27. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Kennedy0


  • Reappraisal of Capabilities of Conventional Forces

You have asked that we reexamine the capabilities of our conventional forces. We have done so and our conclusions are summarized in this report. The study,1 which was directed by Mr. John Connally and the Joint Staff, included:

An evaluation of the present capabilities of U.S. conventional forces, including our Reserve forces. (See Section 1)2
An evaluation of suggestions from the Army, Navy and Air Force for possible increases in personnel and matériel. (See Section 2)
An analysis of suggestions from Congressional leaders for personnel and materiel increases. (See Section 3)
A consideration of new uses of our existing forces. (See Section 4)

The Services proposed the following increases in conventional forces:

Men FY’62 Cost (millions)
Army 62,960 $ 986.5
Navy 18,500 1,496.0
Marine Corps 12,000 42.6
Air Force 11,500 116.5
Total 104,960 $2,641.6

After a thorough review of the Services’ proposals, Mr. Gilpatric, Mr. Connally and I have concluded that the 2.5 million men in our Armed Services, equipped with 817 ships and over 30,000 aircraft, backed by a highly trained Reserve force of 1.8 million men, an FY’62 Budget for New Obligational Authority of $43.794 billion (including the Budget increase of $2,274 billion which you proposed to the Congress), and the forces of our NATO, SEATO, CENTO, and other allies, represent a military force which is adequate for our purpose.

We believe that, with the exceptions noted below, a further increase in the FY’62 Defense Department Budget is not the answer to the problems which confront us.

The United States and her allies have developed strong military forces. These have been successful in deterring the Sino-Soviet Bloc from overt attack, but they have not effectively stopped the indirect aggression carried on by the Communists in many parts of the world. Militarily, we are neither organized nor oriented for the task of meeting and counteracting this type of Soviet strategy. A substantial augmentation of our forces at this time would provide us with no appreciable assurance that we could better combat the indirect attacks which we face today.

It is apparent that new approaches to organizing and utilizing our military power must be developed. We propose to place increased emphasis on this subject during the coming year. Re-programming of funds within the existing Budget should provide adequate financial support for whatever additional para-military activities appear necessary.

There are only three major additions to the FY’62 Budget which we wish to recommend at this time.

An increase of $77 million to permit the start of development work on certain high-thrust boosters for military space projects. This recommendation was discussed in detail in a paper submitted to the Space Council on May 8 by NASA and the Defense Department.3
An increase of at least $200 million for the Military Assistance Program. The specific amount to be requested will be determined following completion of the study now being directed by Mr. Burton Marshall. Following completion of Mr. Marshall’s study, it is possible that we may wish to request that part or all of the funds be provided in the form of a general contingency reserve for the Defense Department.
An increase of $100 million for the procurement of long-lead equipment necessary to support a proposed reorganization of the combat forces of the Army (See Section 5).4 The structure of the present Army divisions was tailored to the use of atomic weapons. We believe that without reducing the nuclear power of the Army division, reorganization of the divisional structure will make possible:
Increased non-nuclear firepower—providing to decision-makers a wider range of alternatives and an improved capability to apply measured force without threatening nuclear devastation.
Internal flexibility within and between divisions and greater compatibility with forces of major Allies—facilitating tailoring of forces for particular tasks and the coordinated employment of U.S. and Allied forces.
Improved tactical mobility (ground and air)—tailored to the operational environment.
Mechanized divisions in Europe—providing protected mobility and the means to counter massive Communist mechanized forces.
Separate airborne brigades in Europe and the Pacific—providing flexible, mobile forces tailored for immediate response to varying situations without degrading other theater capabilities.
Improved capabilities for command and control and for training commanders and units.

Re-equipping of the present active and reserve divisions in accordance with the proposed new organizational structure may cost several hundred million dollars. The divisional reorganization program should start as rapidly as feasible. The Army estimates the program can begin in the latter part of FY’62 and the proposed Budget supplement will support this time schedule.5

Robert S. McNamara
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, DOD Study on Conventional Forces 1961. Secret.
  2. This 73-page study is attached but not printed.
  3. According to Section 1, this evaluation was done under the assumptions that only one large conventional commitment of forces at any one time was unlikely and that participation of more than 250,000-300,000 troops would reach the nuclear threshold and thereby “stem” the requirement for additional combat forces. Given these assumptions, the evaluation found that the United States had “substantial” capacity for waging non-nuclear war and that capacity for strategic mobility was satisfactory “except during the first 10-30 days of a large-scale, rapidly-developing limited war.”
  4. Not found.
  5. This change became known as ROAD (Reorganization Objective, Army Division), a form of organization more flexible than the existing “pentomic” divisions, each composed of five battle groups.
  6. In a May 17 memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, Clifton argued that the assumptions outlined in footnote 3 above were outdated and recommended that the President approve one additional army division. In a May 20 memorandum, he stated that he had secured General Decker’s endorsement of his proposed creation of an additional division with “no additional logistic support.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Staff Memoranda, Clifton, 3/61-6/62, and Departments and Agencies Series, Army 5/61-7/61, respectively) On May 25, however, the President instead asked Congress to fund the Marine proposal for an increase of 12,000 men to a total of 190,000. (Public Papers of the President of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 396-406)
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.