Wednesday, July 8, 2020 12:30 pm

APAICS in Conversation: Major General William S. Chen, U.S. Army, Ret.

Major General William S. Chen, U.S. Army, Retired, entered active duty in the Regular Army as a Second Lieutenant in June 1961 after receiving a B.S.E. in Engineering Mathematics in June 1960 and an M.S.E. in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering in June 1961, both from the University of Michigan. In October 1989, at age 49, he was promoted to Major General, the first Chinese American to wear two-star rank in the U.S. Army. He retired from the Army in September 1993.

As a Brigadier General, he was the Deputy Director of Weapons Systems, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition, Department of Army, and later served as the Assistant Deputy for Systems Management, Office of the Secretary of the Army for Research, Development and Acquisition. Upon promotion to Major General, Chen was assigned as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, 1989-1992, fulfilling a career-long ambition to command there, having previously served there as a First Lieutenant, Major, and Colonel. During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the largest deployment and subsequent combat use of missiles in the Army’s history, Chen directed the support for all missile systems deployed to the theater, ensuring high operational readiness rates. From 1992-1993, Chen was assigned as the Program Executive Officer Global Protection Against Limited Strikes under the Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO), Office of the Secretary of Defense. He led and directed all the Army’s National and Theater Missile Defense programs. Upon transformation of the SDIO to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, Chen became the Army’s first Program Executive Officer for Missile Defense. He crafted the down-select strategy and the evaluation process that resulted in the decision and first use of hit-to-kill (kinetic energy) over blast fragmentation technology in missile interceptors.

Chen served as the program manager on two major air defense programs. He also served in the Office of the Chief of Staff, Army — responsible for overseeing all missile and air defense programs undergoing milestone decision reviews for entry into full-scale development and production. He was involved in early experiments (now of historical significance) in anti-tactical ballistic missile defense, where he coordinated the flight test program for interceptor firings against short-range Honest John rockets and medium-range Sergeant and Redstone missiles — demonstrating the technical capability to engage tactical ballistic missiles. He developed requirements for the Army’s Anti-Ballistic Missile System and the Surface to Air Missile – Development (SAM-D System), later designated the Patriot Missile System. He later worked in the SAM-D project management office during the full-scale development of the SAM-D System. Aside from Chen’s missile and missile defense-related assignments, he served with U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group Thailand, Defense Attaché Office Laos, and was a battalion commander. He was successively a Distinguished Graduate of the Program Managers Course, Defense Systems Management College; Air Command and Staff College; and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He also received an M.B.A. degree from Auburn University. His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal (with oak leaf cluster), Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with 5 oak leaf clusters), Air Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal (with oak leaf cluster), Army Commendation Medal (with oak leaf cluster), Meritorious Unit Commendation, and Army Staff Identification Badge,

Chen continues to serve the nation by working in the defense industry. During 1994-2005 he held key positions with Armament Systems, United Defense (now BAE Systems, Inc.) as VP & Program Director, VP Army Programs and VP Engineering & Product Development. In 2005-2011, he served as Assistant General Manager (BAE Systems VP & General Manager) at FNSS Defense Systems in Ankara, Turkey, a joint venture company that develops and manufactures combat vehicles for international customers.

Chen is a third-generation Chinese American. His father, Hong-Mon Chen, born in Columbus, Ohio, is an aviation pioneer, who graduated from the University of Michigan in Aeronautical Engineering in 1932, and was a pilot for the U.S. Mail Service, an airline pilot who flew the Hump, and a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot in World War II with the 14th Air Force (Flying Tigers). He later became an airline executive and aviation consultant.

Chen is married to Sandra Choy, and they have two sons.

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