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Celebrating 50 years of ICBM service.

Remarks at the 50th anniversary of the intercontinental ballistic missile ceremony, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Oct. 8, 2009

Thank you General [Bob] Kehler for the kind introduction and hosting such a fine event. It's a pleasure to be here at F.E. Warren and to celebrate this remarkable occasion with you, and I thank you all for coming. I'd especially like to thank the Mayor of Cheyenne, Mr. Rick Kaysen, for being here, and for all he does for our men and women in the area.

It's fitting that we celebrate such a historic Air Force event at the longest continuously active base in the Air Force. And, it's also terrific to look into the crowd tonight and see a veritable "who's who" of Air Force senior leadership, all who have done so much for the ICBM community:

* General Larry Welch

* General Jack Chain

* General Lance Lord

* General Kevin Chilton

* General Bob Kehler

* General Frank Klotz

* General AI Casey

* General Dirk Jameson

* General Roger Burg

I thank you all for your leadership and vision throughout the years and today; you have provided a steady hand in guiding our most critical mission.

As I was being introduced tonight, I happened to recall a story about the 19th Century, British statesman, Joseph Chamberlain. An influential businessman and politician, Chamberlain was also the father of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. One night, Mr. Chamberlain was the guest of honor at a dinner in an important city. The Mayor presided, and when coffee was being served, the Mayor leaned over and touched Mr.

Chamberlain, saying, "Shall we let the people enjoy themselves a little longer, or had we better have your speech now?"

Well, hopefully you're still enjoying yourselves ... though I'll be watching for signs to the contrary as my speech progresses.

But seriously, it is an honor to speak to you, and fitting that we celebrate this anniversary with the men and women who have provided "top cover" for our national security for the last half-century, and continue to do so today. And, as we celebrate 50 years of unquestionable ICBM readiness, it's important to acknowledge this rich history. During this time, there is no doubt the ICBM has revolutionized national policy and military strategy, and changed the organization and shape of the United States Air Force.

This transformation of policy and strategy really began in the late 1940s, a period when the strategic environment, new technologies, and substantial resource changes all combined to alter the Air Force's direction.

The post-World War II strategic environment was itself characterized by rapid change. We were initially the world's sole nuclear power, but the Soviet's test of an atomic weapon in 1949, and the subsequent war in Korea swiftly heightened an already tense Cold War. And, throughout the 1950s, the bipolar competition between the United States and the Soviet Union played out across the globe.

These considerable strategic shifts were also accompanied by significant technological challenges. The early missiles of the day failed to qualify as true ICBMs due to their inadequate range and payload ... in fact, they couldn't even exit and reenter the atmosphere. These missiles also lacked precision--the nuclear weapons of the late 1940s were so heavy and of such low yields that mating them to inaccurate missiles gave them marginal utility. However, the march toward a foundational strategic deterrent had begun and the development of hydrogen-fusion weapons greatly decreased weapon size and weight, enabling effective ICBMs to become a reality.

But as these needed technological breakthroughs were being made, substantial resource challenges greatly hampered ICBM development. The Air Force actually canceled its modest ballistic missile program in 1947 due to post-World War II budgetary constraints. These challenges continued during the Eisenhower administration's "New Look" defense strategy, which shifted resources from conventional capabilities to airbased nuclear deterrence capabilities. This strategy also trimmed ICBM development budgets, and was commonly known as "the poor man's approach" in the Air Force.

These lean years lasted until 1957, when the Soviets launched Sputnik--a defining moment for an entire generation of Americans, who had previously been convinced of our dominance in the superpower arms race.

These three factors--strategic environment, technology, and resources--converged in the mid-1950s with the formation of the "Teapot Committee." This committee, led by Mr. Trevor Gardiner, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development, noted that the United States was behind the Soviets in the race to field ICBMs, and called for a maximum effort to field our missiles first; as there was no time to waste in developing the cornerstone of our Nation's strategic deterrent.

While Gardiner's committee provided much of the impetus, fielding our early ICBM fleet wouldn't have been possible without the inspired leadership of General Bernard Schriever. Among many Air Force leaders responsible for this magnificent feat, his vision and leadership stand out.

One of General Schriever's key contributions was the application of concurrent or parallel development, an acquisition strategy that is still considered an innovative approach. When General Schriever took charge of ICBM development, he quickly realized that existing methods would delay the program; and, as a result, he made two major changes.

