265. Memorandum from the Secretaries to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, April 241

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Reference: JCS 1924/127

The attached memorandum by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, CM–592–62, dated 18 April 1962, subject as above, together with its Attachments (Tabs A and B), is circulated for information.

F.J. Blouin
M.J. Ingelido
Joint Secretariat
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  • Nuclear Superiority of US Vis-à-Vis the Soviet Union (U)

1. In response to your verbal request to me on 6 March to provide you with a memorandum outlining the factors that contribute to nuclear superiority, the following is provided.

2. On 5 October 1961, the Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted2 a study to the President, as a result of his request, that compared the nuclear delivery capability of the US vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. At that time, the study concluded that the US enjoys a military superiority over the [Typeset Page 946] USSR in 1961 and this superiority will continue through 1963, but that the Soviets in recognition of this imbalance are striving for weapons systems that will, in the future, provide them with a distinct military advantage.

3. This determination was based primarily on the nuclear delivery capability of the US and the USSR. Since the original study was completed, there have been no significant changes in the nuclear delivery capability of either nation that would alter the conclusions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the short term. However, in view of the recently completed series of Soviet nuclear tests, it is highly probable that much useful information was obtained that will advance their confidence and competence in the area of nuclear systems development.

4. To compare the US nuclear delivery forces with those of the USSR is a reasonably easy task, but to make a comprehensive evaluation of the relative posture of the two countries requires consideration of many factors. Some of the factors which contribute to the determination of nuclear capability are:

a. Number of nuclear delivery vehicles.

b. Quantity and quality of nuclear weapons.

c. Capability, reliability and accuracy of delivery systems.

d. Application of technology to military uses.

e. Intentions.

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5. Tab A contains a comparison of the combat ready forces available to the US and the USSR for the periods 1 January 1962 and 1 July 1963. Forces for this comparison include those forces based in the CONUS and those employed overseas which have the capability of striking the Sino-Soviet Bloc. No Allied forces have been included. Soviet forces include those capable of striking the US and US forces overseas. In Tab B are detailed explanations of the forces immediately available to both sides. It will be noted that the US has a considerable advantage in the heavy bomber category and is slightly behind in the medium bomber force both in 1962 and 1963, but in total bomber force, the US is superior in 1962 and will widen this gap further by 1963. In the ICBM category, the US superiority is approximately three to one increasing in 1963 to about four to one. The one category in which the USSR enjoys a decisive superiority is in the field of MRBM’s. These do not pose a threat to the US but they are a threat to the Allies in both Europe and Asia. This advantage is partially offset by the US superiority in the fighter bomber category.

6. In the area of nuclear weapons, there is a lack of direct intelligence information on Soviet nuclear weapons stockpile which precludes a definitive appraisal of the Soviet capability as compared to that of the US. Although we have estimates of the Soviet nuclear material stockpile, we have only limited information regarding specific characteristics [Typeset Page 947] of Soviet stockpile weapons. Nevertheless, a Soviet nuclear stockpile can be estimated for 1962 and 1963 using the assumptions that the weapons in the Soviet stockpile will have roughly the same average material composition as those in the US stockpile. In this respect, numbers of weapons are not the primary consideration, if we assume, and the assumption appears to be valid, that each side has sufficient numbers to provide the proper load or loads for each delivery vehicle. Nevertheless, there is one important factor that must not be overlooked. [Facsimile Page 4] The recent Soviet nuclear tests have allowed them to achieve greater economy in fissile materials while at the same time maintaining high thermonuclear efficiencies. This achievement could ultimately permit the Soviets to build warheads in the range of 50 to 100 MT and therefore, reduce the Soviet strategic requirements or permit the accomplishment of a higher level of destruction of target systems with estimated weapons inventories.

7. In comparing the capability, reliability and accuracy of the Soviet missiles, we have relatively firm evidence on the test range and the test firing program from which we have been able to derive basic characteristics. From these data, we can also derive some of the basic factors affecting performance under operational conditions, including ranges, accuracy and reliability. These data can be combined with other evidence to provide a sense of tempo of the ICBM development program and the degree of success the USSR has achieved. In general, the capability of the Soviet missiles compares favorably to that of the US missiles in range, reliability and accuracy. Consequently, an evaluation of the superiority of either side in the ICBM area would be dependent primarily on the number of missiles available to each side and the concept of employment of such missiles, i.e., would they be targeted against military targets, urban targets or a mix of each. The same is true of the Soviet bomber force.

