143. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–8–66


The Problem

To estimate the strength and capabilities of Soviet strategic attack forces through mid-1968, and to estimate general trends in these forces over the next 10 years or so.

Summary and Conclusions

The Soviets retain their belief in the primacy of strategic attack and defense forces, to deter the US and to support their foreign policy. Soviet strategic attack forces will continue to include a variety of weapon systems, with chief emphasis upon ICBMs. The Soviets are building forces which we believe will give them, in the next year or two, greatly increased confidence that they have a retaliatory capability sufficient to assure the destruction of a significant portion of US industrial resources and population. They will probably also seek, through both strategic attack and defense programs, to improve their ability to reduce the damage the US can inflict on the USSR should deterrence fail and war in fact occur. We do not believe, however, that the Soviets will [Page 440]expect to achieve by the mid-1970’s strategic capabilities which would make rational the deliberate initiation of general war.2
ICBM Force. The Soviets now have about 335 operational ICBM launchers. We estimate that the USSR will have some 670–765 operational launchers in mid-1968. This is considerably more than we anticipated in our last estimate and reflects our belief that construction of launchers has been started at a higher rate than ever before.
In mid-1968, about half the operational launchers will be for the small and relatively inaccurate SS–11. This missile is suitable mainly against large, soft targets such as cities. Deployment of the SS–9, a large missile more suitable for attacking hard targets, is also continuing, though at a slower rate than the SS–11.
The present Soviet stress on dispersed single silos, especially those for the SS–11, probably reflects decisions taken several years ago to improve sharply the survivability and thus the retaliatory capabilities of the ICBM force. In mid-1968 about 80 percent of the total launchers will be hard.
The Soviets might not find it advantageous to build ICBM forces much larger than those we estimate for 1968. On the other hand, they might consider their deterrent to be significantly more convincing and their military power improved if they can acquire an ICBM force about as large as that of the US. We therefore estimate a Soviet ICBM force of some 800–1,100 operational launchers in mid-1971 and some 800–1,200 in mid-1976.3
A 1976 force of about 1,200 launchers would probably consist primarily of small, less expensive ICBMs. A force of 800 or so would probably incorporate greater qualitative improvements and significant numbers of larger ICBMs. Characteristic of future deployment will be hard silos and possibly mobile launchers. Qualitative improvements will [Page 441]probably include much better accuracies and may include sophisticated reentry vehicles and penetration aids. The development of the force will probably be marked by interruptions and leveling-off phases as new, more effective systems are introduced and older systems are phased out.
We think that ICBM forces falling anywhere within these estimated ranges could be considered as meeting a broad Soviet criterion for a credible deterrent. Thus we intend our estimate of future force levels as a range of uncertainty, either side of which would reflect the same basic Soviet strategic concept. For a period so far ahead, however, much will depend on the interplay between US and Soviet decisions taken in the interim.
The Soviets have recently conducted feasibility tests of what may be a depressed trajectory ICBM or a fractional orbit bombardment system. We cannot determine which, if either, of these systems will be deployed. Either could become operational during 1968 but probably would not be deployed in large numbers.
MRBM/IRBM Forces. No major changes in the MRBM/IRBM force have been noted during the past year. We estimate that the current force comprises somewhat over 700 operational launchers, some 135 of them hard, deployed at about 200 sites. This force is capable of delivering a devastating attack against Eurasian targets but is predominantly soft and concentrated. We believe that throughout the period of this estimate the USSR will maintain some 500–700 MRBM/IRBM launchers. Qualitative improvements are expected to include solid propellant missiles, more hard launchers, and probably mobility for some portion of the force.
Missile Submarines. The Soviets presently have some 45 ballistic missile submarines (8–10 nuclear-powered) with a total of about 130 launchers, and an equal number of cruise missile units (21–23 nuclear-powered) with about 250 launchers. No new ballistic missile submarines have become operational since 1963. We believe, however, that a new class of ballistic missile submarine—which almost certainly will be nuclear-powered and may carry 8 or more missiles with a range of some 1,000 to 2,000 n.m.—will be operational by mid-1968. We estimate that by 1976 the Soviets will have some 60 to 70 ballistic missile submarines, including about 30 of the new type. We believe that production of cruise missile submarines will continue, but at a reduced rate, into the 1970’s. We estimate that some 55–65 of these units will be operational in 1976.
Regular open ocean patrols by Soviet missile submarines have been stepped up in recent months. This patrol activity will probably continue to increase. By the early 1970’s, as much as 30 percent of the [Page 442]ballistic missile submarine force may be on station in potential missile launch areas at any one time. This number could be augmented by whatever portion of their cruise missile submarine force the Soviets allocate to a strategic attack mission.
Strategic Bomber Force. Long Range Aviation is now composed of 950–1,000 bomber/tanker aircraft, 200–210 of which are heavies and the rest mediums. The primary mission of the heavies is intercontinental attack; at present, the Soviets could probably put about 100 heavy bombers over US target areas on two-way missions. The medium bombers are mainly for use against Eurasian targets, though a few squadrons might be employed for initial strikes against Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Iceland. The Soviets could augment the force over North America by using medium bombers on one-way missions, but we think this unlikely. The Soviets may develop a new medium bomber during the period of this estimate, but probably not a new heavy. We estimate that by 1976 attrition and retirement will have reduced the heavy force to some 70–100 aircraft and the medium force to about 300–500.4
Space Systems. For some years the USSR has been orbiting several types of satellites including reconnaissance types. Within the next 5 to 10 years the Soviets will probably develop and employ a variety of space systems (such as navigation and communications satellites) to further support their strategic attack forces. The Soviets have long had the capability to orbit a nuclear-armed satellite and have frequently alluded to “orbital rockets.” Recent feasibility tests could lead to a multiple-orbit bombardment system. For the foreseeable future, however, ICBMs are likely to be much more effective and far less costly. This, plus the political liability which would be incurred by orbiting a nuclear weapon, lead us to believe that the Soviets are unlikely to deploy a multiple-orbit bombardment system in space during the period of this estimate.
Research and Development. The Soviets continue to pursue a vigorous R&D program to develop and improve strategic attack systems. A high level of R&D activity is expected to continue. The USSR appears [Page 443]to be about as capable as the US of developing new strategic systems and subsystems which its leaders feel are important enough to justify the expenditure of resources. In deciding to deploy any new weapon system, however, the Soviets would have to weigh the prospective gain against the economic cost and the capabilities of the US to detect and counter it.

