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Interview of Herbert York by A. B. Christman on 1980 September 24, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4989
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Effect of Sputnik on Navy research and development, position as Chief Scientist of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, and selection to be the first Director for Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E). Origins of DDR&E, its relationship with the services, and the uniformed Navy’s success in keeping R&D projects under control. DDR&E’s contacts with high level government officials, major trends and problems encountered as DDR&E, management style. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s effect on centralization of the armed forces, DDR&E and the general growth of bureaucracy, reasons for leaving DDR&E. Effect of increased R&D on the escalation of the arms race and trends in technology. Review of his career, background experience, including the Manhattan Project, Livermore Laboratory, advisory committees; Chief Scientist, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), 1958; Director Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E); reasons for and problems involved with the establishment of the DDR&E.
I would like your perspective of military R&D, particularly from the point of view of those years that you were DDR&E (Director Defense Research and Engineering) and also some retrospective comments of that period. It may be helpful I think to have some idea of where you are coming from in the sense of what experiences have influenced your thinking of military R&D.
My first experiences with military R&D all have to do with nuclear weapons. I was in the Manhattan Project during the war and then after a brief period out of that sort of thing, I got back into it again as the cold war heated up — the Russians made their first nuclear explosion. Then I was the first Director of the Livermore Laboratory. In that connection I dealt with the highest levels of government as they determined nuclear policy. And I dealt with people from all the services in connection with the two-sided problem of adapting the nuclear weapons designs that the laboratories were developing to weapons systems, and at the same time learning what weapon systems designers had in mind so the laboratory program could be directed towards those if that seemed useful. I remember in those days the Navy systems that we talked about for trying to outfit with nuclear warheads were the short range systems like ASROC and SUBROC and then some of the air breathing ram-jet systems. And then also the Polaris. It was the Livermore Laboratory that pushed the development of the lightest possible near megaton warhead, first as an end in itself and then later for use on the first Polaris system. Then because I was the Director of Livermore Laboratory, I became a member of the Secretary of Defense Advisory Committee on Ballistic Missiles. That committee took under its purview of what was first called the Fleet Ballistic Missile which became Polaris. So I was involved both directly at Livermore and then through this advisory program in the Polaris Program.
That would have been your first Washington type of experience?
Yes. Then when Sputnik went up I was invited to be a member of the sort of re-formed President’s Science Advisory Committee under Jim Killian. After a brief time in which in effect I worked full time at the White House for three or four months, I was sold across the river to the Pentagon to be the Chief Scientist of ARPA. There were three of us who created ARPA: Roy Johnston was the Director, I was the Chief Scientist, and Admiral John Clark was the Deputy Director. He had been from, I think, the Port Hueneme Navy complex or the Naval Air Missile Test Center at Pt. Mugu. I think he worked there before the three of us put ARPA together. Then I became DDR&E, and then after a period there, I came back here to be Chancellor.
University of California, San Diego?
Yes. But I have continued to work roughly half the time in national security affairs for the federal government and roughly half my time here.
You have done a lot of writing in the R&D field.
Yes, but since the time I first learned about these things from Eisenhower, I’ve been mainly interested in arms control as an element of national security policy. I don’t think it is the only important element of national security policy, but I think it is the most undervalued, which is why I spend more time on it than any other element of national security policy. But I remain interested in national security policy generally, especially the technological side. In this administration, I was a member of a special group that Harold Brown set up to review the B-1 bomber program. I was chairman of the Defense Science Board Task Force to review all the total Defense Department Program in high energy lasers, including the Navy’s program. For the last two years, I have been completely tied up in arms control because I am the United States representative on comprehensive test ban negotiations.
That is an excellent summary. I would like to go back to a number of things in more detail. In particular, I would like to go back to the time you were “sold” across the river to ARPA, and that era when a lot of things changed all at once.
Early 58, post Sputnik.
Are you saying Sputnik really caused a reawakening, a reevaluation?
Yes. Sputnik brought about changes in two different areas. One of them is in the organization and management of R&D and the other one was in programs. With regard to programs, Sputnik did temporarily accelerate some programs, and some programs were created which was really a response to Sputnik, but after a year or so things settled down and the programs which survived were nearly all programs which were in force before Sputnik. On the other hand, the organization of the management of research and development as it related to military technology and space technology were changed and changed permanently. The President’s Science Advisory Committee which had met a few times a year and which did not normally get deeply into defense matters began to meet twice a month and got into defense matters very, very deeply. ARPA was created in the Department of Defense as an instrumentality that the Secretary of Defense could use to run research programs separately from the Services and particularly with the idea that it would be used particularly to handle programs which might otherwise fall between the stools. That is an expression which Secretary McElroy used in discussing it with me repeatedly. Then the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering was set up as a kind of super Assistant Secretary of Defense dealing with research and development. There had previously been an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Development and he had the same rank and the same authority as the other ten Assistant Secretaries of Defense. It was desired that this office and the person who held the position would have more authority and more status than other Assistant Secretaries. So it was given that peculiar title in order to distinguish it.
