The air force had to develop two kinds of technologies. The majority of the projects were concerned with component development. On account of their great cost and complexity, however, large-scale weapons such as bombers, fighters, and missiles took up the bulk of the air force’s R&D resources. To manage these so-called weapon systems, air force officers found that their loosely organized prewar methods did not suffice. For the new systems, the air force looked to new models of centralized project management.
Two World War II aircraft projects fit the bill. The complex B-29 and P-61 projects both used committees to coordinate the development ofthe airframe, electronics, and armament during development, instead of after airframe manufacture and testing.20 For the complex and pressurized B-29, engineers designed armament and communications together from the start, because the aircraft’s computer-controlled fire-control systems were integrally connected to the airframe. For the B-29 and the P-61, officers considered the entire aircraft a system that included manufacturing and training as well as hardware.21
Another influential World War II program was the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Gen. Leslie Groves of the Army Corps of Engineers managed the project, gathering physicists, chemists, and engineers at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to design the bomb. Groves administered the project with a staff of three and made major decisions with a small committee consisting of himself, Vannevar Bush, James Conant, and representatives of each of the services. Army officers directed day-to-day operations at each of the project’s field sites, most of which had traditional hierarchical organizations, albeit cloaked in secrecy. Because of technical and scientific uncertainties, the project developed two bomb designs and three methods to create the fissile material.22
The organization at Los Alamos differed from the organization at other project sites. Director Robert Oppenheimer wrested a degree of freedom of speech for the scientists and ensured that they remained civilians. Oppen- heimer, to respect the traditional independence of scientists and maintain open communication, initially adopted the loose department structure of universities. This changed in the spring of 1944, when tests showed that the plutonium gun assembly bomb would not work. The tests led to an acceleration of work on the more complex implosion design. As R&D teams grew, the project needed and obtained strong managers like Robert Bacher and George Kistia – kowsky, who transformed the project’s organization from an academic model to divisions organized around the end-product — a project organization.23
Americans also learned from the organization of the German V-2 project, headed by Wernher von Braun. Reporting to General Arnold on German scientific capabilities at the end of World War II, von Karman stated that one of the major factors in the success of the German V-2 project was its organization:
Leadership in the development of these new weapons of the future can be assured only by uniting experts in aerodynamics, structural design, electronics, servomechanisms, gyros, control devices, propulsion, and warhead under one leadership, and providing them with facilities for laboratory and model shop production in their specialties and with facilities for field tests. Such a center must be adequately supported by the highest ranking military and civilian leadership and must be adequately financed, including the support of related work on special aspects of various problems at other laboratories and the support of special industrial developments. It seems to us that this is the lesson to be learned from the activities of the German Peenemunde group.24
In the Ridenour Report of 1949, the SAB remembered the lessons of the Manhattan and V-2 projects for organizing large new technologies. They noted that new systems were far more complex than their prewar counterparts, making it necessary for some engineers to concentrate on the entire system instead of its components only. Project officers also needed greater authority to better lead a task force of ‘‘systems and components specialists organized on a semi-permanent basis.’’ Because the air force had few qualified technical officers, the committee recommended that the air force draw upon the ‘‘very important reservoir of talent available for systems planning in the engineering design staffs of the industries of the country.’’25
Despite the recommendations of the Ridenour Report, AMC officers at Wright Field continued to organize projects on functional lines mirroring academic disciplines and to coordinate projects through small project offices. As late as 1950, typical project offices had fewer than ten members, and engineering expertise, parceled out from Wright Field’s functional divisions, were, as one historian put it, ‘‘only casually responsible’’ to the project office.26 At the time, AMC’s Col. Marvin Demler stated: ‘‘Due to the complexity of the mechanisms which we develop, and our organization by hardware specialties, a very high degree of cooperation and coordination is required between organizations at all levels. In fact, an experienced officer or civilian engineer coming to Wright Field for the first time simply cannot be effective for perhaps six months to one year while he learns ‘the ropes’ of coordination with other offices. The communication between individuals necessary for the solution of our problems of coordination defy formal organizational lines.’’27
For large projects, this informal structure was not to continue for much longer. When the Korean War broke out in late 1950, the air force found itself with numerous unusable aircraft. In January 1951, Vice Chief of Staff Nathan Twining instructed DCS/D Gen. Gordon Saville to investigate the air force’s organization to determine whether it contributed to the poor aircraft readiness. Saville ordered the formation of a study group, led by Colonel Schriever, to investigate the problem. The group returned to the comments of the Ridenour Report regarding the lack of technical capability in the air force and the problems caused by separating airframe development from component development.28
Schriever’s group completed its study in April 1951 and released an influential paper called ‘‘Combat Ready Aircraft.’’ It pinpointed two major problems with current aircraft: requirements based on short-term factors, leading to continuous modifications, and insufficient coordination and direction of all elements of the ‘‘complete weapon.’’29 The latter concern probably arose from the Ridenour Report and the examples of the B-29, the V-2, and the Manhattan Project.
