coast and along the Barreiras cut-off route from Belém to Rio. This would be done by taking over the range facilities presently owned and operated by the United States Army and Navy; and that, unless effective civilian means be found to do this, assistance be given in acquiring and operating the additional facilities for radio communications, radio direction stations and weather stations. Whether this be done through the military or the civilian side of the Brazilian Government will turn on the ultimate decision of the Ministry of Aeronautics; my surmise would be that he will decide in favor of the civilian system; and I should hope that this might be manned by technicians trained through the joint commission.
(9) Petroleum: The program calls for steadily increasing consumption of aviation gasoline ultimately amounting to 118,000,000 liters, together with slightly less than 6,000,000 kilos of oil. The paper recommends (Annex No. 6) that Brazil buy these products respectively from Standard Oil Company of Brazil and Socony Vacuum Oil Company. I note the point without comment; but it is entirely possible [Page 620] that other companies including Gulf will presently be in the market. The Embassy is not in a position to comment on the report of the additional tank installations asked for; but in realizing any such program it is believed that, wherever civilian interest conflicts with military, the civilian should prevail for the next few years. Brazil is bound both to consume more oil and probably to produce oil; and it is probably of greater importance now that she get her civilian oil picture in shape than that she starve her civilian economy for military facilities. Possibly an accommodation between the two can be made without undue difficulty.
(10) Conclusions: My feeling is that the paper in its general aspects is sound; that the program is more ambitious than it needs to be, except with respect to bases, airfields and communications, which can be made useful for civilian flying. The training program seems sound and not unduly expensive. The proposed total overall strength seems to me unnecessary at this time, and should be attained very gradually. It seems unwise to freeze unduly the types of planes to be used in view of the present state of the art. The training should be so handled that the trainees can be channeled into civilian aviation; and the recommendation that the military be given control over airfields, airways, tower control, et cetera, seems to me to call for revision in view of the practical difficulties. It must be remembered that any military aviation arrangements made on the basis of today’s matériel and tactics will be obsolete five years from now; and that there appears to be no immediate strategic need for a large Air Force in Brazil during the next five years, either for defense from attack from without, or for putting down aggression from within. A far more limited Air Force in being will still give Brazil clear superiority; and what she needs now is trained men who can be brought into the program that will emerge when a larger Air Force is needed. When needed, that program will undoubtedly be quite different from any program anyone could draw today.
- Omission indicated in the original despatch.↩