General Arnold succeeded in his dream of building the foundations of an Air Force that was second to none technologically. Dramatic innovations in aeronautics and later in space were fielded, with schedules that today seem impossible to achieve. The first U-2 flew just 18 months after it was ordered in 1953, and it was operational just 9 months after that first flight.4 The SR-71, even more radical, was developed with similar speed, going from contract award to operational status in less than 3 years.5 In the space domain, innovation was pursued with similar speed: for example, the Atlas A, America’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, required only 30 months from contract award in January 1955 to first launch in June 1957.6

At that time, the American military and defense industry set the standard in the effective management of new technology. In fact, the entire field known today as “project management” springs from the management of those missile development programs carried out by the Air Force, the United States Navy, and later the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Tools used routinely throughout the project management world today—Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) and Critical Path Method (CPM) scheduling systems, Earned Value Management (EVM), Cost/Schedule Control System Criteria (C/SCSC), for example—trace back directly to the work of the Air Force, the Navy, and NASA in those years.7

Clearly those days are gone. The Kaminski report cites compelling statistics that describe dramatic cost and schedule overruns in specific, individual programs. Taken all together, the picture for major system acquisition is no better:

The time required to execute large, government-sponsored systems development programs has more than doubled over the past 30 years, and the cost growth has been at least as great.8


The Air Force requested that the National Research Council review current conditions and make recommendations on how to regain the technological expertise so characteristic of the Air Force’s earlier years. Such outside studies have long been part of the Air Force’s quest for improvement in technology. For example,


Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. 1989. More Than My Share of It All. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.




For additional information, see Accessed May 10, 2010.


For additional information, see Accessed May 10, 2010.


NRC. 2008. Pre-Milestone A and Early-Phase Systems Engineering: A Retrospective Review and Benefits for Future Air Force Systems Acquisition. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, p. 14.

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