88. National Intelligence Estimate0

NIE 11–8–59


[Here follow a dissemination notice and a table of contents.]

[Page 376]

The Problem

To estimate probable trends in the strength and deployment of Soviet long-range air and missile weapons systems suitable for strategic attack, through mid-1964.1


The critical feature of this estimate is our judgment with respect to the force goals of the existing Soviet ICBM program. This judgment is based in part on calculations regarding Soviet ICBM requirements for various defined strategic purposes. These calculations are especially sensitive to possible differences between our assumptions and those actually made by Soviet planners with respect to two important factors:

The probable future performance characteristics of the improving Soviet ICBM.
The probable future development of the US nuclear retaliatory force.

We have assumed for the Soviet ICBM the performance characteristics estimated for it at various dates in NIE 11–5–59, “Soviet Capabilities in Guided Missiles and Space Vehicles,” dated 3 November 1959, and in the USIB “Memorandum to Holders of NIE 11–5–59” dated 19 January 1960.2 Soviet planners may expect a better performance, in which case their estimates of the numbers required would be lower than ours. However, we would expect them to use conservative assumptions in making so vital a calculation.

With respect to Soviet targeting, we have assumed that existing approved US military programs will be carried out. Explicit information on these programs is presumably not available to Soviet planners, but we believe that they have enough general information from open sources to be able to estimate them with fair accuracy. These US programs are, of course, subject to change–as is the Soviet ICBM program also. The present Soviet ICBM program, however, must be based on the present Soviet estimate of the probable future development of the target system.

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It is beyond the scope of this estimate to consider what political or military courses of action the USSR might adopt if the development of its strategic attack capabilities were to be as estimated herein. Such matters will be considered in the forthcoming NIE 11–4–59, “Main Trends in Soviet Capabilities and Policies, 1959–1964.”3


1. The Soviet rulers probably regard their present strategic attack forces as capable of devastating US and Allied concentrations of population and industry, but incapable of preventing, by military action, the nuclear devastation of the USSR. (Para. 36)

2. The ICBM presents the best prospects of being able to deliver a heavy weight of attack within the least time after a decision to attack, and thereby to prevent the launching or reduce the weight of a US strategic attack on the USSR. Hence, we believe that the future development of Soviet intercontinental attack capabilities will be primarily a function of the development, production, and deployment of ICBMs. Soviet ICBM capabilities will be supplemented by the development of a submarine-launched missile capability and by the maintenance of a substantial long range bomber capability. (Paras. 40–43)

3. Our analysis leads us to believe that, if the US military posture develops as presently planned, the USSR will in 1961 have its most favorable opportunity to gain a decided military, political, and psychological advantage over the US by the rapid deployment of operational ICBMs. Even at that time, however, the proportion of US retaliatory forces which the Soviets could expect to destroy in a missile attack would depend not only on the number of missiles employed and their performance characteristics, but also, and critically, upon the degree of surprise attainable and upon the precision with which the initial salvo could be timed. Even if surprise were complete and timing perfect the USSR would have to expect retaliation from such US bombers as might be on airborne alert at the time of attack, from at least some of the US aircraft carriers and missile-launching submarines then at sea, and from any other US retaliatory forces that survived the initial salvo. After 1961 the numbers of semi-hardened and hardened US ICBM sites programmed to become operational would require a steep increase in the number of Soviet ICBMs to achieve comparable objectives against US retaliatory forces. (Paras. 45–52)

4. From an economic point of view the main determinant of the Soviet ICBM program is not so much the availability of resources, as the physical difficulty of rapidly building up production of missiles and particularly of launching facilities during the first year or two after IOC, and [Page 378] of training in a comparatively short time the personnel required to maintain and operate a large number of missiles. These difficulties set practical limits to the Soviet ICBM program. (Paras. 56–58)

5. Every present indication suggests that the Soviet ICBM program, while not a crash program, is designed to provide a substantial ICBM capability at an early date. The goal of the program is probably an ICBM force as large as Soviet planners deem necessary to provide a substantial deterrent and preemptive attack capability. In our view, this would be consistent with the present deliberate and orderly tempo of the Soviet ICBM test-firing program, with current Soviet military doctrine, and with the USSR’s observed policy of maintaining a balance among military capabilities designed to accomplish various missions.4 (Para. 55)

6. We conclude that the probable Soviet ICBM program would provide on the order of 140–200 ICBMs on launcher in mid-1961. Within this range, the Assistant Chief for Intelligence, Department of the Army, and the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Intelligence, Department of the Navy, estimate that the Soviet program is likely to be toward the low side. The Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, and the Director for Intelligence, The Joint Staff, believing that Soviet planners would regard the advantages to be gained as justifying additional effort, estimate that the number of Soviet ICBMs on launcher is likely to be towards the high side of the 140–200 range. (Para. 61)

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7. The military capabilities which the Soviets would acquire with this missile force would depend to a great degree upon the performance characteristics of the missile. By the end of 1960, however, the estimated Soviet ICBM force will constitute a grave threat to the principal US metropolitan areas, and will thus represent a powerful political and psychological weapon in international relationships. By 1961 it will present an extremely dangerous threat to SAC bomber bases, unhardened ICBM sites and command installations, although the degree of assurance the Soviets would have of being able to destroy US retaliatory forces would vary considerably depending on the performance characteristics of their ICBMs, and in any case would be subject to the qualifications in paragraph 3. (Para. 62)

