History of Air Force Ballistic Missile Organization

On July 1, 1954, the Air Research Development Command established the Western Development Division (WDD). Under the command of Brig. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, the new organization settled in a former school building located at 409 East Manchester Road in Inglewood and began its mission of developing the Atlas ICBM. By early 1955 WDD had outgrown its temporary quarters and moved into a four-building complex fronting Arbor Vitae Street near the Los Angeles Airport.

WDD's responsibility rapidly increased, as Schriever's command assumed control of developing the Titan I ICBM and the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) program. To assist in the systems engineering and the technical direction of the various missile projects, WDD contracted the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. This unique government/private-sector relationship would serve the Air Force well through the next three decades. This relationship was altered somewhat at the end of 1957 as Ramo-Wooldridge merged with the production-capable Thompson Products Company. To avoid possible conflicts of interest, an independent subsidiary, Space Technology Laboratories (STL), was created to continue the systems engineering function.

Redesignated as the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (AFBMD) on June 1, 1957, the command faced a slowdown in missile development due to military budget-cuts when the Soviets launched Sputnik. With ballistic missile development again receiving top funding priority, Inglewood continued to expand. By 1958, more than 4,600 military and civilian personnel were working in 14 buildings. Included in this tally were some 2,930 STL employees and 1,120 members of AFBMD. The Air Materiel Command assigned 400 people to the complex to support logistical and procurement demands and the Strategic Air Command kept 160 people on hand to plan for training crews to deploy the new weapons. In addition to deploying the first generation of ICBM's, the workers at Inglewood started work on a Titan I follow-on missile and a revolutionary solid-fueled weapon to be called Minuteman I. In addition, AFBMD received responsibility for development of satellites and related space systems.

Because of differences in the applicable technologies and relative maturities between the ballistic missile and space systems programs, Brig. Gen. Schriever, now commanding ARDC, arranged for a divorce. On April 1, 1961, the Ballistic Systems Division (BSD) and the Space Systems Division @SD) were formed under command of the newly organized Air Force Systems Command (AFSC).

Both organizations initially shared space at Inglewood complex now called the Los Angeles Air Force Station (AFS). However, within a year, BSD would be permanently reestablished at Norton AFB located 60 miles to the east.

The 1960s proved to be a most hectic time for BSD as Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman I missiles were fielded in hundreds of silos spread across the country. Working closely with the Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office,a BSD readied missile facilities and missiles for acceptance by the Strategic Air Command. While deployment accelerated, BSD developed follow-on Minuteman II and III missiles.

On July 1, 1967, BSD and SSD were combined to become the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO). While the headquarters of this new command was established at Los Angeles AFS, the Minuteman offices remained at Norton. With a treaty limiting additional ICBM deployments, the United States became concerned in the late 1970s with the survivability of its deterrent force. Exploring new basing schemes and missile systems increased the SAMSO's workload and on October 1, 1979, SAMSO was split into Headquarters, Ballistic Missile Organization (BMO) and Headquarters, Space Division.

BMO assumed responsibility for all ICBM programs under development such as the Peacekeeper MX and small ICBM. In 1989, Air Force Systems Command redesignated the Norton-based command as Ballistic Systems Division. In 1990, the previous name was restored; however, the organization become subordinate to the Space Systems Division at Los Angeles AFS.