Even before my nomination to become Secretary of the Navy was confirmed by the Senate in late 1963, I began to prepare for my new job. As Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA), I and a small staff had been responsible for recommending what the President and the Executive Branch as a whole should say and do about the important foreign and defense issues affecting the nation’s long-term security interests. Now I was to run an organization of about 650,000 uniformed Navy personnel, 190,000 Marines, and close to an equal number of civilians working in laboratories, naval shipyards, and other installations, with an annual budget of some $15–20 billion. I knew a good deal about the difference between running a line organization of some size, like the Navy, and a staff organization. I had learned the hard way during World War II, when I had been in charge of foreign procurement operations for the Board of Economic Warfare and then the Foreign Economic Administration.
The key to successfully running a large line organization is to realize that you cannot do it all yourself; in fact, you yourself can do very little other than to select, promote, compensate, and manage others who together can get the job done. Occasionally you also must fire someone. In addition, you are responsible for keeping the enterprise moving forward no matter what goes wrong. And if you have a million or more people working for you, every bad thing that has one chance in a million of going wrong will go wrong at least once every year.
Organizing for Action
As soon as I was confirmed as Secretary, I recognized that I had three principal organizational tasks. One was to select those civilians who would be part of my immediate staff. The second was to work out a satisfactory relationship with the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and the senior admirals. The third was to clarify my relations with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.
Once the civilians were in place, I concentrated on my relations with the uniformed Navy, primarily the top admirals. While directing ISA, I had become friendly with a number of them, although I had not gotten along very well with Admiral George Anderson, who succeeded Arleigh Burke as CNO. Fortunately, Anderson’s successor as CNO, David McDonald, was a different type of person.
Dave was a southerner, very much a Navy man, and very much an admiral. He had no use for those he called “soft liberals.” He considered The Washington Post to be little better than Pravda. He understood the Congress well, and he was close to many conservative Democratic senators, including Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. When it came to complicated matters involving a mix of congressional politics and bureaucratic considerations within the Navy and within the Pentagon, Dave’s judgments were first-rate, better than mine. When it came to technical questions involving Navy weapon systems, or politico-strategic questions involving the Soviets or our allies, he tended to accept my views over his own. When I came to a tentative decision on some matter, he would not hesitate, if he disagreed, to challenge it in the presence of the other top admirals. If, after considering his opposing views, I stuck to my original decision, he would firmly and effectively back me, even though he might continue to disagree privately. I could not have been more fortunate as Secretary in having a CNO with whom I could work in that manner.
I had a different problem with Vice Admiral William Schoech, head of the Naval Material Command. I had arranged to have a meeting with Admiral Schoech every Friday morning, but I soon found those meetings to be virtually useless. Schoech was intelligent but uncooperative and unresponsive to civilian authority. He did not forthrightly share with me the problems and issues facing the bureaus under his command, nor was he inclined to accept my guidance. In early 1965 I was given evidence I knew to be reliable that he had returned to his office from one of our meetings, called in his subordinates, and told them that Secretaries of the Navy come and go, but naval officers go on forever. He said he had no intention of following my guidance. I promptly fired him.
I soon found that I had earned a degree of respect from the admirals. I concluded, however, that the problem of civilian-military relations in the Navy was deep-seated. Basically, it stemmed from the Navy’s antiquated “bilinear” organizational structure, which had part of the service reporting to the Secretary of the Navy and the other part reporting to the CNO. Promotion in the uniformed ranks was regulated through the Bureau of Naval Personnel, operating through a series of selection boards. The Secretary of the Navy had authority to decide upon the criteria the selection boards should follow, but he could not interfere in their judgments. As a practical matter, the CNO and his principal top admirals were the most important influence on a naval officer’s career—whether he was selected for promotion and what assignments he was given. As a result, even the officers in the materiel, medical, and personnel support bureaus, who reported directly to me, looked to the uniformed hierarchy headed by Admiral McDonald for promotion. I decided that this habit of loyalty to the uniformed hierarchy could not, and probably should not, be changed. Still, something had to be done to clarify lines of authority.
I decided to make a virtue out of necessity. Rather than have the materiel side of the Navy report to two masters, the Secretary of the Navy and the CNO, I decided to create a true Material Command that would report to me through the CNO. The plan I eventually adopted called for the head of the command to be a four-star admiral serving under the Chief of Naval Operations. In addition to having the Navy’s operating forces under him, the CNO could now exercise command over more of the Navy’s support activities, thereby improving overall coordination, efficiency, and economy.
