S/SNSC files, lot 63 D 351, NSC 139 Series

No. 958
Report to the National Security Council by the Acting Executive Secretary of the Council (Gleason) 1

top secret
NSC 139

Statement of Policy on an Early Warning System

The significant advances in mass destruction weapons and their carriers, and the possession of these weapons and carriers by the Soviet Union, constitute a growing threat to the United States. Without detracting from the necessity of continuing to build up retaliatory striking power, this developing threat lends increasing urgency to our efforts to strengthen our capabilities for continental defense.

The estimated time scale on which the U.S.S.R. may possess sufficient nuclear weapons to deliver heavily destructive attacks against the United States indicates that we should plan to have an effective system of air, sea, and land defenses ready no later than December 31, 1955. Such a system of defenses should include not only military measures, but also should include well organized programs of civilian defense, industrial security, and plans for rapid rehabilitation of vital facilities.

One key element in such defenses is a system of early warning against air attack. Recent technical advances make it possible, for the first time, to envisage the establishment, at acceptable costs, of an extended early warning system capable of providing three to six hours of warning of aircraft approaching the United States from any likely direction of attack. In view of the importance of such early warning to both military and civil defense measures, such an early warning system should be developed and made operational as a matter of high urgency, with as much of the system as possible to be in operation by December 31, 1954, and a target date for completion of December 31, 1955.

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The Department of Defense will undertake the task of developing, installing, and operating this early warning system. Twenty million dollars of Department of Defense funds for the present fiscal year have been made available for initial phases of this work, including accelerating the development of necessary equipment, and the establishment of several test stations in the Far North. Seventy-five million dollars are being included in the budget for the fiscal year 1954 to carry forward the early warning program. These sums should not be regarded as a limitation on the rate of progress of this work. The establishment of this early warning system should go forward as rapidly as the necessary planning, testing, field preparations, and other preliminary work can be satisfactorily accomplished, and additional financing, either from existing sources or new authorizations, should be obtained as rapidly as it can be put to use.

Continental defense programs, military and non-military, will henceforth be planned and coordinated in accordance with this policy by the agencies responsible.

  1. NSC 139 was prepared by the Department of Defense and the National Security Resources Board as directed by President Truman at the 124th meeting of the National Security Council, Oct. 14. (S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95, “Record of Actions by the NSC, 1952”) Attached to this report was a memorandum by Gleason and a cover sheet explaining that the report reflected the comments of the Secretary of State, the Director of Defense Mobilization, the Director for Mutual Security, and the Acting Federal Civil Defense Administrator. President Truman approved NSC 139 on Dec. 31, and directed its implementation by all appropriate departments and agencies of the U.S. Government.