As the first Air Force command to attain an operational ICBM capability, the 1st Missile Division at Vandenberg Air Force Air Force Base. Calif., has been accorded keen national interest. Additional attention is centered on our responsibility for training the crews that will man all of the Strategic Air Command’s ICBM sites across the nation and for supporting development of polar-orbiting satellite systems—Discoverer, Samos, Midas.
Vandenberg has become, in fact, the prime focal point for transition from the development to the operational phases of the ICBM program and other important segments of the military space program.
In one sense Vandenberg is operating at the peak of a pyramided national effort to launch all of our ICBMs and the Thor IRBM from a realistic, operational environment. In another sense, we are operating at the base of an inverted pyramid of SAC’s expanding ICBM capability.
Measured against a comparable margin of advancement in the manned bomber field, the picture of Vandenberg shapes up like this: We have undertaken crew training exercises, operational test exercises, and the attainment of operational readiness with the Thor, Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman systems on a scale that corresponds roughly to the progression from the B-17 through the B-52—which took some twenty years.
Certain conclusions that are now emerging out of the total experience gained in our operations here will serve to highlight the practical implications of the missile era in terms of training methods and operating concepts. Because these findings will have a direct influence on our careers in command, staff, and technical assignments, they should, in my view, merit the close and immediate attention of everyone who wears a blue suit. Even more critical is the continuing effect they will have on the direction, pace, and success of our efforts to employ aerospace power as an effective military instrument of controlled peace.
Everything we have accomplished up to this point at Vandenberg has confirmed the earlier predictions concerning the strategic implications of the ballistic missile era. This is not surprising when we consider the fact that the actual performance of Thor and Atlas missiles launched at Vandenberg under simulated combat conditions has equaled or exceeded original estimates.
Where the Atlas is concerned, the launches here on September 9, 1959 and January 26 1960 conclusively demonstrated the fact that ICBMs can contribute greatly to our deterrent posture. They provide a capability for quick reaction against targets at intercontinental range, and their relative invulnerability to defensive measures will virtually guarantee their ability to apply nuclear warheads against aggressor targets within less than thirty minutes.
Launched in retaliation against heavily defended target systems, ICBMs would open the way for the flexible employment of manned bombers against targets of uncertain location.
These conclusions are further reinforced by the experience gained at Vandenberg in our combat training launches of the Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile. Here again were cases in which the demonstrated capability of a ballistic missile was found to exceed our estimates.
However, there were some early assumptions made in forecasting problems of training and supervision that are now being modified by experience.
Among these were predictions expressed in some quarters that ballistic missiles would be too complex for Air Force technicians to maintain and operate. Although we have developed a profound respect here for the intricacy of ballistic missiles, we have not found it necessary to stand in awe of them. In fact, the officers and airmen who have come into our crew-training program with a background in the electronic, mechanical, and hydraulic components of aircraft have moved quickly and effectively into the missile crew.
Another preconception that has been disproved at Vandenberg was the opposite view that countdown procedures would produce boredom and lower morale. On that point most of the people instructing and training in our programs here would welcome the introduction of a small amount of routine into their schedules. This has been denied them up to now by a continuous process of modification and refinement in the equipment they use and the procedures they apply. To meet this challenge requires the same high level of enthusiasm and job interest as does the task of keeping current in manned aircraft operations.
One of the most important tests facing us in the missile program is a new problem in leadership and supervision. Just as we have developed valid yardsticks for evaluation of aircrew performance, we need now to develop similar standards for measuring the competence of our missile crew technicians. This would enable us to prepare fully documented justification for both alert pay and spot promotions.
The crew members who inspect, repair, check out, and launch our missiles are far more than glorified caretakers for little black boxes. During an actual countdown, for example, a missile systems analyst technician has to cope with more than forty sources of possible malfunction and recommend the best trouble-shooting approach from a number of alternate solutions.
Additionally, a member of a missile launch crew or guidance crew must have a high degree of competence in both operational and maintenance fields. When he pushes a button, he must understand the function and sequence of operations actuated in completing that single step in the checkout or countdown operation.
For this reason, we have eliminated the clear-cut division of maintenance and operating skills that has always been built into our manned aircraft organizations, and have merged these activities into operator-maintenance functions.