As might be imagined, such proposals generated considerable controversy within the Navy. The bureau chiefs thought their authority was being diluted, and they had a number of allies in Congress and industry. Nevertheless, after a good deal of missionary work, I managed eventually to bring most of the dissenters on board. Congress quickly approved the changes and the new system remained in effect until the early 1980s, when Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman, Jr., changed it. I believe his decision was ill-advised and will be reversed in time.
Occasionally, organizational changes that I thought desirable and necessary met with rebuffs. For example, an attempt to reform the enormously expensive and poorly designed military pension system failed to achieve the necessary congressional support and had to be postponed. Over the years it would have saved the taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
The third organizational issue concerned the relationship of the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of Defense. McNamara wanted the service secretaries to be his deputies, men whose main task was to carry out his policies. I had a different view of my mission. I had not asked to be Secretary of the Navy, but since I had accepted the responsibility, I was determined to give leadership to the organization. That meant not only directing the Navy pursuant to the general guidance that came down to me from the President and the Secretary of Defense, but also representing the needs and interests of the Navy before the Secretary of Defense and, if necessary, the President, Congress, and the American public. The Navy and Marine Corps soon came to believe in me; they could be confident that I would support and protect their best interests. I cared about the Navy and the Marine Corps first and foremost, was prepared to fight for them, and was in no way someone else’s man.
My ideas were tested early in my tenure as Secretary. The question at issue was whether the Navy should be for or against the conversion of its Polaris submarines to a configuration that would enable them to launch MIRVed (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) Poseidon missiles rather than un-MIRVed Polaris missiles. As a result of earlier studies made while I was at ISA, there was no doubt in my mind that the Polaris/Poseidon conversion was by far the most sensible and cost-effective option.
I discussed the issue with the admirals at one of the regular meetings of a group known as the Navy Policy Council. Their main concern was the three-to-four-billion-dollar cost of the conversion. They believed McNamara would keep the total service budgets of the three services approximately equal to each other and that therefore the Navy’s other programs would have to be cut to absorb this cost. McNamara had assured me that the cost of the next increment to the strategic program would be added to the budget of the service undertaking the task, not squeezed out of what its budget otherwise would have been. I reported this to the admirals. They asked me whether I believed McNamara would stick to what he had said. I replied, “No, I think he meant what he said, but in practice, I think some of the cost of the Polaris/Poseidon conversion will come out of other Navy programs.” I added that I thought the Navy should accept the task anyway. Polaris/ Poseidon was by far the best course for the United States to take from the standpoint of national defense; I said that I thought the Navy should back it even at a cost to its other programs. The admirals accepted and supported my judgment. I doubt they would have done so had I not been frank in my answer to their question.
Arsenal of Acronyms
his numerous friends in Congress. Any decision that went against their wishes for an all-nuclear Navy inevitably became a hotly contested, time-consuming battle. There were occasions when it was almost a relief to turn my attention to the loudly publicized experimental tactical fighter (TFX) controversy and all the rest of the Navy’s arsenal of often problem-plagued acronyms.
By 1962 both the Navy and Air Force had decided that advances in technology had made a much more capable generation of high-performance aircraft possible. If both services were to undertake separate development and production programs to exploit new technologies, there would be wasteful overlap and needless added expense. McNamara decided on a joint development and production program and a single contractor. His hope was to hold down costs by producing a single plane in several versions that would meet the differing requirements of both services. Contrary to the recommendations of both the Air Force and the Navy, McNamara awarded the development contract to General Dynamics over Boeing.
McNamara also decided that, to fill the time gap until this high-technology plane could be brought into service, the Navy should develop a fighter-bomber based on existing technology, costing not more than two and a half million dollars per plane. An existing Chance-Vought aircraft was redesigned, equipped with a much more capable engine and more modem armaments. It became the Navy’s A-7 and it was immensely successful. Eventually, the Air Force also decided to buy a version of this plane modified to meet Air Force requirements. The A-7’s specialty was attack of sea and land targets; the defense of the fleet against enemy aircraft was to be the prime task of the TFX.
By the time I became Secretary, General Dynamics was well along with design work on Air Force and Navy fighter-bomber versions of the TFX, designated F-111A and F-111B respectively. There was also to be a medium-range bomber version designated FB-111.
All my Navy experts on the project agreed that the F-111B would never meet the Navy’s requirements for an aircraft that could safely take off and land on an aircraft carrier deck and also perform its designated missions. My problem was that I could see no practical alternative to proceeding with the F-111B development work.
