Approach to Research and Development at Leuhman Ridge

The focus of the Experimental Rocket Engine Test Station (ERETS) on Leuhman Ridge was missile systems of great size and technical complexity, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), that required expensive facilities for extensive research, testing, and evaluation. Testing abilities ranged from individual component testing to captive engine and motor firings to captive testing of fully assembled vehicles. Testing at all stages of development saved time and money and yielded more data with each test. A primary feature distinguishing Air Force missile research, design, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) performed at Leuhman Ridge from other RDT&E was the concurrent testing of all the necessary equipment, systems, and procedures required to produce and deploy a weapon system. The rocket, missile, ground support equipment, and launch complex were designed and produced simultaneously. This practice, known as "concurrency", also involved simultaneous building of multiple generations of weapons systems.

Concurrent and phased RDT&E represented an important divergence from tradition. In the past, American scientists had researched one generation of a system, developed its design, deployed it, and moved on to the next generation (Divine 1993; Stine 1991). This approach continued at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and industry facilities during this period because these institutions typically were dedicated to the success of a single program and objective. The Air Force was unique in offering a single laboratory that could support multiple testing programs for industry, military, and NASA users, as well as ongoing research and development of the "building blocks of rocket technology" for use by future Air Force programs (William Lawrence, personal communication 1998).

Although concurrency offered the advantage of providing the largest number of operational systems in the least amount of time, it had disadvantages. The management task of concurrency was overwhelmingly complex. It involved parallel advances in research, design, testing, and manufacture of vehicles and components; design and construction of test facilities; testing of components and systems; expansion and creation of industrial facilities; and the building of launch sites (Divine 1993; Stine 1991). Concurrency required a vast expenditure of resources because of the sheer number of programs in development. Frequently, manufacturers worked to finish their production lines as their system prototype was tested. However, in the final analysis, concurrency was responsible for saving time and money that could be channeled into the development of new weapons systems. In addition, testing components saved money and resources by pinpointing problems and solving them before they jeopardized entire systems.