Was that the only position like that? No other director of anything?
No, the others were all Assistant Secretaries. The Services did not reorganize, they had Assistant Secretaries for R&D and they continued them. Those jobs received more emphasis perhaps. Well, the Army had somebody called the Director of Research and Development and he eventually became an Assistant Secretary, but not until the Kennedy Administration. Even in response to Sputnik, the Army didn’t change its organization. And then of course NASA was created. There was a general upgrading at the top of the of the Defense Department and in the White House, and then NASA was created by using the old National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics as a basis, but the new NASA with other things added to it soon overwhelmed the old NACA.
You were their Chief Scientist at ARPA and then you became the first DDR&E?
Was there some relationship here?
Yes, they are directly connected. As Chief Scientist of ARPA I dealt on a personal basis directly with the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Defense on issues which were of great concern to them. The question of the United States military R&D policy was in the front of everybody’s mind in those days. I did a good job in their view. When the position of DDR&E was created by act of Congress, they looked around for somebody, and as Don Quarles said to me (he was Deputy Secretary), we were looking for somebody older and more distinguished looking, but it didn’t work out. They explored the possibility with a couple of people whom I am aware of, one was a man who was then President of DuPont, I think, I don’t think of his name. Another was the Director of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. As far as I know they didn’t offer it to him but they explored it with him and he made it clear he wasn’t interested. Then, somewhere along in there, after exploring with a couple of other people they offered it to me. I was right in the Pentagon. After briefly thinking about it, I accepted.
You actually came in at rather a fortuitous time.
I was in my middle 30’s which was a little young for that sort of thing at that time. People think of whiz kids as having been invented in the Kennedy Administration. But I was 37 when I took the position.
In the McNamara era, your age would have been felt perfectly normal. Let’s see. Who would have been behind this concept of DDR&E?
There were a number of people who pushed it. But the one that I was then directly aware of and working with was Jim Killian who was the President’s Science Advisor. But there were others in the Defense Department. There was a review made which also called for upgrading the position of the man in charge of R&D. I have a paper which I wrote about three years ago which I should give you because it summarizes…
Is this the one on post-war R&D history that was in the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists?
I have that one already. It is a very fine article. There are some things which I normally would be asking in this interview but which I know are in there. I am interested in identifying the people who really made an impact. Was Killian a person who was really more aggressive than…?
Well, Killian was extraordinarily important. He was not aggressive. But he was extraordinarily important, and he was very competent. And he was in just the right place at the right time. He had the confidence of the President and the confidence of the Secretary of Defense, he was President of MIT and he was a very good communicator of political problems to scientists and engineers of scientific and engineering solutions back to political leaders. He was a man of very fine character which showed very quickly in any conversation with him. He was a trustworthy person, and he conveyed the impression that he knew what he was talking about. So that he was very influential. Don Quarles was Deputy Secretary of Defense and Don was also rather quiet person but very well informed.
But he had also been in this position…
He had been the Assistant Secretary of Defense for R&D.
So when it came to talking about that position he would have known the limitations of the former position.
Yes. And he and I knew each other from when he was the President of Sandia Corporation and I was the Director of Livermore Laboratory.
There was another person after Quarles in that position of Assistant Secretary.
Yes, Foote. What was his first name? He was quite old by the time he was put in that position and was not effective for probably that reason.
I see. That is good insight.
Oh, there were two; there was also Furnas.
That is the name I was thinking of.
But Furnas immediately followed Quarles and then Foote followed Furnas.
How much of this change following Sputnik, particularly looking at the management changes, how much of that came from Eisenhower at the top level looking down saying “hey, you know we are running behind in our technology, there is a threat, and so forth,” how much of it was that and how much of it was people like Killian and others who had been trying to do things saying we now have an ear up above.
It was both. Furthermore it was from deeper than Killian. I think of Killian as being with the President in this. There were people on the top who felt that we needed to do better than we were doing and needed to put more emphasis on science and engineering, and that included the President and the President’s immediate advisors, included McElroy and Gates and other officials in the Defense Department. Then though, down below there were people who were proposing all sorts of solutions to Sputnik. It was never clear what the problem posed by Sputnik was, but there was a great crescendo of proposed solutions. People with all kinds of rocket designs, ranging from people who were simply cracks and nuts to very competent people and major American industrial organizations that had their own particular programs for building the rocket that would solve the problem. And so this enormous up growing of proposals also required that some mechanism be established for managing this situation. So it was stimulated by both of those factors and I am not sure that I could easily say which one was the more important.
You gave me a good insight there. Was there a feeling when DDR&E was established that the individual Services were not doing their job as well as they could have?
