haines.origins-of-nro

haines.origins-of-nro - 144 ° THE CORONA STORY thus...

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Unformatted text preview: 144 ° THE CORONA STORY thus officially recognized the existence of this unique organization. Only now may the vital role the NRO played during the Cold War be revealed. This is an initial part of that story. ORIGINS OF THE NRO: THE U-2 The origins of the National Reconnaissance Office date back to the first coop— erative efforts between the CIA and the U.S. Air Force to develop overhead reconnaissance systems. First was the U—2 reconnaissance aircraft, begun in late 1954 and developed by a small team consisting of the CIA, the Air Force, and several defense contractors. To achieve maximum security, CIA official Richard Bissell and Air Force Brigadier General Osmond Ritland made the project self— sufficient. It had its own contract management, administrative, financial, logis— tics, communications, and security personnel. Funding was also kept separate from other CIA or Air Force projects. Bissell reported directly to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), Allen Dulles. Bissell’s use of “unvouchered funds” simplified competitive bidding procedures and significantly sped up the pro— curement process.3 It simplified security because such funds did not need to be reported. Bissell and Ritland gave Lockheed “performance” specifications for the U—2 rather than using the standard Air Force practice of giving “technical” specifi— cations. According to Clarence L. “Kelly”Johnson, Lockheed program manager for the U—2, this allowed Lockheed to focus on performance goals rather than individual specifications. It gave the contractor greater flexibility in designing and building the aircraft. The arrangement became a unique partnership between the Lockheed Corporation and the government. Such unique stream— lined management and acquisition practices were employed throughout the U—2’s development, and set a precedent for NRO’s approach to reconnaissance satellites. Time and results mattered, not bureaucratic paperwork.4 President Eisenhower authorized the project on November 27, 1954, and less than 10 months later, on August 5, 1955, the U—2 made its maiden flight. From June 20, 1956, through May 1960, the U—2 made a total of 24 overflights of the Soviet Union. Thousands of feet of film poured into the CIA’s small Photo— Intelligence Division. The photographs obtained by the first U—2 flights provided a bonanza of data for U.S. intelligence agencies. In fact, a photograph of the Saratov—Engels airfield at Ramenskoye, southeast of Moscow, taken on July 5, 1956, put to rest the “bomber gap” debate. It showed fewer than three dozen of the new Soviet Myasishchev—4 (Bison) heavy bombers. At the time, the U.S. Air Force was claiming that nearly 100 of the Bisons were already deployed. The U—2 mis— The National Reconnaissance Ofire ' 145 Sions could find no additional Bisons at other major Soviet airfields. DCI Allen Dulles referred to this photograph in later years as the “million—dollar photo.”5 By 1957 U—2 missions were providing U.S. intelligence analysts with a wealth of information about Soviet missile, technological, and scientific activities. Known as Project SOFT TOUCH, these flights ranged over such prime Soviet targets as the missile—test facilities at Tyuratam and Sary Shagan and the nuclear refining installations at Tomsk. ORIGINS OF THE NRO: PROJECT CORONA In late 1954, at the same time the CIA was developing the U—2 reconnaissance aircraft and beginning to exploit overhead photography, Air Force officials called for continuous surveillance of denied areas of the world to determine a poten— tial enemy’s war—making capability. This rekindled the Air Force’s interest in satellite development. On April 2, 1956, the WS—117L System Program Office (known as an SPO) of the Air Force published the first complete U.S. develop- ment plan for a reconnaissance satellite. The plan proposed a full operational sys— tem by late 1963 at a cost of nearly $115 million. The Air Force made Lockheed the prime contractor for this multifaceted space—system concept. A major com— ponent of the plan was a satellite observation system. The Air Force envisioned a 92—satellite program divided into seven phases. The first phase would be a direct readout reconnaissance satellite that would process film aboard the satellite and transmit the images to a ground station. It was not to become operational, however, until 1960. The final phase, a large signals intelligence satellite, would be operational by 1963. The original price tag for the entire project rapidly escalated to $600 million. Little came of these efforts, however, as the Department of Defense struggled to eliminate noncrit— ical defense expenditures during the mid—1950s and the Eisenhower adminis— tration stressed a “space for peace” theme. In addition, many civilian and mili— tary leaders doubted the reliability of such advanced concepts. The launching of Sputniks I and II in the fall of 1957, however, changed the prospects of the reconnaissance satellite program. Although the new President’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities (PBCFIA), chaired by James Killian, assured the president that U.S. missile development was on track and on a par with or ahead of Soviet efforts, it urged greater federal support for the various programs and a major review of all reconnaissance systems with a View toward replacing the increasingly vulnerable U—2. When Eisenhower asked Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Quarles about the prospects for a U.S. satellite reconnaissance vehicle that could take pictures from space and beam them back to Earth, Quarles replied that the Air Force had 146 ~ THE CORONA STORY a major research program in the area that was progressing nicely. Killian and another PBCFIA member, Edwin “Din” Land, disagreed. Killian considered the satellite program peripheral. He believed that if Project RAINBOW] designed to make the U—2 invisible to radar, proved successful, it would diminish the impor- tance of satellites altogether.6 Moreover, Killian was supported by james Baker, a Harvard University astronomer, head of the Air Force Intelligence Panel and, like Killian and Land, a member of the 1955 Technological Capabilities Panel that had recommended the development of the U-2. They were also joined by Philip G. Strong from the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence. These men believed that the major part of the Air Force’s WS—117L project, the direct read— out satellite, could not return the scale of imagery needed to answer the presi— dent’s questions concerning Soviet missile developments. Despite such concerns, Killian, Land, Baker, and their colleagues believed that US. scientists and engineers, given sufficient funds and the freedom to innovate, could solve the problems and get a film—return photoreconnaissance satellite in orbit. They also urged the president to start work on a replacement for the U—2 as soon as possible. After listening to his advisers, on October 28, 1957, Eisenhower ordered the Air Force and the CIA to provide him with details of their efforts to date con— cerning advanced reconnaissance systems. For the CIA, this meant the super— sonic reconnaissance aircraft, the OXCART or A—12 (the Air Force version was known as the SR—71 or Blackbird); for the Air Force, it meant the various satellites of the WS—117L project. Discussions among the president, his civilian advisers, and CIA and Air Force officials continued into December. All agreed that there was little prospect that either the A—12 or WS—117L could be deployed soon. Nevertheless, the scien— tists, led by Killian and Land, urged the president to pursue both an advanced aircraft and the satellite projects. This investment in competing reconnaissance platforms corresponded with Eisenhower’s belief that the nation would have to use a “Manhattan Project” approach in order to make rapid progress in the missile and satellite areas. Killian and Land also believed that a small element of the WS—117L program, a satellite with a returnable film capsule, could be quickly developed. They recommended that this program be taken from the larger Air Force project and given to the same team that had built the U—2: the CIA’s Richard Bissell and the Air Force’s Brigadier General Osmond Ritland. The Civilian scientists believed such a move would take the pressure off the larger Air Force effort and serve as an interim reconnaissance system until the problems of the WS—117L could be worked out. Under the covert plan approved by Eisenhower, the CIA would procure the satellite cameras and reentry vehicles, While the Air Force provided the host spacecraft and the booster missiles. At the same time, the CIA retained respon— The National Reconnaissance Ofiice ' 147 sibility for developing a follow—on plane for the U—2 with the assistance of the Air Force. The satellite program, Project CORONA, was to be a stop—gap effort until the much larger and more complex Air Force WS—117L was developed and deployed its satellites. Little did anyone realize the extent of the problems US. scientists would encounter in both programs, or that CORONA would become the pioneering program for unmanned space flight, or that it would still be launching satellites 14 years later. The CORONA experience, like the U—2 program, also demonstrated to later NRO officials the advantages of a flexible government—business partnership arrangement. It essentially established the fundamental management and acqui— sition principles that the NRO followed for the next 20 years. Bissell later described the process: The program was started in a marvelously informal manner. Ritland and I worked out the division of labor between the two organizations as we went along. Decisions were made jointly. There were so few people involved and their relations were so close that decisions could be and were made quickly and cleanly. We did not have problems of having to make compromises or of endless delays awaiting agreement. After we got fully organized and the contracts had been let, we began a system of management through monthly suppliers meetings—as we had done with the U—2. Ritland and I sat at the end of the table, and I acted as chairman. The group included two or