'Plank owner' Miller helped create Mugu

Mike Miller is in the lower right-hand corner in this 1964 photo of Naval Missile Center staff.

Photo courtesy Command Historical Storage Facility / NBVC Point Mugu

Mike Miller is in the lower right-hand corner in this 1964 photo of Naval Missile Center staff.

Mike Miller, a plank owner of Naval Air Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, died on March 5.

Photos courtesy Command Historical Storage Facility / NBVC Point Mugu

Mike Miller, a plank owner of Naval Air Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, died on March 5.

Editor’s note: Winston LaVern “Mike” Miller, who was assigned to the brand-new Naval Air Missile Test Center at Point Mugu in 1946 — making him a “plank owner” — died March 5. He retired from Point Mugu in 1965, then was appointed technical director of the Pacific Missile Range, a position he held until 1984.

Bill Cunneen, a retired naval officer who served as vice commander during part of Miller’s tenure at the Pacific Missile Test Center, wrote this story based on a 53-page transcript of a tape recording Miller made about his life and career. The transcript and accompanying photographs are housed in the Command Historical Storage Facility at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu.

Point Mugu is what it is today in part because of Winston LaVern “Mike” Miller.

Miller was part of the post-World War II survey group that evaluated 26 prospective sites for the Navy’s guided missile development and test facility. That group eventually recommended Point Mugu, a choice that Congress and the president of the United States affirmed.

Miller had begun his engineering career with the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics (BUAER). As a degreed aeronautical engineer, he was immediately assigned to BUAER upon his graduation from the University of Minnesota and commissioning in 1943, and so he missed combat in World War II. He also missed pilot training because the Navy’s need for aeronautical engineers took precedence.

After three years, Miller was transferred from BUAER headquarters to Naval Air Station Mojave, where early elements of the Point Mugu workforce were being assembled. At Mugu itself, facilities were being prepared for the Oct. 1, 1946, commissioning of the Naval Air Missile Test Center (NAMTC).

Miller’s first assignment was the Gargoyle program. This air-to-surface 1,000-pound glide bomb was being tested on the Mojave field range against stationary ground targets. This project included a contractor (McDonnell Aircraft), civil service engineers and technicians, and uniformed Navy personnel, a combination that would endure throughout his career. Miller was primarily responsible for ensuring that the Navy’s interests were protected and that the system under test satisfied the Navy’s requirements.

In September of 1946, Miller, now a lieutenant, arrived at Point Mugu to lead the propulsion laboratory, a merger of the rocket group that had been moved from Annapolis, Md., and the air-breathing engine group that had been moved from Traverse City, Mich. For the next three years, he presided over the organizational and professional changes necessitated by a growing and maturing NAMTC.

He returned to BUAER headquarters in 1949.

By 1962, the year Miller returned to Point Mugu, the Sea Test Range that had been included in the NAMTC organization had been designated the Pacific Missile Range (PMR), an independent organization and a “national range” and the Navy’s major component of a Defense Department organization of armed service range capabilities.

A major effort at Point Mugu from the NAMTC beginnings was the development and acquisition of aerial targets that would represent a threat simulation to the weapons under test. The targets organization became part of the PMR.

Miller, by now a captain, returned to Point Mugu as the director of missiles for the Naval Missile Center (NMC). BUAER had been succeeded by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and Miller was deeply involved in a NAVAIR program titled Total Airborne Weapon System Performance Evaluation Program (TAWSPEP). It concentrated on entire system integration that included the aircraft avionics, the missile guidance and fire control system, and aircrew functions and interfaces.

Up until then the interfaces were not sophisticated, but the introduction of the dual operator F-4 and then the F-14 convinced NAVAIR management that the entire system required special integration attention that included testing. This led to the development and use of special laboratories known as System Integration Test Stations (SITS), the most famous and highly employed of which was the F-14/Phoenix SITS at Point Mugu.

The combination of special laboratories and a highly instrumented test range at Point Mugu was used by the contractors developing highly capable weapons systems that would defeat emerging threat systems, represented on the PMR as aerial targets. The SITS was owned by the Navy and used by system and support contractors Hughes and Grumman.

Flight test was conducted on the PMR, which required instrumentation and targets commensurate with the sophistication of the weapons being tested.

