158. Memorandum From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Vance) to President Johnson 1

There are five major issues between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Messrs. McNamara and Vance.2

1. Anti-Ballistic Missile.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend deployment of the Nike-X to protect our population against a Soviet attack. The initial system is estimated to cost $10 billion with $800 million in FY ′68. This system would be designed to provide a light area defense of the Continental United States and a local defense of 25 selected cities. The Joint Chiefs would preserve the option to expand the local defense system to 50 selected cities at an estimated cost of $20 billion using present cost factors. Messrs. McNamara and Vance believe that because of the usual cost under-estimation and engineering changes to overcome defects in systems tests, the necessary redesign to overcome Soviet countermeasures, the eventual cost of such a program would reach $30 to $40 billion.

Messrs. McNamara and Vance recommend against the deployment recommended by the Joint Chiefs because they believe the Soviets will take the necessary countermeasures to overcome our system just as we are doing to overcome theirs. They believe that ultimately the Soviet Union and the United States will end up in the same position after the unnecessary expenditure of millions of dollars. Messrs. McNamara and Vance believe that if any ABM system is to be deployed, it should be a “light” deployment, specifically and exclusively designed to satisfy the following four purposes.

To protect against a Communist Chinese missile attack.
To protect against an accidental missile launch.
To protect against nuclear blackmail which could take the form of a light attack on a single target of moderate value.
To help protect our land-based offensive forces.

Messrs. McNamara and Vance estimate the cost of such a system should run between $3 and $4 billion.

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2. Advanced Strategic Bomber (AMSA).

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that we proceed to obtain a firm contractor proposal for the development of a new strategic bomber and that we begin engine development in FY ′68 to achieve an initial operational capability in FY 1974. The Secretary of the Air Force estimates the FY ′68 cost at $47 million, FY 67–72 cost at $1.2 billion and the total development cost at $1.5 billion (production costs are not included in these figures and would add several billions). General McConnell has stated that he is not asking for a decision to go into production. General McConnell has stated that the principal reason he believes we should have an AMSA is because it will have a substantially greater bomb-carrying capacity than the FB–111.

Messrs. McNamara and Vance recommend $26 million in FY ′68 for continuation of component development, i.e. engines and avionics. They recommend disapproval of action to obtain a firm contractor proposal for system development because they do not believe an initial operational capability in FY 1974 is needed. They further believe it is doubtful we will need a new manned bomber because of difficulties associated with penetration of the Soviet Union in the mid and late 1970s. In addition, they believe that missiles, plus the FB–111 force which the United States will have at that time will be enough to meet our force requirements. Messrs. McNamara and Vance point out that the monies to be expended on engine and avionics development will give us an engine and avionics that could be used for other aircraft and therefore believe that the expenditure of such funds is wise and prudent.

3. Advanced ICBM.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend $36 million of R&D funds in FY ′68 for development of a propulsion and guidance system to meet a 1973 initial operational capability date. The $36 million would be broken down into $10 million for component development and the balance for contract definition. The Secretary of the Air Force would not go to contract definition but would spend $19 million for component development.

Messrs. McNamara and Vance recommend $19 million in FY 1968 which will permit us to carry on component development and begin system development next year if this should be desirable after review next summer. They see no need for an initial operational capability in 1973. At the recent meeting in Austin General McConnell stated that the Joint Chiefs could live with the $19 million program.

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4. Army Force Structure.

Messrs. McNamara and Vance recommend a total 1968 land force 32–1/3 division force equivalents (27–1/3 Army, 5 Marine) with 18–1/3 active Army divisions and 4 active Marine divisions. The Chief of Staff of the Army would add 30,000 men to the active Army now, and possibly an additional 45,000 in March or April of 1967, to provide 2 additional brigades now and a whole division later in the active Army. The equipment for these forces would be borrowed from similar units in the Reserves. The purpose of this plan, as explained by the Chief of Staff of the Army, would be to reduce the time required to deploy such forces.

Messrs. McNamara and Vance do not believe this is necessary or that it would significantly reduce the deployment time of such forces. They pointed out at the meeting in Austin that an alternative to General Johnson’s proposal would be the calling up of Reserve units. However, none of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the Reserves should be called at this time. Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff support the position of the Chief of Staff of the Army, in fact, their support is lukewarm.

5. Major Fleet Escorts Ships (DLGN/DDG).

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend construction of one nuclear-powered guided missile frigate (DLGN) in FY 1968 for $151 million, construction of the DLGN already authorized by the Congress in 1967, and the construction of two guided missile destroyers (DDG) in FY 1968 for $167 million. Messrs. McNamara and Vance recommend construction of the two DDGs in 1968 and the FY 1967 DLGN. They point out that the latter will provide us with one nuclear-powered escort for each of the planned nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. They recommend against the 1968 DLGN because they believe one nuclear escort per nuclear carrier is enough. The Chief of Naval Operations believes we should plan two nuclear escorts per nuclear carrier. This is the nub of the controversy between the Navy and Messrs. McNamara and Vance. In addition, Admiral McDonald points out that there has been no major Navy escort ship construction since 1962. Admiral McDonald states that we are not pushing too fast on nuclear power because the Navy is asking only for these two DLGNs and not asking for any other nuclear-powered surface ships.

Cyrus M. Vance 3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, Defense Programs and Operations, Draft Memoranda to the President, 1968–72, Tab 8, Box 71. Secret.
  2. For their discussions of these issues with President Johnson in Austin on December 6, see Documents and 150 and 151.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.