A LearnWorld Text

Race to Oblivion

A Participant's View of the Arms Race

Herbert F. York




Table of Contents57Missile-Gap Mania125
INTRODUCTION78The McNamara Era147
Prologue: Eisenhower's Other Warning9PART TWO: UNBALANCING THE BALANCE OF TERROR171
1The Arms Race and I159MIRV: The Multiple Menace173
2The Race Begins: Nuclear Weapons and Overkill2711Other Lessons from the ABM Debate213
3The Bomber Bonanza4912The Ultimate Absurdity228
4The Elusive Nuclear Airplane60A Glossary of Acroyms241
5Rockets and Missiles75Index245



The reactions of the military services to Sputnik were related to developments which go back to the beginning of the post-World War II period. At that time the Department of the Air Force was set up as a third independent service, and the Department of Defense was established to coordinate and control all three services on behalf of the Commander in Chief, the President of the United States. The Air Force was separated from the Army in part in order to clarify the always difficult question of roles and missions. But in fact the increase in the number of independent claimants for funds only served to confuse things, and the bewilderingly rapid introduction of new weapons resulting from the explosion of technology generated by World War II and its aftermath simply added to the confusion. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, too new, too small, and too weak, could not keep things under control, and the bitter internecine warfare known euphemistically as interservice rivalry soon broke out.

At first this bloodless but bitter and occasionally dirty war involved genuinely substantive issues. These included such questions as the relative value of giant aircraft carriers and long-range bombers in the Atomic Age and such problems as how and by whom air support would be provided to ground troops. However, by 1955 the principal interservice battle had


become a power struggle over who would get the juiciest and sexiest roles and missions in long-range missilery and, ultimately, in space

When Sputnik went up and the "missile gap" came into being, the content of this battle did not much change, but it exploded and completely burst the bonds of good sense and common loyalty that previously had at least partially restrained it. Each of the services, inspired both by genuine patriotic concern and by self-interest, hoped to take advantage of the public confusion and consternation over Sputnik. Supported by its coterie of contractors and special supporting organizations, each intensified its campaign against the other two and against the higher authorities that were trying to restrain the outburst. The battles were fought on the speaking podium, in the kept technological press, and before the committees of Congress.

The Air Force, with much justification, considered the atmosphere and outer space as two parts of the same continuum and proposed that its name be changed to the United States Aerospace Force in recognition of this fundamental unity. Before Sputnik, the Air Force of course had the lion's share of the U. S. long-range missile program and all of the authorized military space programs. But in the summer before Sputnik, an economy wave, generated by Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson, hit all research and development programs in the Defense Department. Spending on ballistic-missile development was curtailed somewhat, and spending on the Air Force's space programs was affected much more. After Sputnik, the Defense Department, by then under the leadership of McElroy, proposed and the Congress endorsed a supplementary budget which restored reductions in the missile programs and increased the spending rate on the Air Force space programs beyond what it had been earlier. However, the technological content of these programs remained unchanged. The Thor-Agena and Atlas-Agena satellite launchers, both of which were started well before Sputnik, became operational about on their original schedule.


Later on, the program to install a ballistic-missile early-warning system was accelerated to the maximum extent possible, and methods for putting SAC aircraft on the maximum possible level of alert were developed and briefly employed. These actions were taken partly in response to the report of the Johnson Committee and partly in accord with studies made in my office and by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The rationale behind them was that there might really be a brief period in 1960 or 1961 when the Russians would have a few more ICBMs than we would. As it turned out, such a situation never came about, probably due to the extreme awkwardness of the first Soviet ICBM design, but that could not have been reasonably predicted at the time.

The first successful launch of a military satellite was made on February 28, 1959, when the first of the long series of Discoverer satellites went into orbit. This first Air Force satellite weighed 1,450 pounds and was thus the first United States satellite in a class with Sputnik as far as weight was concerned. These Discoverer satellites were said to be for the purpose of developing various space-flight techniques and checking out engineering designs for such things as maneuver in space and capsule recovery. There were a number of failures at first, but the program was ultimately quite successful and led directly to most of the military satellite programs of today.