8. The development of the Soviet ICBM force beyond 1961 would be likely to be affected by such considerations as the actual development of the target system to be attacked, the prospects for a greatly improved Soviet ICBM, and the prospects (on both sides) for an effective anti-ICBM, as well as by the general development of the world situation and of relations between the US and the USSR. Any figures for future years should be reviewed in the light of such considerations and of evidence on the actual progress of the Soviet ICBM program. Projecting our estimates of the present ICBM program (and assuming that if the USSR has approximately 200 ICBMs on launcher in mid-1961 production would substantially level off in the subsequent two years) the most likely number of Soviet ICBMs on launcher in mid-1962 would be 250–350 and in mid-1963 would be 350–450.5 (Para. 63)

9. The USSR will have no serious difficulty in meeting its estimated requirements for 700 n.m. and 1,100 n.m. ballistic missiles. (Paras. 64–67)

10. On the basis of the foregoing conclusions, our numerical estimates of Soviet medium and heavy bombers in Long Range Aviation units, long and medium-range ballistic missiles, and missile-launching submarines are as shown in the following table:6 7 [Page 380]

Mid-1960 Mid-1961 Mid-1962 Mid-1963 Mid-1964
Heavy 135 150 140 130 120
Medium 1,100 1,050 1,000 900 800
700 n.m.
In Inventory 250 350 450 450 450
On Launcher 110 150 150 150 150
1,100 n.m.
In Inventory 80 160 240 300 300
On Launcher 50 100 100 100 100
In Inventory 50 175–270 325–450 a 450–560
On Launcher 35 140–200 250–350 b 350–450
“Z” classc 4 4 4 4 4
“G” classd 9 15 18 18 18
Nucleare 2 6 10 14

[Here follow 27 pages of the Discussion section and annexes, as well as several maps.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INRNIE Files. Top Secret. A note on the cover sheet reads in part: “Submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence. The following Intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Joint Staff, NSA, and the AEC. Concurred in by the United States Intelligence Board on 9 February 1960.” The Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation abstained because the subject was outside his jurisdiction.
  2. “Strategic attack”-as used herein is defined as nuclear attack against retaliatory forces and key war-making strengths in North America, as well as US and Allied retaliatory forces at sea and in overseas areas. The weapons systems primarily considered are heavy and medium bombers assigned to Long Range Aviation, related air-to-surface missiles, ground-launched missiles with maximum ranges of 700 nautical miles or more, and submarine-launched missiles. It is recognized that other delivery systems are available for use against targets at sea and overseas. [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. For NIE 11–5–59, see Document 75. The memorandum is not printed. (Department of State, INRNIE Files)
  4. See footnote 5, Document 82.
  5. The Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, does not concur in the second sentence of paragraph 5. He does not believe that Soviet behavior, as we have observed it, warrants the judgment that their objectives would be satisfied by attainment of only substantial deterrence and pre-emptive attack capability. Rather, he believes that the Soviet rulers are endeavoring to attain at the earliest practicable date a military superiority over the United States which they would consider to be so decisive as to enable them either to force their will on the United States through threat of destruction, or to launch such devastating attacks against the United States that, at the cost of acceptable levels of damage to themselves, the United States as a world power would cease to exist. He further believes that such an objective could be attained by the development of their overall military capabilities which would include an operational ICBM force of about 250 (185 on launcher) by mid-1961, 500 (385 on launcher) by mid-1962, and 800 (640 on launcher) by mid-1963. It is generally agreed that the Soviets have both the technical and industrial capability to produce such a force; the physical difficulties thereby entailed will almost certainly not be the limiting factor.

    It is the view of the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, that, while Soviet planners will undoubtedly feel that they will have attained a capacity for substantial deterrence and pre-emptive attack by mid-1962 or earlier, the real objective of the Soviet ICBM program is “decisive military superiority” He believes that the Soviets would not be content with conceptual levels of deterrence; they would realize the possibility of error in their own calculations and acknowledge the possibility of Western preemption of their deterrent capabilities. This latter contingency would weigh the more heavily if the Soviet leaders intended, as he believes likely, to exploit their capabilities in political offensives. In this event, their estimate of the likelihood of Western “desperate” acts would induce them to attempt attainment of total deterrence, i.e., “decisive military superiority.” [Footnote in the source text.]

  6. The Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, does not concur in this sentence. See his footnote to paragraph 5, above. [Footnote in the source text.]
  7. [Here follows a footnote in the source text with the dissenting view of the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, on the number of heavy bombers and ICBMs estimated. He estimated that the number of bombers and ICBMs would be higher from mid-1962 onward.]
  8. [Here follows a footnote in the source text with the dissenting view of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, on the number of heavy bombers estimated. He estimated that the number would be lower from mid-1960 onward.]
  9. Not estimated beyond 1963.
  10. Not estimated beyond 1963.
  11. Each “Z” class submarine would probably carry two missiles.
  12. Each “G” class submarine would probably carry about five missiles.
  13. The associated missile may not become available until 1963, in which case the missile used in the “G” class might be used in this submarine. Each submarine would probably carry 6–12.