53. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Posts 1

498. Joint State-Defense-USIA Circular. Reference: Circular 495.2 Secretary McNamara issued following statement today on weapons developments announced by President yesterday:

Begin Text:

As you know, President Johnson announced yesterday that the United States is able to intercept and destroy armed satellites. I would like to give you, within the limits of military security, some additional information about this capability.

The two anti-satellite systems which the President discussed are operated by the Army and the Air Force. They are under the operational control of the Continental Air Defense Command. They make use of certain Navy facilities as well.

The Army system uses the Nike Zeus missile while the Air Force system employs the Thor missile. Both systems utilize the data from our global space detection and tracking network which includes various radars, sensors and computers.

The Army program to develop an anti-satellite capability was begun in May of 1962 and the Air Force program early in 1963.

It is especially significant that both the Army and the Air Force successfully intercepted satellites a year after I directed them to achieve this capability. The Army system was operational on August 1, 1963, the Air Force system on May 29, 1964.

The two systems have been effectively tested and have intercepted satellites in space, their missiles passing so close as to be within the destruction radius of the warheads.

The bases at which these anti-satellite systems are deployed is classified information. [Page 157] To date, we have invested $80,000,000 to achieve this capability. This figure does not include the funds we are spending on items like the Space Detection and Tracking System and the Anti-Intercontinental Ballistic Missile system.

The family of over-the-horizon radars also announced yesterday by President Johnson is one of the most dramatic examples of new developments.

These new systems will bounce radar signals off the ionosphere and send them to the earth far beyond the horizon. Missiles being launched reflect or otherwise influence these signals which are received back at the transmitting station or at other points far beyond the horizon. These signals are then processed by electronic techniques to provide target detection and identification. Capabilities also exist against aircraft.

More than $50,000,000 has been invested in this program to develop and produce installations for these missile and aircraft detection systems. This radar will provide detection of missiles within seconds of launch at a distance of several thousand miles. End Text.

If transcript Q and A period, now being prepared, reveals additional relevant material posts will be informed.3

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12–1 US. Unclassified; Immediate. Drafted by Thomas P. Dillon (P/PG) on September 18; cleared by Kirby (OASD/PA), Grant G. Hilliker (S/S), and Jay Warner Gildner (USIA/IOP); and approved by James L. Greenfield (P). Sent to all EUR and ARA posts and to 22 others.
  2. Circular telegram 495, September 17, transmitted the text of remarks President Johnson made that day in Sacramento, California, on the steps of the State Capitol. (Ibid.) The President’s remarks are printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, Book II, pp. 1086–1090.
  3. Selected questions and answers at Secretary McNamara’s press conference were transmitted in circular telegram 500, September 18. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12–1 US)