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

Dear Chet: As a result of your letter of April 3, 1961,1 I asked the Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering and the Under Secretary of the Air Force personally to re-examine the need for a tracking station in the Union of South Africa and possible alternatives to such a station. This study has confirmed that tracking facilities in South Africa or its vicinity will be needed for an extended period in support of Midas, a program of very high national priority. Other important satellite programs which require the support of the facilities are Advent, Ranger, Vela Hotel, and Saint. In addition, the station will provide extended range support for long-range ballistic missile tests of recognized importance to national security.

The specific conclusions of our re-examination are as follows:

The use of shipborne tracking equipment is definitely not feasible because the three years required to provide this equipment would cause completely unacceptable delay in a program of highest national priority. Additional expenses of the order of $75 to $100 million would also result.
A station on land is necessary in an area, the center of which would be in the northeastern portion of the Union of South Africa and which would include the southern portions of Mozambique and Southern Rhodesia, the eastern portion of Bechuanaland and the enclaves of Swaziland and Basutoland. The limits of this area are dictated by the geometrical relations between satellite trajectories and the ground based instruments which collect tracking and telemetry data. Specifically, tracking and telemetry instrumentation at this location is essential to cover apogee and orbital injection events which occur over this area.
Schedules require facilities in the area for tracking Midas shots in May, June and August 1961, January, March, April and May of 1962 and an Advent shot in March 1962. Shots are projected thereafter for various programs through 1964, and the station would be of great importance in development programs to follow. The Midas shots must be supported by [Page 592] tracking facilities in the area designated. Lack of data on more than one of these shots could cause unacceptable delay or damage to the program.

As a result of our review, it appears to us that an early decision must be made—(a) to seek assurances of South African cooperation for continued use and expansion of the present tracking facilities in that country, or (b) to make firm arrangements to move the facilities to one of the other above-mentioned countries in the area.

If the latter alternative were adopted, we would want agreement in principle from the country concerned not later that July 1, 1961. This data is dictated by the lead time involved in site surveys, site preparation, and the installation and calibration of equipment. Even with initial access by July 1, 1961, it would not be possible to track the January 1962 Midas shot. Any later date would be unacceptable because it would prevent the tracking of the March 1962 Midas and Advent shots.

Even if a site outside of the Union of South Africa is selected for the tracking facilities, we must preserve the good will of the Union to assure the availability of its airfields and ports for the aircraft and ships which must operate in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans if long range missile tests are to be conducted effectively. Similarly, denial of commercial (government or privately owned) communication, transportation and other logistic support within the Union would seriously impede the operation of alternate facilities in one of the other countries.

In view of the need for an early decision on this matter, we earnestly hope that Ambassador Satterthwaite’s appraisal of the situation will be available soon, and that we can then give expeditious joint attention to the course of action we should take. In the meantime, if you desire to consider the technical details which support the conclusions set forth above, we would be most happy to arrange for their presentation, at your convenience, by the Defense officials concerned.

Sincerely yours,

Roswell L. Gilpatric 2
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 65 A 3464, Africa 000.92-Africa 452, 1961. Secret. A copy was sent to George Newman in G.
  2. Bowles’ letter to Gilpatric pointed out that the use of South African territory for the U.S. missile tracking program posed serious difficulties for the U.S. Government because of the racial policies of the Union Government and the recurring controversies between that government and the United Nations over South West Africa and apartheid. Therefore, he argued, it was unwise for the United States to enter into any long-term military agreement with South Africa for a permanent tracking station, and asked the Department of Defense to investigate other means of satisfying its requirements, such as the use of instrumentation vessels. He also suggested waiting for the views of the new U.S. Ambassador to South Africa before taking any action on the proposed agreement. (Ibid.)
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates Gilpatric signed the original.