43. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McNaughton) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1



  • Indian Ocean Islands


The British Embassy informed us officially on 14 July (Tab A)2 that HMG has decided in principle to build an air staging facility on Aldabra [Page 102] Island. They estimate the cost at 18 million pounds ($50 million). They ask:

Whether we wish to send a small group to participate in engineering surveys in September, and
Whether we are willing to fund one-half of the cost ($25 million) in return for equal use of the facility.


The British have recently made counter-proposals on our draft agreement concerning future defense use of the “detached” islands, including Aldabra and Diego Garcia, which now constitute the British Indian Ocean Territory. Some differences remain for negotiation, but we do not anticipate that these differences will seriously delay conclusion of the agreement. One theme of the agreement is that the islands are available for defense use over a long period by both Governments and that to assure coordination there should be consultation on plans. The agreement also recognizes the possibility of joint financing for facilities in which both Governments may be interested.
Last year the Air Force proposed a facility on Aldabra similar to that now planned by the British. You did not approve funding for a USAF installation per se, but indicated willingness to help fund a British installation if we had assured use. The Air Force continues to have a strong interest in such a facility (see Tab B), and is supported by the Joint Chiefs. The current Air Force cost estimate for the facility is considerably lower than the British figure.
Last February you authorized Navy to make in-house studies toward development of engineering plans for construction of logistic support facilities on Diego Garcia, preparatory to programming action. A Navy PCP detailing this plan is in the final stages of preparation. The fact of this planning has been closely held.
A British installation on Aldabra would promote their continued military presence in the western Indian Ocean. Further, if we should fail to contribute toward its development, it is doubtful that the British would build it alone. Our contribution would thus advance the case of those within the HMG who have supported a British presence East of Suez. We would also have the physical facilities available for our own use whenever necessary.
A contribution toward the British facility on Aldabra would give us an excellent opportunity to stimulate British interest in participating in the construction and operation of facilities we may decide to build on Diego Garcia. By letting it be known in this context that we are examining the feasibility and utility of naval support facilities on Diego Garcia, we may be able to promote British participation and their continued presence in the central Indian Ocean area.
[Page 103]


That we accept in principle the British proposal for a jointly financed facility on Aldabra, and authorize the Air Force to participate in detailed planning with the British authorities, join in the September surveys, and include funding of the U.S. share in its FY 68 program.
That we inform the British that we are examining the feasibility and utility of austere naval support facilities including an air strip on Diego Garcia, and seek early arrangements with the British for a joint engineering survey. We would make clear to the British that we have made no final decision to build, and would seek to stimulate some degree of British participation in the project should it materialize.
John T. McNaughton
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 70 A 6648, 680.1, Indian Ocean Islands. Secret.
  2. Neither tab is printed.
  3. McNamara approved both recommendations on August 4.