83. Briefing Note0

[Here follow sections on oceanography, life sciences, and outer space activities.]

The remaining items in my report, Mr. President, have to do with military matters.

4. One of the panels of the PSAC made this fall a very thorough study of the Nike–Zeus AICBM problem. It confirmed the findings of two independent recent technical studies in DOD and extended the conclusions further.1 Specifically, they are that the presently conceived Nike–Zeus system, even if it performs according to expectations, is not a worthwhile investment. If it is considered as a defense of missile sites, it turns out to be cheaper to increase our deterrent strength by adding more such sites than by buying Nike–Zeus, the cost factor being very substantial in this case, of the order of 10 to 1. On the other hand, if one thinks of Nike–Zeus as a defense of population, it turns out to be useless because the enemy can kill people by exploding warheads upwind of the cities out of the range of Nike–Zeus. Hence, only a comprehensive fallout shelter program in conjunction with the Nike–Zeus could achieve this objective. Because of these very thoroughly documented arguments, our Panel recommended against going into production with Nike–Zeus—a recommendation which was accepted by the Secretary of Defense. We urged further research effort on Nike–Zeus in the hope that this weapons system could be dramatically improved. In the Army there seems to be a sharp split on the issue of our recommendations; people lower in the echelons, who have had an opportunity to look into the technical factors involved, agree with our recommendations, but top echelons are most unhappy about them.

5. I should like to tell you now, Mr. President, about the present status of the so-called Project Corona. So far it has not functioned, but every successive launch has resulted in some progress, one difficulty after another being eliminated. All of them are of comparatively trivial engineering nature, and there is a substantial degree of optimism that the next launch, which is scheduled for early February, will see a complete technical success of the entire system.

6. You are already aware in a general way, Mr. President, of the difficulties of the Titan Project. I have made a considerable effort to analyze these difficulties and have reached the conclusion that the Air Force is [Page 361] completely correct in its evaluation. This is that the missile is soundly engineered and should show the planned performance. On the other hand, the managerial situation at the Martin Company is very bad and the failures of the last eight months can all be traced to human factors: lack of staff training, low competence, lack of adequate instructions. The Air Force, with a little help from me, has put a heavy pressure on the Martin Company to remedy these weaknesses; changes have been made and we have hopes that the program will shortly get going. If this is the case, Titan could still be operational by mid-’61 as planned, but there is little doubt that in Congress a great deal will be made of the present situation by the critics of the Administration.

7. In this connection, I should like to call to your attention a report by GAO on the supposed failings of the Air Force in the over-all management of the missile program. This report appears to be an extreme and unwise invasion of the Executive Branch of the Government.GAO, under the guise of managerial criticism, condemns the Air Force and the Defense Department for failure to take certain technical decisions and for use of inadequate scientific talent on the program. The report contends that objectives of the program have not been met. The Air Force is taking vigorous actions to counter the report, urging its revision and also preparing a rebuttal, but I am very much afraid that when and if this report is made public, it will provide ammunition to those who choose to attack your Administration irresponsibly.2

G.B. Kistiakowsky
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Secret. The note was prepared by Kistiakowsky for a conference held on January 14; see footnote 2 below.
  2. None found.
  3. In his memorandum of Kistiakowsky’s conference with the President held on January 14, Goodpaster stated that Eisenhower expressed general agreement with Kistiakowsky’s views, but that during the discussion of ballistic missiles he “remained of the opinion that careful consideration should be given to putting the Polaris missile on the Navy’s ships. If this is not to be done, he has a large question in his mind whether Khrushchev is not right, and whether the day of the surface combatant ship is not, in general, past.” Regarding the GAO report, the President stated that it would be important for the Air Force to have its “answers” ready for immediate release when the report became public. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries) See the Supplement. Another account of the conversation is in Kistiakowsky, A Scientist at the White House, pp. 227–228.