In missile operations, as in manned aircraft operations, the man who is trained and dedicated in his job is still indispensable.
We have never bought any part of the claim that ballistic missiles are the first in a series of fully automated weapon systems that will create a dead-end pathway of career progression. To the contrary, our association with the Discoverer program and our preparations to support the more advanced polar-orbiting Samos and Midas systems have provided a clear indication that ballistic missiles will play a transitional role in bridging the gap between manned aircraft operations and manned spacecraft operations. The boosters, guidance systems, flight attitude control techniques, and reentry and recovery methods being proved out now will provide the technical means and the broad base of technical knowledge essential to the introduction of manned space vehicles.
A brief look at particular aspects of our program will be useful in validating the broader outlook toward missile operations that I have presented.
Preliminary steps were taken in 1957 to convert the old Camp Cooke area into the ballistic missile complex that was later designated Vandenberg AFB. To meet the early schedules for IRBM and ICBM programs in 1958, we had trainees reporting for instruction by instructors who were still polishing off their own knowledge of missiles that were not quite ready for launch complexes.
The fact that these limited outcroppings of concurrency were kept within manageable limits at the critical point where crews, missiles, and support equipment were coming together for the first time proved the merit of the management approach pursued from the outset.
Unlike the neatly packaged plans that bring a manned aircraft base into being, our guidelines have recognized the uncertainties that are associated—at this stage—with missile operations. While some of these uncertainties are tied to the scientific and technical side of the effort, most of them stem from the requirement for establishing effective working relationships between 1st Missile Division and other agencies.
As the largest customer of the Pacific Missile Range, we are engaged in a continuous process of bunch scheduling on a low-risk basis which—even with elaborate missile flight safety instrumentation—must take into consideration the minimum requirements for visual tracking, clearance of shipping near the impact areas, scheduled passenger trains, and unscheduled freight trains. Under the provisions of an agreement with the US Navy, we are moving toward an arrangement under which the missile destruct system will be controlled by the Air Force during ballistic missile launches, and by the Navy during R&D satellite launches. As the sponsoring agency for ballistic missile and satellite launches from the Vandenberg-PMR complex, the Air Force—under the terms of that agreement—has full responsibility for flight preparation of missiles, satellites, space vehicles, and launching devices; and for launching and controlling the flight through impact or last stage burnout.
Development of Vandenberg’s technical facilities to support these operations is being carried out by the Ballistic Missile Division Field Office of the Air Research and Development Command which completes the designs and supervises the Corps of Engineers’ construction work through the brick-and-mortar phase of each project. It then uses various missile contractors as its agents for the installation and checkout of launch and guidance consoles, testing devices, and other ground-support equipment before the entire facility is turned over for use.
In addition to these PMR and ARDC contracts, we work closely with the Air Training Command to establish types and levels of requisite skills for trainees and to regulate the pipelines of trainee input to our program. We are also drawing extensively on missile contractors for technical assistance. As in the case of manned aircraft operations, this technical support is being substantially reduced as our experience grows.
To make these interservice, intercommand, and contractor relationships productive, we have entered into a complex series of joint tenancy agreements and cross-servicing arrangements that present some intricate problems.
In moving ahead within the framework of these arrangements, we have produced a box score of mission accomplishment that includes successful launches of two Atlases, twelve Thors, and ten Discoverers. All of our launches have been accomplished without mishap on the pad.
Additionally, we have trained more than 1,100 crew members for the Thor squadrons of the Royal Air Force and more than 475 Atlas crew members for our operational and training complexes at Vandenberg. We also have now in training 160 Atlas crew members who will man the 564th Strategic Missile Squadron at Francis E. Warren AFB, Cheyenne, Wyo. In related courses, we have given instruction to technicians in the maintenance management field and in the ballistic missile familiarization staff officers course.
In conjunction with both its training and operational program, Vandenberg is constantly developing methods for measuring missile reliability, reaction time, and accuracy. We are also helping to develop and refine the operational concepts and procedures that will ensure best results from the use of these weapons. By meshing the operational testing cycle for ICBMs with its crew-training program, Vandenberg is—in effect—serving as a ballistic missile operational proving ground.
A veteran airman and civil engineering graduate of Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, General Wade entered the Air Force in 1935. He was Chief of Staff, SAC, prior to assuming his present post.