97. Memorandum of Discussion at the 442d Meeting of the National Security Council0

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

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1. Report by the Net Evaluation Subcommittee1 (NSC Actions Nos. 1260, 1330, 1430, 1463, 1532, 1641, and 1815;2NSC 5816;3NSC Action No. 20094)

Mr. Gray said that today the 1959 Report5 submitted by the Council’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee, pursuant to NSC 5816, would be the subject of an oral presentation by members of the Subcommittee Staff. He recalled that under the terms of the Presidential Directive in NSC 5816, the Net Evaluation Subcommittee was established as part of a permanent procedure “to provide integrated evaluations of the net capabilities of the USSR, in the event of general war, to inflict direct injury on the continental U.S., and to provide a continual watch for changes which would significantly alter these net capabilities.”

Mr. Gray said the Subcommittee report for 1959 would ordinarily have been presented toward the close of 1959 but that the presentation was delayed until this spring because of the need for completion of the “targeting” study (Appraisal of Relative Merits, From the Point of View of Effective Deterrence, of Alternative Retaliatory Efforts) presented to the Council on February 12, 1960.6

Mr. Gray noted that the Net Evaluation Subcommittee was composed of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Chairman of the Subcommittee), the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, the Director, Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Chairmen of the Interdepartmental Intelligence Conference and the Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security. Lt. General Thomas F. Hickey, USA (Ret.), Director of the Staff of the Subcommittee, was also present for the presentation. Mr. Gray asked General Twining whether he had anything to add to this introduction.

General Twining said that each year the Subcommittee approved the assumptions of the Net Evaluation Study. This year the approved assumptions postulated strategic warning and a full military alert in the U.S. preceding the attack on the continental U.S. He wished to emphasize, however, that while the Study was based on the assumption of strategic [Page 399] warning it was also based on the assumption that the exact date and time of the attack were not known.

An oral presentation on the 1959 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee was made by the following:

  • Introduction and Basic Assumptions—Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Hickey
  • The Soviet Attack—Col. William J. Hovde, USAF
  • The U.S. Attack—Col. Lloyd D. Chapman, USAF
  • Damage to USSR—Capt. Eugene B. Fluckey, USN
  • Damage to U.S.—Col. Yale H. Wolfe, USA
  • Clandestine Attack—Col. Richard Rothwell, USMC
  • Conclusions—Lt. Gen. Thomas F Hickey

(A copy of the 1959 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee is maintained in the NSC Files.)

At the close of the presentation Mr. Gray said he wished to refer to a question raised by the Planning Board when it heard this presentation on Tuesday, April 26.7 An important assumption of the Net Evaluation Study was that a 48 hour strategic warning would be received but that we would not know the exact time of attack. It was also assumed that the Federal Government would be successfully relocated. These assumptions raised in his mind the incidental query whether the Soviets, in the light of our full alert and governmental relocation, would proceed with the attack. However, the Planning Board wondered what the U.S. would do with the strategic warning as far as the general population was concerned. Relocation of the Government could be carried out quietly for a few hours; but after 48 hours what would we tell the population and what would be the effect of the information released? Would we say that the Government was simply engaging in an exercise? Mr. Gray said he realized the Subcommittee had not been asked to consider this question.

The President asked how certain we would be under conditions of strategic warning that an attack would certainly come. Mr. Gray believed we could not be certain that an attack would come, even though strategic warning were received. The President said that in the event of receipt of strategic warning of an attack, we should prohibit all communication with foreign countries, conduct a search for clandestine nuclear weapons, advise people to evacuate large urban centers which might be targets for enemy nuclear weapons and take all other necessary measures to meet the attack. If our information of an impending attack proved to be false, then we would simply have made a mistake.

Mr. Allen asked what measures would be taken in the assumed conditions with respect to the Voice of America. The President said VOA operations should continue. However, communications between foreign [Page 400] embassies in the U.S. and their home governments should be immediately prohibited. Similar measures were placed in effect in London prior to D-Day; no one could leave the country and no message could be sent out, not even a diplomatic communication. The President believed that if strategic warning were received, the U.S. should do everything possible to prepare for the attack. Mr. Allen asked whether these preparations should be made to appear part of a normal peacetime exercise. The President replied that insofar as possible the preparations might be made to appear part of a four-day exercise. In his view we could not possibly sit still and do nothing about strategic warning, once we had received it.

In Mr. Gray’s view it would be impossible to institute a full military alert and undertake relocation of the Government without attracting public notice. The President agreed and added that strategic warning would probably not present a black or white situation. Strategic warning of a future attack would probably be similar to the warning we received on December 7, 1941 when we learned from an intercepted Japanese message that something was about to happen although we did not know what it was.