Yes, there was widespread dissatisfaction, but it took many forms. There were those who felt the Services weren’t doing their job, but there were just as many who felt the problem was not in the Services but that the problem was at the next level above the Services. Because there wasn’t adequate management at the OSD level. Things like inter-Service rivalry and unnecessary duplication were running rampant and causing indescribable and uncertain problems, so the notion was widespread that unnecessary duplication and inter-Service rivalry needed to be cleaned up, and that was one of the reasons for wanting to upgrade the ability of the Secretary of Defense to handle these problems. The President also looked to the President’s Science Advisory Committee to help handle these problems and tell them what to do. A minor instance, one that received a great deal of public attention, but I say minor anyway, was that the Navy Vanguard program. It was the official program for putting the first non-military satellite in the sky — there already was a very secret Air Force program for putting reconnaissance satellites up, but no one talked about that, even under those high pressure circumstances.
The only American program that the people could see and anticipate as some sort of an answer to Sputnik was the Navy’s Vanguard program. But the Army previously had proposed a response of its own, which a committee designed up to study these programs had rejected. The Army had gone ahead anyway and bootlegged the program so that when Sputnik went up the Army brought its program out. Von Braun was the Technical Manager and General Maderis was the Commander of the organization that managed the program. So one of the first things that the President’s Science Advisory Committee was faced with, the Killian Committee, was to tell the President which of these to go ahead with — which of these to put his bets on. By lucky chance, Killian set up a small subpanel of three people with me as Chairman to study this question. Where should the President place his bets, on Vanguard or Explorer? We wrote a very brief report after two weeks of intensive study saying that there was a 50-50 chance that the Explorer would work the first time. And it did work the first; failed the second; and then worked again the third; so that was a good prediction. And we said the odds were only 50-50 that Vanguard would ever work. And that (prediction) also worked out. Vanguard continued to fail, but eventually they did put something small up. So actually it was a superb prediction based on two weeks of intensive work. I remember Von Braun coming into the Executive Office building next to the White House with these great big blueprints. We poured over these blueprints late into the night. And then the people from NRL and from the Navy group who were managing Vanguard came in and we went over their plans. We reached that conclusion that there was a 50-50 chance the Explorer would work the first time.
Was the Explorer an example of one reason why you created DDR&E, the need for a place where you could get an answer in the Defense Department? Was that part of the problem?
Who could you rely on? The notion was that inter-Service rivalry made answers by the Services unreliable to questions like that. You couldn’t get a good answer out of the Services. You needed a mechanism that had authority rather than to simply coordinate.
Am I correct in interpreting that establishing the DDR&E represented a very major step forward in centralization?
It was very much a step in centralization. ARPA turned out not by itself to be such a big step in centralization, although it started that way. ARPA took over all the Defense space programs to begin with, but after I was DDR&E and had a chance to really understand what was happening; I reversed that and put the responsibility for space programs mainly back into the Air Force. I took ARPA out of it completely. The Secretary actually issued all the directives. They were to the effect that only the Air Force would launch satellites. If the Navy or the Army had some purpose that could be best satisfied with a satellite, they could build the satellite, but the Air Force would launch it. The Navy at that time was proposing to launch its own and the Army was proposing to launch its own. So there was an administrative mess that did need to be cleaned up.
Did it actually work that way?
Yes, it did work. The Air Force is the only defense agency that launches satellites to this day.
Did you feel a lot of pressure from the Services?
Oh yes, the Army especially. My worst problem was the Army because Von Braun was in the Army. And the decision in the Defense Department that only the Air Force would launch satellites didn’t set well at all with the Army. But I had a separate solution for that. I did feel that we needed Von Braun in the space launching business, but that he should work for NASA. So the other thing that I arranged was for Von Braun and all of his Huntsville team that worked on satellites to be transferred from the Department of the Army to NASA. The Army fought that tooth and nail. So the Army was my problem, not the Navy. The Navy was a problem, but the Army was a more serious one.
What kind of problems did you have with the Navy?
The Navy wanted very badly to launch their own satellites, and they even had some arguments that had some merit, namely that a sea launched capability would give greater flexibility with respect to orbit. You could in principal do it from anywhere in the water, which is nearly anywhere in the world, and you could do it with great secrecy. And those two elements had some merit.
Which also proved to be true later?
Yes, but they were all smaller rockets. It was evident that we were moving in the direction that we wanted bigger rockets, and the flexibility was not necessary. The land based launchings were perfectly adequate. The Navy’s arguments made sense, but not enough. They didn’t carry weight. For a brief period the Navy got in bed with the Army to try to force the creation of a sort of a central command for space which would be part of the Chiefs, which I also opposed, and which never came about.
Resistance by the Services was more against the individual decisions rather than against the concept of DDR&E, or was there resistance to that?
I was talking about the question of centralizing space. Putting the launching into the Air Force was a single decision. There was opposition to DDR&E, but there the most strident opposition came from the Air Force, who didn’t believe that it was necessary. All the Services were opposed but in the case of the Army the opposition didn’t become full blown. The Army was always concerned with particular issues rather than the organizational question. The Air Force opposed the organization. And then the Navy always opposes centralization because the Navy somehow thinks it is going to lose all the time. For example, they also proposed the creation of the strategic integrated operational plan which also happened at that same time. By means of which the Polaris targeting is coordinated with all of the Air Force targeting. The Navy fought that.
