217. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–8–68
TCS 582–68


The Problem

To estimate the strength and capabilities of Soviet strategic attack forces through mid-1970 and to estimate general trends in those forces over the next 10 years.


The primary objectives of Soviet strategic policy have been to achieve a more formidable deterrent and to narrow and eventually to overcome the US lead in capabilities for intercontinental attack. Toward this end the Soviets have built strategic forces, both offensive and defensive, which provide a large assured destruction capability and important damage-limiting capabilities as well. While they have only begun to narrow the gap in submarine-launched ballistic missiles and remain inferior in heavy bombers, the Soviets will shortly overcome the US lead in numbers of ICBM launchers. Current programs will bring further improvements in the USSR’s strategic position, already the most favorable of the postwar period. But the Soviets face in the future a strategic situation changed and complicated by projected improvements in US forces—Poseidon, Minuteman III, and the antiballistic missile system—that threaten to erode their relative position.
In deciding upon the future size and composition of their strategic forces the Soviets are almost certainly exploring a number of alternatives. They are evidently interested in strategic arms control as an option that could conserve economic resources and protect their improved strategic position. In the absence of an arms control agreement, we believe that they will continue the arms competition with the [Page 746] US, seeking to maintain and if possible improve their relative strategic position. In any case, they will probably give increased attention to qualitative improvements, particularly those designed to enhance survivability and capacity to penetrate defenses.
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The great improvement in the USSR’s strategic position results primarily from the rapid and extensive ICBM deployment of the past few years. The Soviet ICBM force now has about 900 operational launchers and our evidence on construction activity indicates that it will surpass the US force in numbers by 1970. The Soviets have begun deployment of a small solid-propellant ICBM, they probably are developing a new large liquid-propellant system, and they probably will develop a mobile ICBM system. In addition, they are flight-testing multiple reentry vehicles (MRVs).
We believe that for the period of this estimate the Soviet force goal will lie somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 ICBM launchers.2 If it lies near the low side, the Soviet ICBM force would probably peak at a higher level until older launchers were phased out. Such a force would probably embody considerable qualitative improvements including better accuracy, more sophisticated reentry vehicles such as MRVs and multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs), and possibly penetration aids. A force toward the higher side of our estimate would also include qualitative improvements, and it would rely in part upon larger numbers to attain improved capabilities.
Space Weapons. At the time of our last estimate the Soviets were conducting extensive flight tests which we believed related to development of a fractional orbit bombardment system (FOBS). Developments since that time have lowered our confidence that we understand the intended purpose of the system under test; the Soviets may be trying to develop a FOBS, a depressed trajectory intercontinental ballistic missile, or perhaps a dual system which could perform both missions. Until our evidence is more conclusive, we are unable to make a confident estimate as to the type of system being developed, when it could reach initial operational capability (IOC), or how it may be deployed. We continue to believe it unlikely that the Soviets will develop a multiple orbit bombardment system.
Medium-Range Ballistic Missile/Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM/IRBM). There has been little change in the size of the MRBM/IRBM force, which still stands at about 700 launchers. We estimate that new MRBMs and IRBMs will supersede present systems [Page 747] within the next 10 years. The Soviets will continue to maintain massive strategic forces against Eurasia, but the introduction of improved missiles may result in some decrease in numbers. We believe that the Soviets are developing and will deploy, in both a fixed and a mobile configuration, a new solid-propellant MRBM (designated SS–14) of about 1,500 n.m. range which could reach IOC in a year or two. We estimate that they will also develop a solid-propellant IRBM with a range of about 3,000–3,500 n.m., and that it will reach IOC in 1970–1971. It will probably be deployed in both fixed and mobile launchers and with its extended range will provide more flexible coverage of Eurasian targets.
Submarine-Launched Missiles. The Soviets have clearly embarked upon a high priority program to improve and expand their ballistic missile submarine force. Six, possibly 7, of the 16-tube Y-class submarines have now come down the ways and there is evidence suggesting that the production of this class will be stepped up soon. We believe that the Soviets are building toward a ballistic missile submarine force that will confront the US with a threat roughly comparable to that which the Polaris force presents the USSR. They could reach that position by the mid-1970’s, when they will probably have some 65–80 ballistic missile submarines, of which 35–50 will be Y-class types.
Long-Range Aviation. Attrition and retirement of older models will gradually reduce the Soviet heavy bomber force. The medium-bomber force will probably also decline as Badgers are phased out, but at a slower rate than we estimated last year. The introduction of a new air-to-surface missile into the Badger force suggests that the Soviets intend to extend the useful life of some of those aircraft for a few more years. We still believe that the Soviets are unlikely to introduce a follow-on heavy bomber; they may introduce a follow-on medium if the Blinder does not satisfy their future requirements.3