A flurry of new proposals for rocket stages using exotic fuels was made, and some old ones were dusted off. After much study and haggling between the Air Force, ARPA, and NASA, these were finally boiled down to one which eventually became the liquid-hydrogen, liquid-oxygen upper stage known as Centaur. After many difficulties and much delay, this unit finally became of use in launching the planetary probes which passed near Venus and Mars.

As another direct consequence of Sputnik and the space fever it induced, the Air Research and Development Command ordered its centers to emphasize exploratory research and development work related to space flight over any such


work related to other more earthly Air Force missions. As a result, some hundreds of small study and research programs were started in various more or less exotic fields related to space flight. These included work on ion propulsion and plasma propulsion. These methods of propulsion are, in principle, capable of producing extremely large changes in payload velocity over long times, but they are characterized by having extremely low thrust levels. These characteristics make them useless for launching satellites, but they are potentially valuable for long voyages in interplanetary space. After the first flurry of excitement, it was realized that none of these methods of propulsion was relevant to any of the main-line space programs. Some were dropped, some were continued as long-range exploratory development programs, a few have been tested in space, but none has, even twelve years later, played any significant role in either the military or the civilian space programs. The Air Force also supported studies on controlled thermonuclear propulsion and (with ARPA) on a scheme for using a series of atomic-bomb explosions for lifting huge satellites and space vehicles weighing thousands of tons. The most moderate statement which can be made about these last two bizarre items is that they were grossly premature. The same can be said about similar studies in other exotic fields, including interplanetary communications and moon-based strategic-weapons systems.

But these straightforward development programs in long-range missiles and unmanned satellites plus the basic research, exploratory development, and study programs in advanced and exotic related fields were nowhere near enough to satisfy the appetites stimulated by the missile-gap psychology. The Air Force and its contractors were inspired to invent a number of new weapons systems and dust off some older rejected ideas in efforts to futher [sic] expand their activities in missiles and space and to preempt attempts by the other services to do so.

Some of these ideas seemed at the time to have enough


promise to merit going ahead with them at least through an early development phase. One such program was Skybolt. Skybolt was basically an airborne Polaris. Like the Polaris system, it was designed to deliver a thermonuclear warhead to a target some thousand miles from a mobile launching platform. The platform in this case was to be airborne rather than seaborne. Its official raison d'Ítre was to extend the "useful life of the bomber force," but it was quite evident that even then Skybolt had an important mission in the interservice battle as well. Early discussions of this new weapon system always compared it to Polaris and attempted to show how it could perform the same missions with greater certainty, in a more timely fashion, and for less money. However, as we proceeded through the early phases of the development program it became evident that the cost estimates and the time estimates for this weapon were much further off than usual, and it was ultimately canceled.

Dyna-Soar was the second major weapon system that was given a chance to proceed through the first steps of development. It was an archetype of the old rejected idea permitted a new lease on life in the frantic early post-Sputnik era. In concept, Dyna-Soar was a kind of hypersonic manned aircraft designed to be boosted up to very nearly orbital speed by a large rocket. After reaching such speeds, it was to skip along the top of the atmosphere, pass over its target, and then fly back down to its home base. Unlike a simple missile nose cone, it was to be able to use its rudimentary wings and other airfoils to achieve a limited amount of maneuverability.

A project rather similar to Dyna-Soar had been proposed to the German government during World War II. During the Sputnik fever, General Dornberger, one of the Operation Paper Clip group and then employed by Bell Aviation, worked very hard to sell this idea in the United States. He once testified that he had made some nine hundred (that is the number I recall) presentations to all sorts of committees and other


bodies in an effort to get Dyna-Soar approved, but that he had been unable to get what he called a "decision." His story was designed to show that the United States government was terribly indecisive, but all it proved to me was how remarkably persistent Dornberger was.

It very soon became obvious that Dyna-Soar like Skybolt, only more so--would cost far more than the early estimates, that it would take much longer to accomplish, and that its ostensible purposes could all be achieved more readily and more cheaply by other means. The program was therefore severely cut back in 1960 and finally canceled completely in 1963.

In retrospect, I think we were right to give the Skybolt designers a chance to proceed through the early phases of development. It might have worked out and it might have served a useful purpose. Indeed, I regard it as possible that we will someday go back to something like it when and if the technological situation changes enough to justify it. I feel very differently about Dyna-Soar. In retrospect, I think we should have recognized at the beginning that it was a nonsensical program. I played an ;important part in allowing it to get started and I regard it as one of my major errors.

