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


  • A Study of Requirements for Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Continuation of the Study of Requirements for General Purpose Forces

As I indicated in my memo dated 17 February 1962, subject: A Requirements Study for General Purpose Forces,1 I would like you to [Page 295] organize a study of requirements for tactical nuclear weapons. I visualize this as a continuation of the General Purpose Forces Study,2 carried on by a nucleus of about ten officers from the group conducting that study, beginning no later than July 1. Planning for the study should begin now with selection of leaders and preparation of terms of reference in collaboration with my staff.

I suggest that the first phase of the study be directed by Lt. General Hamilton H. Howze, USA, with Major General Paul S. Emrick, USAF, acting as his deputy. General Howze should continue to direct the Army aviation study,3 but both he and General Emrick should be relieved of other assignments until the first phase of the tactical nuclear weapons study is completed. That should be accomplished by 1 October.

I would like the first phase of the study to concentrate on the use of tactical nuclear weapons in ground and supporting air-to-ground combat in Europe. I believe that our posture, doctrine, and understanding of objectives for use of tactical nuclear weapons in ground combat in Europe is in a very unsatisfactory state.

I am particularly concerned about the basis for requirements for the family of nuclear weapons for Army ground forces from Davy Crockett and artillery rounds to Pershing. What is the purpose of these weapons? In what contingencies would they be used? And to achieve what objectives?

The case for having at least a relatively small number of tactical nuclear weapons in the theatres (for example, a posture composed of nuclear weapons for alert tactical aircraft, based in the theatre primarily for non-nuclear combat anyway, and perhaps several battalions of Pershings to do nuclear interdiction) appears to be based on such political and psychological factors as the following: First, “the psychological position of our allies without United States nuclear weapons in the theatres would be intolerable.” Second, “the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in the theatre can help to deter the Soviets from escalating a non-nuclear conflict to a nuclear conflict, by threatening to transform a one-sided nuclear war into a two-sided nuclear war.” Third, “having such weapons in the theatre may be useful for purposes of detonating one or few on key military targets in time of crisis as a way of showing our resolve or showing the Soviets the risks inherent in the course of aggression in which they are engaged.” But the objectives to be served by a larger posture of tactical atomic weapons and the specific numbers and types of weapons required to meet those objectives are quite unclear.

Are we buying Davy Crockett, Corporal, Sergeant, Lacrosse, Honest John, Pershing, ADM’s, etc., to defend Europe in a general nuclear war? If so, is not the return of the investment dubious; does not all the evidence [Page 296] suggest that the long-range strategic forces would be decisive in such a conflict? Moreover, if that were not the case for the planned posture, should we acquire enough strategic weapons to make it so?

Alternatively, is the purpose of these weapons to defend Europe in a nuclear war that is confined to the theatre? If so, a number of questions should be considered. Is such a conflict at all likely? Would we meet a Soviet nuclear attack in Europe without going to general war ourselves? Do we want to devote resources to that contingency? Perhaps it would make more sense for us to contract out of that possibility. On the other hand, would it be to our advantage to go to nuclear war in the theatre in response to a Soviet conventional attack? What evidence supports the notion that the use of nuclear weapons is advantageous to the side with less manpower and superior technology? Is it not at least as plausible that the bilateral use of tactical atomic weapons in Europe would be to our military disadvantage? In any case, is it feasible to defend Europe with nuclear weapons without destroying it? Moreover, are we buying complete capabilities for such a war? Are we buying complete weapons systems in the broad sense, i.e., complete military capabilities able to live and fight in the nuclear environment, or are we buying merely the weapons? Our lines of communication are vulnerable to atomic attack and we seem to be doing nothing to remedy that. How do our men survive fallout? How do we preserve command and control in the tactical atomic environment? These problems do not appear to have been thought out. Rather, it appears that the tactical atomic posture we have bought for our forces in Europe may be preparation for World War II all over again, with nuclear weapons overlaid. If we are not going to buy a complete posture for the fighting of nuclear war in the theatres, but settle for a sort of nuclear facade instead (as we appear to be doing today), then such a facade can probably be procured at substantially less cost and risk than is associated with our program.

In order to clarify and resolve these problems, I believe the study should consider the following questions:

A. Examine the feasibility and outcome (in terms of military position and civil damage) of a tactical-atomic war in Europe limited to the battle zone and growing out of:

A Soviet assault using tactical nuclears; and
U.S. escalation of a non-nuclear war we are losing.

