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BMD Focus: The search for Gen. Schriever

From the 1940s through the 1960s men like Gen. Schriever (pictured) , the driving genius behind the Air Force's amazingly successful and even cost-effective Minuteman solid-fuel inter-ballistic missile program in the 1950s and early 60s, seemed to grow on trees.

Washington (UPI) Aug 16, 2005
Gen. Lance Lord, the head of the U.S. Air Force Space Command has recognized the need for great engineer-generals like Gen. Bernard Schriever to ramrod America's ballistic missile defense and space weapons programs: But as the general well knows, such men are now a lot harder to find than they were half a century ago.

From the 1940s through the 1960s men like Gen. Schriever, the driving genius behind the Air Force's amazingly successful and even cost-effective Minuteman solid-fuel inter-ballistic missile program in the 1950s and early 60s, seemed to grow on trees.

Gen. Leslie Groves already had a legendary reputation as the U.S. Army's "go-to" man to get any apparently impossible engineering project done before he took on the Manhattan Project that built the entire industrial infrastructure necessary to produce the world's first nuclear weapons.

He not only produced them in time for their operational use against Japan in 1945, he even had two entirely different but both successful designs ready. One of them worked on its first operational use on the city of Nagasaki without even being tested first.

And there were many others. Since the 1970s, jealous critics and hostile biographers have nitpicked the reputation of the U.S. Navy's irascible, hard-driving engineer Adm. Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy. Many argued that Soviet nuclear submarine designs outperformed Rickover's designs, especially in speed.

But U.S. submarines far outperformed the Soviet ones in the crucial area of stealth and Rickover's obsessive fixation on safety and quality control gave the U.S. nuclear navy a vastly superior safety record to the Soviet one.

This was especially crucial as in a democratic society, particularly after the Three Mile Island nuclear power station crisis in March 1979, a host of nuclear accidents or well-publicized near misses could have shut down the nuclear fleet completely.

And then of course there was Gen. Schriever's long-time close friend and colleague Lt. Gen. Otto J. Glasser, director of the Atlas ICBM program in the 1950s.

As Gen. Lord pointed out in congressional testimony to a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee July 12, many of the qualities that Gen. Schriever and his fellow engineer generals embossed still serve as inspiration to dedicated senior officer in the U.S. Air Forces and other services to this day.

However, there have been many sobering changes in the U.S. armed services and the domestic American economy and general society that make the qualities necessary to produce a Bernard Schriever or a Hyman Rickover far more difficult to gather together.

First, "Bernie" Schriever, "Rick" Rickover and their colleagues were the product of a contradiction that is entirely reversed in American society today. They first served and were shaped by the pre-World War II U.S. armed forces when resources were scarce during the Great Depression and military officers, especially engineers, had to get used to not only to lean budgets but also to improvising like crazy and being scrutinized over the reckless expenditure of nickels and dimes.

Yet at the same time, they were surrounded by what was, even in the 1930s, the greatest industrial economy the world had ever seen. And when the lightning U.S. industrial military build up finally came in the early 1940s, a world war was raging with the United States fully committed on two different sides of the globe at the same time.

Then the still young engineer-officers were saturated in the culture of getting things done as quickly and efficiently as possible and never mind bureaucratic barriers, budget constraints or congressional quibbles.

As Gen. Lord knows, the situation is very different today. Ironically, it is his own Air Force Space Command in particular that is now the subject of increasingly careful and skeptical scrutiny from even a Republican-run Congress increasingly worried about enormous cost over-runs and crucial programs for national defense like the Space-Based Infra Red, SBIRS-H that is now $6 billion and six years overdue.

Today's senior engineering and military officers are a lot more cautious about rocking the boat when they deal with private industry corporations than their predecessors of half a century ago were, or had to be.

It was one thing to give a provider company like Grumman or North American a hard run when you were working with them to get some crucial ordinance developed and built, when you knew that when you retired there six or a dozen other contractors who would be easy to have you on their boards or in senior executive positions.

It is another story entirely when the shrinkage of the U.S. general industrial sector and of the consolidation of high tech corporations in particular, means that if you are a senior figure in developing tanks, warships aircraft or ABM radars, you know there are only three or four players in the game in the entire United States, and most of them perforce have to work in harmony and cooperation rather than fierce competition.

Today's engineer-generals have been shaped by an industrial and procurement culture where there was almost always enough billions of dollars there to buy the most high-tech article available with the most accessories or "bells and whistles" available on it.

And since America's shooting wars of the past half century were half a world away in Korea, Vietnam or Iraq and against far smaller, less advanced nations that did not pose any fundamental, immediate security threat to the American homeland, they were not shaped by years of having to smash through every bureaucratic constraint imaginable to get the job done and the weapons operable.

More subtly, the shrinkage of the old U.S. heavy industrial base over the past quarter-century, and its replacement by a high-tech orientated Information Technology-centered economy put the emphasis and the prestige for senior officers as well as civilian sector specialists on software and electronics, not the unfashionable old nuts-and-bolts of hardware engineering and rocket fuels.

This may suggest in part why the last two tests of the Air Force's ABM interceptors never even gave the high-tech electronic guidance wonders in their warheads the chance to do their stuff because on both occasions the "low-tech" rocket engines failed to even fire in the first place.

The U.S. armed forces do not lack for intelligence, integrity, energy and education in their senior officers. But many of the more subtle qualities that made for an Otto Glasser or Bernard Schriever appear far harder to duplicate.

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Lockheed Martin Exhibits BMD In Taiwan
Washington DC (UPI) Aug 11, 2005
One of America's biggest high-tech ballistic missile defense contractors is exhibiting its wares in Taiwan this week. Starting Thursday, Lockheed Martin will be exhibiting its wares at the 2005 Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition (TATDE), the China Post reported Monday.

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