Other post-Sputnik program ideas which the Air Force tried to sell to higher authorities were recognized as unfeasible or unnecessary early enough so they never got beyond the study stage. Such ideas include the "Aerospace Plane." Instead of being launched into space by a large booster which would then be discarded, the Aerospace Plane was to fly directly into orbit from a normal ground takeoff. In flight, as its speed increased, it was to change from a form of propulsion suitable at lower velocities to others suitable at higher velocities, and so on until high altitudes and orbital velocity were reached. The idea was far beyond the state of the art in many of the relevant technological fields, and thus grossly premature to say the least.


The Air Force also strongly promoted the idea that we should undertake on an urgent basis the development and deployment of a "satellite interceptor," to be known as SAINT. The President himself, in recognition of the fact that we didn't want anybody else interfering with our satellites, limited this program to "study only" status and ordered that no publicity be given either the idea or the study of it. The other two military departments independently promoted the same idea and volunteered their services for its accomplishment.

Another far-out idea was Bambi, a space-based anti-ballistic-missile system. The concept of this mad-scientist's-dream involved surrounding the earth with a great swarm of small satellites that would detect, attack, and destroy anything that stuck its nose above the atmosphere. Some thought had been given to the question of how to enable friendly missiles and satellites to pass through the swarm, but that was one of the least of the problems with this system, and it too never got beyond the study stage.

The Air Force also managed, with some success, to apply the post- Sputnik gap psychology to other systems, such as the B-70 and the nuclear airplane (ANP) as described earlier. The budgets supporting the development of these weapons systems were temporarily expanded in the reaction to Sputnik, even though they were only peripherally connected with space. Like almost everything else that moved, they were, for a time, proposed as launching platforms for satellites.

Other similar ideas were put forward. A number of these, like Dyna- Soar and the Aerospace Plane, involved getting Air Force pilots into space. This basic goal was pursued with great zeal and emotion. Both specific and general rationalizations supporting the need for military man in space were advanced. All of the rationalizations that were based on having the man perform some specific military function were found to be faulty. Either the function could be better performed within the atmosphere than above it or it could be better performed


by an unmanned satellite than by a manned one. The generalized rationalization that man was more "flexible" was, of course, true, but its relevance to the Air Force's space missions was never clearly established. Furthermore, saying that a man's judgment is necessary somewhere in a military space system is not tantamount to saying he is needed in the part of the system that actually orbits. In a great many cases, even though not all, he can perform his function just as well or better in the ground control room than in the orbiting capsule. This argument was settled the year after Sputnik by giving the general-purpose man-in-space mission to the civilian space agency, NASA. However, Air Force boosters were of necessity used to launch NASA's manned satellites. The Mercury capsules were launched into orbit by a slightly modified Atlas, and the Gemini capsules were launched by a modified Titan II, which was in turn a considerably uprated and modified version of the Titan I. Only the later Apollo spacecraft were orbited by rockets not originally designed to function as long-range missiles. Air Force officers have played a very important role in the management of all these programs, and, of course, Air Force test pilots, along with Navy and Marine pilots and a few civilians, have manned many spacecraft. But the Air Force has never given up on having a space-flight program all its own, as demonstrated by the on- again, off-again MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) program later on in the sixties.

What became of all the new ideas born out of the reactions to Sputnik? Where did they lead us? What did they contribute to our security in general and to closing {he missile gap in particular? The surprising, perhaps unbelievable, yet most significant answers to these three questions are: Nothing, nowhere, nothing. All of the long-range missiles deployed in the dozen years following Sputnik were the product either of programs originated before Sputnik or of programs derived directly from such earlier ones. Similarly, with only minor exceptions, all military space programs and satellite launchers


are derived directly from programs initiated and worked out in considerable detail before Sputnik. Virtually all the new programs that came into being in the burst of inventive activity inspired by Sputnik and the "missile gap" all came to a dead end sooner or later. Nor did they produce any really important "technological fallout', (a term invented to justify expenditures on programs which cannot be justified as ends in themselves). To put it simply, large amounts of money and human effort were wasted in a wild pursuit of the exotic.