I was certain that McNamara would not authorize a Navy development program to run concurrently with the Air Force F-111 program. The Air Force was bearing most of the development cost of the F-111; the Navy was carrying only the cost of elements specific to the F-111B version. These included the Phoenix antiaircraft missile and AWG-9 fire-control system with capabilities so significant that the Navy would require them in any case. I did authorize the Bureau of Naval Weapons (BuWeps) to enter into a contract with the Grumman Aircraft Company for exploratory design work on a version other than the F-111B. It turned out that Grumman’s plane would add considerable cost to the large amount of money already sunk into the F-111B, and would also involve substantial developmental risks.
The more we studied the F-111 program, the more evident became its deep, underlying problems. It did not seem feasible, as the engineers proposed, to take five or six potential technological breakthroughs and marry them into a single aircraft. The basic breakthrough to be exploited was a design in which the wings were to be spread wide on takeoff and landing for improved lift, and swept back close to the fuselage to reduce drag at supersonic speeds. The engines were high-bypass engines of a new, untested design. The entire pilot section was contained in a separate capsule that could be jettisoned to increase the chance of the pilot and his copilot surviving in case of trouble. The Phoenix antiaircraft missile and its supporting AWG-9 fire-control system were at the forward edge of technology; the whole system was designed to track incoming enemy planes individually at up to 200 miles distance and then simultaneously direct six missiles to intercept six of those targets at distances as great as 100 miles.
The difficulties of the F-111B never were successfully overcome. However, much of the work on the F-111B was essential to the design of the Grumman-built F-14. Unlike the ill-starred F-111B, the F-14 was, from the beginning, an eminently successful aircraft. It became the backbone of our carrier defensive and attack capability, and is scheduled to remain so for the rest of this century.
In the spring of 1964 Iwent to Norfolk, Virginia, to call on Admiral Page Smith, Commander in Chief Atlantic, and to inspect the naval installations and shipyards in the area. When I arrived at Admiral Smith’s house for lunch, I found him extremely unhappy. His opening remark was that he had not devoted his life to the Navy to end up commanding a bunch of yachts. I asked him to explain. He said none of the SQS-26 sonars with which most of his fighting ships were equipped was operational. They would work properly for only a few hours and then would take days and sometimes weeks to repair. With malfunctioning sonars his fleet would be at the mercy of Soviet subs.
On my return to Washington, I looked into the matter and was not pleased with what I found. The admirals agreed that the reliability of the SQS-26 needed to be improved; in fact, they had included $200,000 in their budget estimate for the next year to deal with the problem. At that time I was certainly no expert on sonar design, but common sense told me that sum was totally inadequate. I immediately directed a tenfold increase to $2 million.
The experts from industry I asked to study the problem said the goal should be a mean time of 500 hours of operation before failure, and a mean time of no more than two hours for repair. The program they recommended had an estimated cost of $26 million dollars. I eventually awarded the contract to General Electric (GE) despite its bid of $35 million.
GE ultimately achieved the goals that had been set, but by that time costs had risen to $75 million dollars. I Finally settled the contract with GE on the basis that the company took a $10 million loss; the U. S. government (that is, the taxpayer) absorbed the rest of the overrun. The sonar the Navy received was worth the price. The SQS-26 is a sophisticated and complex device; my recollection is that it has some 250,000 parts. To achieve high reliability and ease of repair in such a system is difficult indeed. To this day the SQS-26 sonar is an essential part of the U. S. Navy’s strength.
Closely related to the need for a better sonar was the need to improve the rest of the Navy’s antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, an area of continuous study and effort since World War II. By the mid-1960s, when I came on board, there were around 370 active ships and 1,600 aircraft committed to providing support in one form or another for ASW. It was not the size of this force that I questioned. Rather, I was concerned about its effectiveness. Most of our ships and planes were designed to combat conventionally powered submarines, even though the Soviet submarine force, like our own, was becoming increasingly nuclear powered.
Early in 1964 I went to Europe primarily to inspect the Sixth Fleet operating in the Mediterranean. I was briefed on the Navy’s mission and operations in the Mediterranean on board Commander Sixth Fleet’s flagship. The central point was that the fleet was almost totally unable to locate, classify, and track the seven or eight Soviet submarines known to be operating in the Mediterranean. The admiral asked for an additional ASW carrier and additional squadrons of ASW patrol planes—a substantial and expensive diversion of resources.
On my way back to Washington, I stopped in London to call on the Commander in Chief of U. S. Naval Forces Europe (CinCUSNavEur). There, I received another, similar briefing. I asked the admiral how many of his staff were assigned to ASW work. “Only the man who just briefed you, Mr. Secretary,” was the answer. Things were no different than they were in the Sixth Fleet—just one man assigned to this all-important task. I asked how many personnel were assigned to ASW work by the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe (SACEur), through which the Sixth Fleet reported to Washington. I was told that SACEur had no one on that job; it relied entirely on CinCUSNavEur.
