72. Memorandum of Discussion at the 417th Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

1. Priorities for Ballistic Missile and Space Programs (NSC Actions Nos. 1846, 1941 and 1956; Memos for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated May 7 and 18, 1959;1NSC Actions Nos. 2013 and 2081; Memo for NSC from Acting Executive Secretary, same subject, dated August 11, 19592)

Mr. Gray briefed the Council on the recommendations of the Secretary of Defense. (A copy of the briefing note is filed in the minutes of the meeting; another copy is filed with this memorandum.)3

Secretary McElroy pointed out that the Thor–Jupiter (ICBM) programs would be deleted from the highest priority list now that these missiles are in production. The President inquired whether it was still planned to have five Thor and three Jupiter squadrons. Secretary McElroy [Page 320] confirmed this understanding and indicated that, when these squadrons were equipped, only enough missiles to continue to supply these squadrons would continue to be produced. The Minuteman was a second-generation ICBM. It was being developed with the highest urgency, and it was hoped that this missile would “stand up” for a decade. Secretary McElroy noted certain of the advantages of the Minuteman—that, for example, it was always loaded and ready to go, and that many missiles can be fired from a single base complex. The chief disadvantage so far had been the problem of thrust from solid fuels. Defense believed, however, that this problem would be overcome. The Defense Department was putting everything back of the Minuteman that it could make any sense of.

The President said that these proposals raised a related question in his mind. He believed that we hadn’t yet organized the Department of Defense in the best manner possible for the production of missiles and for the determination of priorities, because we haven’t yet established a unified missile command. The theory on which the existing air, naval and ground organization was based was as incompatible with intercontinental missiles as was the bow and arrow with modern warfare. He knew that we hadn’t got away from a great feeling of Service interest in individual missiles like Titan, Atlas, or Polaris. There was too much organization to do this one job, and too much competitive thinking. It was true that you would have a difficult problem, if you were going to make use of Polaris, in establishing a unified missile command, because you can’t make the Polaris missile independently of the submarines that carry them. This problem could, he suggested, be overcome, however, by bringing a team of naval designers into the unified missile command organization.

The Council, the President suggested, was a group with great experience in this field. The development of a decent organization to handle the missiles program could be a final service of this group to the Government. The President said that we have been defeated too often because each Service has its separate interests.

The President asked why the Russians had taken such an early interest in ballistic missiles while the United States had not. The excuse that was generally given was that we lacked a thermonuclear bomb which would make such missiles practical. Yet, though we got the bomb, it was not until 1955 that the scientists decided that we had to make intercontinental missiles. The Council ought to look at the costs, what we are doing, how we are doing it, and leave a legacy of thought, if not organization, on this subject. This problem, the President felt, deserved the toughest kind of thinking. His Science Advisory Committee ought to go to work on it.

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Secretary McElroy indicated his general agreement with the kind of thing that the President was saying. He thought the best way for the present to get integrated work on missiles was through the new office of Development and Engineering in Defense, which had now been formally authorized by Congress. We should take the basic defense missions—the strategic mission, continental defense, anti-submarine warfare, and maintenance of sea lanes—and back them up with integrated planning. There should be integrated planning of aircraft delivery systems, Polaris, and other delivery systems including, when and if it was developed, a satellite-based launching system. The new office provided centralization of authority at one point, though command authority was still in the Services. There was, however, some thinking within the Department of Defense that there should also be a single command authority over all strategic delivery systems. The Secretary did not believe that such a unified command made sense until Polaris was in being. But it would not surprise him if, after, say, six Polaris submarines were ready for deployment, SAC, missiles, Polaris submarines, and other strategic delivery systems were brought under a single command.

The President pointed out that a related study was now under way on targets—a study of the total number of targets, of what we have to put on them, and of who will do it. What worried him was the responsibility for the design, development and production functions. The time had come to say that these were not simply Air Force, Navy, or Army business.

Secretary McElroy suggested that all these considerations were driving us toward a single service, but that even such a single service would not solve all our problems. Eventually we should setup a single strategic command with a single integrated research backup, and we should do the same on continental air defense. Such action would take much of the fever and blood out of service competition.

The President said he was interested in saving money. Some people say that the country can afford anything. But he had been interested this morning in comparing the cost of U.S. steel with the cost of steel produced by Britain, Germany, and other countries. Generally speaking, our costs were going up, while theirs were going down. He believed that our whole economy was as important as continental defense. The question was, how do you do the job best but cheapest? We have so concentrated upon getting missiles into the air that we haven’t given enough thought to organization. Mr. York, the President’s Science Advisory Committee, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should get together and tell him what to do and he in turn would try to get Congress to swallow their proposals.

Secretary McElroy said that the President’s position on the military budget had been very helpful in the fight in Congress. If it hadn’t been for [Page 322] the President’s strong position we would have had first-generation missiles all over the country.

