General Lew Allen Jr.: 1925-2009.
Gen. Lew Allen Jr., USAF (Ret.), the former Air Force Chief of Staff and head of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, died on January 4, 2010. He was eighty-four.
Born on September 30, 1925, in Miami, Florida, he grew up in Gainesville, Texas, and went on to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Allen graduated in 1946, with a BS degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. During summers at West Point, he took primary flying training at Chickasha, Oklahoma, where he flew the PT-17 and the Stearman, and completed advanced training at Stewart Field, in Newburgh, New York. He was awarded pilot's wings at graduation from West Point.
After completing multiengine flight training in November 1946, Allen was assigned to Strategic Air Command's (SAC's) 7th Bombardment Group at Carswell AFB, Texas, where he flew B-29s and B-36s and served in various positions related to nuclear weaponry. He was among the first class of qualified nuclear weaponeers in the Air Force. Allen attended the Air Tactical Course at Tyndall AFB, Florida, and returned to Carswell as an instructor and assistant special weapons officer for the 7th Bombardment Wing. In his four years at SAC, he witnessed its astounding dramatic change from a very poor and unprofessional entity to a very disciplined and professional organization under the leadership of Gen. Curtis E. LeMay.
In September 1950, Allen entered the University of Illinois for graduate training in nuclear physics and earned an MS in 1954, upon completing a thesis on high-energy photonuclear reactions. Captain Allen was then assigned to the Atomic Energy Commission's Scientific Laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, as a physicist in the test division. At this assignment he conducted experiments in several of the nuclear test series at Bikini and Nevada. At Los Alamos, he gained a reputation for competence and was involved in testing the vulnerability of nuclear weapons to other nuclear weapons.
From June 1957 to December 1961, Major Allen was stationed at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, as a science adviser to the physics division of the Air Force Special Weapons Center. His work involved the military effects of high-altitude nuclear explosions.
At Los Alamos and Kirtland, he worked alongside the most prominent people in the nuclear weapons community, including Dr. Harold Brown, the director of the Livermore Laboratory. In 1961, when Brown was named the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, he tapped Allen to join his space technology office.
In 1965, Allen was assigned to the Air Force Los Angeles division, as deputy director for advance plans, moving to the Pentagon in June 1968 as deputy director of space systems and becoming the director the following year. Allen returned to Los Angeles in September 1970 as assistant to the director of special projects and in April 1971 became director of special projects, with additional duty as deputy commander for satellite programs, Space and Missile Systems Organization. He witnessed the demise of the Dyna-Soar program and became involved with the Manned Orbital Laboratory program. He also participated in the Blue Gemini program, devising experiments for a version of the space vehicle.
When he was at the Office of Management and Budget, Dr. James Schlesinger, had reviewed Allen's space programs. In March 1973, Schlesinger invited Allen to join him as a deputy at the CIA. When Schlesinger became Secretary of Defense, in August, he named Allen to head the National Security Agency.
In August 1977 Allen was named commander of Air Force Systems Command, a comfortable fit, given his background in research and development. At Systems Command, Allen focused on acquisitions stemming from the upgrade of the tactical forces following the Vietnam War, including the C-5, A-10, and F-16.
Allen left Systems Command in April 1978 to become the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff and then Chief of Staff, three months later. His appointment as Chief was entirely unexpected because he had followed an unusual career path: he never had an overseas or a combat assignment, and most of his jobs were in highly specialized activities rather than in the basic line of the air force. Characteristically, Allen looked forward to the challenge.
Among the dominant issues with which he dealt during his first two years as Chief were the attitudes, morale, and discipline of Air Force personnel. It was the era of the "Hollow Force," when gross underfunding across the range of USAF activities-from operations and maintenance to morale, welfare, and recreation--adversely affected the entire Service. For example, budgetary retrenchment had limited flying hours, causing disgruntlement among pilots. Pilots charged they were not receiving the necessary training and experience to warrant the Air Force's definition of them as "fully proficient defenders." Working with his commanders, Allen succeeded in securing funds to increase flying hours, especially for the Tactical air Command, and to turn around the pilot retention issue. General Allen got along well with all three of the Air Force Secretaries with whom he worked--John C. Stetson, Hans M. Mark, and Verne Orr. As chief, Allen worked closely with the Army on doctrinal issues, attempting to improve the rationalization of the approaches of the two services into a common doctrine."
Throughout his tenure Allen advocated improvements to national combat capability, including survivability of strategic forces, enhanced combat readiness and sustainability of al-purpose forces, and expanded airlift capacity. Essential to these goals was having adequate numbers of experienced, motivated people to staff and maintain those weapon systems. While stressing the rebuilding of the nuclear deterrent forces, Allen pursued the improvement of general-purpose forces to counter the steadily expanding Soviet conventional capabilities.
Like the other services in the early 1980s, the Air Force "rode the crest of President Ronald Reagan's wave" of support for defense spending. By the end of his tour as chief, General Allen could point to some significant progress in correcting longstanding deficiencies in the forces and in improving defense capabilities. "We must stay the course" even though it would not be easy, he said. "We can and must afford the cost. We cannot afford the weakness and loss of credibility that a failure to stand up to the Soviet challenge in the dangerous decade" would entail.
After retiring from the Air Force in June 1982, Allen became director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, and remained there until 1990. His proudest achievement at the JPL, according to the current JPL Director Charles Elachi, was stimulating the development of new imaging technologies that were used in virtually all satellites and planetary probes.
From 1989 to 1995, Allen served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the Intelligence Oversight Board. In 1990, he led a NASA investigation into the defective mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope. The investigation concluded that a faulty test instrument was responsible for the problem.
General Allen is survived by his wife of sixty years, the former Barbara Frink Hatch; two sons, Lew III of Anchorage and James of London; three daughters, Barbara Miller of Annandale, Virginia. Marjorie Dauster of North Haven, Connecticut, and Christie Jameson of the Woodlands, Texas; thirteen grandchildren; and eleven great grandchildren.
George M. Watson, Jr., Senior Historian, Air Force Historical Studies Office