Former NRO Chief, USAF Undersecretary Peter Teets: 1942-2020

Peter B. Teets, former undersecretary and Acting Secretary of the Air Force, head of the National Reconnaissance Office, and president and chief operating officer of Lockheed Martin, died Nov. 29, 2020.

Teets, reflecting in 2012 on his term as head of the NRO, said his vision was to “bring online a new generation of collection systems” with constellations that were “more capable, reliable, and user-friendly,” while building “a true spirit of teamwork” in the national security space community.

He called the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), meant to detect missile launches, “the most difficult challenge I had” in the NRO position. It was made more problematic, he said, by prime contractor Lockheed Martin assuring Congress the program “was ‘on schedule and on predicted cost,’ when in fact we had no chance of executing the contract with the resources then allocated.” Ultimately, much of the program was terminated.

He believed the NRO made strides on his watch in “getting timely information to the warfighters” and improving relations with Congress. During his tenure, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld designated the Air Force the DOD’s executive agent for space. However, not long after Teets’ departure, and with no replacement named for the duration of the Bush Administration, Rumsfeld withdrew that authority to his own office.

Teets grew up in Colorado and attended the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning degrees in applied mathematics and business administration, respectively. He worked for the Martin Company as an engineer, rising through the company over several decades as it expanded to become Martin Marietta Corporation. He was elected president of its Space Group in 1993, and soon after the company’s 1995 merger with Lockheed Martin, became president and COO of the new Lockheed Martin Corp.

In 2001, Teets retired from Lockheed Martin and undertook the jobs of undersecretary of the Air Force and head of the National Reconnaissance Office, which at that time was a dual position under the administration of President George W. Bush. He reported not only to the Secretary of the Air Force but the Secretary of Defense and head of national intelligence.

At the end of the first term of the Bush presidency, Teets served briefly as Acting Secretary of the Air Force after the resignation of Secretary James G. Roche. Teets himself resigned from the undersecretary/NRO job in March 1995.

In retirement, Teets served on the boards of the Aerospace Corporation, Draper Laboratories, and Challenger Center of Colorado. He received AFA’s W. Stuart Symington Award in 1994, for the “greatest contribution to national defense by a civilian,” and received numerous other awards, including the Wernher von Braun Space Flight Trophy, the Robert Goddard Memorial Trophy, and the Gen. James V. Hartinger Award for contributions to military space. He was also inducted into the Colorado Space Heroes Hall of Fame.

A live-streamed memorial will be held Dec. 17 at