The great importance of the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile to today’s Submarine Force along with the strategic role the SSBNs play in our national security posture place Admiral “Red” Raborn at a level with Admiral H. G. Rickover in determining the destiny of present nuclear submariners.
His Obituary says he was picked for the critical POLARIS assignment by Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations in 1955, “Because of his background as a naval aviator and an ability to get along with people under difficult and stressful circumstances. ”
It should be understood that Admiral Raborn was chosen for the POLARIS job, not because he was a naval aviator, but in spite of that background. How did it happen?
Admiral Arleigh Burke, when asked about why he selected Red Raborn from about six candidates — suggested by the Bureau of Naval Personnel – told this story. “I asked for the records of at least six Captains or fresh caught young Admirals who looked like good bets to put this program into being. I specified that they need not be submariners, feeling that the job was too broad in scope for just experienced people. They couldn’t have a broad enough base of technical expertise to cover the many problems involved. It seemed that first of al~ a leader and not a technician was required. The submariners had not been enthusiastic about this idea although several of them had outstanding records, but would they be innovative and search for new ideas? I felt that an inexperienced person with a high quotient of curiosity might be the best bet
“Raborn’s Fitness Reports were not all that glowing. I recognized that a man has to step on a few people to do what is right and best — and hence will at times be unpopular with his seniors and get less than outstanding marks. When I interviewed Red Raborn I found him a good listener and a man capable of evaluating the opinions of ‘the experts’ who he would have to choose to do each part of the job. I found that he was a very hard and apparently tireless worker. He was the sort who recognized what needed to be done. He liked people, and knew the names of his co-workers and had a reputation of being supportive of their efforts. His work in the Bureau of Ordnance indicated that he wasn’t interested in something different but rather something better. And he was willing to get rid of people who couldn’t ‘hack it’.”
When I asked if Raborn had a lot of close friends, Admiral Burke felt that he did have some very good friends. “But I doubted that he collected his friends for the job. I think he recognized that close friends hinder the making of certain important decisions in which they might be involved. It’s better to deal with people in such a project, uninhibited by the bonds of friendship.”
When Admiral Raborn was asked, in his oral history, what were the ingredients in a person’s makeup which seemed necessary as head of the Special Projects Division, he confirmed much that Admiral Burke had identified as being necessary. “For a job which takes dedicated effort, one needs a basic enthusiasm for life, a great amount of personal energy, and a thorough appreciation that a person doesn’t do everything by himself, and that the collective efforts of those that are around him have to be utilized and brought to bear in an optimum way on the problem at hand. I suppose that the combination of enthusiasm, energy, and dedication just makes a person a better leader. When you dedicate yourself to your job, you learn about it, you become enthused, you enthuse other people, you get other people to dedicate their efforts, and the result is you have a buildup of ongoing efforts.
“My early duties at sea were many and varied — but principally in the ordnance end of the Navy. Five years after graduating from the Naval Academy, I entered flight training and became a naval aviator, and for the rest of my career in the Navy I ~ a naval aviator. I was a rated pilot until the day I retired in September 1963. In 1949 I was the assistant to the Admiral for R&D for all aviation ordnance and also of all ship based guided missiles then being developed by the Bureau of Ordnance. That tour in the Bureau of Ordnance research and development heightened my interest in guided-missile work. It gave me additional visibility to people who were nmning the Navy. So in 1955 when it was decided in Washington that the Navy would join with the Anny in an attempt to use, at sea, the Anny~ ballistic missile to be developed, the Navy looked around for a program manager, and I was chosen.