The President returned to the subject of targeting, stating that the people running the strategic air force in Omaha should not have the job of launching an attack against specific targets.

Secretary McElroy responded by stating that he had recently looked into this matter, and believed that coordinated targeting based in Omaha made good sense. One problem with a continuing air alert was that you had to have an adjustable targeting system if key targets are to be covered. This was a job for a computer, and he was thankful we had one for it. The planning of targeting was an extremely technical problem, and has to be in the hands of a single authority. SAC seemed the best choice. The President agreed. Secretary McElroy suggested that the President should keep pressing the Defense Department on the organization question.

Mr. Stans stated that he had recently had a two and a half hour briefing on Polaris, in which he had been informed that the eventual objective of the Polaris program was 45 submarines, with [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] deployed at all times. With such a force, he was informed, we could destroy [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] targets, which was sufficient to destroy all of Russia. The total cost of such a program would be 7 to 8 billion dollars, and annual operating costs would be $350 million. An obvious question was suggested by this briefing—if Polaris could do this job, why did we need other IRBMs or ICBMs, SAC aircraft, and overseas bases? The answer he had received when he asked this question was that that was someone else’s problem.

Secretary McElroy responded by suggesting that Mr. Stans should not get the wrong impression from such briefings. This kind of thinking goes on throughout the whole Defense Department. That was why there was a Department of Defense and a single Defense Budget.

The National Security Council:4

Noted and discussed the memorandum on the subject by the Secretary of Defense, transmitted by the reference memorandum of August 11, 1959.

Noted that the President has established the following programs as having the highest priority above all others for research and development and for achieving operational capability; scope of the operational capability to be approved by the President: [NSC Action No. 2081]5

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(Order of listing does not indicate priority of one program over another.) [NSC Action No. 2081]

Atlas (ICBM) Weapon System. [NSC Action No. 2081]
Titan (ICBM) Weapon System. [NSC Action No. 2081]
Polaris (FBM) Weapon System. [NSC Action No. 2081]
Minuteman (ICBM) Weapon System.6
Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) Phase I, including Project Dew Drop.
Nike–Zeus Weapon System (research and development only).
Space programs determined by the President on advice of the National Aeronautics and Space Council to have objectives having key political scientific, psychological or military import. [NSC Action No. 2081]
Noted that the President has designated the following projects under the category specified in b–(7) above:
  • Sentry (satellite-borne visual and ferret reconnaissance system). [NSC Action No. 2081]
  • Discoverer (satellite guidance and recovery). [NSC Action No. 2081]
  • Mercury (manned satellite). [NSC Action No. 2081]
Noted that the actions in b and c above did not change the requirement contained in NSC Action No. 1956–b for Presidential authorization with respect to the launching of development satellites capable of reconnaissance over the USSR and the subsequent scope of the operational capability of the advanced reconnaissance satellite program. [NSC Action No. 2081]
Noted the statement by the President that all feasible efforts should be made to reduce the costs of the liquid fuel ICBM weapon systems, especially the costs of bases. [NSC Action No. 2081]

Note: The above actions, as approved by the President to supersede NSC Action No. 2081, subsequently circulated for the information of the NSC, and referred to the Secretary of Defense and the Administrator, NASA, for appropriate implementation.

[Here follow Agenda Items 2. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security,” 3. “U.S. Policy on France,” 4. “U.S. Military Assistance,” 5. “Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria,” and 6. “U.S. Policy Toward South Asia.”]

Robert H. Johnson
Planning Board Secretariat
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Robert H. Johnson, Director of the Planning Board Secretariat, on August 26.
  2. This May 18 memorandum transmitted to the Council the substance of NSC Action No. 2081, approved by the President that day. (Department of State, S/SOCB Files: Lot 61 D 385, Ballistic Missiles) Regarding NSC Action No. 2081, see footnote 5, Document 56.
  3. This memorandum transmitted to the Council a memorandum from McElroy to Gray dated August 10 in which McElroy recommended that Thor and Jupiter missiles be deleted from the missile priority list; that the “antimissile-missile” defense weapon system be deleted from the list and its two component systems substituted for it, namely Nike–Zeus, and BMEWS, Phase I, including Project Dew Drop; and that the Minuteman system be added to the list. (Department of State, S/SOCB Files: Lot 61 D 385, Ballistic Missiles) See the Supplement.
  4. Not printed.
  5. The following paragraphs and note constitute NSC Action No. 2118, as approved by the President on August21. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) Concerning later revision of this action, see Document 94.
  6. All brackets designating NSC Action No. 2081 are in the source text.
  7. In his August 23 memorandum of a meeting with the President on August 21, Gray noted that Eisenhower approved full priority for Minuteman as desired by the Department of Defense and Kistiakowsky, against the Bureau of the Budget recommendation that the priority be restricted to research and development only. (Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Project Clean Up, Meetings with the President)