Briefing Books | Defense Acquisition: Weapons Research, Development, and Procurement

As Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bill Clements oversaw some of the most important weapons systems of the 1970s. This briefing book overviews the role Bill Clements played in advocating for the cruise missile, identifying needed improvements in existing weapons systems, and overseeing the further development of the Minutemen missiles.

Bill Clements and the Evolution of the Cruise Missile

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird initiated the cruise missile program in 1972, with initial cost estimates in January 1973 ranging between $2 and $3 billion. Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Clements became a stalwart proponent of the cruise missile program, even announcing the program to the press before it was officially in place, according to an August 10, 1973 memo to Henry Kissinger.

Clements requested Military Procurement Authorization for research and development in June 1973, but Congress denied funding for the cruise missile program. Clements then outlined in a letter in August 1973 how DoD could use $210 million in Air Force and Navy technology research funds for cruise missile development.

Nixon and later Ford used the cruise missile program as a negotiating chip in the SALT II talks with the Soviets. In May, the Soviets hoped to ban intercontinental cruise missiles. The problem was that although cruise missiles were considered conventional weapons and did not provide a first-strike capability, weapons designers could simply remove the conventional warhead and replace it with a nuclear warhead.

As of August 1975, the U.S. and the Soviets agreed to ban intercontinental cruise missiles, air launched cruise missiles with a range over 2500 km, and cruise missiles with a range over 600 km when carried on aircraft. They also agreed to count cruise missiles carried on heavy bombers towards the ceiling of 2,400 bombers agreed to in SALT.

During the SALT II preparatory meetings on November 27, 1975, the Verification Panel committee members considered whether cruise missiles should be further limited in number and range. The committee members were willing to negotiate on range, but wanted to retain a range for land-based cruise missiles which would cover all of Europe.

By the end of Ford’s term, the NSC staff judged that the U.S. was 10 years ahead of the Soviets on cruise missile technology, according to a National Security Council Study on U.S. Strategy and Naval Force Requirements.

Strategy, Budgets, and Upgrading Weapons Systems

In 1973 and 1974, Acting Secretary of Defense Clements continued developing a range of weapons systems and military reforms.

  • Clements submitted a DoD report on NATO force improvements in preparation for the NATO Defense Planning Committee on June 7, 1973. The Committee wanted to increase NATO force cooperation, standardization, development, and procurement. Clements advocated for improvements in anti-tank weapons, shelters for aircraft, low-level air defense, munitions, maritime forces, electronic warfare, reserves and mobilization, logistic support, and the integration and coordination of forces.
  • Clements also identified needed improvements in precision guided weapons, command and control systems, night vision equipment, rapid fire extended range artillery, ship development, advanced target acquisition modes, mine warfare weapons, and the development of more precise, lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons.
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Phil Odeen sent Kissinger a memo on August 10, 1973 that previewed the 1975-1979 estimated Defense Program and Budget. Two Defense Program Review Committee meetings reviewed force modernization and strategic forces within the estimated budget. The Committee members emphasized the need for survivable tankers, and emphasized the vital role of the Trident and B-1 bombers as resilient bombers and SLBMs. They were concerned that flexibility was limited by “the lack of hedge programs such as mobile ICBMs and a viable cruise missile program.”
  • On August 21, 1974, Clements wrote to Kissinger to support the continued R&D on binary chemical munitions (munitions in which chemical agents were not activated until the weapon was launched). Clements wanted DoD to avoid a massive procurement program for retaliatory chemical capabilities, which he argued could only be avoided if the U.S. maintained strong allies and continued R&D.
  • Both the Nixon and Ford administrations worked to bring U.S. defense policy and military posture in line with strategy and capabilities. For example, Ford’s team analyzed National Security Study Memorandum 246 on September 2, 1976 for budgetary considerations for arms control developments and determining the balance between strategic and general-purpose forces.

Clements’ Role in Overseeing Minuteman Tests

Clements oversaw the testing of Minuteman Missiles. For example, in April 1973, Clements obtained approval from Nixon for the GIANT PROFIT test, a modified operational missile test. GIANT PROFIT tested ten missiles modified for a simulated launch that allowed DOD to evaluate operational missile launch procedures, missile ground support equipment, and the Airborne Launch Control System to develop additional safety procedures.

Similarly, Clements oversaw the August 1973 GLORY TRIP 43GM test, which was a single Minuteman III missile, without a nuclear warhead. The launch was controlled by the Airborne Launch Control Center and in coordination with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to test the AEC’s supplemental safety rules.

After GIANT PROFIT, Clements oversaw the GIANT PACE tests in November 1973. Giant Pace simulated launch operations that were modified to maximize safety. The Air Force removed nuclear warheads, electrical and radio isolation of test facilities from missile systems on strategic alert, and measures to prevent ignition of test missile engines.

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The collection of these documents and production of this website was made possible by the generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Peter O’Donnell, Jr.