“Admiral Burke made it very clear, the high importance and absolute top priority within the Navy and on the national scene that this effort was to have, and I was, of course, to work with the Anny who had set up a similar organization in Huntsville, Alabama, to build a large liquid-fuel ballistic missile which was later named JUPITER. This was supposed to be a 1500-mile bird and it was in direct competition with the Air Force’s effort to build the land-based missile called THOR. The imposition of the Secretary of Defense on the Anny that JUPITER had to be used on ships at sea, the Anny felt, would be a hindrance to their missile work and impede progress- and probably lose the race to the Air Force. But Admiral Burke persuasively kept the Navy in a joint project with the Anny. However, most of the senior officers with the exception of Admiral Burke were not deliriously happy to embark on such a risky and costly venture as this. They felt – and I think properly so — that a large liquid-fuel missile aboard ship was a very dangerous thing. Solid fuels were far more safe and we had considerable experience handling them aboard ship. When Atlantic Research Corporation came up with some rather startling advances in the specific impulse that you could get from solid propellants and that it was possible to build large solid-fuel motors that could propel a large missile some 1,200 to 1,500 miles, we went in that direction. It was very obvious that putting ballistic missiles in surface vessels was not nearly as attractive as putting them in a submarine – for the submarine was more difficult to find and a launch submerged would be from a very stable platfonn.
“Acceptance of this program was coming along not as well as we had hoped. So Admiral Burke called a meeting of all senior flag officers to ask their advice. Not one of them was enthusiastic about this program. Most felt that it would be a waste of money and a tremendous drain on the Navy’s budget At the end of the meeting Admiral Burke asked me what I thought, and I said that ‘if the Navy didn’t go ahead with the project it would be making the biggest mistake it had ever made. ‘ The Admiral then decreed that we would proceed, with top priority, and wrote a memorandum saying that I was to have absolute top priority on anything I wanted to do, and everyone iri the Navy would be responsive to my requests. If anyone in the Navy felt they couldn’t be, they were to come instantly to him with me and he would take it on himself to say no if he thought it was proper. Obviously this was a ‘magic’ piece of paper, which I carried in my shirt pocket for months — and only had io use twice, apolog~tically. The thing that shook them up most of all was that no one had anything to say about the program except me. No one in the Navy could tell me ‘what’ or ‘how’ to do this. We had complete absolute authority and no one was to look over our shoulders and try to tell us how to do something or what to do.
“We worked with the Anny for the best part of a year, but when we started using solid propellent motors successfully we got a go-ahead from the Secretary of Defense to develop our own missile — POLARIS. We selected the contractors for the missile, the warhead, the missile-guidance, for missile-launching. A navigational contractor was needed because we had to know with great precision where the submarine was at all times.
“When a program as innovative as this is initiated it really doesn’t make much sense — if time is of importance — to conduct a long drawn-out competition between contractors and then have the results flown to Washington to be studied for another year or so before the contractual family is selected. I consider this a very wasteful thing because the technical approaches finally selected will largely be obsolescent by the time of selection and a major part of the work will have to be ducarded 1vith the taxpayers money wasted and that program set back time-wise because of this unnecessary and over-cautious approach.
“So with our contractual family selected in my program office, and recognizing my authority, I wrote telegrams putting our selected contractors under contract, over my signature, and sent them out/ When I told the Secretary of the Navy what I had done, he said ‘I thought I had some responsibility for that ‘ I said, ‘Yes, Mr. Secretary, you certllinly have, but, you recal~ you delegated your complete authority and responsibility to me and I have exercised it.’ he Secretary then said ‘You sure made some good clwices. They’re all good people. ‘ What a contrast to today’s drawn-out, expensive to the taxpayers, ‘Follow the Book’ way of doing business. The idea of competition for competition’s sake is time-consuming, expensive, and if you put award of contracts on the lowest price — a very bad thing. It’s one of the most wasteful things you can do.
