105. Report From the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force (Twining) to the President1


  • Visit of the U.S. Air delegation to the U.S.S.R., 23 June–1 July 1956

Purposes of the Visit

Our general purpose in going to the Soviet Union was to find out how far the Soviets were willing to go in exposing the equipment and activities of their Air Force and of their supporting establishments.

We also had in mind these four specific purposes:

To attempt to measure their current and potential air strength and degree of readiness for global war, to the extent that the [Page 247] conditions imposed by our hosts would allow and against the background of our existing assessments.
To report on Soviet intentions concerning further visits of military personnel between the United States and the U.S.S.R., as well as the motives behind this particular invitation.
To appraise the reactions of other air delegations invited at the same time.
To make recommendations as to the advisability of future exchange visits of military representatives of the two countries, and also to consider the possible frame of reference within which such exchanges might be made.

Summary of Results and Conclusions

It was apparent that in showing us what they chose to show, the Soviet leaders felt that they were being fairly open-handed. Certainly by contrast with their previous habits of secrecy, they did let down the bars somewhat. In point of fact, however, they gave us much less information than is openly available to them about our own air force and defense preparations. Though cordial, their air force leaders were invariably unresponsive whenever we attempted to converse with them on serious professional lines. Neither I nor other members of my party succeeded in promoting a forthright exchange of views with anyone.

Such exposure of operational aircraft and prototypes as they elected to make was done under conditions that permitted us only cursory observation. (The aircraft and equipment that we saw are discussed in the attached tab.3) The Soviets permitted close-up inspection only of those equipment items about which they had reason to suppose we already possessed rather complete information, or which had no important relationship to modern air combat capability; for example, their version of the Nene jet engine and one of their air transport plants, which is producing the IL–14.

With regard, therefore, to our first specific purpose—to measure at first hand their current and potential air strength and their degree of readiness for global war—we obtained no new information of significance. In fact, in the critical areas of long-range bomber production, defensive and offensive guided missile systems, and military applications of nuclear energy as well as the size, composition and location of operational forces and modern industrial installations, we encountered a blank wall. Nevertheless, the inspection of their aircraft and equipment, limited as it was, will enable us to refine some of our estimates of the quality and performance of Soviet air weapons. In this respect our trip was profitable. Further, the contacts with key Soviet military personalities permitted the [Page 248] members of the group to form some opinion as to their professional competence.

As to the Soviet air potential in the years ahead, our visit substantially strengthened previous assessments that the U.S.S.R. can reduce and is, in fact, progressively reducing the technological lead of the West generally and the United States in particular.

The factors supporting this judgment include (a) their emphasis on a thorough technical training of a large number of carefully selected personnel; (b) the variety of aircraft under development; (c) their ability to squeeze the maximum potential from a jet engine of Western origin and at the same time to develop powerful new engines on their own; and (d) the rapid rate of progress they have shown during the last few years in the research and development field.

Furthermore, given the heavy emphasis which they are placing upon the creation of a new technical generation, beginning with primary education and carrying through basic research and engineering development, we must reckon on the possibility of their achieving a scientific breakthrough and consequent technological surprise in new weapons.

Concerning our second specific purpose—to gauge Soviet intentions in the matter of future military visits, as well as their motives in our particular instance—these three points can be made:

Soviet officials at all levels repeatedly voiced the hope that our visit would be the first of a series of encounters leading to wider exchange of information. They plainly desire an early invitation to visit the United States.
The nature of the Soviet overtures definitely indicates a desire to establish a pattern for the exchange of military information on their terms as a counter to the U.S. proposal for aerial inspection, which they continue to reject.
Judging from the political and propaganda treatment given our visit, from the studied emphasis on defensive weapons displayed, and from statements made to us, the motives behind this first invitation were to further the general Soviet foreign policy line of reduction of armaments, and the lessening of international tensions, with the ultimate purpose of weakening the Free World’s alliance system.

Concerning our third specific purpose—to appraise the reaction of other delegations—the representatives of countries in the Soviet orbit, so far as we were in a position to judge, associated themselves with the general Soviet line. With regard to our allies, the representatives of the NATO nations appeared to look to the United States for leadership. Their outward attitude was, in effect, “You show us the way. We’ll follow.” The British delegation acted somewhat more [Page 249] independently. We believe, however, that in general the members of the RAF delegation are in accord with our views.


I am not prepared, of course, to render advice concerning the numerous political factors that must be taken into account in measuring the desirability of future reciprocal military visits. From a military viewpoint, however, my judgment is that the Soviets would undoubtedly gain from visits to the United States useful knowledge of air techniques and equipment, while we on our side would gain only to the extent that they can be persuaded to raise the curtain around their military establishment on subsequent visits by us.

If, therefore, it should be the decision of the United States Government to adopt a policy of reciprocal military visits, I recommend that such visits be under the following conditions:

That they be started with a clear understanding that they will be on a trial basis, subject to a more convincing show of forthrightness on the part of the Soviet Union.
That their visits to the United States be under appropriate military supervision.
That such visits be carefully controlled with a view toward bringing our knowledge of the Soviet air position up to a level corresponding to their knowledge of ours.
That consideration be given to the advisability of widening any invitations that the U.S. might extend to include nations of our alliance system as well as Soviet satellites, rather than confining this to a bilateral arrangement between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

(A more detailed narrative of the visit is attached.)

N.F. Twining
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Administration Series. Secret. Twining was 1 of 28 foreign military representatives invited to the Soviet annual air show. The invitation was apparently first made through the Soviet Military Attaché in Washington on or about May 25. At the Secretary of State’s Staff meeting that day, Dulles said that he was “on the whole” in favor of Twining’s accepting the invitation, since it could be part of the U.S. offensive to reach “our hidden allies” in the Soviet Union, those forces in the Soviet Union which, he said, “are going in the same direction as ourselves.” (Department of State, Secretary’s Staff Meetings: Lot 63 D 75) President Eisenhower gave his approval to Twining’s acceptance of the invitation in a conversation with Twining and others on May 28; see Document 47. Documentation on the planning for Twining’s visit to the Soviet Union and the composition of the U.S. Delegation is ibid., Central File 711.5861.
  2. A handwritten notation on the source text reads: “submitted to the President in meeting 5 July 56.”
  3. The attachment, a 17-page “Preliminary Report” on the visit of the U.S. Delegation, is not printed.