The Navy too made a grab for a bigger piece of the action in long-range missiles and space. It did already have a small foothold consisting of the Polaris program and some major range facilities in southern California. However, the poor showing it made in the Vanguard program hamstrung efforts to expand this foothold, even though much of the blame for this fiasco belonged elsewhere. When the first Russian satellite went into orbit sooner than even most space buffs expected, the Vanguard Program Office was pressured to accelerate its schedule and to try to advance its launch date by several months. As a result, it failed in its first tries to achieve orbit in the months immediately following Sputnik. Eventually it did put into orbit some very tiny instrument packages, one of which is still there. As a counter to the Air Force proposal that it become the Aerospace Force, the Navy pointed out that since the earliest days of science fiction people had spoken of spaceships. And we all know who is responsible for ships, don't we? (It is possible that the Navy, unlike the Air Force, offered this argument with tongue in cheek.) The Navy also argued that there were a number of advantages in launching satellites from the sea that were not available otherwise. These included a much greater flexibility in choosing the latitude of the launch and the launch azimuth, and also a much greater possibility for secretly launching satellites should this be desired. In my opinion all of these claims were true but none of


them were of sufficient relevance or value to justify spending large sums on the development of a sea launch capability.

The Navy did have one satellite proposal which was bath important and of special Navy interest. This was for a navigational-aid satellite known as Transit. It proceeded with that program, using Air Force launches, and turned in an excellent and useful job. With that one exception, the missile and space ideas and projects generated by the Navy and its laboratories and contractors in their first quick response to Sputnik all came to naught, just as in the case of the Air Force. However, the amount of money and effort wasted was one tenth as large.

In accordance with the report of Senator Johnson's committee and also with studies sponsored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and my office, the Navy did accelerate its Polaris program and succeeded in moving the operational-readiness date forward by several months.

In the case of the Army, the situation was extremely complicated and it took a long time and a great expenditure of nervous energy to work out a solution that finally made sense.

At the time Sputnik was launched' the Army was still working on the development of the Jupiter IRBM, but operational control of this missile had already been assigned to the Air Force by Secretary Wilson in 1956. The future of this program, at one time the Army's white hope in the space race, looked bleak indeed. The Army also was working on the Nike-Zeus anti-ballistic-missile system. This was a complex system and it challenged the abilities of many good engineers, but Nike-Zeus was an antimissile missile and it had only a relatively short range despite its very large thrust. No matter how it might make out as an end in itself' it did not lock promising as a steppingstone to space, and that was what the Medaris-Von Braun team was really interested in.

This gloomy picture changed radically in the first few months after Sputnik. Following Sputnik, and after Vanguard's


initial failure, the authorization to use the bootlegged Jupiter C to attempt to launch America's first satellite was eagerly given. Jupiter C, with its name changed to Juno I when it was used for this purpose, did so on the very first try in January, 1958. (By chance it happened that in early December, 1957, I was Chairman of the subpanel of the President's Science Advisory Committee charged with assessing the probability of success of the Vanguard and the Juno I. After an intensive week's study, we informed the President that the Juno I had a fifty-fifty chance of success on the first try and that the Vanguard had only a fifty-fifty chance of ever getting anything up. This prediction turned out to be very close to the mark: the first Juno I launch attempt was successful and the second failed; Vanguard finally achieved orbit only after a long delay and much anguish.)

Whether the achievement of launching thirty-one pounds in January, 1958, with Juno I justified the almost subversive actions necessary to do so is something which, in retrospect, I am not at all sure about. This kind of clever maneuvering in which ambitious men work out ways of getting around the restraints imposed by a higher authority, including authority at the constitutional level, goes on all the time in all the services and without doubt constitutes one of the most powerful driving forces behind the arms race. In this case, as in some others, it was hailed and rewarded after the fact. But even at the time it was clear that the Air Force satellite program could,, within a year or so, put well over a thousand pounds into orbit, and in fact on February 28, 1959, the Air Force's Thor-Agena launched Discoverer I, weighing 1,450 pounds. Also, the ARPA-Air Force Project Score resulted in placing an entire Atlas in orbit in December of 1958. The true useful payload was relatively small, and the project can be properly classified as a stunt, but the total weight in orbit included the entire ten-thousand-pound Atlas carcass. To the extent that getting something big into orbit was the name of


the game, Score was a resounding success. But, more importantly, from a technological point of view, it is almost certain that today's satellites and space vehicles would not be very different from what they in fact are if there had never been a Jupiter C/Juno I. However, it was perhaps inevitable that these successes would be rewarded no matter what their origins, and eventually they were to a degree.

