47. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Lemnitzer) to President Kennedy0



  • Reaction Time Required by the Soviets to Launch an Attack with Currently Available Medium and Intercontinental Range Ballistic Missiles

1. During your recent conference with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with General Power,1 you inquired regarding the reaction time of Soviet medium range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Reaction times of the Soviet operational ballistic missiles deployed to fixed sites have been estimated on the basis of alternative conditions of alert or readiness. These times are believed to be approximately the same for the three classes of missiles now operational (the 700 n.m. and 1,100 n.m. MRBM; the 5,000/7,000 n.m. ICBMs) and also for the 2,000 n.m. IRBM, which is estimated to become operational late this year or early next. These missiles have quite similar characteristics. Each is liquid-fueled, has radio-inertial guidance, and is considered to be deployed on fixed “soft” base with very substantial and complete support facilities. In general, reaction time is dependent upon the prevailing political and military situation, which determines the alert status of the missile force. Three conditions of alert are postulated:

Condition I. —

Crews on routine standby, electrical equipment cold, missiles not fueled.

Reaction time: 1-3 hours.

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Condition II. —

Crews on alert, electrical equipment warmed up, missiles not fueled.

Reaction time: 15-30 minutes.

Condition III. —

Crews on alert, electrical equipment warmed up, missiles fueled and topped. This condition probably cannot be maintained for more than an hour or so.

Reaction time: 5-10 minutes.

There is some evidence that rapid reaction time has been a Soviet objective. It is not possible to determine the condition of readiness of Soviet missile launchers at any given time.

2. Salvo times will vary according to the type of missile and the handling capability of the associated radio-inertial guidance system. For all classes, a successful salvo includes those missiles launched within 15-30 minutes of the scheduled time.

3. Available information indicates that all Soviet missile launchers have a refire capability. Assuming that the launching facilities are not damaged by accident or by attack, a second ICBM could be launched from the same pad in about 16 hours. Two additional missiles are estimated probably available for each MRBM launcher and a second salvo could be launched about 4 to 6 hours after the first.

L. L. Lemnitzer
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, JCS General 1961. Top Secret. Attached to a September 28 covering note from Clifton to Taylor which reads in part: “When the President returns from Newport we can give him as much material as he needs.” The President and his party arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, from New York on September 26 and returned to Washington on October 2.
  2. See Document 44.