The Air Force’s Ballistic Missile Program

April 1, 1958

A native of Germany, General Schriever, Commander of the Ballistic Missile Division, ARDC, came to the US in 1917. He was graduated from Texas A & M College in 1931 with a B.S. in engineering, and earned his M.S. in 1942 at Stanford. He won his wings in 1933, later reverted to inactive status. He reentered service in 1938, was a test pilot, and served in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, he was Chief, Scientific Liaison, DCS/Material and served in various R & D posts. Before his present BMD assignment, he was Assistant to the Commander of ARDC.

The organizational structure and the integrated management philosophy that guides the Ballistic Missile Division is designed to provide operationally capable intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missiles at the earliest possible date.

First, a brief review of how the Air Force ballistic missile program began. As you know, the Air Force first became interested in strategic ballistic missiles in 1946 when it gave Convair a systems study contract, known as MX-774, to investigate possible approaches to the development of long-range ballistic missiles.

Early in 1954, after eight years of systems-study effort and some experimentation, the Air Force was able to begin a full-scale assault on the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile. This action was made possible largely because of the thermonuclear breakthrough in 1952-53. In other words, we were energized by technology and not by intelligence data.

It became apparent that it would be possible to develop a high-yield warhead of sufficiently small size and weight to permit its incorporation in the nose cone of a ballistic missile.

With the feasibility assured, the Air Force began by enlisting the aid of the scientific community to formulate the optimum approach to early ballistic missile capability. Led by the late and eminent Professor John von Neumann, a special committee composed of some twenty of the nation’s foremost scientists recommended in 1954 that the ICBM program be accelerated in order to exploit the new warhead development. Equally important, the committee realized that a new concept of management would be required.

The committee recommended that a unique development-management organization be established to manage this effort, to assure proper integration and direction of government, scientific, and industrial capabilities necessary to achieve the urgent task. Thus began the team concept for the direction of the Air Force ballistic missile program and the creation of a unique management pattern, which has enabled us to pursue the development of top national priority Atlas, Titan, and Thor missile programs on a very unprecedented time scale.

At the initiation of the accelerated program in 1954 there were only two major contractors, Convair and North American, in the program. Since then, the air Force ballistic missile program has expanded to every part of our land and into almost every segment of our economy.

First, alternate contractors for airframe, propulsion, guidance, and nose cone were brought into the air Force ballistic missile program from the latter part of 1954 up to about the middle of 1955. Each of these contractors draws upon the support of literally thousands of subcontractors and suppliers. The nation’s most learned scientists and research groups are participating.

In manpower, our program has called upon 18,000 scientists, engineers, and other technical experts from the universities and in industry. Some critics have publicly called for a Manhattan Project. This project involved the expenditure of about $2 billion and I assure you that in scope the Air Force ballistic missile program is considerably larger than was the Manhattan Project.

Our Funding has for the past two years involved over a billion dollars a year. That is roughly $3 million a day. However, these expenditures have given us an over-all program leading to and including an initial operational force. In other words, not just a piece of hardware, but all of the things that it takes to bring into being an operational force. Our management structure actually consists of four elements, which operate as an integrated team.

Ballistic Missile Division of ARDC directs the entire program. The Ballistic Missiles Office of the air Material Command does all the contracting work for the program and provides all other AMC logistic support. The Strategic Air Command is responsible for implementation of the operational plans and the initial operational force. The Space Technology Laboratories of the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation have systems engineering responsibility and provide technical direction of the entire program.

The Air Force ballistic missile organization is a carefully integrated team representing three major commands with several liaison officers of other commands and a civilian scientific and engineering agency all working together in one location. This is the unique aspect of our management team. The team thus provides what we call the crucial element which is defined as follows: The collecting in one place under a flexible organization of a substantial number of people who are knowledgeable in the sciences and technologies required, in the requirements and practices of industry, and in the military needs and procedures connected with using organizations, training organization, and logistic organizations.

I might point out that knowledge of the procedures and organizations having to do with the government is a very important part in the management problem. Our unique management concept has enabled us to effectively pursue many important tasks simultaneously – a necessary prerequisite for an accelerated program such as ours, which is involved in extending frontiers of knowledge, and at the same time also applying highly developed phases of the current state of the air to the problem of achieving operational capability at the earliest possible date.

To effectively pursue several major lines of endeavor, we have developed a management pattern, which we call the concept of concurrency.

I think all of us agree that we are in a race against time. From the outset our aim has been to compress time, to beat the clock. Here I would like to say a work about the aircraft industry and the other companies in our program. They have been giving us a tremendous assist, especially since management has been aware of what is at stake long before the wave of public awareness engulfed us as a result of the launchings of the first Sputnik.

I will add here that, from the very start of our program, the motivation on the part of industry has been of the very highest in getting on with this job at the very maximum rate that we possible could manage.

Despite encouraging progress, this is no time to relax. We are engaged in no fits-and-starts, stop-and-go undertaking. Never in history has the need to keep advancing in military technology been more important, more pressing, and more of a responsibility for the government, for industry, and for everybody else.

Looking into the space age, I believe perhaps the most important contribution to the Air Force ballistic missile program will be found in the broad and solid base, which it has laid for our achievements in astronautics for today and for the next several years. Fortunately, we are well advanced in this direction.

The original investments required for preliminary projects in space flight have already been made in our ballistic missile program, and this includes not only our own, but those of the other services as well. Your present ICBM and IRBM booster engines possess a propulsion capacity important for military and scientific space missions for the next ten years.

Let us remember that the Thor, Atlas, and Titan are primarily space vehicles. They travel most of their distance out of the Earth’s atmosphere in space. They provide springboards for such follow-on projects as lunar rockets and manned space flight.

In working on the Thor, Atlas, and Titan, our science-government-industry team has acquired many new types of knowledge and capabilities that can be the source of substantial shortcuts to our mastery of astronautics. Indeed, we must draw upon this backlog of experience.

The Air Force first started serious study on the feasibility of Earth satellites as far back as 1946 when the RAND Corporation was established in California, first under Douglas, and then under separate organizations doing scientific and evaluation work for the air Force.

These studies continued until about 1953 when RAND recommended to the air Force that technology had reached such a state that the orbiting of a reconnaissance satellite was entirely feasible. Three years ago, in 1955, a contract for components development was awarded to the Lockheed Aircraft Company. At the same time, management of this new weapon system was placed under the supervision of the Ballistic Missile Division. This satellite will be heavier than the combined weights of all the Earth satellites thus for orbited, and it is well advanced in development. – End.