To solve these problems, the group recommended that the air force create an organization and process with responsibility and authority over the complete weapon by adding ‘‘planning, budgeting, programming, and control’’ to the functions of the responsible air force organizations. The organizations would have complete control over the entire projects, enforced through full budget authority.30 Examples of this kind of organization already existed in the air force’s guided missile programs. These weapons differed substantially from piloted aircraft, and the separate procurement of airframe, engines, and armament (payload) made little sense.31 The study group suggested that the air force let prime contracts to a single contractor to integrate the entire weapon and that the air force organize on a project basis.
Changes to the procurement cycle had to be addressed as well. The group noted that in World War II, decisions to produce aircraft occurred haphazardly and that aircraft rolled off the assembly line directly to combat units at the same time as they were delivered to testing. Because production continued rapidly and little testing occurred, invariably the operational units found numerous problems, leading to the grounding of aircraft for modifications. Believing the current emergency did not allow for the fly-before – you-buy sequential approach and that the delivery of the production aircraft to combat units was dangerous and wasteful, the group selected a solution that was a compromise. It recommended eliminating the X – and Y-model aircraft but slowing the initial production line until test organizations found and eliminated design bugs. Only then should production be accelerated, it said. The air force would select contractors based on the best proposal instead of through a ‘‘fly-off’’ of aircraft prototypes. These ideas, along with project – centered organization and simultaneous planning of all components throughout the weapon’s life cycle, defined the weapon system concept.32
Brigadier General Putt, now commander of Wright Air Development Center, immediately campaigned for the weapon system concept among the component developers at Wright Field. He had a difficult sell because the new organization had moved power from the functional organizations to the project offices. The project office was to act on a systems basis, making compromises between cost, performance, quality, and quantity. Putt admonished the component engineers: ‘‘Somebody has to be captain of the team, and decide what has to be compromised and why. And that responsibility we have placed on the project offices.’’ He also stated in no uncertain terms who had the authority, telling the component engineers that they needed to be ‘‘sure that all the facts’’ had ‘‘been placed before’’ the project office. ‘‘At that time,’’ he told the engineers, ‘‘your responsibility ceases.’’33
Without a large number of technical officers, the air force handed substantial authority to industry. Under the weapon system concept, the air force ‘‘purchased management of new weapon system development and production.’’ However, contractors had to ‘‘accept the Air Force as the monitor of his [the contractor’s] plans and progress, with the cautionary power of a partner and the final veto power of the customer.’’ The air force stated that it could not ‘‘escape its own responsibility for system management simply by assigning larger blocks of design and engineering responsibility to industry.’’ Although the new process gave industry a larger role, air force officers would not remain passive.34
Adoption of the weapon system concept throughout the air force did not go smoothly, because of continuing disagreements between the DCS/D and ARDC on one hand, and the deputy chief of staff, materiel (DCS/M), and AMC on the other. The key question that divided the fledgling ARDC and its parent, AMC, was when ‘‘development’’ ended and ‘‘production’’ began. If production started early in a weapon’s life cycle, then AMC maintained greater control, whereas if development ended relatively late in the cycle, then ARDC acquired more power. Not surprisingly, AMC leaned toward a definition of production that encompassed earlier phases of the life cycle, while ARDC opted for late-ending development. Because development continued as long as changes to the weapon occurred, and because production began
Weapon System Project Office implementation of the ‘‘system concept.’’
the moment the first prototype was built, no objective definition tipped the scales one way or another. Under such circumstances, the air force’s official arbitrator between ARDC and AMC, James Doolittle, had to intervene.
In April 1951, Doolittle reported that because development continued through a system’s entire life cycle, the ARDC definition should hold. In consequence, ARDC should control production engineering.35 The new agreement led to the issuance of Air Force Regulation (AFR) 20-10, ‘‘Weapon System Project Offices,’’ in October 1951. The regulation specified that every major project should have a Weapon System Project Office (WSPO), with officers from ARDC and AMC in charge.
A marvel of diplomacy, the document stated that during the early portions of development, the ARDC representative would be the ‘‘team captain,’’ and in the later portions, after a decision to produce the article in quantity, the AMC representative would be the ‘‘team captain.’’ In practice, the line between the two was fuzzy, leaving the two officers to work it out for themselves based on circumstances or personalities. The team captain coordinated the activities for the entire project but did not have authority over the other officer. If the two could not agree, they would both have to take the problem to higher authorities, potentially all the way up to the DCS/D and DCS/M at air force headquarters.36
The resulting ambiguities continued to cause organizational headaches, leading once again to intervention by Doolittle. This time Doolittle did not feel comfortable forcing a solution, so he recommended another Air Staff study to investigate the problem. His only proviso was that the group protect the importance of R&D. The Air Staff gave the DCS/M, Lt. General Orval Cook, responsibility for solving the interface problems. In cooperation with DCS/D Laurence Craigie, Cook appointed a task group, the ‘‘Cook-Craigie Group,’’ to work on the issue. Group members decided that ARDC should keep responsibility for weapon systems until the Air Staff stated in writing that the weapon should be purchased.37 The new process, known as the Cook – Craigie Procedures of March 1954 and formalized by modification of AFR 20-10 in August of that year, momentarily ended the bickering between the development and materiel groups. Their unity would be tested severely with the development of the air force’s most radical new weapon, ballistic missiles.