Tuesday, 04 February 2020 05:50

Was the TFX Case a Scandal?

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Jim DiEugenio revisits the TFX affair, in light of current research, and gets to the bottom of the smear campaign led by Henry Jackson and others against the procurement reforms being instituted by Robert McNamara and JFK.

The first time I ever heard of the TFX affair—as we shall see, it should not be called a scandal—was in doing work on my first book about the JFK assassination. That was the first edition of Destiny Betrayed back in 1991-92. I was assisted in writing the footnotes for that book by Bob Spiegelman. Bob had worked as a researcher on the film JFK. He had access to an unpublished manuscript by Peter Scott called The Dallas Conspiracy, issued in 1971. Therefore, in the notes section to the first edition of Destiny Betrayed, one will see a mention of “the TFX scandal” in relation to Navy Secretary Fred Korth and also to Lyndon Johnson. That passage states that President Kennedy forced Korth to resign in October of 1963 over the TFX affair. Bob also added that the episode had the potential to destroy Lyndon Johnson. (See footnote 2 on page 340)

I don’t stand by that information today. I have found no credible evidence that Korth was asked by Kennedy to resign and neither is there credible evidence showing his resignation was related to the dispute over the tactical experimental fighter/bomber plane (TFX), eventually called the F-111. (Boston Globe, October 15, 1963, article by Robert Thompson) But the fact that these accusations were made shows just how wild the misinformation got about this defense project procurement episode. There are, of course, several other mentions of the TFX affair in other Kennedy assassination volumes, e.g. Seth Kantor’s The Ruby Cover-Up (p. 51). But, to my knowledge, in those volumes there has been little detailed discussion of the TFX dispute in historical and factual terms. As President Kennedy complained, there had been nothing more than innuendo. (See aforementioned Thompson article)

But yet, despite this rather barren database of information, partly made up of newspaper stories by people like Drew Pearson, the F-111 affair lives on. In fact, a bit over a year ago, a protégé of Scott’s, Jonathan Marshall, made an entire speech about the episode. Many years ago, Marshall contributed to a journal Scott put out called Parapolitics and he has co-authored two books with Scott. I expected to hear something new and scholarly on the subject at such a late date. I was disappointed when I didn’t. What Marshall spoke about was pretty much what he had written about back in 1996 and what Scott had written about back in 1971. (Click here for a sample)

This was jarring, because the affair was as old as Kennedy’s assassination, of which there has been much new information released. And several speakers addressed that information at the informal, Gary Aguilar sponsored seminar Marshall spoke at. Because of this critical lapse, much of what follows will be new to the reader.


The TFX plane, that would eventually become the F-111, was not a product of the Kennedy administration. It was presented for production during the Eisenhower administration. In the period of 1959-60, General Frank Everest was commander over the Tactical Air Command and also a commander of U. S. Air Forces in Europe. (Robert T. Art, The TFX Decision, p. 15) Everest had decided that the current fighter/bomber in use for Europe, the F-105, was outdated. He envisioned a new plane to replace it. To say that his vision was ambitious is too modest a characterization. Everest wanted the new fighter/bomber to be able to:

  1. Participate in air to air combat over the battlefield
  2. Be able to impose effective interdiction of supply routes behind enemy lines
  3. Supply air to ground cover for combat troops
  4. Be able to take off from and land on short sod runways

This last requirement was formed to counter what the Air Force saw as a problem in their role as part of the nuclear triad (i.e. missiles, submarines, and bombers). Namely, that when the F-105 was stationed in Europe on a long 11,000-foot runway, it would be easily detectable and, therefore, easy to knock out. Therefore, it would not be a factor in an atomic exchange. (Robert Coulam, Illusions of Choice, p. 93) So this design requirement was made to neutralize that criticism and maintain an Air Force role in the atomic triad. But Everest went further in this aspect. He also wanted the plane to be able to cross the Atlantic nonstop, without refueling in the air. The point was to further safeguard the TFX from being knocked out on the ground. (Coulam, p. 37)

What made the upcoming decision on Everest’s plane more complicated was the fact that the Navy also wanted a new fighter. This was called the F-6D Missileer. Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates stopped development of both planes before leaving office. But further, the Eisenhower administration cancelled the F-6D.