Would such a war be feasible in the sense that stable limits could be found that would keep it from escalating to an intercontinental nuclear war involving major attacks on the U.S., Allied and Soviet homelands? Would such a war be feasible in the sense that it would be possible to sustain organized military operations despite nuclear attacks on command and control airfields and LOC? Would escalation of a non-nuclear conflict to the tactical nuclear level enable us to defend Europe in circumstances in which we could not do so without the use of nuclear weapons? [Page 297] Which side gains militarily from the bilateral use of nuclear weapons (as opposed to limitation to non-nuclear weapons)?

B. Examine the role of tactical nuclear weapons in a general war initiated by the Soviets. Evaluate the contribution to our success that would be made by the various types of tactical nuclear weapons beyond the results that would be achieved by the use of strategic nuclear weapons. Consider quantitatively the implications for our ground forces of the Soviet use of strategic nuclear weapons against them.

In situations A and B, above, consider the problem of:

Vulnerability of NATO military posture to nuclear attack.
Collateral damage to European population and industry.
Operational effectiveness of each category of tactical nuclear weapon system.

C. What are the minimum essential numbers and types of tactical nuclear weapons required in the theatre for:

The psychological effect of reassuring the Europeans that nuclear weapons are committed to their defense.
Deterring the Soviets from escalating a non-nuclear conflict to a tactical-atomic conflict limited to the battle zone.
Deterring the Soviets from massing their troops for a conventional assault to the extent that they would be vulnerable to nuclear attack.
A capability to demonstrate our resolve and to indicate to the Soviets the dangers inherent in the course of aggression in which they are engaged by detonating a few nuclears in Central Europe.

D. Examine the problems of designing genuinely dual-capable ground forces. How do the requirements for conventional and nuclear combat conflict? Compare the effectiveness of dual-capable forces with (1) conventional forces in conventional combat, (2) nuclear forces in nuclear combat. Consider the problems of safety and stability raised by the proximity of field-army tactical nuclear weapons to conventional combat.4

A transcript of a State-Defense Policy Conference, held on October 10 and devoted largely to NATO topics, quotes McNamara as saying with reference to tactical nuclear weapons: “Our own studies, not being definitive, don’t persuade.” (Attachment to memorandum from J. Robert Schaetzel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, to George Ball, November 10; Department of Statement, Central Files, 740.5/10-1062)

Eventually (after the October 1 deadline), I would like the group doing this study to study the requirements for tactical nuclear weapons for fleet air defense, ASW, and theatre air defense. In each case, the [Page 298] advantages to ourselves of escalating a non-nuclear conflict to a bilateral nuclear conflict should be analyzed.

I would also like you to make plans to continue indefinitely the work on the Requirements Study for General Purpose Forces in the area of non-nuclear combat. This work should be carried on by a small group (perhaps 12) of highly qualified and carefully selected officers. This group should continue to develop, refine, and improve upon the work now underway. I think that the development of systematic quantitative methods is especially needed in this area. I am sure that after the current study is completed on July 1, my staff and I will have questions, comments and suggestions For continuation.

In general, this group should consider the following questions about the General Purpose Forces Study:

Given the contingencies and situations defined for the study, are the answers correct and reliable?
Are there unexplored possibilities for substitution of other weapon systems and forces that would make it possible to do the same job at a lower cost?
Do the analyses suggest that other situations and objectives should be considered?

I have asked Mr. Hitch to represent me in providing guidance on the development of the studies to both groups.

Would you please present to me, no later than June 15, your plans for carrying out these requests.5

Robert S. McNamara
  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Tactical Nuclear Weapons Study. Top Secret.
  2. Not found.
  3. see Document 115.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 115.
  5. In a memorandum to Taylor dated October 13, Major William Y. Smith summarized the resulting study, stating that it called for NATO firepower twice as great as that of the Soviets, for 32,000 weapons to counter a possible 5,000 Soviet weapons, and for 4 to 5 different yields ranging from [text not declassified]. He quoted its conclusion that “‘in the areas of doctrine of deployment, organizational structure, command and control, and logistics requirements,’ the requirements for nuclear and conventional combat conflict.” He concluded that the study should be a basis for follow-on ones. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Tactical Nuclear Weapons Study) A draft of the summary and conclusions of the study, entitled “Requirements for Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” is ibid.
  6. A “Further Study of Requirements for Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” prepared by the CJCS Special Studies Group (Tactical Nuclear Branch) and dated April 1963, is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, JMF 4610 (20 Dec 62) Sec 2A. Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Kaysen Series 4/63. For a partial summary of both the October 1962 and April 1963 JCS studies, as well as a statement of McNamara’s views regarding them, see Document 153.
  7. Printed from a copy that indicates McNamara signed the original.