376. Letter From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Gilpatric) to the Under Secretary of State (Bowles)0

Dear Chet: As you requested, I have looked into the necessity for concluding an agreement with the Union of South Africa for the establishment in the Johannesburg/Pretoria area of a missile and space vehicle tracking station extending the Atlantic Missile Range.

Many months ago it became clear that the full development of our national missile and space vehicle capability would require the geographical extension of our Atlantic Missile Range facilities into the general area of southeastern Africa. Such facilities are required for the testing of missiles at ranges over 5000 miles, and for tracking and telemetric data acquisition in connection with test satellite launchings from Cape Canaveral. These facilities would also be ideally located to support certain test launchings in polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The use of instrumentation vessels in the area has been considered. However, there is no reasonable prospect that such an unstable platform [Page 589] could provide the reliable and accurate tracking capability which these development programs demand. Further, a ship-based station could not possibly satisfy the need for local airfields to support the specially-equipped aircraft whose participation is also essential in the long-range missile tests.

Possible sites for a land-based facility were discussed in great detail with officials of the Department of State last Spring and Summer. A number of alternatives to the Union of South Africa were examined, among them Zanzibar, Mozambique, the Rhodesias, and Bechuanaland. Some of these presented political difficulties quite as formidable as those in the Union, plus serious technical and logistical difficulties which a site in the Union would not involve. The Department of State therefore agreed in July to sound out the South Africans. In August, given the apparent readiness of the South Africans to cooperate on this defense project despite our acknowledged differences over racial policy, the Department of State agreed to go ahead with the station. While awaiting the arrival of our proposals for a long-term agreement, the South Africans have cooperated fully in occasional use of their airfields and ports, and our use of a temporary site for certain portable tracking equipment. The ultimate requirement, however, involves facilities and activities which we could not reasonably expect to handle indefinitely on an ad hoc and informal basis.

We in Defense do not see any effective alternative to a station in the Union of South Africa if we are to handle the development of Transit, Midas, Advent, Ranger, and other programs which will follow from the availability of the Centaur/Atlas and Saturn boosters. A draft agreement satisfactory to both State and Defense has been prepared. We believe that this draft will be generally acceptable to the South Africans, since it follows as closely as circumstances permit the recent U.S.-South African agreement concerning the NASA station at Pretoria. The latter agreement, which in our view presented comparable questions of U.S. policy, was signed on September 13, 1960.

We urge that in view of the foregoing the negotiating instructions which are now being prepared in working level discussions in State and Defense be forwarded to the Embassy in Capetown as soon as possible.


Roswell L. Gilpatric 1
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 65 A 3464, Africa, 000.92-Africa 452, 1961. Confidential. A copy was sent to Harold Brown, Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
  2. Printed from a copy that indicates Gilpatric signed the original.