Do you think this was part of a general conservatism of the Navy?
It is partly that. It is also partly that the Navy would like to have its own piece with nobody (to interfere). It is not just the conservatism. It is the Admirals, not even the Navy. It is the uniform Navy’s largely successful attempt to keep civilians of any kind, including their own Secretariat, out of their business. My experiences then and my feeling from today’s contacts with the Pentagon are the same; the Admirals are the most successful in keeping civilians out of what they regard is their business. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for R&D in my view always had much less influence over the Navy’s programs than the corresponding man in the Army and Air Force secretariats. The same way with the Secretary. The Admirals somehow manage to keep much tighter control over the Navy than do the Generals — either color Generals, olive green or blue.
Until the late 50’s, which is the period we are talking about here, the Navy laboratories essentially worked right for the Bureaus. It was a very simple structure. After the 1950’s it became less and less a simple structure.
Yes, but the civilian Secretariat was less able to influence what is going on in those laboratories than the Secretariats in the Army or the Air Force were able to influence the corresponding programs. They are all organized so differently. The Army had the arsenals, which were less competent as laboratories than the Navy laboratories, and then let out contracts directly to industry. The Air Force had a large system of laboratories, but then began to set up organizations like that which became the Aerospace Corporation.
More dependent on industry for their R&D.
Yes, but nevertheless setting up a management superstructure that was able to keep very close tabs on what was going on. They each did it a little bit differently. The Navy’s superstructure was able to keep tabs on what its industrial organization was doing.
I imagine there was more of a difference in the management structure over R&D by the different services at that time than there is now.
I think it is still fairly different, but I am not certain.
I think they all have an Assistant Secretary of R&D, which at that time they did not.
In the period that you were DDR&E, how much direction did you get from the President? Did you have many contacts with him?
Yes, I did have a certain amount of contact with the President. I had a lot of high-level contact, and the reason for that was the great interest in the military defense R&D at the top levels of government. It was not the formal description of chains of command; it was the reality of what people were interested in. And I do feel, to make an aside, a large amount of influence or authority a person has is determined by how often he talks to people of higher levels and who they are. You don’t find out by looking at charts or by reading the acts of Congress that set up the job. And it happened that because of Sputnik and the realization at high levels that America might be falling behind in technology — or that the Soviets might be forging ahead — the person in my job simply had more high level contact than would normally be the case. I didn’t see the President monthly, but I saw him every few months.
Did you get any insights into his thoughts in terms of R&D.
Yes. I had regular contact, weekly or more often, with his science advisor, Killian and later Kistiakowski and later Weisner; then with the Secretary of Defense, more often than daily. Those were the things that in a way show what kind of authority a person has.
I am looking for those persons who really influenced the organization and the management of all Defense R&D.
The President’s Science Advisor was into a wide variety of national security questions. I was into everything. The Science Advisor only got into things which somehow were big and especially important or things which Congress or the President or the press was terribly interested in. And they didn’t cover everything. They were into satellites, especially manned satellites, they were into all reconnaissance satellites, all intelligence programs, all of the main long-range missile programs, but not so much the short range missiles, not so much aircraft. They were into ASW. I worked very closely with the Navy people, in particular with the Assistant Secretary, and then with the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, R&D. He wasn’t the deputy chief; it was the next level down.
Who would this have been? Hayward?
Well, it was Hayward for most of that time, but not for all of it. I had known him from earlier, Chick Hayward.
Did he have much influence?
Yes, but the bureau structure did intervene, did make it more difficult. It was harder to get into Navy’s programs than those of the other Services, except those which were very big.
Would that have been because of the strength of the Bureaus?
Yes, and because of Navy tradition. They just had developed mechanisms for keeping civilians out, including their own. The only way I could get into a program would be through the higher authorities in the Navy.
Get yourself an Admiral.
Or a civilian and deal with them. But since they had less power than the corresponding people in the other services, I got less into the Navy. Also there was the fact that some of the Navy programs were going too well. Red Rayburn complained I never came to see him, and I told him, Red, that is because things are going so well. I can’t waste my time on programs that are going well. So I visited Red a few times, and then Levering Smith. I still am in touch occasionally with Levering Smith.
Did you have any contacts with people at the laboratory level, say McLean?
Yes, but McLean is the only one whose name comes to mind. Well, Hartman at NOL. Maybe some others. But I particularly remember those two. I visited both of those labs including NOTS, Inyokern.
What would have been some of the major trends that you would have witnessed during your period as DDR&E? Centralization we have mentioned.
