1. Memorandum From the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force (LeMay) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1
Washington, January 4, 1964.
IMPROVED MANNED STRATEGIC AIRCRAFT
- At their meeting with the President on 30 December 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked to review and provide their comments on certain recommendations by the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, concerning a proposed follow-on manned strategic weapon system.2 Accordingly, the basis for these recommendations is provided below for the consideration of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- By the end of 1972, the B–52 will be twenty-one years beyond its design date and the last production B–52 and B–58 will be ten years old. With the passage of time, we have had to rely increasingly on tactics which these aircraft were not designed to employ. Even with the planned modifications to the B–52 fleet these aircraft will be subject to the combined effects of continued structural fatigue and a diminishing capability for effective mission performance in an environment of modern offensive and defensive Soviet weapon systems. If there is further delay in initiating action toward the provision of a suitable replacement capability, there will be no recourse for the nation but to place principal reliance for its security in the 1970s on ballistic missiles. In my judgment, such reliance is both dangerous and militarily unsound.
- I am in complete agreement with the need for a modern effective ballistic missile force as an element of our deterrent posture. These weapons provide the quick time to target delivery capability which is essential to underwrite the time urgent nuclear threat targets. Additionally, a secure ballistic missile force, in concert with other survivable strategic forces, provides the strongest possible incentives to the USSR to abstain from attacks on the population centers of the United States, either in an initial attack or as a rational option during conflicts of lower intensity.
- It is important to recognize, however, that ballistic missile forces
represent both the U.S. and Soviet potential for strategic nuclear
warfare at the highest, most indiscriminate level, and at a level least
susceptible to control. The employment of these weapons in lower level
conflict would be likely to escalate the situation, uncontrollably, to
an intensity which could be vastly disproportionate to the original
aggravation. The use of ICBMs and
SLBMs is not, therefore, a rational
or credible response to provocations which, although serious, are still
less than an immediate threat to national survival. For this reason,
among others, I consider that the national security will continue to
require the flexibility, responsiveness, and discrimination of manned
strategic weapon systems throughout the range of cold, limited, and
general war. Specifically, there will be a continuing requirement for:
- A system that can be used to provide visible evidence, through increased alert and dispersal and show of force flights, of national determination as an element of diplomatic maneuver and negotiating strength in times of international crisis. Regardless of the size of the force, ICBMs and Polaris missiles have no meaningful utility for this purpose.
- A fully credible national response option to provocations below those which would warrant the employment of ICBMs. Manned strategic systems have a capability for selective and discriminate application of force which is not provided by ballistic missiles.
- A capability to respond quickly under national direction to unforeseen and rapidly changing circumstances.
- A system that can be tested again and again under conditions approximating actual combat as opposed to ballistic missiles which must function perfectly the only time they are ever called upon. In 1963, strategic bombers flew more than 80,000 missions involving 700,000 flying hours, and the crews performed nearly 150,000 scored bomb runs. With ICBMs a very small statistical sample will be fired annually from special test sites which do not correspond to the operational environment. Further compounding the risk of placing undue reliance on ballistic missiles is the ever-present possibility, based on several examples to date, that a single unanticipated failure may negate or drastically reduce the capability of the entire force. Last year, for example, all Wing I Minuteman missiles were determined to be unreliable for a period due to difficulties with the re-entry vehicle. Concurrently, all Wing II Minuteman missiles, comprising the remainder of the force, were considered unreliable by the Atomic Energy Commission as a result of warhead deficiencies. Finally, the reliability of the Polaris A–1 fleet, during a period in 1963, was suspect in its entirety due to bonding problems with the propellant. Although these difficulties all have been corrected, [Page 3] they are indicative of the vulnerability of the total capability to a single unforeseen system deficiency. Such far reaching effects have not been encountered with manned systems. Temporary difficulties may cause restrictions for peacetime flight safety purposes but they have no immediate repercussions upon our war fighting capability.
- Timely information, as a basis for informed national decisions in times of conflict, which can be provided only by placing man over the enemy with a capability to look, act, and report.
- A diversified threat to the enemy so that a single break-through on his part, such as an effective anti-ballistic missile defense will not neutralize our retaliatory power; additionally, to continue the requirement that the enemy dilute his already limited resources between anti-ballistic missile and air defenses.
- A system that can be used to effect a favorable war termination, irrespective of the level of conflict, and which can be used to police a truce, once it has been achieved.
- Throughout the period of the last year, various study groups within the Air Force have analyzed the requirement for a follow-on strategic aircraft. From these efforts, the prescribed characteristics of an improved manned strategic system have evolved. The aircraft would be designed primarily for low level penetration at subsonic speeds but also would be capable of dash speeds in excess of Mach 2.0 at high altitude. The basic armament would consist of internally carried, short range air to surface missiles with variable yield warheads. A reconnaissance subsystem consisting of side-looking radar, infra-red, and photographic sensors also would be integral to this system. This aircraft would have intercontinental range, unrefueled, and would be compatible with the KC–135 tanker for range extension through aerial refueling.
- In my discussion of this subject with the President during the meeting
on 30 December 1963, I stated my intentions to recommend the following:
- The initiation of system definition effort on an improved manned strategic aircraft in FY 1964 with $5 million from funds already available to the Air Force.
- A level of effort in FY 1965 adequate to complete the design studies and program definition and to provide the option for the earliest practicable system IOC by funding at a minimum level the long lead time items such as propulsion and avionics. Based on our studies to date, this effort would require approximately $50 million. In this case also, due to the importance which I place on this matter, I anticipate recommending certain adjustments within the Air Force budget to accommodate this effort without increased funds.
- It is recommended that:
- The memorandum at the Enclosure3 be forwarded to the Secretary of Defense.
- This paper NOT be forwarded to the commanders of unified or specified commands.
- This paper NOT be forwarded to US officers assigned to NATO activities.
- This paper NOT be forwarded to the Chairman, US Delegation, United Nations Military Staff Committee.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, Defense Programs and Operations, LeMay’s Memo to President and JCS Views, Box 83. Secret.↩
- See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. VIII, Document 154.↩
- Not printed.↩