So, from the beginning, the reader can see two important problems with Everest’s vision. First, the aim was to preserve a role for his branch of the service in an evolving Cold War scenario that would be dominated by missiles and submarines. Second, Everest’s ambition for the F-111 was unprecedented. As authors Robert Coulam and Robert T. Art have stated, Everest wanted a plane that was not just a combination fighter/bomber. He wanted a plane that would operate and perform missions at both high and low altitude. And when the design stage was over, the requirement was it had to do these things at supersonic speed. (Art pgs. 17-19; Coulam, pp. 94-95)

It is necessary to explain what made Everest’s design so difficult to achieve. The prime mission of the plane for the Air Force was that it be able to fly at extremely low altitude at a considerable distance in order to evade radar and drop its atomic payload without being shot down. (Coulam, p. 94). The performance requirements that it had to be able to take off on short runways, yet achieve high speeds for tactical combat above the battlefield, complicated the wing structure of the plane. On short takeoffs, the plane would need long, unswept wings; for high speed air combat at Mach 2.5, it would need short, sharply swept wings. (Coulam, p. 380) The many missions that Everest imagined for the plane created complex technical problems. To name just one: the differing wing necessities eventually caused the creation of the variable wing configuration. In other words, the plane’s wings could be altered. This had never been done successfully on a military plane before. But with the help of NASA engineer John Stack, it worked for the F-111. This was a significant design and development achievement. (Art, pp. 21-22) As Peter Davies notes in his detailed examination of the plane’s features and performance, that variable wing design was imitated later in at least seven different Air Force planes. (Davies, General Dynamic’s F-111 Aardvark, see Introduction)

Davies’ analysis goes on to mention the fact that, to fulfill its many functions, the F-111 was the first fighter plane to have afterburning turbofan engines along with supersonic performance. As opposed to turbojets, this allowed the plane to increase its flying time by using less fuel. (Davies, Introduction) Finally, and again in following with the plane’s multi-missions, Davies also shows how the F-111’s excellent avionics allowed the aircraft to fly at night, in bad weather, and over all types of terrains. (ibid)

But even that does not do justice to what the F-111 was supposed to ultimately do. To explain why the plane’s mission got even more complicated, we must turn to the career and character of the incoming Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.


To begin with a truism: McNamara was a brilliant student in mathematics and economics. He had an impressive ability to quantify both problems and solutions. After graduating from Berkley, he attended Harvard Business School. With a Harvard MBA in 1939, he took an accounting job at Price Waterhouse in San Francisco. But, in a year, he was invited back to Harvard to become their youngest professor. When the war broke out, Harvard helped the Defense Department form a production team to turn out aircraft. (Robert McNamara, In Retrospect, p. 8) McNamara was on that management team. By all accounts, McNamara was a good professor—but he was an even better manager. His talent for mathematical quantification, statistics, and computations, plus his ability to articulate his ideas, all became the stuff of legend. He attained the Legion of Merit by the time he left the service in 1946.

After the war, through his friend and military colleague Tex Thornton, McNamara attained a management position at Ford Motor Company. At Ford, McNamara furthered his already formidable reputation for managerial analysis and problem solving. When McNamara and his colleagues came into Dearborn Michigan, the company was ailing. Henry Ford II knew he needed a young, energetic team to turn Ford around. Before Ford even met McNamara and his service cohorts, he had decided to hire them. (McNamara, p. 11) For what McNamara and his team achieved at Ford, they earned the nickname the Whiz Kids. McNamara began in planning and financial analysis; he soon rose to senior executive levels. He became known for his “scientific management” techniques (e.g. his uses of computers and spreadsheets, which were pioneering). He eventually became president of Ford, as he had brought them from a sickly state into striking distance of General Motors. His presidency lasted ever so briefly, since he soon got a phone call from Bobby Kennedy. His president elect brother wanted McNamara to be his Secretary of Defense.