Yes, and programmatically, the capping decisions in the missile programs and the space programs gelled while I was DDR&E. Certain peripheral programs were cleared out and it became clear to everyone what the mainlines were going to be. Polaris started before I was DDR&E, but Minuteman was just beginning at that time. The decision to continue with Titan II was made at that time — the one that just blew up at Arkansas. A lot of alternatives were eliminated including the final cancellation of Nike Zeus and Navaho. The final choice was made between Thor and Jupiter. Getting rid of the Jupiter settled the question that the long range land based missiles were Air Force, leaving only sea based missiles for the Navy and nothing for the Army. Those things were clarified. So roles and missions in space and long range missilery and the program for these were gelled at that time.
Would these have been the things that constituted the main problems that you dealt with?
Yes. Most of my time was spent with those and certain other large technology programs. The final cancellation of nuclear airplanes. We did continue with some basic work on possible reactors for nuclear airplanes, but we cut out all the work on the airplane itself. What we did in defense was determine that it would be NASA that would do man-in-space (programs). There were uncertainties about the reconnaissance satellites and similar programs that had to be solved.
In terms of making a decision whether a program was going to go on or not, how would that have been done? Would there be a presentation to you or what?
It was done in a great variety of ways. If it was a matter of controversy, then it would ultimately involve a presentation to me or to the President’s Science Advisor, or both. Actually, the biggest problems really did have to do with sorting out as I said, the roles and missions in the long range systems. That involved more Amy/Air Force controversy than it did Navy. With respect to the Navy, I settled finally the question of the Navy Sea launches. It is hard to remember 20 years ago, but I had many presentations from the Navy on why the Navy should launch satellites from the sea. I was not convinced. It was always possible and normal for anybody to reclaim that to the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary essentially always backed me up. There were probably other Navy reclaims to the Secretary.
TFX came up in that period.
Yes and no. The roots of TFX were in that period, but it did not become an important question until after Harold Brown became the DDR&E. I will tell you a minor matter that involved the Navy and that involved me, but it was not a programmatic decision, it was more of a command decision, which is not the usual kind I was involved in. One day I got an unexpected call from the Secretary of the Navy. He said you are the acting Secretary of Defense. The Secretary and the Deputy Secretary were in Canada. He said we have got a problem. Frank the Secretary of the Navy. The Air Force was insisting that a certain satellite be launched from PMR, Vandenberg. The Navy was in charge of the range and the Navy’s safety people said that it was unsafe. And the Admiral supported his own people. So the Commander at the range said “no,” and the Air Force people said, “You have to.” So the question came to me for a command decision. Do they launch or don’t they launch. I spent most of the day listening to Curtis LeMay who was Vice Chief of the Air Force at the time. I think I actually talked with Arleigh Burke who may have still have been CNO, and then with others. But I talked to a couple of people at top level and then others. I decided to launch. It was just a command decision and not a program decision.
What would be your perception of your management style?
I don’t know how to answer that. I got directly into substance which many managers don’t do. Some do and some don’t. But I made it a point of getting directly into substance. In doing all these things I mentioned in regards to space and missiles, I made it a point to know in detail what the technical substance was in regard to the question. I questioned people in detail and talked to people of various levels.
We were talking about some of your perceptions of your management style, particularly in inter-service rivalries where people feel pretty strongly about some of these things. As you say, you were more technically involved than some managers.
I think I was also fairly open with my colleagues in the Services, that is with the other people in R&D. One would have to ask them, and I am not sure that you can ask them 20 years later.
There were some pretty good people in the field, weren’t there? You had a lot of dynamic things going on.
Yes. I had a lot of good assistants. Most of which I brought in from the outside.
Who were some of your key people?
Briefly, Howie Wilcox, who had been number 2 I guess at Inyokern, was my deputy. When he left to take a high-paying job with General Motors, John Ruble became deputy. John had been one of the bright young engineers at Hughes. Then I had other people; people who had come in from other organizations, one from Rand and one from Douglas and so on.
You got high level, quite capable technical people there. What about management people? Was Ed Glass one of your people?
No, we didn’t pay a lot of attention to management, basically on the theory that the Services were doing the management and were generally doing it all right. The only management questions that we got into were these issues about roles and missions, and whether the responsibility for something should be transferred from one Service to another. Occasionally, there might be a program where we were concerned about the quality of the technical management or the handling of a technical substance. But that generally didn’t happen. One of the few cases I remember is one where I ended up defending the way a program was being run. That was the Titan II program. It came under attack from some of the people in the White House, the President’s Science Advisory Committee. There were a lot of failures and my contention was those were genuine accidents and not a measure of competence of the organization.
We mentioned earlier that there weren’t parallel systems of R&D management for different services. Did you try to influence the organizational structure?
Not much. I don’t remember a Navy case. In the case of the Army I did two things. The big one was to get Von Braun out of the Army and into NASA and then a lesser was to try to arrange to have the civilian in charge of R&D become Assistant Secretary. I didn’t succeed in that. It wasn’t all that important. They said he has got the same authority as if he were. I thought he should. As I said, I liked the way the Polaris program was going and didn’t get into that.
It was not necessarily a typical R&D project? How would you characterize the Navy laboratories from your experiences of that period?
