280. Memorandum from President Kennedy to McNamara, November 91

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In your memorandum of September 24, 1962, you answered several of my questions concerning fighter aircraft—our own and the aircraft of the Soviet bloc. Simultaneously, I had from CIA information concerning the Soviet fighter aircraft production.

Subsequently, on October 3, in a reminder memorandum from Mr. Kaysen, we raised additional questions, and from General Taylor on October 6, I had a brief answer on the state of our fighter aircraft production capability in relation to likely needs in Europe.

From this information, I have deduced the following:

That the Defense Department believes that our F4H—as a fighter-bomber—is superior to anything that will be in the Soviet operational inventory during the same time period as the F4H is operational, as far as we know;

That the Defense Department feels that the present procurement schedule for the Navy and the Air Force from now until 1968, at the anticipated production rates, is sufficient for our needs.

I note by your memorandum that you are conducting a comprehensive review of our tactical forces, which you will report to me this month. In the presentation of this review, it is my hope [Facsimile Page 2] that these additional questions might be answered:

Based on our best estimate, if we were confronted with a conventional warfare situation in Europe and, at the same time, increased threats to ourselves and our allies by Communist China in the Far East—while we are engaged at the same tempo that exists now in Cuba—would our interceptor capability and our fighter-bomber capability meet these requirements? If not, what would be our best compromise solution?

I realize that I pose the most difficult question first, but let us suppose that the only front in which we were challenged would be East and West Germany: If we were to get into war in Europe, needing both fighter bombers and interceptor aircraft, do we now have an inventory that would enable us to attain air superiority? Approximately [Typeset Page 1118] what numbers of planes of the various types would make up our capability? Would they be able to hold their own against the Soviet inventory in 1963?

Continuing the above premise, and assuming the production schedule you outlined in your September 24 memorandum, would our requirements vis-à-vis the Soviet bloc be met in 1964 or 1965?

I know that aircraft attrition in warfare is difficult to estimate. From what you know of our production capability of the F4H, would production meet anticipated attrition if we were to go into a conventional war in the next 12 months? If not, should we expedite this orderly production schedule so that we will have the needed number of F4H—and other models—sooner than the schedule you now have set up?

Another concern of mine is our ability to re-deploy our interceptor aircraft and our fighter-bomber aircraft to the European Theater in time to prevent our losing air superiority over the battlefield. Have you any views on this subject?

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Finally, knowing that pilot training and other maintenance and operational skills are required for the proper employment of fighter aircraft, if I directed that our fighter procurement be doubled in 1963 and 1964, would the trained pilots and other trained personnel be available to man the aircraft we would produce and deliver?

If your anticipated report does not respond to all of these questions, do not delay its submission. I know that these are not easy questions, and that it might be necessary for you to ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to expedite a supplementary report that would include consideration of the points I have raised.

John F. Kennedy
  1. Questions posed by the President on status of U.S. and Soviet fighter aircraft production. Top Secret; Sensitive. 3 pp. Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 71 A 6489, 452 Tactical 1962.