Army Aviation

1956: Memorandum for Members of the Armed Forces Policy Council

Looking Back / By Mark Albertson: “Persistent and intensifying differences among the armed Services over their respective roles and missions, particularly those pertaining to development and operation of guided missiles, impelled Secretary of Defense Wilson[2] to issue on 26 November 1956 a memorandum entitled ‘Clarification of Roles and Missions to Improve the Effectiveness of Operation of the Department of Defense.’”[3]

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above preface to the ensuing Memorandum is indicative of not only the changes then ongoing in the American defense establishment, but an understanding of the rising quality of the Soviet competitor and, the Army’s attempt to acclimate itself on the playing field in this arena of strategic competition that was constantly evolving. And this included survival of ground troops on the nuclear battlefield which was helping to foster Airmobility; and, the evolving technology of missiles and the employment of same. The latter was not so much a concern in 1947; it was more so in 1956. And so as the services jockeyed for position (and budget dollars) during the period in question, and with the original intent of Roles and Missions coming under question, the crossroad of inevitable change was being broached. This effort will offer several points included in this memorandum so as to showcase the ongoing dilemma to establish those boundaries of responsibilities between the armed forces . . . which naturally effected Army Aviation.

“Government has the responsibility not only to make history but to record it. James Madison said that a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both.”[4]

* * * * *

The Secretary of Defense
Washington, November 26, 1956

Members of the Armed Forces Policy Council”
“SUBJECT: Clarification of Roles and Missions to Improve the Effectiveness of Operation of Department of Defense.”

May 11, 1945, the aircraft carrier, Bunker Hill (CV-17), struck first by 500-pound bomb just aft of number three elevator, followed by a Kamikaze plane that struck the flight deck near the island structure, killing three officers and eleven men of the admiral’s staff.m Determined air attacks, especially Kamikazes, helped to spur the Navy, after the war, to develop surface-to-air missile technology to protect the fleet.

“Important changes in organization and in roles and missions are not easily decided upon or effected. It is not as though we were starting fresh with a clean sheet of paper, so to speak, or could set up a theoretically perfect organization and division of responsibilities between the Military Departments. Assignments of responsibilities must continue to recognize the precedents of the past and the availability of men and facilities for carrying out assigned missions. Problems of this nature would be easier to solve if there were always complete unanimity of opinion among all responsible executives of the Defense Department, both military and civilian. The very nature of the problems, however, and the varying background and experience of individuals serving in responsible positions make some differences of opinion normal and to be expected.”

“In spite of the differences of opinion which may exist, there are times when conditions require that changes should be made in administrative responsibilities and at such times decisions are mandatory. That is the situation now.”

“The National Security Act of 1947 states:
“Declaration of Policy

Air Force Jupiter-Thor was the first Medium Range Ballistic Missile.

“Sec. 2. In enacting this legislation, it is the intent of Congress to provide for the establishment of integrated policies and procedures for the department, agencies, and functions of the Government relating to the national security; to provide three military departments, separately administered, for the operation and administration of the Army, the Navy (including naval aviation and the United States Marine Corps), and the Air Force, with their assigned combat and service components; to provide for their authoritative coordination and unified direction under civilian control of the Secretary of Defense but not to merge them; to provide for the effective control and for their integration into an efficient team of land, naval and air forces but not to establish a single Chief of Staff over the armed forces nor an armed forces general staff (but this is not to be interpreted as applying to the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Joint Staff).”

“Nine years of experience operating under the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, have proved the soundness of this comprehensive program for national security.”

“The statement of roles and missions recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Key West and Newport and approved by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, and as modified in 1953, have also proved to be sound and effectively to implement the intent of Congress as expressed in the National Security Act.”

USS Oklahoma City (CL-91/CLG-5/CG-5) loosing the last Talos surface-to-air missile, 1979.

“No basic changes in the present roles and missions of the armed services are necessary but the development of new weapons and of new strategic concepts, together with the nine years’ operating experience by the Department of Defense have pointed up the need for some clarification and clearer interpretation of the roles and missions of the armed services. We have recognized the need for a review of these matters and from time to time certain steps have been taken and we are now taking others to improve the effectiveness of our overall military establishment, to avoid unnecessary duplication of activities and functions, and to utilize most effectively the funds made available by the people through Congress.”