They were the best of the service laboratories. That is by Service laboratory, meaning an organization in which the personnel are either civil service or actual military personnel. I thought they were the best. I am not sure that is true anymore. Even at that time, some of the Air Force laboratories were becoming pretty good, particularly the Air Force Weapons Center in Albuquerque. It had some pretty good people.
How aware would you have been of responses by individual laboratories to particular problems or projects?
I was aware of a lot, I no longer remember it, but I was aware of the programs being done at NOL, NOTS, a couple of other places. I was aware of certain programs which were actually spread across a number of them, such as ASW, which was really not a program but a collection of programs. I was aware of things like that, but I don’t remember any particular action with respect to them. That is because, as I said, the main problems that I had to face, individually, were those that involved roles and missions of long range rockets and space. Polaris was a nicely isolated thing that was going well. The nuclear submarine programs were another I was involved in. I was one of the few people that Rickover would ever give the time of day to. Again, I thought it was going pretty well.
It appears that DDR&E, established in the period that we are talking about here, was a major step toward centralization, but this centralization was amplified more when McNamara came in.
Well yes, centralization was amplified more, but centralization of R&D was not really further increased. So DDR&E in that sense was a precursor to McNamara. Gates, who was Eisenhower’s last Secretary, was also the man who started things like the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Supply Agency, so Gates was moving that way. McNamara then seized hold, and being a professional manager, he pulled these things even more so into his office. By setting up things like systems analysis office and strengthening ISA, he was able to increase his own power with respect to the Services by increasing his knowledge of what was going on. In the case of systems analysis (ISA), it wasn’t done by legislation or by drawing lines, the Secretary just made himself better informed of the Services in several areas. But the boilerplate describing DDR&E and its authority remained more or less the same. In fact it became slightly weaker as time went on. But then Brown put procurement in with R&E and set up this new Under Secretary, Perry. So Perry has somewhat more authority now than I had 20 years ago.
Some of the perceptions of the individuals in the laboratory, particularly the old timers in R&D, are that with DDR&E and growing centralization there has come requirements for more justifications by the laboratories, more paperwork and more layers of headquarters.
It resulted in more paperwork, but you know you could just as well say the organization resulted from the fact that the paperwork was growing. That is something that is happening everywhere. It is happening in the University of California. The Congress lays on more requirements for paper from the Executive Branches. It is true that it made more bureaucracy. It is hard to say which came first. The bureaucracy has been steadily growing and there is a steady flow towards higher and higher echelons. Then what happens, you make a new echelon for coordination, and then it becomes an echelon for authority, and so on. You see that at even higher levels. The flow of authority into the White House office, that is into Kissinger’s Office and Brezinsky’s office, is part of that same trend. And the Congress is into much more detail now than they were 20 years ago. The Congressional staffs keep getting bigger; they have more experts who demand more paper from the office of Secretary of Defense. And then they complicate life by providing some short circuits because the whole thing is now so big and complex that it is full of short circuits. And there are people from the Navy laboratories who have friends on Congressional staffs and who can get the Secretary of Defense reversed on something. He doesn’t take it lying down, and that simply requires exercising some other part of the bureaucracy.
It is really one of our problems. I didn’t mean to focus all of this on DDR&E.
Well, DDR&E is in the middle, and it is a question of whether it is part of the solution or part of the problem. I suppose it is part of both. When it was first created, and when ARPA was created, there were indeed very serious problems created by these three powerful units doing R&D in a not very well coordinated way. These three powerful units are the Army, Navy and Air Force. Some forceful way of coordination those programs were necessary, a forceful mechanism with power.
Some people today look back (with nostalgia) at the old bureau system. The lab worked for the bureau and if the bureau said “yes,” you went ahead and did whatever you had proposed. The bureaus went directly to the Congress in those early days. But the time came when Congress said I don’t understand these budgets and began to demand some answers too. These are the kinds of things that we need to look at as the system gets more complicated. One of the common charges is that as power was taken away from the bureaus and the SYSCOMS — the decision making power — there were more problems in getting a decision made. I don’t know if that is something you can respond to.
That is probably sometimes true and sometimes it is just a complaint. Very often when people complained that it was hard to get a decision, what they really meant was, it is hard to get the decision I want. Sometimes in fact it was hard to get a decision. I remember a particular instance in which I was testifying before a committee that was sort of hostile, concerning Dinosaur, an Air Force program involving a manned reentry system from space. General Dorenburger, who had been the head of the V-1 and V-2 program in Germany had been brought over here with Von Braun and the others, was then a Vice President, I think) for Bell. He was complaining about the difficulty of getting a decision. He said I have been down here a fantastic number, like 800, times trying to get a decision on building what amounted to the Dinosaur. It was sort of a glide bomber related to Dinosaur that was never built. What he really meant was that nobody would ever say yes; people kept telling him no. And that is all he meant. On the other hand, there is no doubt it is taking longer to get decisions. The time is growing. The Defense Science Board and other organizations have annual studies on why does it take so long; why decision making is becoming so laborious and so slow?
Of course, the technology is more complex.