8. The Soviets are making vigorous efforts to counter Western weapons systems. Within the next five years, they will probably introduce improved radars and all weather interceptors, a surface-to-air missile system designed to counter low altitude air attack and anti-missile defenses. The recent Soviet nuclear tests, in part, were designed to obtain an AICBM capability. However, they probably will still not achieve a high degree of assurance in coping with a large-scale sophisticated attack by manned bombers. Although they would probably expect to destroy a larger number of attacking forces, it is doubtful they will be able to reduce the weight of such an attack.

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9. Soviet capabilities in guided missiles and space vehicles rest upon a major national effort in research and development pursued over the past 15 years. The Soviets have concentrated on the development of only a few systems at any one time. With the possible exception of [Typeset Page 948] the first surface-to-air system, deployed around Moscow, there has been no indication that Soviet guided missiles were developed on a “crash” basis. The Soviets now have operationally available about 20 individual missile systems for surface, air, and sea employment. Future Soviet efforts will probably place greater emphasis on development of second generation missile systems. The importance which the Soviets attach to the space program is demonstrated by the assignment of leading scientists to its direction, by the wealth of theoretical and applied research being conducted in the support and by the allocation of resources and facilities to its implementation. A significant achievement in this field has been the development of very powerful propulsion systems and it is estimated that the Soviets will be able to place in orbit about 25,000 pounds sometime in 1962. This progress by the Soviets does not constitute a superiority in the area of weapons and space at the present time, but is indicative of Soviet trends and we can be assured that if the Soviets elect to exploit their technical capability toward developing weapons systems that will narrow the gap between the US and USSR, they will, in fact, do so.

10. Of the factors listed above, probably the most difficult to assess is the intentions of the Soviets. There is no indication that the Soviet national policy precludes an initiative attack. Presumably, the USSR is aware of US policy which rejects preventive war by the US. They could, therefore, make plans to attack the US without strategic warning. An attack such as this, by a minimum force, would have to be carefully planned and executed to prevent a possible pre-emptive attack if the US were alerted through [Facsimile Page 6] intelligence. As the USSR moves more and more toward a strategic missile posture, the capability to achieve surprise increases. However, the US forces during the period are simultaneously building toward a less vulnerable posture. Since a basic requirement of an initiative attack is to destroy the enemy’s capability to retaliate, the Soviet strategic force structure will have to increase accordingly if they intend to exercise the initiative. If the USSR does not contemplate an initiative strategic attack against the US, the requirement would be reduced since all that would be needed would be the requirement to deter an attack by the US. Since national policy of the US in effect provides this deterrence, the USSR requirement for a deterrent posture could be comparably smaller.

11. As opposed to the Soviet requirement for a minimum deterrent force or for an initiative force, the US is faced with the problem of attaining a strategic posture adequate to attack effectively the USSR under many circumstances, including a second strike capability with those residual forces remaining after a Soviet initiative attack. Estimates of forces and weapons required to attain this posture vary widely depending on the assumptions as to how a nuclear war will begin. [Typeset Page 949] Answers to these questions are being sought by the entire military establishment on a continuing basis, in order to keep current the estimates of Soviet strengths, weaknesses and future intentions so that a determination of future forces, weapons and strategy to counter Soviet aggression can be made.

12. From the preceding, we have been able to determine some of the factors that contribute to the determination of nuclear superiority. In order to define “nuclear superiority”, we must consider other factors, some of which are less tangible than those mentioned previously. These include national strategy and objectives, force application and national will. When these factors are assessed against enemy ideology and philosophy, then we can make a more meaningful determination of just what is meant by the term “nuclear superiority”. [Facsimile Page 7] Although “nuclear superiority” is difficult to define in one sentence, one such definition might be as follows: “Nuclear superiority is that degree of nuclear capability possessed by one nation vis-à-vis another that, regardless of the level and intensity of conflict threatened or actually inflicted by the enemy, permits the nation possessing this capability to disarm the enemy’s nuclear forces, conclude the conflict on favorable terms and to prevail as a viable nation”.