“I would like to point out that clarification and interpretation of roles and missions does not in itself predetermine the weapons to be used by each of the armed services and their numbers, nor the numbers of men to be trained in various fields. It should be clearly understood that the approval of roles and missions of the armed services for guidance in peacetime does not predetermine the weapons or forces which a commander in the field would be permitted to use in the event of war. Also, the development of a weapon by a particular military department does not in itself predetermine its use. Such determinations rest with the Secretary of Defense after considering the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of the Military Departments.”[5]

“The recent clarification of command responsibilities for field commanders should be most helpful in determining weapons and forces to be employed in various missions and should assist the Joint Chiefs of Staff in making recommendations in this regard to the Secretary of Defense in order to determine approved requirements for each of the armed services.”

“We have recently reviewed five important problem areas which need to be cleared up. The recommendations of the Joints Chiefs of Staff in regard to these matters have been carefully considered and their differences of opinion carefully weighed. In addition, I have given consideration to the opinions in these areas of responsible officials, both military and civilian, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. These matters are being resolved as follows:”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the interest of brevity, three problem areas are offered below, not five.]

“Use of Aircraft by the Army.

Nike Missile family, Redstone Arsenal, left to right: NIM-14 Nike Hercules; NIM-23 Hawk; MGM-29 Sergeant; LIM-49 Spartan; MGM-3 Pershing; MGM-18 Lacrosse and MIM-3 Nike Ajax.

In matters affecting the use of aircraft by the U.S. Army, the combat zone is defined as extending not more than 100 miles forward of the general line of contact between U.S. and enemy ground forces. Its extension to the rear of the general line of contact will be designated by the appropriate field commander, and normally extends back to the front lines about 100 miles.”

“The Army Aviation Program will consist of those types of aircraft required to carry out the following Army functions envisaged within the combat zone:

“a. Command, liaison and communications.”

“b. Observation, visual and photographic reconnaissance, fire adjustment, and topographical survey.”

“c. Airlift of Army personnel and material.”

“d. Aeromedical evacuation.”
“The Army Aircraft Program to carry out these functions will be subject to the following limitations:”

“a. Fixed wing aircraft, convertiplanes, and vertical/short takeoff and landing aircraft will have an empty weight not to exceed 5,000 pounds. Rotary wing aircraft will have an empty weight not to exceed 20,000 pounds. Specific exceptions to weight limitations for specific aircraft for specific purposes may be granted by the Secretary of Defense after consideration of Army requirements and appropriate Air Force functions and capabilities. (For example, the Secretary of Defense has just approved the purchase by the Army of five DeHavilland DHC-4 airplanes, “Twin Otter,” for test and evaluation and is giving consideration to another project involving a plane in the development stage.)”

“b. The provision of a limited airlift capability within the Army Aviation Program shall not serve as a basis for increasing or decreasing Air Force forces necessary to support or protect the Army airlift forces. Provision of this limited airlift capability will apply only to small combat units and limited quantities of material to improve local mobility, and not to the provision of an airlift capability sufficient for the large-scale movement of sizable Army combat units which could infringe on the mission of the Air Force.”

“c. As limited Army Aviation airlift capability becomes available to active Army forces, provision should be made for compensating reductions in other forms of Army transportation designed to operate within the combat zone.”

“d. The Army Aviation Program will not provide for aircraft to perform the following functions:”

“(1) Strategic and tactical airlift.”

“(a) Airlift of Army supplies, equipment, personnel and units from exterior points to points within Army combat zone.”

“(b) Airlift for evacuation of personnel and material from Army combat zone.”

“(c) Airlift for air movement of troops, supplies and equipment in the initial and subsequent phases of airborne operations.”

“(d) Aeromedical evacuation from Air Force operating locations within the combat zone through Air Force casualty staging units to hospital facilities outside combat zone, and aeromedical evacuation from an airhead or an airborne objective area where airborne operation includes air landed logistic support by Air Force.”

“(2) Tactical reconnaissance.”

“(3) Interdiction on the battlefield.”

“(4) Close combat air support.”