“So the selection of the POLARIS team was that kind of a thing. We got the best we could for the country, in our judgement. I believe the POLARIS team had performance unequaled by any contractual family before or since. They consistently unden-an their performance-time schedules, as set for the program. And this performance was obtained by cultivating a real team-spirit and effort! Much money is being wasted by unnecessary competitive efforts and wasteful contracts to incompetent ‘low bidde’ people. Also we have procedural papers and procedural reviews and methodology which is the most wasteful thing that I know of in this country — under the guise of efficiency. ·
“In the POLARIS program we knocked some three and a half years off the program schedule, and this was not a stereotyped program like building subways. We simply brought out the latent talent in people and gave them performance goals to reach without crippling them with excessive supervision. Sure it was expensive, but we were spending at a rate of 1.2 billion a year, so producing the system well ahead of schedule saved about six billion dollars.
“It was apparent to me that it was necessary that important people in government, science and industry, who could speak a good word for the program, had to be acquainted with this program and its status. So we had a very planned, methodical campaign which was carried on by a whole cadre of officers who always made themselves available to talk on POLARIS.
“The motivation thing was a very real effort on our part and it paid off in dividends far beyond anything that I can begin to express in a few words. We went right into the factories to talk to the workers and their families about what a great thing POLARIS was for our country and how important their work was to national security. We got the idea across that we were all ‘tigers’ in this project and so the ‘tiger’ became our symboL Everybody, everywhere had a little toy tiger on their desk. I also remember going to Hughes to see how well they were competing as a back-up for the submarine fire control and missile guidance work. My old friend Pat’ Hyland said, ‘Would you like to see yow work?’ At my agreement we went down to a very large floor where about 300 girls were working. They were in assembly lines making the electronics that were going an a small inertial table in the missile guidance. All the girls at the work benches were dressed in red, white and blue middy blouses and skirts. I asked “why is it that they’re all in this patriotic uniform?” The supervisor then said, ‘We are so proud to be a part of the POLARIS family that we decided on our own to buy these outfits and wear them every Wednesday.’ I said, ‘Gee, but this is Thursday.’ So she said ‘Well, we heard you were coming and wore them to show you how proud we are to be a part of the POLARIS program.’ It’s people who do the job. People tum out their best efforts if they’re properly motivated and managed. Then you’ve got an unbeatable team.
“Of course we were responsible for putting the weapon system into the submarines — responsible for the submarines and everything that went into them. We worked directly with BuShips, but at first we were not working very well because we didn’t have good lines of communications with them. So I saw Rear Admiral AI Mumma, Chief of BuShips and suggested that he get a rear admiral naval constructor, and name him ‘Mr. POLARIS’ and give him yow authority in writing to go ahead and build the POLARIS submarines.’ This way we utilized BuShips’ management team to do the job, as we had done in industry — rather than going in and trying to tell them how to do the job. It was a pet saying of mine that I would never do an_ -~thing ~ 1 could get somebody else to do it for me, and I really used this principle. I would never do anything if somebody else could do iL The other fellow probably knew how to do the job far better than I, and so it gave me time to do the things that only I could do. It gave me time to think. It gave me time to look at the soft spots — the soft spots in performance, or in part of ow military-industrial team, or soft spots in protecting our political lines in Washington, It gave me time to go and do something about iL That’s why I had a good deputy to run my show. We had a Board of Directors of the deputy, the chief civiliiln and the technical director. Do you think I attended a Board of Director’s Meeting? Hell no! I didn’t want to get into minutiae. “Jthen I left the program they had a luncheon for me and gave me a silver plaque containing a couple of silver spurs mounted on the plaque. Somebody said they wanted to put a little blood on it, but they thought better of iL
A letter to the Editor from one of Red Raborn’s team said, “I was under 30 then and I can recall him hailing me as I ran down a corridor. He was pleased to see me running. The inhouse joke was that to succeed with Admiral Rickover you had to speed-read and with Admiral Raborn you had to run a threeminute mile. Admiral Raborn stayed faithful to all his SP members, never failing to recognize one or take a moment to share old memories, even after his unhappy CIA tenure. Nuclear deten’ence was his life’s great triumph.”
POLARIS was a weapon system developed free from excessive bureaucracy in an unprecedented short time, fully operational and on station, in a little over four years! There’s a lesson in this program for someone today.