108. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to the Secretary of the Air Force (Brown) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1


  • B–52 Airborne Alert (U)

I have carefully considered your reclamas on the discontinuation of the B–52 airborne alert.2 A staff evaluation of your proposal is contained in the enclosure to this memorandum.3 I believe that the very great improvements in the survival potential of our Strategic Retaliatory forces, resulting mainly from the deployment of Minuteman and Polaris, make an airborne alert no longer necessary. Moreover, in view of the improvements in our intelligence and warning systems since the airborne alert was established, I believe that the airborne alert is no longer the way to get maximum effectiveness out of the bomber force, even in the face of surprise attack.

This decision is intended to provide adequate resources to support B–52 training requirements. SAC should continue to fly the amount of airborne alert type indoctrination flights the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider optimum within the resources provided for the normal flying program. The airborne alert spares stockpile and missile (Hound Dog) spares need no longer be reserved for airborne alert.

Robert S. McNamara 4
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 70 A 1266, 381 (Alpha) A thru D 1965. Secret. Drafted by Ike Selin (OASD (SA)/SP) on December 10; rewritten on December 11, 13 (twice), and 14; and revised by McNamara on December 18.
  2. In a December 8 memorandum to McNamara, which responded to McNamara’s decision to discontinue SAC airborne alert operations on July 1, 1966, Brown summarized the Department of the Air Force reclama (attached to his memorandum) as recommending the reduction of the airborne alert to the flying of “six aircraft on continuous alert with an on-shelf capability for one-eighth of the B–52 fleet for ninety days” and “a less desirable alternative which eliminates one year’s provision of long lead items.” (Ibid.) In a December 9 memorandum to McNamara (JCSM–872–65), the JCS made a similar recommendation. (Ibid.)
  3. Not printed.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates McNamara signed the original.