Meanwhile, the massive reorganizations described earlier were moving ahead. NACA was being converted into NASA, and in the process it acquired the responsibility for all civilian space programs, including manned space flight and exploration. ARPA was established in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and given the responsibility for all the military space programs.

In the early months before NASA really got moving, ARPA determined that among other things the military space pro gram was going to need a first-stage booster several times the size of Atlas or Titan and a second-stage booster to be fueled with liquid hydrogen. ARPA assigned the development of the big first-stage booster to the Medaris-Von Braun group, and the development of the liquid-hydrogen stage was assigned to the Air Force, which, in turn, eventually contracted it out to General Dynamics/Astronautics. As a result of some subsequent horse trading, the hydrogen second stage (which eventually became known as the Centaur) became for a time the administrative responsibility of NASA, and the large first-stage booster (which eventually became the Saturn I) remained the administrative responsibility of ARPA. Considering that by then NASA already had been assigned the general-purpose man-in-space mission, I felt that the arrangement was backwards, but from my position as Chief Scientist of ARPA I was unable to do anything about it.

This set of circumstances, reorganizations, and program decisions created a most anomalous situation. First, Von Braun, who worked for the Army, was in charge of the development


of the biggest United States booster, the Saturn, but the Army had no approved role in space. (Army missile spokesmen urgently pointed out a number of times that the moon was high ground, but no one took the hint.) Second, ARPA had administrative authority over the Saturn, but, with no approved military manned space program in sight, it had no known application for that booster. Third, NASA had the legal responsibility for the only authorized man-in-space program, but it had no authority over the development of the very-big boosters ultimately necessary for it.

This anomaly created much confusion within the government and the country at large. The press and the Congress, with much justification, castigated the Administration for creating and permitting such a confused situation. As time went on, tempers frayed further and the power struggle became more severe. The confusion inherent in this arrangement began to create a real drag on the program as a whole and prevented a number of needed decisions from being made. The whole matter soon came to be widely characterized as a "mess."

Quarles and T. Keith Glennan, the first Administrator of NASA, worked out the most sensible of all the suggestions of how to straighten out the mess. In the fall of 1958 they proposed that the space-oriented part of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (that is, for all practical purposes, the Von Braun group) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the California Institute of Technology be transferred from the Department of the Army to the fledgling NASA. The JPL, under the direction of William Pickering, had been an integral part of the Juno-I team. While the Von Braun organization had been responsible for the first-stage booster and for systems integration and launch, JPL had been responsible for the design and development of the upper stages of that first U. S. satellite launcher as well as for the satellite itself. This transfer proposal made eminently good sense: the President and the


Congress had assigned the mission for space exploration in the broadest sense to Glennan's organization, and these two groups were the most qualified of any immediately available for participating in the mission. Other groups, which had more or less the same qualifications, such as the Space Technology Laboratory, were right then deeply involved in some of the "highest-priority" military programs discussed earlier. The Department of the Army, meaning especially General Medaris and Secretary Brucker, did not take kindly to this proposal, and they fought it tooth and nail. By claiming that the Von Braun team was also involved in other essential Army missile programs in a way that made it impossible to split them off from the rest of the Army Ordnance and Missile Command, the Secretary of the Army was able to block that part of the transfer proposal. JPL was transferred to NASA in due time, but the transfer of JPL alone, while useful and sensible, was entirely inadequate as a solution to the basic problem, and so public and Congressional criticism continued to mount.

Each of the three military departments proposed its own solution to the problem. The Air Force suggested that the responsibility for all military space programs be turned over to it' but not necessarily with the people then in charge of them. The Navy proposed that a military space command, in which it would have a full one-third share, be established The Army (again meaning really General Medaris and Secretary Brucker) suggested that a joint space and missile command be established and gallantly offered to turn Medaris, Von Braun and much of the rest of the Huntsville group and facilities over to it to set it up and run it. None of these proposals was acceptable to anyone beyond those making them, and so things continued for a time to remain as they were.