This is the point where John Kennedy’s ideas about reforming defense programs set up by Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles meets up with Robert McNamara’s managerial skills. From his senate seat, Kennedy had criticized President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles quite often and on a wide variety of issues. Among them were their defense strategies of brinksmanship, the New Look, massive retaliation, and—closest to our subject—the duplication of weapons systems. Kennedy was referring to things like Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM’s), cruise missiles, and anti-aircraft missiles. (Coulam, p. 46) Kennedy planned on overhauling all of these ideas, because he felt that they forced America into dangerous, atomic-threatening scenarios much too quickly, thus depriving the president of different registers of response to perceived security threats. This is where JFK’s concepts like flexible response and counterinsurgency came into play. Kennedy also felt that there was too much service rivalry to build exclusive weapons systems that, in reality, could be interchanged with other branches, in order to save money through economies of scale. The intelligent, experienced, imaginative Robert McNamara was going to be Kennedy’s agent of change in these matters.

But there was one factor involved in all this which made the concept of what became the F-111 even more difficult to achieve—even for someone as highly skilled in these affairs as McNamara. As previously mentioned, Eisenhower had cancelled the F6-D. When McNamara entered office, he now cancelled the F-105, but approved continued production of the F-4, which was originally designed as a Navy fighter without a nuclear mission. (Coulam, p. 49) The importance of these decisions was that the Air Force now needed the F-111 for atomic bombing missions to replace the F-105. McNamara liked the versatility of the F-111 and he decided to do something rather daring. He wanted it to be an inter-service project from its inception. In other words, both the Air Force and the Navy would cooperate in the planning and development of the plane from the start. The Navy was meant to use the plane for fleet protection and infantry (Marine) support. But since the plane’s primary mission was going to be the atomic delivery angle, the Air Force would have the lead in the design stage.

The Navy did not like the subordinate idea and they were not shy about voicing their disagreement. (Coulam, pp. 52-53) But McNamara was intent upon beginning a successful inter-service program, that he thought would reform weapons procurement. In fact, at the start, McNamara actually wanted the F-111 to be used by every branch of the military. (Art, p. 29) But he scaled that back to both the Navy and Air Force before the bidding process began.

Before we get to that stage of the story, it should be stressed that—because of the plane’s many missions—the project was going to be a very difficult one from the start. To use just one example: no plane had ever been required to do a low-level mission combined with a transoceanic ferry mission before. (Art, p. 20) To only make Air Force General Everest’s dream a reality was going to be an uphill task. Versatility is a laudable aim, but one can have so much of it that, in achieving the different aims, they begin to erode the others. To use one example: the Air Force wanted the atomic delivery mission performed at supersonic speed. This required more fuel, which made the plane heavier. The Navy argued that the heavier weight would decrease the time the plane could stay in the air above ships for fleet protection. (Coulam, pp. 241-44) To have just succeeded as an Air Force plane, the multi-missioned F-111 would have required all of McNamara’s managerial skills and experience. His attempt to turn it into an inter-service plane went beyond even his abilities.


F-111 Aardvark

In almost any discussion of the F-111 controversy, the process of the source allocation and bidding by manufacturers is made into a matter of intrigue and mystery. The reason being that, when the four bidding rounds were completed, the Pentagon unanimously endorsed the offer by the Boeing company. Because of the plane’s grand ambition and technical problems, this process went on for 14 months, until November of 1962. (Art, p. 55) The competition began with six competitors. There were three bids by single companies and three dual bids. In the last two rounds, the two competitors were Boeing and a dual bid by General Dynamics/Grumman. The Pentagon had worked out a complex multi-stage evaluation process that was point scored over four major areas.

Almost every commentator notes that McNamara ended up overriding the Pentagon’s decision and awarding the contract to General Dynamics/Grumman. What no one notes is, that based on the Pentagon’s own points evaluation system, General Dynamics/Grumman won the competition! (Art, pp. 112-115) In other words, the Pentagon overruled its own evaluation. McNamara was restoring the original scored decision. It’s true that the scores were quite close. But in some areas, like the Technical and Management categories, General Dynamics/Grumman won by large margins. The Pentagon preferred the Boeing bid, because the company promised higher performance in certain areas. But as Robert Art points out, the Boeing bid was based upon an engine that was only in the planning stages. It had yet to be built or tested. And it would probably not be perfected and ready for the assembly line until 1967. (Art, p. 64) Whereas the General Dynamics/Grumman plane was scheduled to fly in 1965.