General Twining felt that decisions as to preparations for meeting an attack for which we had strategic warning would have to be made at the time, in the light of circumstances then existing. The President said he wished to emphasize the point that, if strategic warning is received, we could not sit still and do nothing. Mr. Hoegh believed we were in need of a plan in accordance with which the population of urban centers could be evacuated during a period of impending attack.

The President said it seemed to him the estimate given in the presentation of the final effects of fallout were low. He asked Dr. Kistiakowsky to comment. Dr. Kistiakowsky said it was difficult to make accurate estimates of the long term effects of fallout because so much depended on where and how nuclear explosions took place. The President said we were able to measure fallout which resulted from U.S. and Soviet nuclear testing. The Net Evaluation Study assumed the creation within a few hours of 1000 times the fallout produced by all the nuclear tests that had taken place up to now. Dr. Kistiakowsky believed the calculations presented by the Net Evaluation Study had related mainly to the early effects of fallout rather than to the long-range effects.

The President said he had not heard Minuteman mentioned during the presentation. He asked whether a great deal of machinery was required for launching Minuteman, as is the case with Atlas. Dr. Kistiakowsky said much less machinery was required for launching Minuteman than was necessary to launch Atlas.

The President believed the Net Evaluation Study showed the need for establishing reserves of Polaris missiles in underground hardened [Page 401] storage depots in coastal areas to which Polaris submarines could return for reloading of their missile tubes after they had expended their first complement of missiles. If such reserves were established, the U.S. would have a residual power and a restrike capability not contemplated in the Net Evaluation Study. Admiral Burke said it was contemplated that one-third of the Polaris submarines would reload after expending their initial stock of missiles. The President thought that, considering what we have invested in Polaris submarines, the concept that only one-third of them would reload was rather conservative. He believed 100 per cent of our Polaris submarines should reload. Admiral Burke thanked the President. Secretary Gates remarked that the reloading to which Admiral Burke referred related to reserves of Polaris missiles in submarine tenders, not to reserves stored in hardened underground storage depots. The President said that providing for reloading of Polaris submarines from tenders only would not achieve the objective he had in mind because the tenders might be destroyed. However, if the Polaris missiles were in hardened storage depots along the coast, they would survive and enable the Polaris submarines to reload. Admiral Burke said the concept had been developed of sending an ammunition ship loaded with Polaris missiles to a remote part of the South Atlantic so that it would survive an attack and be able to return to the Northern Hemisphere to reload the Polaris submarines. The President feared that the ammunition ship might be destroyed on its way back. Admiral Burke said perhaps the Polaris submarines could go to the South Atlantic to reload.

General Twining noted that a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons was left to the U.S. after the initial nuclear exchange described in the Net Evaluation Study. The President agreed that this was so but noted that the U.S., after the initial nuclear exchange in the Study, had no delivery capabilities.

Secretary Gates asked whether an ability to maintain a restrike after the initial nuclear exchange was an effective deterrent. The President believed the restrike capability was not a deterrent. Nevertheless he thought it would be very desirable for the U.S. to have an effective restrike capability for use after the initial nuclear exchange.

Mr. Henderson asked whether, after strategic warning had been received and relocation had been carried out, the Soviets could call off an impending attack twelve hours before it was due to begin. General Twining believed it would be difficult to cancel an attack only twelve hours before its planned initiation. Secretary Gates, on the other hand, felt that not much time would be needed to call off an attack if it depended largely on missiles. The President said that if the Soviets called off an attack only twelve hours before it was due to begin, thousands of people would know about it and we would finally be able to prove that the Soviets [Page 402] intended to attack us. General Twining believed that in a case of this kind someone would always fail to get the word; consequently, one or a few missiles would be fired at the U.S. and the war would be triggered just as if the Soviets had carried out their intention to make a full-scale attack.

Mr. McCone noted that in the Net Evaluation Study most of the megatonnage that fell on the USSR was delivered by U.S. aircraft rather than by U.S. missiles. He wondered whether we had made an adequate study of the growing interception capability of the Soviets. This capability, together with the long distance attacking aircraft would have to fly over Soviet territory, might result in heavy losses to our aircraft. He wondered whether possible U.S. losses resulting from Soviet interception capabilities had been analyzed. Secretary Gates said such an analysis was made semi-annually by SAC on the basis of the best intelligence available and SAC plans were readjusted accordingly. Our method of carrying out attack by aircraft had been altered a number of times. The growing interception capability of the Soviets was one of the reasons for the Hound Dog missile.

The President asked when the Hound Dog missile would be operational. Secretary Gates said the missile would be operational this year and would be installed in aircraft in significant numbers next year.