In the meantime, I had become Director of Defense Research and Engineering and thus acquired authority over all elements of the space program within the Department of Defense. I reviewed the whole space program, including espe-


cially the anomalous situation described above, and made two recommendations. The first was to Defense Secretary McElroy and was to the effect that the responsibility for developing all military-satellite launchers and for making all military-satellite launches should be transferred to the Air Force; that except for certain specifically named exceptions all military-satellite-payload development be made the responsibility of the Air Force; and that the responsibilities and authorities of ARPA in military space programs be discontinued. McElroy accepted the recommendation, and a directive to this effect was issued late in the summer of 1959. My second recommendation was more far-reaching and had to go to the President and T. Keith Glennan, the Administrator of NASA, as well as to the Secretary of Defense for final implementation. In brief, at a meeting in the White House in late October, l 959, attended by the President, McElroy, Gates, Glennan, Dryden, General Nathan F. Twining, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Kistiakowsky, I recommended that ( I ) administrative responsibility for the Saturn booster be transferred from the Department of Defense (ARPA) to NASA, where the responsibility for manned space flight already was, and (2) that the Von Braun group be transferred to NASA along with the Saturn program. McElroy, Glennan, and the President accepted this recommendation, and transfers of authority and personnel were made a few months later.

One might have thought that that would have settled the matter, but it didn't. The Army, as was right and proper, continued to be responsible for the Nike-Zeus anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) system. It had been arranged to have Zeus test equipment installed at Kwajalein Atoll in the mid- Pacific. It had been further arranged that the Air Force would launch targets for testing this equipment from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, using ICBM boosters to do so. Suddenly, I learned that General Medaris had proposed that the Zeus equipment at Kwajalein be tested by firing test targets from


Johnson Island in the mid-Pacific. Since this was closer to Kwajalein than California was, the launch could be made with the Jupiter IRBM booster. This proposal was supported by all sorts of technical claims about why this was a better and more appropriate way to do things. Jack Ruina, the Assistant Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Air Defense, and I examined the question closely and determined that none of these claims made good sense upon careful examination. I could only assume that the whole thing was simply another last-minute attempt to save Jupiter. In keeping with my authority aver all defense research and development programs, I disapproved this part of the Zeus test program.

The last Jupiters planned for deployment in Turkey and Italy were just about to come off the line at the Chrysler plant, and the people there, of course, had a very great interest in keeping it going. Shutting down the Jupiter production lines at Chrysler would result in terminating the employment of thousands of persons in the months immediately preceding the Presidential election of 1960, and Michigan was a key state. The White House therefore told Secretary Gates and me to check with Vice-President Nixon, the presumed candidate of the Republican Party in the forthcoming election, before doing anything so drastic. We did so, and I'm pleased to be able to say that Mr. Nixon, without a moment's hesitation, told us to do whatever was right in our judgment without reference to politics.

At one point in this long controversy, Army Secretary Brucker called me to his office and arranged a scene I shall never forget. He sat behind his desk, facing the center of the room. He put me in a large stuffed chair to the left of his desk, and a colonel with a pad and a pen ostentatiously poised over it took up a position behind me. The Chief of Staff of the United States Army, the Deputy Chief of Staff, and the Chief of Research and Development, eleven stars in all, were arrayed in scats along the front of the Secretary's desk, facing


him. Richard S. Morse, the civilian Director of Research and Development for the Army, sat next to the generals. General Medaris paced the floor on the other side of the room. Secretary Brucker did most of the talking. He told me what he thought of my decisions and he repeatedly threatened me by saying, "Wait till the people hear what you're trying to do, wait till the Congress hears what you're trying to do."

Once or twice I made a remark designed to explain some part of my position, but the only response I evoked was from Medaris, and he didn't say anything. He just shook his head in wonder, walked over to the window, and looked up into the heavens pleadingly. I did feel a bit overwhelmed at first, but a measure of personal vanity which I suppose I share with nearly everyone sustained me. All the while the Secretary threatened me and scolded me, a thought kept circulating in my head: "He's the Secretary of the Army, he's furious about what I'm doing, but I'm on leave from the University of California and there's nothing this poor so-and-so can do to me that I care about, and he knows it." The only external evidence of his threat was a small item which appeared in Newsweek during this tense period. It said I was a registered Democrat, an egghead, and one of those scientists who were trying to run things. I remarked later to Lloyd Norman, who had written the item, that the first charge was true, I supposed the second was, and the Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 said I was supposed to behave in accord with the third.

