91. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Twining) to President Eisenhower0



  • Appraisal of Relative Merits, from the Point of View of Effective Deterrence, of Alternative Retaliatory Efforts
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the Hickey study1 and have discussed it with the Secretary of Defense on several occasions.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are in agreement that the concept of the “optimum mix” target system is sound, and that the order of magnitude of the target system appears to be reasonable, within the scope and time frame of the study.
However, the Service Chiefs have requested that I briefly mention certain observations which they have on the conclusions of the study.
General Lemnitzer has made the following major observations:
The conclusions of the study are predicated on the assumption that our defenses will be capable of containing a Soviet attack on the Continental United States to the extent that we will survive as a viable nation. An adequate air and missile defense, both active and passive, is therefore absolutely essential in order that we may have the residual relative superiority necessary to prevail if the deterrent fails.
The problem of locating and destroying enemy ICBM sites is a major factor bearing on the conclusions. This problem requires further study.
The relatively small number of bomb release line high-yield weapons required to attack “optimum mix” target system indicates that we have reached, if not surpassed, the leveling off point for these weapons in our stockpile.
Admiral Burke has made the following major observations:
The study indicates that our current stockpile of high-yield weapons is adequate or even excessive if less vulnerable delivery systems were to be used.
For destruction of the basic target systems by bomber delivery, the percentage of aircraft in the national inventory that arrives on target is apparently only about 15%. This is of such concern as to suggest acceleration of programs for less vulnerable delivery systems.
The deterrent effect of forces required only for attack of the urban-industrial system is underrated.
The study concerned itself with a mix of targets but did not explore extensively a mix of weapons on targets. This requires further study.
With the exception of the Polaris, the nuclear capable theater forces of CINCEUR, CINCPAC and CINCLANT were not employed in the wargaming attack of the “optimum mix” strategic target system. Employment of these forces would change the retaliatory force level required. Further studies on this aspect of the problem are required.
General White has made the following major observations:
The potential benefits of this valuable appraisal could be forfeited unless the term “optimum mix” is given the same meaning in our planning as it was given in the study. The study developed a target system consisting of a mix of vital military and important urban-industrial targets, including all vital strategic elements of the enemy’s known nuclear offensive capability.
While General White has also expressed certain reservations regarding the specifics of the study, and does not share the reservations noted by General Lemnitzer and Admiral Burke, he has requested that they not be outlined here, since, in his opinion, none of these reservations has significant effect upon the major conclusions of the report, or upon the agreed Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendations with which I shall conclude my remarks.
Having summarized the major reservations and observations on this report, I would like to present my own views. It is my opinion that the appraisal is a commendably thorough and objective study. It was prepared by a qualified joint group which expended much time and effort to insure the accuracy or reasonableness of the factors which were used and the methodology which was employed. The study constitutes the best objective joint appraisal of strategic targeting and force requirements available at this time. I am confident that we can make significant progress in our planning if we use General Hickey’s study until something better is developed. We have in this study a sound point of departure and we should accept its conclusions as a guide for present planning until it is superseded by an equally thorough and objective effort.
The most significant conclusions to be drawn from the study, in my judgment, are as follows:
  • One: A retaliatory force structure based on the destruction of an urban target system would not provide an adequate military posture.
  • Two: The strategic force level which we have developed is in the right ball park and does not appear excessive. Naturally, the composition of this force must change as the enemy’s military target system changes and as our own technology provides improved methods of delivery. The [Page 385] appraisal reveals that strategic forces now programmed for 1963 will be more than adequate to attack an “optimum mix” target system of minimum size with a 75% assurance of one weapon arriving at each ground zero, but will be inadequate to provide a 90% assurance of one weapon on each ground zero.
  • Three: The present and planned composition of the atomic stockpile, particularly with respect to high-yield weapons, is also about right; and
  • Four: The study was reassuring to me in that this independent analysis generally substantiates current national planning with respect to targeting, the nuclear stockpile composition, and the level of strategic offensive forces required.
Taking note of the views of all concerned, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have reached agreement on certain recommendations. You will recall, Mr. President, that in NSC Action 2009 you directed Mr. Gray, the Secretary of Defense, and myself to arrange for the conduct of this study. We concur in the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which are as follows:
That the concept of the “optimum mix” target system be approved.
That the study be referred to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a basis for planning.
That they be authorized to release a limited number of copies of the study to the Joint Staff and to the Service Planners.2
N.F. Twining
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Meeting Minutes File. Top Secret.
  2. See Document 90.
  3. The President and Twining discussed nuclear targeting on February 12, apparently after the NSC Special Meeting (see Document 90): “General Twining next referred to the targeting study that had been presented to the President in the NSC. He said it constitutes a tremendous step forward, since it puts into our planning for the first time a concept regarding our key element of military force. He wants it to be used as a ‘point of departure’ for JCS planning. The President agreed. He stressed the importance of keeping this kind of war planning away from the Congress because of their carelessness about secrecy and security.” (Memorandum by Goodpaster, February 18; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries)

    In an unnumbered Record of Action at the Special Meeting, circulated on February 17, the President approved the “optimum mix” targeting strategy, designed to achieve a 75 percent assurance of delivering one weapon at each target. (National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Security Council, Official Meeting Minutes File) See the Supplement.