[Here follow the Discussion section (Parts I–VII, pages 6–34) and Annex A and B (pages 35–47 and following page 47).]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 263. Top Secret; Controlled Dissem. A cover sheet, prefatory note, title page, and table of contents are not printed. According to the prefatory note, the CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, the NSA, and the AEC participated in the preparation of this estimate. Representatives of CIA, State Department, DIA, NSA, and AEC concurred; the FBI representative abstained, the subject being outside his jurisdiction. Attached is an October 20 memorandum from Helms to recipients of this NIE, which notes that because of the “extreme sensitivity of the information” in this NIE, the President wanted its dissemination to be “carefully limited.” Helms stressed “that there be absolutely no reproduction of this Estimate, and that no revelation of its existence be made to unauthorized persons.”
  2. Maj. Gen. Jack E. Thomas, Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, believes that developments of the past year reflect a continuing Soviet dissatisfaction with a posture of strategic inferiority vis-à-vis the US and a determination to eliminate such inferiority. He would add the following to the final sentence: “… but programs already underway, plus a continuing strong R&D effort, reflect a Soviet determination to rise from a position of strategic inferiority to one of at least numerical parity with the US in the belief that such a posture would markedly enhance the aggressive pursuit of Communist aims.” [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. Maj. Gen. Jack E. Thomas, Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, believes that the Soviets could construct single silo ICBM launchers at a rate which would enable the USSR to achieve numerical parity with the planned US program by 1970. He would delete the last sentence and substitute the following: “We estimate a Soviet ICBM force of some 1,000–1,100 operational launchers by 1970–1971. If the USSR develops a MIRV capability, the launcher total may hold at around 1,000–1,200; otherwise, the Soviets probably will have upwards of 1,200 and perhaps 1,500 launchers by the mid-1970’s.” [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. Maj. Gen. Jack E. Thomas, Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, believes the Soviets will continue to consider manned strategic aircraft an important element of their intercontinental strike forces. He estimates the USSR has the capability and—considering the currently limited size of the Soviet ICBM force—the requirement for a major manned strategic bomber effort against the US in the event of general war, and could put as many as 400 heavy and medium bombers over US target areas. He estimates the USSR is likely to introduce both a follow-on heavy bomber and a new medium bomber into LRA within the next few years. He concludes that in 1976 LRA will consist of about 200 heavy bombers and some 400–600 medium bombers of both new and old types. [Footnote in the source text.]