Air Force Bases

The Teapot Committee

The Nuclear Weapons Panel's finding enabled Gardner to convince Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott that the Air Force's long-range missile program needed to be evaluated "by a special group of the nation's leading scientists." With Talbott's approval Gardner began assembling his "blue ribbon" scientific advisory committee in October 1953. Officially entitled the "Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee," everyone referred to the group by its code name: the Teapot Committee. To lead the committee, Gardner once again called on the man Time magazine called "the smartest man on earth," the brilliant and affable Dr. John von Neumann.

Gardner gave the Teapot Committee a broad mandate: study the Air Force long-range missile program and make recommendations for improving it. The committee began meeting in October 1953, and over the course of the next several months it made a detailed study of the Snark, Navaho, and Atlas programs.

The committee completed its succinct 10-page report in February 1954. The committee's report stated that the Atlas program was beset by a number of serious technological and managerial problems. The Committee found that many elements of Convair's design were outdated and they recommended that the entire Atlas program be reviewed in light of the recent advances in thermonuclear weapons.

Design deficiencies, however, were only the beginning of the problem. The Atlas program's most pressing need, the committee concluded, was new management. Convair's management approach, which used the technology and management techniques of the airframe industry, proved ill-suited for missile development. In its place the committee proposed creating a new "development-management" group composed of an "unusually competent group of scientists and engineers capable of making systems analyses, supervising the research phases, and completely controlling the experimental and hardware phases of the program...." The committee warned that assembling such a staff might require that the government "draft" members from industry, academia, and government. Furthermore, the committee also cautioned the Air Force that if the new group was to be effective it would have to be "relieved of excessive detailed regulation by existing government agencies."

The Teapot report provided Gardner and Schriever with powerful leverage for accelerating the Atlas program, and in meetings the following month with the Air Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force they laid out the framework of a revised development plan. Their goal was to establish a preliminary ICBM capability by mid-1958, and to build 20 launch sites and 100 ICBMs by 1960. But to do that Gardner warned Secretary of the Air Force Talbott and Chief of Staff Twining that the service would have to "dramatize" the development process by simplifying standard development procedures, giving the program a high defense priority, and placing the development effort under the control of a high-ranking officer with direct access to senior Air Force officials.

The Beginning of Rearmament
Early ICBM Development
ICBM Technology
ICBM Advocates
The Teapot Committee