13. Since World War II, the over-all national strength and purpose of the US, supplemented by that of its Allies, has successfully deterred the Soviet Union from initiating general war. US success in this regard during the past seventeen years resulted primarily from the fact that US forces have had a clear capability, whether [text not declassified] retaliation, to cause unacceptable damage to the Soviet Union and emerge with a superiority in forces and resources which would place the US in a position from which to prevail. While the USSR possesses the capability to damage the Allies and the US severely in general war, it does not possess the capability either in initiative or retaliation, to damage the US sufficiently to permit it to emerge in a position from which to prevail against the US. Analysis, based on the current intelligence estimates of the relative postures of the US and the USSR for the current time period and through 1963, indicates that the US will remain stronger than the USSR. Its total military capability and the economic base supporting its forces give it an over-all military advantage over the Soviets. Comparative analysis of the known and/or estimated nuclear strike capabilities of the US and the USSR, when considered in their entirety, and in relation to their respective capabilities to defend against nuclear strikes makes it doubtful, except through miscalculation or misadventure, that the Soviets will initiate general war either now or through mid-1963.

14. In summary, despite a strong Soviet military posture, the relative strategic balance of forces is in favor of the US at the present time. [Typeset Page 950] By 1963, our strategic force levels and our rela[Facsimile Page 8]tively secure force levels assure for the US a decisive retaliatory capability. However, the results of the analyses obtained from the recent Soviet tests give grounds for serious concern. There are indications that the Soviets have made substantive progress in nuclear technology well beyond that commonly anticipated and there is reason to believe they will exploit this advancement to the fullest extent.

15. Free world security depends on US strategic nuclear capability and it is essential that the US maintain a nuclear superiority over the USSR at least equal to that of the present level. As the capability of the USSR increases, so must that of the US. In this respect, consideration must be given to all aspects of our national posture including an adequate civil defense program. Any relaxation on the part of the US in the effort to maintain a nuclear superiority could result in a deterioration of capability with time to a point where irreparable damage could be done.

L.L. Lemnitzer
Joint Chiefs of Staff
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Tab A


1962 1963
a. Long Range Aircraft Note 13
(1) Heavy Bombers 529 1503 630 1503
(2) Medium Bombers 779 9503 575 8003
TOTAL 1308 11003 1205 9503
b. ICBM—Note 23 62 10–254 382 75–1255
c. Submarine Launched Missiles—Note 33
(1) Ballistic 1200 NM 80 03 128 03
(2) Ballistic 500–1000 NM 0 03 0 63
(3) Ballistic 350 NM 0 903 0 1153
(4) Cruise 17 03 17 03
TOTAL 97 903 145 1213
d. Other nuclear delivery forces—Note 43
(1) Light Bombers 225 2503 160 2503
(2) Fighter Bombers 2389 0###3 2381 0###3
(3) Cruise Missiles 178 0####3 144 0####3
TOTAL 2792 2503 2685 2503
(4) MRBM/IRBM On Launchers
(a) 700 nm
1100 nm 0 250–3003 0 (7–11 & 2500 nm TOTAL)
(b) 2500 nm 0 03 0
TOTAL 0 250–3003 0 350–4503

* Notes 1, 2, 3 and 4—See Appendix

# CSAF believes about 75 is the correct figure as of 1 March 1962.

## CSAF believes about 250 is the correct figure.

### There is some evidence, not yet conclusive, that the USSR is showing activity toward acquiring a nuclear delivery capability for tactical fighters. USCINCEUR has expressed a belief, although he has no positive proof, that about one-half of the Soviet fighter-bombers possess a nuclear delivery capability.

