UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Aug 09, 2005
Gen. Bernard Schriever is dead, but the former head of the U.S. military's Space Command is determined that his spirit will live on. That is good, even essential, news for America's ballistic missile defense program.
Gen. Schriever, who died on June 20, this year, was, as Gen. Lance Lord, commander of the U.S. Air Force's Space Command, told a congressional hearing on July 12 "the father of space and missiles ... He was an inspiration to us all and a true pioneer who blazed many new trails in the 1950s and 1960s."
In 1957, Gen. Schriever took over responsibility for a U.S. strategic missile program that was in worse disarray by far than it is today and confronting a vastly more threatening global situation.
The Soviet Union had working, reliable and deployable intercontinental ballistic missiles and the United States, as yet, did not. The Soviet Union was forging ahead with rapid progress that astonished the world.
They pulled off repeated "space spectaculars" including putting up the world's first orbiting satellite, Sputnik I, in 1957, the first animal to orbit the earth, Laika the dog in Sputnik II all the way through the crowning achievement of launching the first human being up to orbit the Earth, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961.
The Soviets had bigger, better and vastly more reliable missiles that could lob thermonuclear weapons at the United States than we had against them. But thanks to Gen. Schriever, that all changed.
Gen. Lord reminded congressmen on the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of Gen. Schriever's achievements almost half a century ago: "From a dead stop in 1967, he energized the nation's ballistic missile programs and within five years had Minuteman missiles in their silos. By the end of the 1960s the number of Minuteman missiles on alert was into the thousands."
In the past 15 years, the Air Force's ambitious space programs have stumbled and stumbled badly. Reports this year by the Independent Review Team presented to the director of the Missile Defense Agency, and a report to Congress from the Government Accountability Office, have highlighted the continuing failures, short falls and colossal cost overruns crippling vitally important BMD and other space-related or space-based programs.
In the 1990s alone, Gen. Lord admitted, "we witnessed space launch failures that totaled more than $11 billion. In present day numbers that adds up to just about the entire Air Force Space Command budget. ... Now that we are at war those gaps cannot be tolerated."
Gen. Lord focused on the crucial importance of leadership and individual human responsibility in management for ensuring that military space programs operate efficiently. When that happened, he said, "We were able to provide the proper oversight and make the necessary modifications. ...Leadership can only influence the process where it is allowed to do so."
As the eminent military journalist and analyst Arthur T. Hadley wrote in "The Straw Giant" more than 30 years ago, Gen. Schriever got his spectacular results in the Minuteman program by maintaining full management control of it.
The civilian top echelon in the Pentagon at that time wisely resisted any temptation to meddle or micro-manage and kept out of the whole program. It allowed Gen. Schriever to set up his Western Development Command 3,000 miles away in Inglewood, California.
Gen. Schriever even insisted on having the authority write the efficiency reports on not only the military officers but also the civilians assigned to his command, Hadley wrote, "so that they could not be penalized for supporting the program by some superior who wanted his ideas to rule."
Schriever, Hadley continued, "had the money coming to him directly and he had the promotions in of all his people in his hands. Also, he was tough enough to resist the blandishments of and pressure from various industrialists who wanted to get the missile contracts away from his specially created company."
In astonishing contrast to the snail's pace of progress on U.S. military and civilian space programs in recent years -- from the Space-Based Infrared Systems High, or SBIRS-H, which is now six years behind schedule, to the International Space Station -- work on the Minuteman program under Schriever's lean, hard-driving, leadership developed with stunning speed.
In 1957, Minuteman was still under design. By February 1961, the first prototype had been successfully test-fired. "A year later, on December 1962, on cost and on time the first squadron of 20 missiles became operational outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming.," Hadley wrote.
Schriever has long been revered in the U.S. Air Force and the aerospace community but beyond them, he remains a largely unsung hero to the nation he served so well. As Gen. Lord recalled, "Gen. Schriever took great personal pride that in the many years of dealing with industry, not one official protest was lodged concerning irregularity in selecting contractors for the ballistic missile program. He was a model for integrity in everything he did."
Now, as Gen. Lord recognized, the spirit of Gen. Schriever is needed more than ever to complete and deploy programs essential for the future security of the American people.
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