First, he issued contracts to multiple contractors for each major missile component for parallel development of the same part. The competition enhanced both the performance of the components and the speed of development because each company desired to be selected for the final production contract. Second, he ensured that while the missiles were being developed, all other work proceeded simultaneously, to include site construction, flight testing, and crew training--with a goal of ensuring that missiles, sites, equipment, infrastructure, and crews were ready for operations at the same time.

While the concurrent approach was much faster than the standard approach, it was also more expensive. The cost of fielding our first-generation ICBMs was over $150 billion in today's dollars, greatly exceeding the cost and magnitude of the World War II Manhattan Project.

The technological innovations of General Schriever and his team greatly accelerated the deployment of the first ICBMs. These missiles were developed in just over five years, beating all estimates and comparable timelines for less complex systems such as the B-52, which took over nine years to develop.

At least one leader foresaw this effort. A short time after World War II, General Hap Arnold noted that the first world war had been won by brawn, the second world war by logistics, and the next war would be won by brains ... It turns out General Schriever made him prophetic.

Born of General Shriever's remarkable development effort, our ICBM fleet has served as the backbone of American nuclear deterrence for fifty years. This deterrence is at work every minute of every day, providing us, and our allies an umbrella of protection, and a strong backdrop for diplomatic engagement.

But this deterrence wouldn't have been effective without the selfless sacrifice and commitment of our men and women and the families supporting them, who have executed the mission on a daily basis as a team. We've depended on the maintenance personnel, who ensure the missiles and the alert facilities are ready when needed. We've depended on the security forces personnel to ensure the missile sites and the weapons are secure. We've depended on the missile alert facility support personnel to ensure the crews and their security teams are well fed.

Finally, we've depended on the operators to man these alerts, and to ensure, that when called upon they are ready to execute. And, as we gather tonight, over 750 men and women proudly team to ensure 450 combat-ready ICBMs are ready if needed.

This spirit of teamwork has carried this mission throughout the last half-century, to include the heights of the Cold War. At least five crises raised for consideration the potential use of nuclear weapons. During that time, there is no doubt that our men and women, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO allies, maintained peace and security during one of the most dangerous periods in human history. Tonight, it is fitting we honor their dedication and selfless sacrifice.

Looking ahead, several high-level reviews and negotiations are underway that will shape our future. When finished, the Nuclear Posture Review and the Quadrennial Defense Review may drive changes in how America's nuclear forces are structured. A START follow-on agreement, if and when completed, would also inform our actions going forward. But, as we monitor these issues, the concept of nuclear deterrence supported by a triad of land, air and sea-based capabilities, and now bolstered by modest missile defenses, remain fundamental pillars of America's national security strategy.

As part of our commitment to this mission, on December 1st, we'll take a vital landmark step in our nuclear roadmap by transitioning the ICBM fleet from Air Force Space Command to the recently-formed Air Force Global Strike Command.

AFSPACE has effectively sustained this mission, but this changeover will establish clear lines of authority and continue to strengthen advocacy for the mission. What changes is the administrative chain of command, and the command we assign this mission to within the Air Force; what remains the same is the safe, secure, and effective operation of this weapons system in support of the U.S. Strategic Command.

The days of SAC have passed, and while we have not recreated it with Global Strike Command, we have brought forward its culture, to include an expectation of perfection. We recognize that we cannot fail in this mission, and we'll continue to be good stewards of our portion of America's nuclear deterrence forces.

So as we celebrate tonight, let us pause to reflect on our progress over the last 50 years. The legacy of our ICBM fleet is a proud one. It's a story of men of genius and innovation like Trevor Gardiner and General Bernard Schriever. It's a story of persevering despite significant technical and financial adversity. It's a story of the service of successive generations of Airmen who spent their careers sustaining and operating these missiles and their alert facilities. Above all, it's a story of nuclear deterrence, of peace and security.

We have much to be proud of tonight, and we should celebrate. But, our work is not done. Nuclear weapons are likely to be present in a dangerous world for the foreseeable future and so the mission continues. As long as our Nation requires this capability, the men and women of 20th Air Force and Global Strike Command will be here to provide it, with dedication and focus, with precision and reliability.

Thank you for marking tonight this rich legacy of service, and for your continuing commitment to this vital mission.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley
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Author:Donley, Michael B.
Publication:Air Force Speeches
Date:Oct 8, 2009
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