This impasse between Brucker and me created a dilemma for Secretary of Defense Thomas S. Gates. He therefore asked George Kistiakowsky, then the President's science adviser and Chairman of PSAC, to look into the matter and tell him what was right. Kistiakowsky established a panel to do so. After hearing arguments from all of us, the panel and Kistiakowsky supported my view, and the Jupiter program, which should never have been started in the first place, was at long last laid to rest.


General Medaris resigned from the Army and became the president of the Lionel Corporation (which makes toy electric trains). There his immediate boss was Board Chairman Roy M. Cohn, the same Cohn who had been one of the first Senator McCarthy's two chief aides and as such had given a very bad time to other Army generals and to the then Secretary of the Army. The General Counsel of the Department of Defense at the time of those McCarthy hearings was none other than Wilber Brucker. One of the reasons he was later appointed Secretary of the Army was that he had performed well in connection with the hearings. I've always thought of the whole interconnected complex set of events as a kind of cosmic political joke of the same genre as Khrushchev's naming Molotov ambassador to Outer Mongolia after he had served as Foreign Minister of the U.S.S.R. for many years.

Soon after his resignation Medaris wrote a book called Countdown for Decision. In it he gives his version of the story I have recounted above. He charges that there were at the time a number of serious deficiencies in the decision-making structure of the Department of Defense. It will surprise no one by now to learn that he thought I ranked high among them.

As in the case of the Air Force, all these efforts of the Army missile people to carve out a space mission for themselves not only wasted large sums of the public's money, but also diverted money and attention from other Army programs where there was a serious need for them. In this context, General Nathan Twining, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted as asking' "Are these research and development programs, which are certainly limited dollar wise, directed properly to providing a compact, hard-hitting Army?" There were rumblings to this same effect within the Army itself, but the extraordinarily close relationship of Brucker, Medaris, and Von Braun prevented them from rising to the surface.

In addition to the three services, other elements of the Department of Defense acted under the heady influence of the


missile-gap psychology. ARPA contained almost as many Bambi enthusiasts as did the Air Force, and one of Roy Johnson's last acts as Director of ARPA was an attempt to persuade the Congress that the United States needed to get to work on an orbital bombardment system. Fortunately, neither the Congress nor the Air Force picked up this basically poor idea, and the U. S. public has been spared paying for it.

A slightly more sensible idea, a fractional orbital bombardment system, or FOBS, was developed by the Soviets in the late sixties. In FOBS, a warhead is launched into a low orbit which would take it clear around the earth if undisturbed, but before it can make one full turn the warhead is given a new impulse which causes it to reenter the atmosphere. Both the accuracy and the payload are degraded by this series of additional maneuvers. In just plain OBS, the situation is worse. In the course of making many repeated orbits, a satellite passes over all points on the ground lying between its northernmost and southernmost latitudes. Unless it is in an equatorial orbit (and that shouldn't bother us), only once or twice a day does its orbit take it over or near any particular area which might contain its target. On other turns, it cannot pass over these same points. To take an extreme ease, at the time it is at the longitude of New York, it may be at the latitude of Santiago, Chile. Thus it cannot in general be given a sufficient impulse to direct it to its target except during certain short predetermined intervals. Hence it is a very poor weapon for any military situation where massive surprise or quick response might be needed. It suffers from other defects, too, and in general is quite inferior to the much simpler ICBM as a weapon. Still, the idea of bombs orbiting directly overhead, as if they were somehow analogous to Damocles'' sword, can be quite scary to people having no understanding of Newton's laws or of how orbits work, and so it does keep coming up.

In summary of the last two chapters, what effect did Sputnik have on the United States?


1. Several long-lasting organizational inventions were introduced. Most important among these were the creation of PSAC and a Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology at the White House level, the creation of the civilian space agency NASA at a level equivalent to that of the Cabinet departments, the creation of ARPA and the office of the DDRE in the Department of Defense, and the creation of certain committees and subcommittees of the Congress designed to deal more adequately with scientific and technological problems. In my judgment, all of these new organizations have been very useful and all have by and large done a good job.

