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Striving for Air SuperiorityStriving for Air Superiority

The Tactical Air Command in Vietnam

Craig C. Hannah

Narrated by John Chester

Available from Audible

Book published by Texas A&M University Press

"Tactical bombing," Gen. Jimmy Doolittle reportedly observed, "is breaking the milk bottle. Strategic bombing is killing the cow." Most nations have historically chosen between building tactical and strategic air forces; rarely has a state given equal weight to both. The advantages of tactical air power are obvious today as small wars and petty tyrants bedevil us, but in a Cold War world split between continental superpowers, strategic bombing took precedence. According to Craig C. Hannah, the effect on America's tactical air arm was just short of calamitous.

In the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force lacked both the equipment and properly trained pilots to assure air superiority because the Tactical Air Command (TAC) had become little more than a handmaiden to the Strategic Air Command (SAC). TAC focused primarily on the interdiction of enemy bombers and virtually ignored its other responsibilities, such as providing close support of ground troops with conventional weapons and the interdiction of enemy fighters over the battlefield. Its aircraft were designed to fly at supersonic speeds and shoot long-range, radar-guided missiles at large, lumbering bombers and not to engage in dog fights with highly maneuverable MiGs. Its premier fighter, the F-4 Phantom, lacked an internal cannon that was so crucial to the accomplishment of TAC's mission, and its pilot training programs were ill-suited for the air war over Southeast Asia. The arrival of surface-to-air-missiles in North Vietnam in 1965 also found the Air Force with neither the tactics nor the weapons needed to neutralize that threat.

Hannah shows how a tactical air force that won a total victory in World War II deteriorated into a second-rate force flying aging aircraft during the early years of the Cold War; recovered briefly over Korea, where a combination of the F-86 Sabre and superior pilot training gave American pilots the edge in MiG Alley; then slid rapidly into obsolescence during the 1950s as defensive policy privileged the more cost-effective SAC and relegated TAC to the role of continental defense. His discussion of what makes a fighter aircraft work is superb; his explanation of why America's fighter aircraft did not work in Vietnam is instructive and unsettling.

Hannah explains how TAC struggled through the war in Vietnam to emerge in the 1970s as the best-equipped and best-trained tactical air force in the world. He side-steps politics and inter-service rivalries to focus on the nuts and bolts of tactical air power. The result is a factual, informative account of how an air force loses its way and finds its mission again.

Craig C. Hannah serves as a director for the Texas Air Museum.


“Anyone eager to understand tactical aviation technology during the Cold War will gain considerable information from this work. To date, it offers the finest overview of the subject.”

The Journal of Military History

“Craig C. Hannah’s Striving for Air Superiority: The Tactical Air Command in Vietnam is a well-researched examination of the many and varied shortcomings of the American tactical bombing effort in the Vietnam War.”

The VVA Veteran

“Craig Hannah has produced an excellent short book on the Tactical Air Command (TAC) in the Vietnam War. Striving for Air Superiority is a mine of useful information.”

—Kentucky Historical Society

“This book responds well to the challenge of isolation for analysis a single issue out of the many complex defense issues that interact and compete for resources anytime the nation goes to war.”

Comparative Strategy

“Hannah has contributed an important work to our storehouse of air power literature. This book belongs on every airman’s shelf and the layman would do well to spend a Sunday afternoon absorbing the lessons of air power.”

Journal of America’s Military Past

“Aptly named, this book zeroes in on Houston’s forgotten heritage of buildings and social structures. Indeed, most of the structures in this book actually are gone, but there is a clear reference to the ones that still exist and the possibility of saving them. But sadly, Houston’ history is slowly being replaced by that steel and glass, new franchise stadiums (which will only give momentary glory) and service stations. Whether one lives in Houston or Texas, this book is important in that it relates to learning from history.”

Top Country Music and Life

“Craig Hannah’s Striving for Air Superiority is a superb accounting of how our Air Force and civilian leaders stumbled through history failing to understand the requirement for an air superiority aircraft. Neither did they understand the requirement for an air superiority aircraft. Neither did they understand the requirement for the training necessary to fulfill the air superiority mission. How they finally arrived at a sensible balance between nuclear and conventional air force is dealt with beautifully by the author and should be read with great interest by future aviation historians.”

—Maj. Gen. Frederick C. Blesse, USAF (Ret.)

“This book, Striving for Air Superiority, is most compelling. It is a detailed discussion of the technology of the varied aircraft used in both Korea and Vietnamese combat, as well as the many weapon systems and armament. This is the most thorough exposition of these two conflicts that I have ever read and includes politics, aircrew training and the final results. I cannot recommend this book too highly.”

—Brig. Gen. Robinson Risner, USAF (Ret.)

“Mr. Craig Hannah has done a remarkable job analyzing cold war air weapons systems and identifying their shortcomings when employed in a conventional weapons only, limited war. I was an F-105-D Squadron Commander during this time period and flew 100 combat missions over North Vietnam in the Thunderchief. Mr. Hannah makes a strong and very logical case for more weapons system specialization to fit the types of conflicts in which the U.S. Armed Forces may engage an opposing force in future wars.”

—Kennith F. Hite, Colonel USAF (Ret.)

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