The other factor that is usually used in adding intrigue to the episode is the fact that the Boeing bid was lower in price. As any experienced author in the field of weapons procurement understands, this issue is a tempest in a teapot, for the simple reason that it is a rarity when a weapons system comes in on time and on budget. For this reason, very few participants believe the original estimates anyway. By 1968, the average weapons procurement contract was 220% over budget and 36% over schedule. (Art, p. 86) Most everyone understood that many of these estimates were unrealistic for a purpose: they wanted the Pentagon to buy into the project on the promise of higher performance. By nature and experience manufacturers knew the Pentagon liked things like higher speed and more explosive power. Therefore, contractors would deliberately lower the price of their projects to make it easier for the generals to sell the contract to the Defense Secretary. A good example of this corrupt process occurred with the F-111. During congressional hearings, it was discovered that one of the evaluators, Admiral Frederick Ashworth, had not even read the final evaluation report. (Art, pp. 162-63) The practice that had become routine was this: the Pentagon would decide on the weapon it wanted, the company would fudge the figures to make it attractive, and all that would be required was an oral briefing so each evaluator would get the same canned message. (ibid) This was the system that McNamara and Kennedy were trying to challenge.

Coming from his background, McNamara’s disagreement with all this was not just that the system was rigged and bloated—which it was. But that the Pentagon was a sucker for performance that went beyond the contract requirement. McNamara was specific about this in an interview he did with the Government Accounting Office. The Pentagon’s penchant for high performance caused decisions which misallocated scarce resources. And the Pentagon did this understanding that “greater incremental costs were inevitable because of the greater development risks…”. (GAO interview with McNamara of April 16, 1963) In other words, the promised performance would only be achieved after the contract was awarded in the form of additional, unawarded but substantial cost overruns.

Which was another area that McNamara and Kennedy were trying to reform. As one observer wrote of him, “It has been said of Robert McNamara that he was the first Secretary of Defense to read the description of his job and to take it seriously.” (Coulam, p. 45) Prior to McNamara, almost all Pentagon contracts had been figured on cost plus terms. Which loosely meant that whatever the overrun was, it would be covered by the original contract. This had led to increases in the research and development phase of contracting of 300 % from 1953-63. (Art, p. 89) McNamara wanted to change this also. He wanted to alter the system by adding a ceiling price and also incentives for coming in ahead of schedule. In the case of the TFX, McNamara wanted more realistic estimates from both companies, since he understood the Pentagon’s past habit of buying into a false contract. His goal was to achieve high quality at the most economical price.

Which leads into an important point that Jonathan Marshall misconstrued in his presentation about the TFX. Marshall said that when going through the final estimates McNamara did not present written reports before he made his decision, which ignores the fact that everyone was working from the same estimates that the Air Force had prepared. (Art, p. 134) McNamara thought both sets of estimates were unrealistic, but he thought Boeing’s was worse in that aspect. And he was specific in his analysis about the areas where he felt they had fudged the numbers, thereby showing that the price difference was a mirage (ibid, pp. 139-142) But McNamara also felt that he had to do this, because the Pentagon had performed a lousy job in their analysis of costs. During the entire long evaluation process, only 1% of their time had been spent on this important area. (ibid, p. 137)

Another point missed in this regard is quite relevant: the Secretary of Defense did not have a systems analysis department in 1962. If the reader can comprehend it, for 14 years, the Defense Secretary was in essence rubber stamping what the Pentagon placed on his desk. It was McNamara who began systems analysis and it was a direct result of the TFX episode. (ibid, pp. 139-140)

But the truth is that McNamara did have written reports at his disposal. He had a secret study made by a private consulting firm. Understandably, he did not wish to reveal this at the time. (Coulam, p. 59) Based on this private analysis, McNamara concluded that the Boeing estimate and plan was too risky technically, overindulgent in cost estimates, and almost ignored the interchangeable parts formula the secretary wanted between the Navy and Air Force version of the planes. (ibid, p. 58)

