The Vietnam War Era
Less than eight years after the Korean War ended, another threat to the national security and interest of the United States began to crystallize. Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev formally announced in January 1961 that the spread of communism by "wars of national liberation" had become the official national policy of the Soviet Union. This change in Soviet national strategy would significantly affect missions and activities at Air University during the next 10 years.
To counter the new Soviet threat, President John F. Kennedy requested that "various levels of instruction in counterinsurgency (COIN) be given to all military personnel." During 1962 the Air Command and Staff College developed a two-week COIN course. By March 1963, Air University had transferred this course to the AU Warfare Systems School and it had an annual quota of nearly 1,000 students.
Meanwhile, Fidel Castro's Cuba stood as an example of the need for COIN courses. The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 had an even more significant impact on AU operations. More than two-thirds of the students in the Squadron Officer School (SOS) Class 62-C were withdrawn by their parent commands in response to the emergency. In spite of the loss of students, the school continued to operate and the withdrawn students were given credit for completing the course. In the midst of this heighten state of awareness, Air University paused long enough on 8 November 1962 to redesignate the Human Resources Institute as the Aerospace Studies Institute.
Two years later, Air University faced the first serious threat to its continued existence as a major USAF command. In January 1964, the Air Force began closely examining a proposal to establish an "Air Force Personnel Command." The Air Force expected to create this new command by combining Air Training Command, Air University, the Air Force Academy, Continental Air Command, and the personnel functions of the Air Staff under a single commander. The Air Force Academy, however, was later excluded from consideration. Though Air Training Command supported this initiative, both Air University and the Continental Air Command strongly opposed the idea. After considerable discussion and debate, the Air Force decided against implementing the proposal, and Air University remained a separate major command.
Meanwhile, the command was also feeling the impact of student reductions caused by the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. In November 1966, the Air Force informed Air University that the USAF inputs to the Air War College and Air Command and Staff College programs would be reduced to 30 percent of normal levels beginning in fiscal year 1968. They also scheduled a similar reduction for the SOS program. School faculties were also reduced commensurate with the smaller workloads.
Air University's student population remained at these levels until fiscal year 1971. At that time, the Air Staff approved an increase in the Air War College and Air Command and Staff College student enrollment to 60 percent of the pre-Southeast Asia (SEA) input levels. In addition, the SOS student inputs for the January and May 1970 classes were set at 63 percent of the pre-SEA input level. Similarly, the faculties and staffs at these schools were increased in direct proportion to the growing student population. So, as the decade of the 1970s began, Air University was returning to some degree of normalcy.
However, one outgrowth of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, "Project Corona Harvest," continued into the post-war years. This project was conceived in 1966 to evaluate the use of airpower in Southeast Asia. In March 1970, the Air Force assigned responsibility for the overall conduct of the project to the AU commander. Using AU resources, he established a Corona Harvest project officer at Maxwell and involved the AU schools and other activities as deeply as possible in the effort. The result was the publication of numerous studies and a large number of highly condensed reports on specific lessons learned in Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1968. Phased out in October 1975, Project Corona Harvest was the most ambitious effort ever undertaken by Air University to study and develop lessons learned from a conflict in progress.
But not all of the major developments within Air University during this period were directly related to the Southeast Asia conflict. The Air Force, for example, transferred the USAF Chaplain School from Air Training Command to Air University on 1 July 1966. At the same time, the school moved from Lackland AFB, Texas, to Maxwell. With the growing number of Warfare Systems School professional development courses, it soon became evident that the name Warfare Systems School was no longer descriptive of the institution's primary mission. As a result, on 8 May 1968, Air University redesignated the unit as the AU Institute for Professional Development. About three years later, on 30 June 1971, Air University inactivated the Aerospace Studies Institute which had been an AU organization for over 20 years. Maxwell also served as the temporary home for the newly established Air Force Senior NCO Academy which Air University activated on 1 July 1972. The academy operated at Maxwell until 2 November 1972 when it transferred to Gunter.
Two years later, another proposal for combining Air University and Air Training Command surfaced. On 18 January 1974, Lt Gen Felix Rogers, the AU commander and former ATC vice commander, recommended that the Air Force take a look at the feasibility of "amalgamation among ATC, MPC [Military Personnel Center], and AU" with a view toward creating an Aerospace Education and Training Command. Much of the time devoted to examining this initiative was spent reviewing previous studies. Following considerable discussion, a USAF ad hoc study group concluded that the merger of the two commands was "advisable, feasible, and desirable." As a result, the committee recommended that "a joint group, chaired by the Air Staff be commissioned to develop a detailed implementation plan to effect the merger of ATC and AU." Subsequent "political sensitivities," however, "ruled out such a merger for the time being" and the proposal, like the one to establish the Air Force Personnel Command, was dropped.