“e. The Army will not maintain unilateral aviation research facilities but will confine itself to development and determination of specific requirements peculiar to Army needs, to evaluation of proposals, and to user testing of equipment. The Army will make maximum use of Air Force and Navy research and development facilities. The Air Force and Navy will be responsive to Army needs in such research activities on a reimbursable basis.”

“f. The Army will use existing types of Navy, Air Force or civilian aircraft when they are suitable, or may be suitably modified, to meet, Army requirements, rather than attempt to develop and procure new types.”

“With regard to the 4 November 1952 Pace-Finletter Memorandum of Understanding, I am directing my staff to prepare an appropriate technical and detailed directive for coordination [sic] and issuance. Until this directive is approved, the Memorandum of Understanding will remain applicable except as specifically amended herein or by subsequent Secretary of Defense direction.”

“2. Air Force Tactical Support of the Army.”

“The Army will continue its development of surface-to-surface missiles for close support of Army field operations with the following limitations:”

“a. That such missiles be designed and programmed for use against tactical targets within the zone of operations, defined as extending not more than 100 miles beyond the front lines. As such missiles would presumably be deployed within the combat zone normally extending back of the front lines about 100 miles, this places a range limitation of about 200 miles on the design criteria for such weapons.”

“b. That the tactical air support functions beyond those that can be provided by Army surface-to-surface missiles as above defined remained the responsibility of the Air Force.”

“It is evident that the tactical air forces programmed for Army support should be reconsidered and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been requested to furnish me with their recommendations for specific adjustments as to the number and types of planned Army guided missile and unguided rocket units and with the number of Air Force tactical wings which may be eliminated as a result of these decisions.”

“In preparing these recommendations, the development of balanced and interrelated Army and Air Force tactical support forces for the accomplishment of overall U.S. national security objectives must be considered, rather than the development of completely independent Army and Air Force forces to accomplish tactical support tasks. In developing force recommendations in this area, as well as for other U.S. military forces, it should be recognized that all operations in which our forces will be employed will be conducted under the command of the designated commanders who will have the necessary forces assigned to them for the conduct of their missions by higher authority.”

“3. Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).

In regard to the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles:”

“a. Operational employment of the land-based Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile system will be the sole responsibility of the U.S. Air Force.”

“b. Operational employment of the ship-based Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile system will be the sole responsibility of the U.S. Navy.”

“c. The U.S. Army will plan at this time for the operational employment of the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile or for any other missiles with ranges beyond 200 miles. This does not, however, prohibit the Army from making limited feasibility studies in this area.”

“(The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile has previously been assigned for operational employment to the U.S. Air Force.)”

“There are a number of other matters relating to research and development of particular weapons that will affect the choice of weapons to be used for various missions in the armed services. These choices can only be made after a careful technical review of the capabilities of the various weapons under development. I refer particularly to weapons systems such as the NIKE and TALOS and the multiple approach (JUPITER-THOR) to developments such as the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile. This memorandum does not attempt to answer those questions which can only be decided after studies now in progress are completed, and should not be so interpreted.”

“In the meantime, these competing weapons systems will be continued with support from Fiscal Year ’57 funds until the completion of technical evaluation referred to above. Budget support in Fiscal Year ’58 for the land-based TALOS, as required, will be provided by the U.S. Army. Budget support in Fiscal Year ’58 for the land-based Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Program, as required, will be provided by U.S. Air Force.”

“In view of the great interest in these matters in the Congress, copies of this memorandum are being sent to the appropriate Congressional Committees. In addition, in order that there can be full understanding of these decisions within the Military Departments and by the public, copies of this memorandum are being made available to the press.

C.E. Wilson”

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It should be construed as significant that in Section 5, Secretary Wilson notes such missile types as the Nike, Talos and Jupiter-Thor. The Nike was an Army effort, first promulgated in 1944 as an anti-aircraft weapon. Various versions will appear; such as the Nike Ajax, with a range of 25 nautical miles to the Spartan, with a range of 460 miles as an antidote to incoming warheads from ICBMs. The Navy’s Talos missile emanates from lessons learned in World War II. To defend the fleet from such early types as the German Henschel HS-293 and Fritz X and the Japanese Kamikaze (Devine Wind) attacks against the fleet, 1944 and 1945.[6]

Charles Erwin Wilson, Secretary of Defense, January 28,1953 to October 8, 1957.