The technology is much more complex. That is another difference. You couldn’t have the ODDR&E or even the people we had 20 years ago. Everything is just more complicated.
Under what circumstances did you leave DDR&E?
There was a Presidential election. There were a number of things. The prior fall I had a heart attack. That slowed me down. At the same time, the President of the University invited me to come here and be Chancellor. And there was a change of administration coming anyway, so it was a natural time for everyone to resign. I had already really decided to come here and be Chancellor when McNamara was appointed by Kennedy. Then McNamara asked me to stay. Entering into my decision was a combination of wanting to come here and feeling that having just had a heart attack I wasn’t really up to coping with McNamara. I could see that he was really going to be a driver. The person I was before I had the heart attack would have worked very well. I would have out worked him, or as hard as he worked — not quite as hard as Harold Brown, but as hard as McNamara. But I just wasn’t at all sure what my physical future was going to be like so I was not willing to commit to more than a 40 hour week. Working for McNamara on a 40 hour week would not have worked at all.
Was the heart attack possibly an effect of the pressures of the job?
Pretty pressure cooker job.
Yes. On the other hand, having had no recurrence in 20 years and no heart problem, it probably was an accident. When you have a heart attack, it is a mixture of predisposition and accident. Now I think accident played a bigger role. It was my visit to NOTS. I went to NOTS and then I came here (San Diego), when I got an upper repertory infection which I didn’t have a chance to take care of. I had to make a speech here, and so on. Finally, I just became real sick. Went back to Washington — I had my own airplane — with pericarditis, which means the virus is getting into the muscles that surround the heart. And that is probably what stimulated the heart attack. So it was a real heart attack, but it probably was not so much due to general preconditioning as it was to the particular set of events.
How have your views toward military R&D changed since you were in the Defense Department?
They have changed, but they have not turned upside down. The fact is that I got interested in arms control as a result of President Eisenhower’s interests. As I mentioned, my basic view is that arms control and disarmament are underrated and underutilized means for enhancing United States national security so that I devoted more attention to how to accomplish something there than how to accomplish a new device for killing and destroying. I often end up criticizing particular elements of the Defense R&D program, but from a point of view that doesn’t say that America doesn’t need good national security or doesn’t need good weapon systems, but that in my view it is just often overdone. We do a lot that isn’t necessary that moves the arms race along faster than it has to move. So I often end up being a critic of weapons systems and weapons developments, but I have always maintained my contacts with the Defense Department, I am a member of the Defense Science Board today.
It seems to me that it is an exceptionally good use of a person’s background like own. If you are in arms limitation work, and you haven’t had that inside understanding, I think it could be very limiting.
Yes. The American arms control community is full of people from the Defense Department and always has been so are the negotiating teams. Paul Warnke was after all an Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. The current director of the Arms Control Agency is Ralph Earle who also is from ISA. He was a civilian in NATO headquarters. My deputy is from Livermore.
I didn’t know the extent to which this exists, but it seems to me that it would be a good thing. As I recall from Race to Oblivion and some of your other publications, there is this concern that adding new weapons isn’t necessarily going to give you more defense; it may give you a more opposite reaction which could just escalate the problem. To what extent is there a difference between general expansions of arms, more production, as compared with increasing R&D? To what extent does increased R&D give you this escalating effect?
They both are involved. It is very hard to give a short answer. Furthermore, I don’t think there is a single answer that fits across the spectrum of R&D. For example, today I find myself a strong supporter of so called smart weapons development covering the various kinds of homing systems and so on, short range and medium range. I see the possibility of those substituting for at least battlefield nuclear weapons, and I think that would be a good thing. So that is an element of R&D that today I would like to see pushed more strongly than the Defense Department would push. I am more hawkish than the Defense Department on that, and I have always been a strong promoter of the various satellites, in particular those used in reconnaissance and early warning and so on. So I don’t have a single answer to fit across the board.
Should there be more or better communications between those working in arms limitation and those in the defense laboratories?
I don’t know whether there is a major need for further contact. I suppose there is always room for better understanding of the issues that are involved in both sides of these questions. But there are various synergisms, and I mentioned one. Much of arms control is aimed at weapons of mass destruction which destroy not only a particular target but everything around it as contrasted with alternatives which are more discriminating. There is a synergism between the development of more discriminating weapons on the one hand and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction on the other hand. Out there is an enormous political gap between those and you cannot proceed with these arms control negotiations on the assumption that these smart weapons are going to come along. And there are other sufficient reasons for promoting smart weapons besides the way they may feed into arms control. Furthermore, the time at which these two currents of development might link up is so far in the future that it is not generally terribly useful. The kind of place where they actually link up, where R&D on weapons link up, has to do with some kind of limitations. In the case of the comprehensive test ban, which is what I am negotiator for, one of the arguments against a test ban is that right now the weapons laboratories are busily engaged in the development of nuclear weapons which would be even safer against fire, low level attack, stealing, and so forth, and that itself is a good thing. From the point of view of super safe weapons that development is probably a contribution towards lowering the probability of nuclear war. It is one of the things that has to be balanced against the benefits. There is a synergism. But in the case of nuclear weapons, the relationships are already quite tight. Both nuclear laboratories are well informed about what is going on in arms control, they each have a number of people who work on the subject, they are involved in methods for verification, so they are tightly coupled already.