three peo— ple from each of the suppliers. We heard reports of progress and ventilated problems, especially those involving interfaces among contractors. The program was handled in an extraordinarily cooperative manner between the Air Force and the CIA. Almost all of the people involved on the Government side were more interested in getting the job done than in claiming credit or gaining control. The CORONA program, like the U—2, used a tight—knit government—industry team approach. It provided maximum latitude to the engineers to grapple with technical problems and issues. THE CREATION OF THE NATIONAL RECONNAISSANCE OFFICE (NRO) Prior to the establishment of the NRO in 1961, the CORONA program oper— ated under a loose, unstructured arrangement by which the CIA and the Air Force jointly ran the eflort. The CIA handled the funds for the covert projects, acquired the CORONA cameras and the satellite recovery vehicles (SRVs), and provided much of the program’s security procedures. The Air Force built the spacecraft, launched the rockets, and retrieved the payloads. For a time, the SMITHSONIAN HISTORY OF AVIATION SERIES Von Hardesty and Michael H. Gorn, Series Editors On December 17, 1903, human flight became a reality when Orville Wright piloted the ,Wright Flyer across a 120—foot course above the sands at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That awe—inspiring 12 seconds of manned, powered flight inau— gurated a new technology and a new era. The airplane quickly evolved as a means of transportation and a weapon of war. Flying faster, farther, and higher, airplanes soon encircled the globe, dramatically altering human perceptions of time and space. The dream of flight appeared to be without bounds. Having conquered the skies, the heirs to the Wrights eventually orbited the Earth and landed on the Moon. Aerospace history is punctuated with many triumphs, acts of heroism, and technological achievements. But that same history also showcases technological failures and the devastating impact of aviation technology in modern warfare. As adapted to modern life, the airplane—as with many other important techno— logical breakthroughs—mirrors both the genius, as well as the darker impulses of its creators. For millions, however, commercial aviation provides safe, reliable, and inexpensive travel for business and leisure. This book series chronicles the development of aerospace technology in all its manifestations and subtlety. International in scope, this scholarly series includes original monographs, biographies, reprints of out-of—print classics, translations, and reference materials. Both civil and military themes are included, along with a systematic study of the cultural impact of the airplane. Together, these diverse titles contribute to our overall understanding of aeronautical technol— ogy and its evolution. Advisory Board: Roger E. Bilstein, University (f Houston at Clear Lake; Horst Boog, historian, Germany; Emmanuel Chadeau, Université Charles de Gaulle; Tom D. Crouch, National Air and Space Museum; Carl—Fredrik Geust, historian, Finland; Michael H. Gorn, historian; John T. Greenwood, Centerfor Military History; Cargill Hall, Air Force History Support Ofiice; James R. Hansen, Auburn University; Von Hardesty, National Air and Space Museum; Roger D. Launius, National Air and Space Administration, chief historian; W David Lewis, Auburn University; Donald S. Lopez, National Air and Space Museum; Felix C. Lowe, pub— lisher, South Carolina; John H. Morrow, University of Georgia; Richard]. Overy, King’s College, London; Dominick A. Pisano, National Air and Space Museum; Christine White, Pennsylvania State University; E. T. Wooldridge, National Air and Space Museum EVE IN THE SKY THE STORY [IF THE [lllllllNA SPY SATELLITES EDITED BY DWAYNE A. DAY, JOHN M. LOGSDON, AND BRIAN LATELI SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION PRESS WASHINGTON AND LONDON Au) Eye in the sky U6 1 523 .E94 1998 © 1998 by Smithsonian Institution All rights reserved Copy Editor: Initial Cap Editorial Services Production Editors: Ruth Thomson and Robert A. Poarch Library of Congress Cataloging—in—Publication Data Eye in the sky I the story ofthe Corona spy satellites / edited by Dwayne A. Day, john M. Logsdon, and Brian Latell. p. cm. — (Smithsonian history of aviation series) Includes index. ISBN 1—56098—830—4 (cloth: alk paper) 1. Project Corona (United States)—History. 2. Space surveillance—United States—History Ii Day. Dwayne A. III Logsdon,_]ohn M., 1937— . III. Latell, Brian. IV. Series. UG1523.E94 1998 327.12—dc21 97—19238 British Library Cataloguing—in—Publication Data available Manufactured in the United States of America 04030201009998 54321 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials Z3948— 1984. For permission to reproduce illustrations appearing in this book, please correspond directly with the owners of the works, as listed in the individual captions. The Smithsonian Institution Press does not retain reproduction rights for these illustrations individually, or maintain a file of addresses for photo sources. Dedicated to the CORONA Pioneers ...
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