John S. Foster, Jr. was a physicist who served as director of Defense Research and Engineering from 1965-1973, when he moved to the private sector. He has served on a number of scientific and technical government advisory boards. In 1995, he was the chair of a NASA federal laboratory review team. In 1992, he served on the vice president's space policy advisory board that reviewed U.S. space policy after the cold war.
Foster was born September 18, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1948 from McGill University, where his father, Canadian physicist John S. Foster, Sr., was a faculty member. He received his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1952, while serving as a staff member of the University's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. During World War II, before he received his bachelor's degree, Foster began his career in the Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard University. He was an advisor to the 15th Air Force on radar and radar countermeasures in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in 1943 and 1944. In the summers of 1946 and 1947, he worked on the Canadian nuclear power project in Chalk River, Ontario.
In 1952, Foster was recruited to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory by founder Edward Teller, and became a division leader in experimental physics. He was promoted to associate director in 1958, and director of the Livermore Laboratory and associate director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 1961, in which positions he served until 1965.
Foster was appointed Director, Defense Research and Engineering, a position then considered the number-three job in the Department of Defense, by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in October 1965. He continued in this position until June 1973, serving under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and under Secretaries of Defense McNamara, Clifford, Laird, and Richardson.
From 1973, Foster was vice president, science and technology of TRW, retiring in 1988. He continued to serve on the board of directors of TRW from 1988 to 1994. He was a Consultant to Northrop Grumman, Ninesigma, Wackenhut Services, Inc., and Defense Group, Inc. He was also Chairman of the Board of Pilkington Aerospace, Inc., and Chairman of Technology Strategies and Alliances.
From 1973 until 1990, he was a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. He was a long-serving member of the Defense Science Board, of which he served as chairman from January 1990 to June 1993. Foster's public positions consistently reflected his support of a robust U.S. nuclear stockpile. During the George W. Bush administration, Foster was a prominent advocate for a return to nuclear testing and for the design of a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. He chaired the "Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear Stockpile," created in 1998 by Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, a longtime foe of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The panel, popularly known as the "Foster Panel", issued several reports advocating increased weapons spending.
Foster was a prominent member of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, established by the 2001 defense authorization act. The Commission's report called for strong defensive measures across a wide range of industries and public services.