I meant to ask you earlier, did your work at Livermore provide good background for this work which you did for the Defense Department. There were several of you who came from Livermore.
Yes, it was good background. There were three in a row (who served as DDR&E). In order it was me, Harold Brown and Johnny Foster.
Was that accidental?
Well, yes and no. I mean it was not an accident in the sense that each of us was involved in recommending who would come next. McNamara asked me who should succeed me, and I gave him a list of 13 names in alphabetical order, and I explained that is why Brown’s name appeared first. I also said he is my favorite candidate. Bob asked me to ask him to come in. So I invited Harold. He was either coming to Washington anyway or I asked him to come. So I took him in to see McNamara. And just sitting there Bob offered him the job. Harold went up to the fifth floor of the Pentagon with me and we went round and round up there talking about the merits of doing it. Then McNamara appointed Harold to be Secretary of the Air Force. Again, the question of who should be next. I remember Harold asking me do you think it would be all right to nominate Johnny. Do you think Johnny would do? And I remember saying, yes, I thought it would, even though we both realized that it was a little thick. But he recommended Johnny, and Bob accepted the recommendation. But that was all. The next one, Malcolm Currie, came from Hughes.
Was there a contrast between Currie and the rest of you?
I think that Currie was a lot like Johnny. There was some contrast. He was an expert in different things. But he was a lot like Johnny Foster, even looked like him. I remember somebody telling us, who is Mal Currie? We said well if you were out looking for somebody who was as close to Johnny as you could find, Currie would be the one.
Was there a difference between Foster and Currie and you and Harold Brown?
Yes. Johnny was much more hawkish than either Harold or I. He was more of a fellow who relies on a technological fix for anything, more technologically oriented. There was a lot of difference between then and now, and yet it was all evolutionary. And it has more to do with changing circumstances and the evolution of knowledge than with personality differences.
Could this be explained through an intensification of the trends that were apparent in the late 50’s — the move toward centralization, the growing technology?
Technology, there was really no new technology either. Most of the revolutionary technologies came in just about the end of the 50’s. By the 60’s it was mainly development of those. They began talking about space and big missiles in the 1950s.
There were a lot of new and exciting things in the late 50’s.
But now there is another one and it has to do with the miniaturization of the computer — the increasing capability of ever smaller computers. And that is producing changes which are comparable to those that we dealt with. At the end of the 50’s, missile guidance, missile propulsion and thermo nuclear weapons all came along at once, and the last 20 years it has been a sort of consolidating those three things. Now that was inertial guidance and radio inertial guidance. What is now happening with minicomputers, more capable and smaller?
What about lasers?
We will come back to that. The minicomputers are going into everything and that is where the next set of the big differences will come. That is the key to the smart bomb. It is also the key to the cruise missile because the idea of mat matching, which is the way the cruise missiles get their super accuracy, dates from the end of the war, but nobody could do it. Then the minicomputer comes along and you can fly a computer that can do all this mat matching on board. Lasers are not yet here, except in minor ways. That is to say lasers are used for spotting and they are used for homing, and they are used for altimeters. There are odds and ends in applications, but lasers as weapons are still not here. It isn’t clear what is going to happen. There are real possibilities, but even if they are accomplished it is not clear that they are better than other ways. Lasers may turn out to be superfluous because you already have ways of doing what they can do. They are in a sense in direct competition with smart bombs because the main application that is being pushed by all three services is anti-missile. The Navy thinks of them on board big ships, intercepting cruise missiles coming in, or other missiles. But the other way to intercept them is to send out an anti-missile. As you make the anti-missile smarter and put better homing devices in them, there is the advantage that as the anti-missile gets closer to the missile the homing system works over smaller and smaller distances and that makes it easier to make the intercept. Whereas, the laser systems depend on some guy slewing it directly at the other end.
Has anybody developed a paper on this thesis of the possible relationship of smart weapons to more effective arms limitations?
Maybe, but I am not aware of it.
It would be interesting. Well, I have the answers to the questions that I came with. I would like to keep open the possibility of coming back when I get further into the study. Is there anything that you feel we might add here? Any major changes in the DOD laboratory system?
No, I haven’t really kept track of it. Jerry Johnson keeps coming to mind as someone you should talk with. Have you met him? He lives just the other side of Long Beach. You’ll find him a very approachable guy. About 6’ 2 or 3 inches. Very, very wide experience. He now works in the energy business.
I am sure he had some pretty frustrating experiences in that job (first Director of Navy Laboratories).
Like me, he also puts his biggest emphasis on arms control. He was my deputy briefly in Geneva until he decided that he had to get back in preparation for retirement.