In 1965, Miller retired from the uniformed Navy and applied for the senior civil service position at the PMR. In the taped interview, he expressed the belief that a prime reason for his selection for the range position was that, in his role at the NMC as director of missiles, his projects were a major user of PMR services, and the PMR management believed that he could improve the relationship between the NMC and the PMR, particularly because of the increasing sophistication of the systems being tested. His selection for this position was controversial among PMR senior civil service personnel who had been serving in the PMR and thought themselves highly qualified for this senior position. In typical Mike Miller fashion, he won the skeptics over and was instrumental in improving the performance of range functions, in attracting new programs to the PMR and in capturing Defense Department investment in upgrading PMR capability.

NAVAIR systems were a major source of testing on the PMR, but the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) was emerging as another serious contender for the use of the Sea Test Range, particularly as the AEGIS Combat System was being developed. The USS Norton Sound, homeported at Port Hueneme, became the testbed for AEGIS capability, which has the primary mission of protecting the fleet from attack by aircraft and guided missiles and became a priority demand for testing on the PMR. This created a split in sponsorship at Point Mugu between NAVAIR and NAVSEA.

Over the next several years competition between NAVAIR and NAVSEA programs at the PMR would result in many scheduling and resource conflicts, with Miller and the PMR professionals trying to satisfy competing demands.

The subject of how a major multipurpose, multiuser test range is funded became a primary focus for Miller and the PMR management. In the early days of the NAMTC it was conceived by Grayson Merrill and BUAER management that a guided missile test range was needed as a location where development contractors could demonstrate the capabilities of their systems, rather than have each contractor own their own range. This also provided Navy personnel an early opportunity to gain familiarity with emerging systems and ultimately conduct independent testing and suitability evaluation. By 1962 the use of the PMR had expanded to the point that considering NAVAIR as the sole sponsor was no longer tenable.

As time went on the Defense Department began to accept more responsibility for the capability of ranges that had been established by the services to pursue their own programs, which sometimes had common goals.

As an example, both the Navy and Air Force share the common goal of developing effective air-to-air missiles, although for different launch platforms. In the 1950s the Navy developed the F-4, which became so effective that the Air Force began acquiring their own versions of the F-4, which did not need to operate from an aircraft carrier. In parallel, the Navy had developed the Sparrow and Sidewinder missile systems, which were also adapted for all versions of the F-4. Therefore the Defense Department tried to determine which service should manage the major test facilities for guided missiles, creating a competition between the services that persists today and is a concern for PMR management.

Similarly, the Air Force needed a ballistic missile launch facility that could result in polar orbits. Vandenberg Air Force Base is the home of the Western Test Range, which was carved out of the original charter of the PMR, even though the two ranges share certain facilities and operate in tandem for polar orbit launches. The Air Force Flight Test Center located at Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert uses the Sea Test Range managed from Point Mugu for testing certain types of aerial systems that are not appropriate for operations on their normal range area.

What these examples illustrate is that the investment and operating environment for the PMR is highly complex and intertwined with other services that include the Army, the Coast Guard and foreign armed services and extend to the Ballistic Missile Defense Agency. All these management challenges were either emerging or were overcome while Miller was the senior civilian. The PMR is universally recognized as the test facility to use to prove effectiveness of weapons, partly due to the leadership of Miller and the dedicated civilian work force.

Miller was the technical director of the PMR when the Navy decided to collapse the three major commands at Point Mugu — the PMR, the NMC and Naval Air Station Point Mugu. In July of 1975, he became the acting technical director of the newly consolidated PMTC under NAVAIR sponsorship, similar to the NAMTC structure.

By 1975 the organization at Point Mugu had grown so much that it was decided to create a Program Management Group that would coordinate the various activities associated with specific programs. The technical director position had evolved into a position of oversight of the emerging technologies that were being employed and improved. Miller performed this function until mid-1976 when Thad Perry, formerly technical director of the NMC, returned from a sabbatical to assume the position for PMTC. Miller then resumed his position as technical director of the Range Directorate. Until he retired in 1986, he oversaw a Range Development Department that was larger than any similar group at any of the national ranges.

© 2011 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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