2. The status and the salaries of most scientists and many types of engineers substantially increased. Many sub-Cabinet jobs are now filled by scientists and engineers; such was not the case before Sputnik. Science education from kindergarten through the university received special attention from PTA's, school boards, and university trustees. Support of graduate education was greatly stimulated in all fields, but especially in science, through federal contracts and grants.

3. The missile gap, which was what all the fuss was supposed to be about, was,, for all practical purposes' unaffected, except that some funds which had been cut in an economy wave just before Sputnik were restored. By the time a strategically significant number of missiles had been deployed, the missile gap was in our favor, and it took the Russians almost a decade to catch up. But the development programs that led to that state of affairs were initiated well before Sputnik. Even the weapons that our current ( 1970) strategic posture is based on are the result of development programs either started before Sputnik or directly derived from programs that were. Surprising as it may seem, the wild outbursts of ideas inspired by Sputnik and the missile-gap psychology has produced nothing of direct value to our current strategic posture more than twelve years later.


4. Our military space programs were accelerated somewhat, but otherwise were only slightly affected by Sputnik and the missile-gap psychology. As in the case of our current strategic-weapons forces, our current military space programs are virtually all based on ideas which were current before Sputnik. And the development programs designed to exploit these ideas either were started before Sputnik or grew directly out of programs that were. A few of the booster stages now used in our military space programs are the result of developments initiated after Sputnik, but of course it is not possible to say whether even these are truly a direct consequence of it.

5. The effect of Sputnik on our civilian space program is a quite different matter. The creation of the civilian space agency NASA was itself a direct reaction to Sputnik, and the bulk of the civil space program, including manned space flight and lunar and planetary exploration, is a direct consequence of Sputnik and our first reactions to it. Had there been no Sputnik, manned space flight almost certainly would have developed in a natural way as a part of our military space program. However, since the first military space satellites were all designed to be automatic rather than manned, it's not possible to predict when this would have happened. Even so, I am willing to conjecture that the first orbital flight would have happened in the early sixties, within a year or so of when it actually did. On the other hand, it is very doubtful that we would have reached the moon during the sixties without the intense stimulation of Sputnik and the shock it produced.

6. The sudden establishment of new development programs and research projects in the aftermath of Sputnik further stretched our resources beyond the already taut situation created by the excessive pre- Sputnik programs. Many good people were diverted from necessary but more mundane tasks to new, exotic ones. There was excessive job switching at all levels, inspired by ads emphasizing rapid advancement, independence, and technical challenge, and many in the higher


echelons walked off the job in search of a new El Dorado called Capital Gains. The relatively low level of reliability of some of our early missiles and space launchers was, without doubt, in part due to all of this turmoil, as was the excessive number of design bugs discovered later in the programs than they should have been. It was my pleasure to know personally many of the top leaders in our most important weapons and space programs, and I can assert that they put out truly heroic efforts, but there can't be any doubt they were stretched too thin for optimum performance.

7. Programmatic reactions to Sputnik served to accelerate the arms race even though the burst of ideas produced by the missile-gap psychology did not in the end produce any useful military hardware. They did produce a still bigger defense industry and hence a still bigger political constituency in support of weapons development. This, in turn, strengthened those elements of the Congress that automatically endorsed any weapons-development program, and tipped the Congressional balance of power still further in that direction. Very soon after Sputnik we reached a point where the Armed Services Committees of the Congress commonly castigated the Department of Defense for the weapons programs it didn't support, but seldom examined critically those it did support. This situation continued throughout the sixties until failures in Vietnam reduced public confidence in the absolute wisdom of the military mind and permitted critical Congressional review of the anti-ballistic-missile and other programs.

Nuclear Designs: Great Britain, France, and China in the Global Governance of Nuclear Arms
[Transaction Publishers, 1996]

British SSBNs

French SNLEs
Other Sites
"Comprehensive Test Ban" [28 February 1996] and a 21 June 1996 addendum on China's CTB policy. The Acheson-Lilienthal Report [16 March 1946]: Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy. Re CTB

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