Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion - Conclusion




The ANP program is an example of the leaders failing to lead. In this case it wasn't a matter of removing the snake's head. This time there were too many heads all trying to control something. The official government report of 1963 reviewed the program: "we do not believe that a research and development effort of the complexity and magnitude of the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program can reach its goal in an effective and efficient manner unless a certain degree of stability in objectives is accorded to the program."[56] The politicians wanted to be in on everything, and they tried to control things better left to the experts, much like what they did with the Vietnam war, which took place only slightly later. Herbert York wrote:

The politicians persisted in concerning themselves with how to go about developing the power plant for a nuclear aircraft, In particular, they tried to insist on a particular sequence of developmental steps (all of which would be, to be sure, ultimately necessary). The result was a mess, and the nuclear airplane was never built.[57]

The technicians and scientists did their best to succeed with the ANP program, and they did make a great deal of technological progress. However, without guidance their efforts were too spread out. The blame for the failure of the ANP program cannot rest with the technology, it belongs to the politicians and the military. "While technical objectives have been generally met by the contractors, there are apparently no firm military requirements set by the Joint Chiefs of Staff."[58]

The ANP program resembles in many ways the World War II German atomic bomb effort. There wasn't enough leadership, and what was there was indecisive. There were too many different development efforts competing for the available resources. Both projects made significant advances in their field, but both were too broad and shallow. If either project had been given better direction early in their lives then the odds are they would have succeeded. As it happened both projects came close, but failed in the end. Perhaps it is a recurring symptom which must be guarded against. We have to make sure that the politicians and leaders set sound goals for new programs while leaving the actual development work to the experts. If we don't, then we may repeat these events yet again. Remember the ANP project cost a good deal of money, but the German bomb effort may have cost them the war.

Near the end of the ANP program Herbert York stepped in and tried to reorganize the project. But it was too little and too late to save the program. The damage had already been done. All the years of cost overruns and disorganization had made the program seem to be a waste of time and money, at least in the eyes of President Kennedy and his staff, and those were the people who really mattered.

It has been said that the cancellation was partially due to the development of accurate missiles, or due to ecological protests which at the time were also plaguing the B-70 and SST programs. Surely these played a part, but the majority of the blame lies with the mismanagement of the program.

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