98. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–14–65


The Problem

To estimate the strength and capabilities of Soviet general purpose forces through mid-1967, especially against the Central Region of NATO, and general trends in those forces over the next ten years.


The new Soviet political leaders appear to have modified Khrushchev’s policy of curbing military costs at the expense of the general purpose forces. This change is probably attributable primarily to international tensions arising from the war in Vietnam, but it also reflects the increased influence of the ground force marshals. (Paras. 1–9)
Revisions in the force levels, organization, and deployment of the general purpose forces are virtually certain to occur in the course of the next [Page 267]ten years. The Soviets will probably improve the capabilities of their general purpose forces for non-nuclear war. The provision of more advanced weapon systems will increase the military effectiveness of the general purpose forces, but will also increase their cost. Over the longer term we foresee some reductions in personnel strength designed to hold this increasing cost within limits acceptable to the Soviet leadership. (Paras. 10–12)
We estimate that the USSR now has about 108 line divisions which are capable of participating in the initial operations of a war. These divisions have virtually all of their equipment. Their peacetime manning levels range from at least 90 percent of war strength in the Soviet forces in Eastern Europe to about 60 percent in the interior of the USSR. We estimate that the USSR has an additional 31 cadre divisions manned at an average of about 20 percent of full strength. Our confidence in these figures is higher than last year as a consequence of more intensive study and new information. (Paras. 13–27)
The Soviets have significantly increased their tactical rocket and missile support in the past year. Further increases are likely, as well as the introduction of systems of improved range and mobility. We believe that as the capabilities of tactical aircraft improve the numbers of aircraft in Tactical Aviation will gradually decline.2 (Paras. 28–36)
During the past year there has been a marked increase in the tempo of Soviet naval activity; a larger number of units have operated at a distance from Soviet waters. We believe that Soviet naval capabilities for operations far from home bases will continue to increase over the next ten years with the introduction into the forces of more long-range submarines and support ships. (Paras. 47–53, 59)
The USSR is seriously concerned about the Polaris threat to the homeland and has intensified efforts to improve its antisubmarine warfare capabilities. We estimate that, even so, the Soviet capability to detect, identify, and destroy submarines operating in the open seas will remain severely limited for the next several years. (Paras. 54–57)
The Soviets have shown increasing interest in airborne and amphibious capabilities in support of theater operations. Over the next [Page 268]ten years they will probably improve these capabilities and seek to develop some capability for distant limited military action. (Paras. 60–66)
The Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies have 45 divisions and about 2,900 combat aircraft immediately available for employment against the Central Region of NATO. We believe, however, that if the Soviets planned to attack NATO they would reinforce these forces, if circumstances permitted, with additional ground and air forces from the western USSR. (Paras. 67–76)


I. Soviet Policy Toward the General Purpose Forces

Despite the rapid and costly development of Soviet forces for strategic attack and defense, the general purpose forces remain the largest and most expensive element in the Soviet military establishment. Khrushchev, concerned with economic growth and consumer satisfaction, sought to check rising military costs. Because he gave priority to strategic attack and defense, he could accomplish this only by reducing the share of the military budget allocated to the general purpose forces. In 1960 he initiated drastic reductions in their strength. As the result of military opposition, which was strengthened by the Berlin crisis in 1961, these reductions were suspended, but Khrushchev continued to press for further cuts in the general purpose forces.
Khrushchev’s policy of cutting back the general purpose forces was based on a strategy of deterrence which placed first reliance on strategic rocket forces. These forces, he held, would also be most effective should deterrence fail, since a general nuclear war would be of short duration and its outcome would be determined by the initial nuclear exchange. Subsequent operations, in his view, could have only minor effects, and large scale theater operations would be inconceivable in the aftermath of a massive nuclear exchange.
Khrushchev’s views were strongly opposed by the military establishment in general. The more conservative marshals vigorously defended the utility of large general purpose forces, contending that large-scale and protracted land campaigns would be indispensable for victory in a general nuclear war; they concluded, not that these forces had no further role to play, but rather that they faced new and demanding requirements. The position eventually adopted by most important Soviet military leaders, including Marshal Malinovskiy, was a compromise. This accepted the decisiveness of nuclear weapons and the probability that a general war would be short, but it also held that such a war might be protracted and that the requirement for large theater forces continued into the nuclear era.
[Page 269]