In that last, crucial regard, the numbers were overwhelmingly against Boeing. By measurement against structural weight of the Air Force and Navy versions, the General Dynamics/Grumman model had a ratio of 92% interchangeable parts; Boeing’s rate was 34%. (Art, p. 150) The Defense Secretary noted that the General Dynamics/Grumman design has “a very high degree of identical structure for the Air Force and Navy versions. In the Boeing version, less than half of the structural components were the same.” (Davies, section on Design and Development.) McNamara justifiably concluded that, in reality, Boeing was going to produce two different planes. Yet, they were going to charge the Defense Department less for this? As Robert Art points out, this factor would greatly increase costs in the development of the plane. Yet it is one reason the Pentagon preferred Boeing. They preferred two separate planes. (Art, pp. 151-53)

As McNamara stated early in his tenure during an interview with NBC News:

I think that the role of public manager is very similar to the role of a private manager; in each case he has the option of following one of two major alternative courses of action. He can either act as judge or a leader. In the former case, he sits and waits until subordinates bring to him problems for solution or alternatives for choice. In the latter case, he immerses himself in the operations of the business or governmental activity, examines the problems, the objectives, the alternative courses of action, chooses among them, and leads the organization to their accomplishment. In the one case, it’s a passive role, in the other case an active role. I have always believed in and endeavored to follow the active leadership role, as opposed to the passive judicial role.


As the reader can see, when presented with the true elements of the TFX case, McNamara and Kennedy were trying to reform a well-entrenched system that needed reforming. For whatever reason, the journalists working the story did not want to reveal that fact. Particularly poor in this regard was the work of Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, who knew no boundaries in writing up unfounded rumors and gossip about the TFX, even if it came from the likes of Bobby Baker. But even more important in manufacturing the tidal wave of misinformation about the conflict was a figure who Marshall did not mention. This was Senator Henry Jackson from Washington. Jackson is important to this saga, because his nickname was “the senator from Boeing”. To leave Jackson out of the TFX affair is like not revealing that Jim McCord had worked for the CIA prior to his role in Watergate. As Joe Baugher notes at his web site, it was Jackson who instigated the initial congressional hearings on the subject, which went on for the better part of a year. (Art, p. 4) As Peter Davies observes, the many trials it took to perfect all of the plane’s technical achievements—variable wings, turbofan engines, the avionics—these all provided fodder for its congressional critics. (Davies, Introduction)

Jackson’s investigation, chaired by Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, was created to prove that somehow McNamara’s supervision of the process was corrupted and this was why he rejected Boeing. By doing this, it managed to fudge the fact that the Pentagon did not stand by its own scoring system. For the many months that the congressional inquiry went on, nothing stuck to either McNamara, Johnson, or Kennedy. But since the inquiry was politically motivated—so that Jackson could stay on indefinitely as the senator from Boeing—the committee was forced to come up with something, anything. If they did not, then it would have exposed the fact that Jackson was running a political vendetta for his backers.

What did they come up with? That Fred Korth, the Secretary of the Navy in 1962 and 1963, had been the president of a bank which had once loaned money to General Dynamics. The fact that this was what banks are supposed to do and that the loan occurred years prior to the TFX being bid on did not matter. The other point that the committee harped on was that Roswell Gilpatric, a deputy of McNamara’s, had done some work for General Dynamics at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine, and Moore. The fact that his firm had also worked for Boeing did not matter, since the work they did for General Dynamics was more expensive. The fact that Gilpatric had next to nothing to do with the decision to award the contract was also not important to Jackson. (Art, pp. 4-5) As Robert Coulam points out in his book on the matter, not only could the committee not prove any impropriety, but they could not disprove that McNamara had awarded the contract on the merits. This made their failed attempts to show untoward influence even weaker. (Coulam, p. 64) Since the Jackson effort was political, Senator McClellan ended up being an ally of the Navy and their objective had always been to kill the plane. As Coulam notes in his book, during the evaluation process, at a flight demonstration, a Navy admiral told an Air Force officer, words to the effect: You will never see this airplane fly off the deck of an aircraft carrier.