Lastly, of course, is the Air Force. With the Jupiter-Thor Medium Range Ballistic Missile, which together with strategic bombers, showcased the USAF as the caretaker of the Republic’s nuclear deterrence, during the mid-1950s. Though the Navy would certainly making its presence felt with the mobility inherent with submarine-launched ballistic missiles. But again, the 1956 effort by Secretary of Defense Wilson betrayed the Defense Department’s grasp of the changing nature to the strategic landscape, and therefore, the need to carefully delineate the part to be played by each of the Nation’s armed forces. And lastly . . .

. . . refer to 1. Use of Aircraft by the Army, d. “The Army Aviation Program will not provide for aircraft to perform the following functions,” among these are (4) “Close combat air support.” Events are moving quickly in 1956. Vanderpool’s Fools tinkering with armed helicopters; the Rogers’ Board, 1960, organizing producers of aircraft; 1962, the Howze Board, formulating into doctrine, Airmobility; then Vietnam, helicopter gunships followed by attack helicopters. . . Man is constantly in flux, pushed, too, by his ability to innovate, invent and his technology.


  1. See pages 306-312, “8. Memorandum for Members of the Armed Forces Policy Council—26 November 1956,” The Department of Defense, 1944-1978, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office.
  2. Charles Erwin Wilson, Secretary of Defense, January 28, 1953 to October 8, 1957. From January 1941 to January 28, 1953, Wilson had been President of General Motors. He died in 1961.
  3. See page 306, “Memorandum for Members of the Armed Forces Policy Council—26 November 1956,” The Department of Defense: Documents on Establishment and Organization, 1944-1978, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office, Washington, D.C., 1978.
  4. See page iii, “Memorandum for Members of the Armed Forces Policy Council—26 November 1956,” Foreward, as penned by Harold Brown, then Secretary of Defense, 1978. Secretary Brown did a mindful service to this study with the inclusion of Madison’s thoughtful and accurate observation . . . to which, of course, the altruistic nature of the Founder’s words seemed to have lost much of their luster. . .
  5. Note the passage, “It should be clearly understood that the approval of roles and missions of the armed forces for guidance in peacetime does not predetermine the weapons or forces which a commander would be permitted to use in the event of war. Also, the development of a weapon by a particular military department does not in itself predetermine its use.” Yet, at the same time, the evolving technology of weaponry is driving Man himself. Channeling Man to acclimate himself to these constantly developing realities. For Army Aviation is the product of American innovation, invention and technology and, the developing specialization of tasks that is associated with the evolution of technology.
  6. The Okinawa campaign, in which the determined use of the Special Attack Corps by the fanatically desperate Japanese, resulted in the worst period of the war for the Navy. For instance, during the Okinawa campaign (Operation: ICEBERG), Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemums) attacks claimed 36 ships sunk with 368 more damaged. Total American dead were 12,003 Army, Marine and Naval personnel, the third deadliest battle in America history, following the battle of the Bulge at number two and the Meuse-Argonne at the top of the list. But the service which incurred the heaviest death toll at Okinawa was the Navy, 4,908. Hence the Navy’s postwar interest in ship-mounted surface-to-air missiles.


Cole, Alice G., Goldberg, Alfred, Tucker, Samuel A and Winnacker, Rudolph A., editors, The Department of Defense: Documents on Establishment and Organization, 1944-1978, Office of the Secretary of Defense Historical Office, Washington, D.C., 1978.

Inoguchi, Captain Rikihei and Nakajima, Commander Tadashi of the Imperial Japanese Navy, with Pineau, Roger, The Devine Wind, Bantam Books, New York, NY., 1978. Originally published by the United States Naval Institute Press, 1958.

Lamont-Brown, Raymond, Kamikaze: Japan’s Suicide Samurai, Cassell & Co., London, 1997.

Nichols, Major Charles,. Jr., USMC and Shaw, Henry J., Jr., Okinawa: Victory in the Pacific, Charles E. Tuttle Co. Publishers, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, Under the auspices of the Historical Branch, G-3 Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.