#### It is estimated that some in class cruise type missile subs are probably operational now (350 nm cruise missile)

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Tab B


USSR Forces

a. As of January 1961 the main weight of a large-scale nuclear attack against distant targets would be by bombers of Long Range Aviation. The 160 heavy bombers consist of 110 Bisons and 50 Bears and include aircraft fitted as tankers. These are available to all Bison units and about half the Badger units. These can be converted to bombers in a few hours. Within the next year or so virtually all Bears will carry 350 nm ASMs.

b. Medium bombers (BADGERS) are assigned to components other than Long Range Aviation, viz 375 to Naval Aviation. Yields of weapons assigned to these aircraft could vary from 10 KT to 7 MT.

c. It is estimate that, excluding combat attrition, at present the USSR could put about 200 bombers over North America on two-way missions in an initial attack, more than half of which would be medium bombers. The Soviets have a considerably larger gross capability for attacking the United States itself, but to exercise it they would have to employ medium bombers on one-way missions and to use crews who had not had Arctic training. With the advent of Soviet missile capabilities, we regard this use of the medium bomber force in the initial attack as increasingly unlikely.

US FORCES—Of the 1308 long range bombers available 1 March 1962, the United States has [text not declassified] to strike targets in the Soviet Bloc, carrying [text not declassified] weapons or an average of [text not declassified] weapons per aircraft. Of the [text not declassified] programmed aircraft, [text not declassified] are programmed to be on alert and could be launched within 15 minutes.


USSR FORCES—The figure 10–25 ICBMS indicates missiles on launchers and is concurred in by the United States Intelligence [Facsimile Page 11] Board except the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, believes Soviet ICBM’s to be about 75 as of 1 March 1962 and 250 in mid-1963. The Soviet ICBMs for the present and for the near future will be deployed in soft sites. Evidence indicates that there will be no hardened sites by 1963.

US FORCES—The 62 US ICBMs in 1962 are ATLAS and TITAN missiles; 30 are soft and 32 are in installations hardened to 25 PSI and above. In 1963, US ICBMs are as follows:

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27 ATLAS D—Soft


75 ATLAS F—150–200 PSI

57 TITAN I—150–200 PSI


156 MINUTEMAN—[text not declassified]


*(20 missiles utilized for training purposes)


USSR FORCE—The Soviets would probably assign US land targets to missile launching submarines. The number to be deployed depends on the pattern of operations. The Soviets are estimated to have the following number of submarines:

1962 1963
Z Class 350 nm (2 missiles) 7 7
G Class 350 nm (3 missiles) 18 18
H Class 350 nm (3 missiles) 8 16

US FORCES—Of the 80 POLARIS missiles now at sea in operational SSBN’s, 48 are on [text not declassified]; 16 others are in SSBN’s in [text not declassified] at Holy Loch; and, 16 others are on [text not declassified] at Holy Loch.

In 1963, out of 128 missiles at sea in operational SSBN’s, 80 will be on [text not declassified]; 16 to 32 will be in SSBN’s in [text not declassified] at Holy Loch; and 16 to 32 will be on [text not declassified] at Holy Loch.

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Of the 17 REGULUS missiles aboard, four SSG’s and one SSGN, four are on-station at all times. The remainder are in submarines in transit between the operating area and their base, in training, or at their base.


Of the total of 225 light bombers, 130 are overseas in theater areas, either at shore bases or aboard aircraft carriers. The remainder are in the CONUS or aboard aircraft carriers in transit or operating in the vicinity of the CONUS.

Of the total of 2,389 fighter and attack bombers, 885 are overseas in theater areas, either at shore bases or aboard aircraft carriers. The remainder are in CONUS or aboard aircraft carriers in transit or operating in the vicinity of the CONUS.

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USSR FORCES—The 250 Soviet light bombers are all nuclear capable. The bulk of the Soviet MRBM launchers are in Western USSR, within range of US forces in Europe.

US FORCES—US light bombers and fighter bombers consist of the following:

Light Bombers 1962 1963
B–57 48 0
B–66 48 0
A3D 122 118
A3J 7 44
225 162
Fighter Bombers
F–100F 792 724
F–101 A&C 74 71
F–105 B/D 265 444
AD 266 244
A4D 779 907
A2F 0 20
FJ4B 120 112
F4H 93 185
2389 2797
  1. Circulates copy of a memorandum from Gen. Lemnitzer to McNamara on “Nuclear Superiority of the US vis-a-vis the Soviet Union” for their information. Top Secret/Restricted Data. 12 pp. National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, JMF 2210.
  2. See Enclosure and Appendix to JCS 1924/127.