110. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon 1

  • SUBJECT
    • Soviet SS–11 Testing

The Soviets have been testing the SS–11 with new payloads since late Spring. Until recently the tests appeared to consist of the deployment of one re-entry vehicle and several other light objects which might be intended to be exoatmosphere penetration aids. Analysis of the re-entry vehicles on two of these tests indicate that their ballistic coefficient is considerably higher than that of the standard SS–11 re-entry vehicle, that is to say, the front of the re-entry vehicle is less blunt.

The more obvious reasons for deploying high ballistic coefficient systems are first, their re-entry errors tend to be less than that of low ballistic coefficient vehicles and hence give one method by which the accuracy of a missile system can be improved.2 Second, in that they slow down less in the atmosphere they put a greater burden upon terminal defenses. Third, it is easier to build terminal decoys for some sleek re-entry vehicles than for blunt re-entry vehicles. At this time we do not have enough analysis of the flight to distinguish among these three possibilities. The preliminary analysis of data seems to indicate that the penetration aids as deployed would probably be ineffective against the Safeguard system.

Mel Laird
  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 27, Safeguard. Top Secret.
  2. Laird discussed Soviet missile testing during his telephone conversation with Kissinger on December 9 at 6:55 p.m. According to the transcript, Laird said that, while “he was not trying to be an alarmist about it,” new intelligence indicated that the Soviets had attained a one-mile CEP during the latest round of SS–11 tests. The data suggested that the Soviets, according to the Secretary of Defense, “have gone for better accuracy. K said that has been my nightmare on the SS–9. L said that might be the reason why they are keeping quiet on this.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)