SMDC History: Systems Technology Program New Emphasis for BMD in 1975

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianJune 5, 2015

SMDC History: Systems Technology Program New Emphasis for BMD in 1975
The Systems Technology Test Facility constructed on Meck Island of the Kwajalein Missile Range, the Systems Technology Test Facility incorporated the original Site Defense Radar, a data processing and enabling software all of which were successfully ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the history of missile defense, the period between Safeguard and Star Wars for many is a void -- with nothing of significance occurring between these milestones. In reality however, the situation was much different.

Even before the Safeguard program was fully deployed the Safeguard System Command, later re-designated the Ballistic Missile Defense Systems Command, or BMDSCOM, was already actively engaged in one such project, the Site Defense Program, a follow-on to the Safeguard initiative.

The mission of the Site Defense Program was to develop an autonomous system to augment the Safeguard defense of the Minuteman sites. Site defense incorporated the Site Defense Radar and Sprint II missiles with their own network of data processing systems, command, control, and communications; and equipment; etc.

With a budget in excess of $100 million, the Site Defense Program was prepared to move forward to the next phase with the prototype demonstration at Kwajalein Missile Range. Congressional guidance provided in the fiscal year 1975 authorization appropriations, however, brought significant changes.

The joint conference committee had determined that, "the primary objective of the Site Defense Program should not be directed toward a prototype demonstration but rather the development of subsystems and components to advance the technology in such elements as sensors, missiles and software."

Henceforth, technology development would be the new emphasis rather than a system demonstration. As a result the Sprint II missile was shelved in favor of an Improved Sprint Missile Subsystem, while other aspects of the Site Defense Program were reduced or realigned to address the requirements of terminal defense systems.

To implement the new guidance, the Department of Defense restructured the Site Defense Program to address two fundamental goals. The first was to "validate solutions to key technical issues," specifically bulk filtering, discrimination, operation in a nuclear environment, real-time software development, and dormancy. The second goal was to continually update the basic system incorporating technology advancements into the "defense system field test bed."

The system base, as defined, would be able to incorporate new technologies or initiate a full-scale system with a potential to defend various national strategic targets should the need arise. Whereas the Safeguard and Site Defense focused upon the Minuteman silos, the BMD Systems Technology Program could be called upon to support the MX system; Strategic Air Command bases, submarine bases and ports, the national command, control and communications structure and urban and industrial centers.

Within the BMD organization, Maj. Gen. Robert C. Marshall, the BMD program manager, formed an ad hoc committee in May 1975. The committee reviewed the fiscal year 1976 Systems Studies Program and recommended areas for study and identified the organization responsible for them -- the Systems Technology Program, or STP, within the BMDSCOM or the Advanced Technology Program within the BMD Advanced Technology Center.

The scope of interest for the newly formed STP, "by consensus of the committee," included all potential BMD systems and all missions. The STP would undertake studies "to define a system configuration or solve critical system development issues."

In contrast, the BMDATC conducted studies "to identify the critical technology development requirements associated with a new concept" and developed the BMD phenomenological data base. Thus the BMDATC researched optics, radars, interceptor missiles, lasers and directed energy beams, while the STP worked to integrate them into a functioning system.

On May 16, 1975, Marshall directed BMDSCOM to implement the recommendations of the committee. By the end of the fiscal year, in June 1975, an implementation plan was drafted, contract modifications initiated, and management responsibilities assigned and coordinated. The new direction was formalized Oct. 24, 1975 with BMDSCOM General Order 37 which established the Systems Technology Project Office.

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