I. Trends in Policy and Doctrine

The most important issues of Soviet military policy concern the strategic balance between the US and the USSR. The goals of Soviet strategic weapons programs were set at a time when the US enjoyed such a superiority in intercontinental delivery systems as to put the USSR at a political and psychological disadvantage. The aim of Soviet strategic policy, therefore, has been to achieve a more formidable deterrent and to narrow and eventually to overcome the US lead. Toward this end, the Soviets have built strategic forces, both offensive and defensive, [Page 748] which provide a large assured destruction capability and important damage-limiting capabilities as well, and they have substantially reduced the US lead in numbers of intercontinental delivery vehicles.
The great improvement in the USSR’s strategic position results from the buildup of Soviet strategic forces begun by Khrushchev several years ago. The new leaders have made some decisions as to the size and composition of their strategic forces, but they have generally followed the strategic policies and programs that they inherited. In the future, however, they face a strategic situation significantly changed from that which led to present Soviet policies. Projected improvements in US strategic forces—Poseidon, Minuteman III, and the antiballistic missile (ABM) system—threaten to erode their relative position. Now the Soviet leaders are confronted with the necessity for new decisions on the future size and composition of their strategic forces. Other military requirements and the growing needs of the general economy are among the factors which the leaders must consider in making these decisions.
Under the collective leadership, military expenditures have continued to rise, primarily as the result of the continuing development and large-scale deployment of strategic weapons, which account for about half of the total military expenditures. The requirements of these programs for scarce high-quality resources of the sort needed to sustain economic growth have aggravated the impact of defense spending on the economy. Now, events in the Far East and in Europe have posed new military requirements which probably will result in a substantial increase in the strength of Soviet theater forces. Thus the perennial problem of resource allocation promises to sharpen. Economic considerations almost certainly were among the principal reasons for the Soviet decision to discuss arms control with the US.
Nevertheless, the economic considerations contributing to the Soviet decision are probably no more compelling than the strategic considerations. Considering US plans for improvements in its strategic forces, the Soviets probably recognize that a considerable sustained effort would be necessary to maintain the relative position they have now achieved. They may also be concerned lest the end of the Vietnam War enable the US to divert additional resources to its strategic forces. Finally, they may reason that further increments to their strategic forces would have little effect on the relationship between the US and the USSR so long as the US maintained its large, second-strike assured destruction capability. If these arguments were to prevail in the USSR, the Soviets would probably seek an agreement that preserved their present strategic relationship with the US.
It is too early to assess the full implications of the Czech crisis for Soviet policy toward arms control. The Soviets still have the same basic [Page 749] economic and military incentives; indeed, it is possible that the new military requirements generated by the Czech crisis have added to those incentives. Moreover, the present Soviet line seems to be that the Czech crisis is an internal Communist Bloc affair that should have no effect on the USSR’s relations with the US. It is possible, therefore, that the Soviets will seek to proceed with arms control talks. At a minimum, however, the Czech crisis has delayed the opening of talks with the US and has dampened the prospects of any real progress toward strategic arms control in the near term.
In any case, the Soviet leaders cannot base their strategic planning on the possibility of strategic arms control and will almost certainly explore other alternatives. At a minimum, they might consider a policy of deterrence aimed only at maintaining a large assured destruction capability. Or they might consider a try for strategic superiority of such an order that it could be translated into significant political gain. We consider it highly unlikely that the Soviets will select either of these courses of action. The first, that of unilateral deescalation, would involve a decision to sacrifice the hard-won gains of recent years. The second would involve economic sacrifices that are probably unacceptable to the present leadership and would almost certainly provoke a strong US reaction. We believe, therefore, that in the absence of a strategic arms control agreement, the USSR will continue the arms competition with the US with the object of maintaining and if possible improving its relative strategic position.
For several years, the Soviets have given the highest priority to the effort to overcome the US lead in numbers of intercontinental delivery vehicles, particularly in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). By 1970, the Soviets will probably surpass the US force in numbers of ICBM launchers but they will remain inferior in submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. To maintain an assured destruction capability in the strategic situation that is emerging, qualitative improvements, particularly those related to survivability and capacity to penetrate defenses, become more important. There will undoubtedly be pressures for a continuing enlargement of the ICBM force, and it may continue to grow. But having attained rough numerical parity with the US in ICBMs, the Soviets will probably give increased attention to other options designed to enhance the survivability and effectiveness of their strategic attack forces.

[Here follow Parts II–VII, an annex, and seven tables (pages 6–41).]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Miscellaneous CIA Intelligence Memoranda [4 of 4], Box 14. Top Secret; Ruff; [codeword not declassified]; [classification marking not declassified]. A title page, prefatory note, an October 3 letter from Helms to recipients of NIE 11–8–68 indicating that the extreme sensitivity of this NIE required that it not be reproduced or its existence revealed to unauthorized persons, and a 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 Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Security Agency participated in the preparation of this estimate. Representatives of the CIA, State Department, DIA, NSA, and AEC concurred; the FBI representative abstained, the subject being outside his jurisdiction.
  2. For the position of Maj. Gen. Jammie M. Philpott, the Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, and Maj. Gen. Wesley C. Franklin, for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, see their footnote to paragraph 33. [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. For the position of Maj. Gen. Jammie M. Philpott, the Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, see his footnotes to Section VI. [Footnote in the source text.]