110. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to Secretary of Defense McNamara 0



  • Recommended Fiscal Year 1964-1968 Strategic Retaliatory Forces
In JCSM-907-621 I forwarded the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the proposed draft memorandum to the President on the above subject.2 While I am generally in agreement with the views of the Chiefs, I would like to express in this memorandum a differing opinion on the Skybolt air-to-ground missile program, the cancellation of which is the most important single issue in your memorandum.
The basic question in the Skybolt issue is how much we should pay to extend the useful life of the B-52 bombers by providing penetration assistance in the form of air-to-ground missiles. The argument in favor of providing this assistance is the need to continue to exploit the asset of the manned strategic bomber, waning though that asset be, in order to superimpose its delivery capacity upon the impressive megatonnage which can be delivered by our long range missiles in the 1968 time frame. Since the B-52s will at that time represent an important part of the total potential weight of our strategic attack in a retaliatory situation with warning, it would seem prudent to retain this delivery system during the next few years if, by giving it penetration aids, we can assure bombs on target for a significant percentage of its delivery capacity.
Your proposed letter to the President3 would meet the requirements for assisting the B-52s in FY 1968 by providing 100 more Minuteman missiles and 172 more Hound Dogs, both additions being primarily for air defense suppression in support of the B-52s. The total programmed Hound Dogs would thus increase from 408 to 580 in FY 1968. In compensation for these additions, you propose to cancel the 1012 Skybolts originally programmed for 1968 with a net saving by this substitution of approximately 1.3 billion dollars. The question then becomes whether this is an acceptable substitution or whether, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff have stated, your proposed program would result in a “substantial degradation in the over-all strategic capability.”
My conclusion is that, while the decision is a close one, the facts as I know them do not establish a compelling case for the judgment of the [Page 391] Chiefs cited above. This conclusion rests upon the following considerations.
While the B-52 bomber fleet is still important during the next few years in contributing to our deterrent posture, the target system left to attack by bombers after penetration tends to decline in importance as missiles take over the most important targets which require attack with minimum delay. Hence, the price paid for the penetration of the B-52s should not be too high. Furthermore, the penetration aids bought should become available quickly or they will not have concurrent availability with the useful remaining life of the B-52s.
In this respect, I am impressed with the danger that the Skybolt program with its present test difficulties which it must overcome would arrive too late to contribute long to the usefulness of the B-52s. Even if kept upon schedule, the Skybolt will not be available in numbers before 1966 and it is difficult to foresee much use for the B-52s in the 1970 era. With a little slippage in the Skybolt program, we would have an expensive auxiliary weapon system which, like BOMARC, arrived too late to perform a remunerative mission.
Assuming that we concede the need of reinforcing the penetration capability of the B-52s, is it necessary to go for a new and complicated system such as Skybolt? This question raises the matter of relative capabilities of Hound Dog and of Skybolt, a matter about which the experts disagree. My over-all impression is that the advantages attributed to Skybolt are not sufficiently impressive to provide a clear margin of superiority over Hound Dog if supplemented by other penetration aids. If-52s with Hound Dog are preceded with an adequate number of Minuteman missiles provided for air defense suppression, and if maximum effort is put on ECM in support of the B-52s, it would seem to me that the over-all penetrability of the force would be comparable to that which may be obtained from a successful Skybolt program.
My lukewarmness for spending any substantial sum for a new standoff missile for the B-52s results from my own doubt as to the long-term effectiveness of the manned bomber in the strategic mission. Henceforth, in the missile age, all aircraft on the ground will be highly vulnerable to surprise attack and the B-52s are no exception. Under conditions of surprise attack, they are unlikely to make a significant contribution to our over-all strategic effort. In the other extreme case, a U.S. preemptive attack, the B-52 forces will not be necessary to add to the destruction of the enemy, which can be accomplished in large measures by other means. Only in the case of U.S. retaliation after receiving tactical warning does it appear that the B-52 mission may be an important one. In this situation, the Skybolt could be a valuable weapon, although how much better than the combination of the Hound Dog plus Minuteman is difficult to say.
In conclusion, although the choice is a narrow one, I would support the cancellation of the Skybolt program and the addition of Minuteman missiles and Hound Dogs to compensate therefor. Because of the uncertainty of the size and nature of the air suppression target system to be struck, I do not have a feel for the adequacy of the numbers which you suggest, namely 100 more Minuteman missiles and 172 more Hound Dogs. My over-all judgment on the Skybolt issues results from a conviction of the over-all redundancy of our nuclear strategic strike capability to deter the USSR or to attack those targets which must be struck to destroy or to cripple the enemy. I am also impressed with the greater priority of need for other important programs which compete for our resources, such as the antimissile missile program, the program for the modernization and increase of conventional forces, and projects to increase the reliability and the penetrability of our long-range missiles. Even if the decision is taken to continue the Skybolt program, I should like to be assured that these more important programs receive the weight of fiscal support necessary for their success, before making provision for a relatively marginal program such as Skybolt.
Maxwell D. Taylor
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 66 A 3542, 110.01 Package I—12 Apr 62. Top Secret.
  2. See Document 109.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 107. For the final version, see Document 112.
  4. Reference is to the proposed DPM mentioned in paragraph 1.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Taylor signed the original.