72. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

    • Status of Soviet Submarine Support Facilities at Cienfuegos, Cuba

Since my last report to you on November 27, 1970,2 construction associated with the Soviet submarine support facilities in Cienfuegos has virtually ceased. Construction associated with the industrial complex north of the city continues at a high level. Anti-aircraft and field artillery emplaced in September and later removed has not been redeployed. Truck-mounted ocean surveillance radar continues to be deployed at the harbor’s mouth, probably to provide security for Soviet fleet units in the harbor. Construction activity has included:

  • —completion of interior finishing work to the barracks adjoining the recreation facility on Cayo Alcatraz;
  • —repair work to the pier on Cayo Ocampo, part of which apparently collapsed or was damaged in some way;
  • —construction of a small shed or open-sided warehouse near the pier on Cayo Ocampo;
  • —road improvement near a possible communications facility north of the naval basin. (There has been no work on the possible communications site itself since September.)

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There has been considerable Soviet naval activity in Caribbean waters since my last report. The submarine tender left Cienfuegos on November 28 and rendezvoused north of Puerto Rico with a Kashin Class guided missile frigate and an oiler which had entered the Caribbean enroute from the Baltic. The group was later joined by an F-Class (conventional) attack submarine. After performing maneuvers, the group visited several Cuban ports and called at Havana from December 15–18. It returned to Cienfuegos on December 21. Maneuvers were also performed with Cuban naval units along the way. Two Soviet Bear long-range reconnaissance planes flew from the Soviet Union via the North Atlantic to Havana on December 3 and returned December 8. They overflew the Soviet fleet units on the way to Cuba but remained on the ground while there and performed no discernible maneuvers with either Soviet or Cuban forces.

At the present time, the submarine tender, guided missile frigate, F-Class submarine, and ocean rescue tug are in Cienfuegos. The oiler is probably also there. The two nuclear support barges have remained in Cienfuegos though they have been moved from Cayo Ocampo to the Cuban naval base at Cayo Loco, apparently to allow repair work on the Ocampo pier. The SS Komarov (space event support ship) and the diving tender remain in Havana. Another F-Class submarine, and possibly a Soviet nuclear-powered attack submarine unaccounted for for some time may also be in the Caribbean area.

The continued presence of a Soviet subtender in Cuban waters, along with the associated facilities remaining at Cienfuegos, gives the Soviets a capability to provide replenishment and limited upkeep for nuclear-powered submarines. This could be accomplished in the protected naval basin in the southern part of the harbor where the mooring buoys, submarine net, and new shore recreation facilities remain in place. Alternatively a tender based at Cienfuegos could rendezvous with submarines at Sea and furnish them virtually the same support.

The Soviet capability for nuclear submarine support which remains because of the presence of the subtender is limited. The tender can carry out maintenance and minor repair services for submarines, but probably cannot perform major repairs. It lacks facilities for removing and handling ballistic missiles, and these facilities are not available in Cienfuegos. Likewise, there is no evidence of nuclear storage facilities. Because of these limitations, the support capability at Cienfuegos is less than that available to U.S. Polaris submarines at Holy Loch. Its primary value would be in furnishing mid-patrol servicing and recreation facilities to nuclear-powered attack submarines, thus extending the length of time such vessels could remain away from major base facilities in the USSR. If the Soviets want to use the facilities at Cienfuegos to service Y-Class ballistic missile submarines, the “on-station” time of these units could be increased about 25%.

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We have no firm evidence as to whether the Soviets intend to proceed with the establishment of a submarine support facility at Cienfuegos, either for themselves or possibly for the Cubans, or whether they will abandon the project. However, until the subtender leaves the area, the Soviets do in fact retain a capability to support nuclear-powered submarines at Cienfuegos.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 2. Top Secret; Codeword; Nodis; Outside System. Sent for information. Although Kissinger initialed the memorandum, no evidence has been found that Nixon saw it. According to an attached handwritten note, the memorandum may have been “overtaken by events.” Haig wrote in the margin: “Hold here in Dob. file re subject.”
  2. Document 53.