That prediction ended up being correct. Yet, in one of the most revealing sections of his book, Robert Coulam demonstrates in detail that every objection the Navy made to the F-111 could also have been made to the F-14 Tomcat—called the VFX in its development stage. But because it was originally designed as a Navy plane and they were in the driver’s seat throughout, failures the Navy would not accept in price and performance with the TFX, they would accept with the VFX. (Coulam, pp. 247-51) And he also shows that the much-storied expense of the F-111 was easily surpassed by the F-14. Yet, that plane was only a fighter, not a fighter/bomber. Thus, he proves the ingrained bias that McNamara was trying to overcome. And this is the bias and narrowness that Jackson and McClellan took advantage of to keep a corrupt and wasteful process intact. In fact, the moment the Navy learned about McNamara’s intent to resign in 1967, they began to go around him in order to cancel their version of the plane. (Coulam, p. 76) If the reader can believe it, around this time, congressional hearings resumed, led by Armed Services chairman John Stennis. The admiral mentioned above was quite prescient about what the Navy would do to stop the plane.

Marshall ended his presentation with the usual Jackson/Pentagon talking points: the F-111 was an utter failure once it was used by the Air Force. Therefore, backward reasoning would dictate that this was owed to the corrupt process condoned by Kennedy and McNamara and influenced by those (unproven) criminals Korth and Gilpatric.

The problem with this is simple: it’s not true. The F-111 stayed in use in America for 30 years and in Australia ten years longer, which is about an average to slightly above average run for such a plane. As Joe Baugher explains at his web site, the F-111 “turned out to be one of the most effective all-weather interdiction aircraft in the world” with a very good safety record. The reason it stayed in use for so long is that there was no other aircraft the Air Force had which could carry out its mission “…of precise air strikes over such long ranges in all-weather conditions.” Baugher continues, the amazing thing about the F-111 was that it could be fitted with up to as many as 50 750-pound bombs and it could carry a large payload over a range of 1,725 miles. Thus, although it was not designed for that conflict, it was often used during the Vietnam War. (It would later be used in Libya in 1986 and Desert Storm in Iraq.) As William Vassallo notes at history.net, one of the best things about the F-111 was its ability to fly at almost tree-top level, thus avoiding obstacles and radar. And, therefore, making bomb runs more accurate. Vassallo quotes Colonel Ivan Dethman, who commanded a detachment of the planes in Indochina: “That…was the best plane I had ever flown.” He even quotes a Navy pilot who flew the F-111B, the prototype made for that service: “There’s no aircraft now flying that can match it in the sky.” It also fulfilled its design mission of being able to land on runways less than 3,000 feet long. As Vassallo notes, “…even today this is unparalleled in most fighter aircraft.”

But, as Vassallo also writes, the most impressive aspect of the F-111 was its overall ordnance carrying ability: “Never before had a fighter been as capable of carrying and launching such a mix.” This included conventional bombs ranging from 500-3,000 pounds, napalm, long range rockets, nuclear weapons, cluster bomb units, and even a Gatling gun. For a large plane, it could zoom to 60,000 feet at 1,750 mph. Finally, the plane had a terrain following radar and this allowed the navigator to see not just down and ahead, but also to each side. In addition to this, the plane could fly at well above MACH 2, because of its innovative afterburning turbofan engines. (Robert Bernier, Air and Space Magazine, 9/18) Because of this unusual speed and size combination, maintenance supervisor Mike Glenn, who worked on both planes, said that the later versions of the F-111 could fly circles around the early F 14s. Finally, one of the Navy’s prime objections was that they did not think the plane could land smoothly on a carrier deck. The Navy guaranteed that this criticism would stay alive, since they never landed the plane on a carrier until after it was cancelled. But in the summer of 1968, it did attempt such a landing. It was achieved without problems on the USS Coral Sea. (See Bernier)

Major Jim Icenhour said, it was:

…a hell of an airplane! It had an ordnance carrying capacity and internal fuel load that far exceeded any other fighter of the time. It was superb at low level. That faster it went, the better it handled. (Davies, ibid)