The Policy of the New Leadership

The men who displaced Khrushchev face the same problems that confronted him regarding the proper allocation of Soviet resources. They are no less concerned than he to promote economic growth and to strengthen Soviet strategic attack and defense capabilities, but they appear to have relaxed the pressure which he exerted to limit expenditures for the general purpose forces. This change is probably attributable primarily to the increased international tensions arising from the war in Vietnam, but it reflects also the increased influence of the Soviet marshals.
The recent restoration of Marshal Chuykov to command of the ground forces is the most definite indication of a change in policy. He is a strong advocate of the maintenance of large ground forces. His bold public defense of his views when he was relieved of that command in 1964 made his return to it unlikely unless there had been a change in policy in the direction which he advocated. Consequently we believe there will be a slight increase in the strength of Soviet general purpose forces, and that they will number some two million men by the end of 1965.3
Khrushchev’s fall was accompanied by expressions of military disapproval of his preoccupation with nuclear armed missiles to the detriment of other military requirements. Ever since 1961 there have been indications of a growing acceptance of the possibility of non-nuclear conflict between nuclear powers. In June of this year Marshal Rotmistrov, predicting a nuclear stalemate between the US and the USSR, suggested that the ground forces might again become the decisive factor, in either a nuclear or a non-nuclear situation. Twice within the past six months Marshal Malinovskiy has spoken of the possibility of a non-nuclear war. Marshal Sokolovskiy recently observed that a situation of nuclear stalemate requires constant reappraisal of the relative roles of strategic and general purpose forces.
Thus the Soviet conviction that any conflict between nuclear powers must inevitably and quickly escalate into general nuclear war is now undergoing some modification. We believe that the Soviet leaders are increasingly prepared to contemplate the possibility of non-nuclear warfare between nuclear powers. Nevertheless, they almost certainly still consider that any conflict with NATO in Europe would carry grave risk of escalation to general nuclear war.
There has been no perceptible weakening of Soviet insistence that the use of tactical nuclear weapons in limited war would trigger a [Page 270]strategic exchange. While this doctrine serves deterrent purposes in part, it also represents an apparent Soviet conviction that escalation under such circumstances would be well-nigh uncontrollable. We do not believe that Soviet doctrine regarding the limited use of nuclear weapons will change in the foreseeable future, and we consider it highly unlikely that the USSR would initiate the use of such weapons in a limited conflict. If the Western powers were to do so, we believe that, doctrine notwithstanding, the Soviets would seek to prevent escalation to general war.
There have been no major changes in deployment of Soviet general purpose forces during the past year. However, after the collapse of border talks between the USSR and Communist China in August 1964, Soviet forces on the Manchurian border were strengthened by a motorized rifle division which was probably redeployed from the western USSR. Moreover, within the past year, internal shifts in the Far East moved elements of two other Soviet divisions closer to the Chinese border. Khrushchev’s successors have avoided reopening the territorial issue, and the border problem appears to have lapsed into a state of armed quiescence. However, the Soviet units moved there in last year’s crisis remain in position.

Trends to 1975

Revisions in the force levels, organization, and deployment of the general purpose forces are virtually certain to occur in the course of the next ten years. Such changes are more likely to result from technical military and economic considerations than from external political developments. A substantial relaxation of tensions between the USSR and the West would tend to aggravate tensions between the USSR and Communist China, and vice versa. Hence the Soviet authorities are not likely to find in the development of the international situation any warrant for a substantial reduction in general purpose forces, although the degree of tension may have marginal effects, as in the Berlin crisis of 1961.
Economic considerations will continue to be a major factor affecting the development of the general purpose forces. The provision of more advanced weapon systems will increase their military effectiveness, but will also increase their cost. Over the longer term we foresee some reductions in personnel strength designed to hold this increasing cost within limits acceptable to the Soviet leadership.
The principal changes over the next decade will probably be in the structure of the general purpose forces, particularly if the Soviets should decide to emphasize preparation for contingencies other than general nuclear war. Such a decision would imply, among other changes, a smaller number of larger divisions and increased provisions [Page 271]for combat and logistic support. Some restructuring along these lines is probable, but it is likely to occur only very gradually.

[Here follow Parts II–VI, pages 5–21, and Tables I–VI, pages 22–25.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Charles E. Johnson Files, NIEs [2 of 2]. Secret; Controlled Dissem. A cover sheet, prefatory note, title page, and table of contents are not printed. The cover sheet indicates that this NIE supersedes NIE 11–14–64, December 10, 1964. (Ibid., National Intelligence Estimates 11–64, USSR, Box 3) According to the prefatory note, the CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Agency participated in the preparation of this estimate. Representatives of the State Department, DIA, AEC, and NSA concurred; the FBI representative abstained, the subject being outside his jurisdiction.
  2. The ACS/Intelligence, USAF is unable to reconcile Conclusion B, which estimates a probable improvement in capabilities of Soviet general purpose forces for non-nuclear warfare, with this conclusion that there will be a further increase in tactical missiles which are cost-effective only with nuclear/CW warheads, but a reduction in Tactical Aviation, which has an iron bomb as well as a nuclear and air defense capability. He notes further that reduction of Tactical Aviation as predicted in each of the past several years has not materialized. He would substitute the following for the final sentence:

    “Barring a marked change in the overall structure and size of Soviet general purpose forces we believe that the numbers of aircraft in Tactical Aviation will remain about the same as at present, and introduction of new aircraft will provide improved capabilities.” [Footnote in the source text.]

  3. The numbers and distribution of manpower in all the Soviet military forces will be discussed in NIE 11–4–66, “Main Trends in Soviet Military Policy,” scheduled for completion in April 1966. [Footnote in the source text. See Document 131.]