The President asked General LeMay what proportion of SAC would be placed on alert in the event of the U.S. receiving a 48 hour strategic warning. General LeMay said that in these circumstances all of SAC would be on the alert. The President said he wanted to know how much of SAC would be on airborne alert in the event of a strategic warning. General LeMay said no part of SAC would be on airborne alert. When the President asked why, Secretary Gates said an airborne alert would downgrade our forces by exhausting them; a ground alert was more effective. General LeMay added that all SAC forces could become airborne with 15 minutes tactical warning. The President said he would like to play safe by giving SAC an extra 15 minutes warning. In response to a question from General Twining, General Hickey said that the Net Evaluation Study this year assumed that before strategic warning 25% of SAC forces were on airborne alert. After receiving a strategic warning, this figure was increased to 33–1/3%. General LeMay pointed out that the B–52 was the only plane that could go on airborne alert. It would not be profitable to attempt an airborne alert with the B–47.

The President inquired about the program for the dispersal of SAC planes, remarking that he had been told two or three years ago that this was a matter of the highest priority. General Twining said the dispersal program for SAC was proceeding on schedule. General LeMay said that plans call for a greater dispersal for SAC than was assumed in the Net Evaluation Study. He added that under new take-off procedures, SAC planes can now get off the ground three times as fast as formerly. Moreover, [Page 403] B–47’s could be dispersed to commercial airports in a period of tension. The President said that if a 48 hour strategic warning were received, a great deal could be done. He recalled that several years ago he had asked why it would not be desirable to build additional runways at SAC bases in order to get the planes into the air more rapidly. General LeMay said building additional runways was not economical. The President said he assumed General LeMay meant it was more economical to have another field than to have additional runways. General LeMay said we already had airfields adequate to take all the planes that could be mounted on an alert status. He added that in view of the new take-off techniques, it was not necessary to disperse SAC planes widely. The Vice President asked when the new take-off techniques had been developed. General LeMay said these techniques had been developed during the past year. On wide runways a SAC plane was able to take off every fifteen seconds with JATO. The President expressed surprise at this development. Secretary Gates said these new developments were revolutionary.

The President said he would like an estimate made of the final result of fallout of the magnitude which would be produced by nuclear explosions of the kind described in the Net Evaluation Study. He felt that a nuclear exchange of the kind envisaged in the Study might put so much fallout in the atmosphere that no one would want to live in the Northern Hemisphere. Dr. Kistiakowsky believed the Northern Hemisphere would not become uninhabitable unless there were more nuclear explosions than those assumed in the Net Evaluation Study. He admitted, however, that the Northern Hemisphere would be a less pleasant place to live after the nuclear exchange described in the Study. The President said he felt sure of that conclusion. He added that the presentation had described the fallout effects which would occur soon after the initial nuclear exchange but had not described the long-term effects. Scientific reports seemed to indicate that long-term fallout effects would be serious. Mr. McCone said information developed by the Atomic Energy Commission showed that, while fallout effects were undoubtedly serious, the situation would not be as bad as that portrayed in Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach”. He added that after 5000 megatons of nuclear weapons had been exploded, it no longer mattered what target was hit because a lethal blanket of fallout would be produced regardless of the target.

Mr. Gray wondered whether the Council should now consider arrangements to provide continuity of the Subcommittee and the Subcommittee Staff. The President said this question need not be decided at this time.

The Net Evaluation Subcommittee Staff then withdrew from the meeting.

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The National Security Council:

Noted and discussed the Annual Report for 1959 of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, pursuant to NSC 5816, as presented orally by the Director and other members of the Subcommittee Staff.

[Here follows Agenda Item 2. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security.”]

Marion W. Boggs
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Boggs. On April 29, Admiral Burke prepared a memorandum for the record regarding discussion of this item. (Naval Historical Center, Burke Papers, Originator File) See the Supplement.
  2. In a memorandum, dated April 27, of his meeting with the President on April 23, Gray stated that he had pointed out that this would be “the last such report made to the President barring some emergency and that it was the first of these reports which fully took into account the missile situation.” (Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Project Clean Up, Meetings with the President)
  3. Concerning these NSC Actions, see footnote 1, Document 38.
  4. See Document 26.
  5. See footnote 7, Document 38.
  6. The “Annual Report for 1959 of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee” is attached to a memorandum dated April 22, 1960, from Twining to Lay. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Meeting Minutes File)
  7. See Document 90.
  8. A paper entitled “Planning Board Questions, Net Evaluation Presentation, April 26, 1960,” is in the Eisenhower Library, NSC Staff Records, Disaster File. See the Supplement.