As Peter Davies writes in his book about the plane, the F-111 was so good as an interdiction aircraft that, after production was halted in 1978, the Air Force had a hard time finding a replacement that could match it. In fact, the Air Force Study Group on the subject recommended bringing it back instead of buying into its successor, the F-15E Strike Eagle. In the interim, that service went ahead and rebuilt 13 F-111’s, because there was a shortage of them in use. The Air Force then planned on updating the plane and keeping it in use until 2015, which would have meant the plane would have been flying for a remarkable half century. But the budget cuts introduced under President Clinton ended up ruling this out. (Davies, see Conclusion) Davies closed his detailed study of the plane with the following:

The F-111 overcame unrealistic design goals, muddled management, inter-service conflict, and ill-informed press criticism to become one of the most successful combat aircraft of the 20th century and the progenitor of an international generation of “swing-wing” designs.

He also paid it the highest compliment, writing that the plane “…was in a class of its own…Its demise has left a gap in tactical strike capability that has not yet been filled”. The idea that the F-111 was a failure is a necessary part of a misleading myth.


In theory, I have no objections to the Deep Politics/Parapolitics approach to complex and officially unsolved political crimes. At times, in those instances, one has to resort to such oblique techniques, because of the deliberate cover ups employed. But, in practice, it should not be used in the place of real scholarship and genuine, relevant data collection. In his book, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, Scott wrote that what he described there is a system of accommodations featuring alliances and symbiosis between lawless forces which the system is supposed to eradicate. (p. 312) But with the TFX, that kind of analysis resulted in errors and omissions that somehow missed the main culprit—the Pentagon’s corrupt practices—and mischaracterized the man who was trying to eradicate the practices, Robert McNamara. At the end of Marshall’s speech, he gave the impression that he had read at least some of the books written on the subject. To be kind, I hope he was bluffing. Because if he did read those books and he recycled the Pearson/Jackson talking points instead, it does not speak well for him.

As a result of these lacunae, in all the instances where the subject was discussed in relation to the JFK case, it has been largely mischaracterized, and in just about every way. I have little problem in saying that what entered into the assassination literature was a diversion from what really happened. As I have stated elsewhere, one can make the argument that Henry Jackson was one of the fathers of the neoconservative movement. Like Ronald Reagan, he was ready to give the Treasury over to the Pentagon in his pursuit of a hawkish foreign policy. I never considered Drew Pearson a genuine journalist. But yet, using those kinds of sources, one can conceal what the true conflict really was in the TFX affair. It was not about the Chicago Outfit, financier Henry Crown, Fred Korth, or Roswell Gilpatric. It was about McNamara’s and Kennedy’s desire to reform the military and specifically the process of weapons procurement. As Robert Art has written, McNamara had done something no prior Secretary of Defense had done: “He developed the ability to make informed decisions on which of the choices before him would contribute the most to integrating and balancing military instruments of force.” (Art, p. 158) The military did not like McNamara’s integrating and balancing act. But McNamara understood how the procurement process in place would resist that kind of reform. As a result, in addition to setting up a systems analysis unit, he reversed the source allocation process from one of recommendation to one of advisement. (ibid, p. 164) By ignoring all of this (quite) relevant data, the Deep Politics/Parapolitics approach to the TFX episode has proven to be superficial at best and misleading at worst. And it does not appear to have been done as a last resort but as a first resort—and a repeating resort lasting about 50 years. It is not easy to read congressional hearings and Pentagon reports or to interview important people—some who wish to remain anonymous—but yet this is what primary sourcing is all about. And this is what good historical analysis is made from.

Because of the flaws inherent in that approach and methodology, many people will only now have a (long-delayed) knowledge of what the whole TFX mélange really concerned, what the real battle was about—and how Jackson guaranteed McNamara would end up losing. Contrary to what many have wrongly conveyed, the F-111 was an exceptional plane. But the Navy was never going to admit that. As McNamara said, they sabotaged the aircraft rather than let it fly off their carrier decks.

Last modified on Wednesday, 05 February 2020 06:48
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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