When I returned to Washington, I found that the people at CinCLant in Norfolk, Virginia, were working hard on ASW problems and had scored a number of significant breakthroughs. Trouble was, they did not consider CinCUSNavEur or the Sixth Fleet part of their responsibility. Water temperatures, salinity, and sound transmission conditions in the Mediterranean were different from those in the Atlantic, making it difficult to apply solutions to problems in one theater to problems in the other.
Admiral McDonald and I decided that the CNO’s office should have a staff section with specific ASW responsibilities. Admiral Charles Martell, a tough and able surface line officer, was given the job. From then on we made significant progress year by year in solving the organizational, operational, and materiel ASW problems.
While I was Secretary of the Navy, we greatly improved our listening devices and the computers that help pick out faint signals embedded in random noise. We improved the detection capabilities of sensors laid on the bottom of the seas and those carried on board patrol planes
and by space satellites. We improved the torpedoes and depth charges available to kill enemy submarines once they had been located. We improved the communications necessary to interconnect and control all of these devices and systems. Yet I must stress that more than most other problems connected with securing the country’s defense, ASW is a never-ending task.
Three T’s and Aegis
When I became Secretary, our surface combatant ships were being equipped with one of three missiles—the Terrier, the Tartar, or the Talos. These systems were mainly developed for antiaircraft purposes, but the Talos had antiship capabilities as well. The Talos was also the largest and had the longest range. Unfortunately, it was hard to keep any of the T’s operational.
We found that the basic problem was that the technology was constantly being upgraded; designs never became frozen. For example, the design of the Terrier system, which had been operational since the mid-1950s, was different from one ship to the next, and no one seemed to be able to maintain an accurate and reliable record of design differences. The maintenance of adequate inventories of spare parts became a Herculean job. During my tour of duty, we never did get the problem solved. We did initiate work on a standardized missile with associated standardized launchers, each tailored for a specific task, to replace the Terrier and Tartar.
While we struggled to develop a satisfactory surface-to-air missile for our ships, McNamara decided to have a design competition between the Army and the Navy for an advanced antiaircraft radar system. The Army submitted the SAM-D design, while the Navy submitted a precursor of the Aegis design. The Army won the competition. I was undoubtedly prejudiced, but felt strongly that the Navy knew more about such systems than the Army. The SAM-D eventually developed into the Patriot system, which was never very effective and never widely deployed. Nor did it meet the Navy’s requirements. We persisted in our work on a design that would. At the time, the principal bottleneck in our concept appeared to be the development of a traveling wave tube of adequate power and reliability. Such a tube was developed while I was Secretary. But many other problems remained to be overcome before the Aegis system could be put to sea.
Although my stewardship of the Navy came to an end in 1967 when I became Deputy Secretary of Defense, my interest in naval matters is as strong as ever. So I was fascinated by the recent U. S. visit of Marshal S. F. Akhromeyev of the Soviet Union, when Admiral William J. Crowe, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, took him on board one of our aircraft carriers. Akhromeyev was enormously impressed, not only by the spirit and competence of the youthful crew, but also by the technical sophistication of the planes and equipment. He equated the capability of each carrier to a wing of ground-based attack planes. Admiral Crowe was pleased with the greater deterrent weight Akhromeyev gave to a U. S. carrier unit than we give it. But he was concerned by Akhromeyev’s assurance that the Soviets would give high priority in subsequent arms control negotiations to eliminating or countering what the Soviets saw as a unilateral U. S. advantage in naval forces.
Perhaps there is a normal tendency to be excessively concerned by the other side’s capabilities and to underestimate the deterrent power of one’s own forces. This may have a certain short-term stabilizing effect, but the development of such images can also have a negative impact on deep and truly stabilizing mutual cuts brought about by arms control negotiations. In any case, it is one of the fundamental security problems we continue to face.
All Screwed Up
The factory representative of the British ejection-seat manufacturer who made the emergency escape system installed in our Navy aircraft visited our squadron periodically to give us a refresher and update on the equipment. On one visit a new ensign persisted in asking, “What if this doesn’t work?” or “What if that fails?” of each automatic function of the seat. The English gentleman patiently explained the built-in redundancies or manual overrides.
Finally he was asked, “And what do you do if the parachute doesn’t open?”
The British gentleman demonstrated how the parachutist should twist his right leg in front of and around his left leg and, with arms extended overhead, twist his left arm in front of and around his right arm.
“What good’ll that do?” scoffed the ensign.
“It shan’t do you any good at all,” was the droll reply. “But it will make it a bit easier for the bloody rescue party to unscrew you out of the ground.”