33. Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Bowie) to the Acting Secretary of State1


  • NSC agenda item for September 8, 1955: “Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles Program”

The Killian Group recommended that the NSC formally recognize the present Air Force program for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile “as a nationally supported effort of highest priority.”2 The attached Planning Board proposed NSC action (dated August 30, 1955)3 states that the ICBM program is “a program of the highest priority”, that the Secretary of Defense will prosecute the program with “all practicable speed”, and that he will brief the NSC at least once a year on the status of progress.

The NSC was briefed on this subject at its July 28 meeting,4 attended by Secretary Dulles. As presently planned the intercontinental ballistic missile will carry a warhead with a yield of several megatons, will have a range of about 5,500 miles, and will be in flight about thirty minutes. Its launching platforms could be made almost invulnerable to attack and an effective defense against it would be extremely difficult, if possible, No more than fifteen minute warning appears attainable.

[1 paragraph (6 lines of source text) not declassified]

Obviously, as stated in the action proposed by the Planning Board (paragraph a), “There would be the gravest repercussions on the national security and on the cohesion of the free world, should the USSR achieve an operational capability with the ICBM substantially in advance of the U.S.”

In the Defense Department the ICBM program is already rated as “highest priority”. About 180 other projects, however, are said to enjoy this same rating. Moreover, it is understood that, even with this rating, the ICBM program has been seriously delayed by the existing [Page 111] procedures for clearance and approval. It has been estimated that as much as a year or more could be saved by cutting through some of this procedural routine.

To draft an NSC action which will have this effect is difficult. The Planning Board was told that the Secretary of Defense has the authority to short cut the routine procedures. Doubtless to do so will entail certain risks of waste of funds and effort. In view of the stakes involved, it appears that these risks should be taken.

The proposed action appears to be as good as can be devised for this purpose. Much will still depend on how it is applied but it serves to highlight the crucial importance of this program and the necessity of the utmost expedition in carrying it through.

  1. Source: Department of State,PPS Files: Lot 66 D 70, Atomic Energy—Armaments. Top Secret.
  2. See General Recommendation No. 2 of the report of the Killian Committee, Document 9.
  3. This proposed action, not attached, is in the Eisenhower Library, Staff Secretary Records, Atomic Energy-Joint Committee, but with two revisions described by Dillon Anderson and printed in the NSC memorandum of discussion, infra.
  4. This briefing was in the form of an oral report to the National Security Council on July 28 on the status of the ICBM program. The NSC memorandum of discussion of that meeting merely took note of the fact that this report had been given. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records)