160. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–8–70


The Problem

To assess the strength and capabilities of Soviet forces for intercontinental attack, to estimate their size and composition through mid-1975, and to forecast general trends thereafter.

Summary Conclusions

I. Present Status of Soviet Intercontinental Attack Forces


The intercontinental attack forces considered in this paper include intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. In the course of the past 10 years the Soviets have engaged in a vigorous and costly buildup of these elements of their military establishment. While all defense spending increased during the period, the estimated share allocated to these forces doubled, going from about 5 percent in 1960 to more than 10 percent in the later years of the decade. The 1969 level—an estimated 2.3 billion rubles (the equivalent of $5.6 billion)2—was more than three times as high as the 1960 level. For the decade as a whole, spending on intercontinental attack forces accumulated to about 16 billion rubles (about $36 billion) with ICBMs accounting for about 80 percent of this amount. These figures do not include the cost of research and development [Page 621] (R&D), which rose faster during the 1960s than any other component of Soviet defense spending, and which we estimate has now surpassed that of the US.
As a result of this effort, the Soviets had on 1 October 1970 an estimated 1,291 operational ICBM launchers at operational ICBM complexes, and they will have an estimated 1,445 launchers operational by mid-1972. To this number may be added: (1) an estimated 80 SS–11 launchers (120 by mid-1972) believed to be deployed at intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) complexes and possibly intended for use against Eurasian targets, which are nevertheless capable of reaching the US, and (2) some 90 launchers which we believe are located at test or training sites. Of the 1,445 ICBMs estimated to be at operational complexes by mid-1972, 306 probably will be of the large SS–9 type and 850 the smaller SS–11. The remainder will consist of older SS–7 and SS–8 missiles, plus an estimated 80 of the small, solid-propellant SS–13s.
While these ICBM programs were under way, the Soviets were also energetically developing nuclear-powered, ballistic-missile-firing submarines. Of these the most notable is the Y-class, which, like the US Polaris, has 16 tubes for launching missiles. The missile presently carried by this class has an estimated range of about 1,300 n.m., a yield of [less than 1 line not declassified] and a system Circular Error Probable (CEP) [less than 1 line not declassified]. Y-class submarines are now being produced at the estimated rate of 7–8 a year; we believe that 14 are now operational and that some 5 others are in various stages of fitting out and sea trials. Another 12 or 13 are believed to be in various stages of assembly. Besides the Y-class there are submarines of earlier design which could contribute to the intercontinental attack mission.
The USSR has not, in recent years, shown equal interest in manned bombers of intercontinental capability. At present there are 195 heavy bombers and tankers operational, all of them of the Bison and Bear types, whose designs date from the 1950s. We believe that a prototype now exists of a new aircraft, [less than 1 line not declassified]. It might be used in an intercontinental role, and the force may be built up beginning about 1974 or 1975.
The Principal Types of ICBMs
The SS–11, by far the most numerous of Soviet ICBMs, is estimated to have a CEP of [less than 1 line not declassified] and a yield [less than 1 line not declassified]. It is thus a weapon best suited for use against soft targets—cities, industrial installations, and some military targets. It can reach all parts of the US, but has also been tested to ranges as short as 500–600 n.m., indicating much flexibility in its possible uses. In 1969 testing began of a modified version. Analysis of these tests has not yet [Page 622] produced a full understanding of their implications; we remain confident nevertheless that the modified SS–11 will still be a soft-target weapon, designed to improve the ability to penetrate antiballistic missile defenses. Deployment of the SS–11 may have ceased at ICBM complexes, and appears to be tapering off at IRBM and MRBM complexes.
The SS–9 now exists in four variants: Mod 1, which carries a re-entry vehicle (RV) weighing about 9,500 pounds; Mod 2, whose RV weighs about 13,000 pounds; Mod 3, which has been tested both as a depressed trajectory ICBM (DICBM) and as a fractional orbit bombardment system (FOBS); and Mod 4, which carries three RVs. Leaving Mod 3 aside for the time being, our analysis of evidence on the capabilities of Mods 1, 2, and 4 turns up some perplexing problems.
There is general agreement that the SS–9 was developed, early in the 1960s, to provide better accuracy and a larger payload than the SS–7, presumably for use against hard targets—i.e., the US Minuteman system. The Mod 1 appears reasonably well adapted for this purpose. In 1965, however, the Soviets began to test the Mod 2, which with its heavier payload was estimated to have a yield of [less than 1 line not declassified]. These tests were pursued with great vigor, and the Mod 2 was actually deployed before the Mod 1. [4 lines not declassified] But the Mod 2 has never in its numerous flight tests actually demonstrated enough range to reach any Minuteman complexes. We believe that its demonstrated range could be increased sufficiently to cover most or all of them (there are differences on this point) by using up more of the available propellant, removing telemetry packages, etc. Yet it remains curious that the Mod 2, alone among ICBMs except the SS–13, has never been tested to what we would presume to be its intended operational range.
The kill probability of a missile against hard targets is more sensitive to accuracy than to yield. The accuracy of the SS–9 cannot be ascertained from observations. It must be deduced [3½ lines not declassified]. In the Intelligence Community, opinions as to the CEP of the SS–9 range from a low of 0.4 n.m. to a high of 0.7, with the most probable figures being either 0.5 or 0.6. Small as they may appear, the significance of these differences is considerable.3 It is generally agreed that in actual operational employment, accuracies in the force as a whole would be somewhat poorer.
In sum, with respect to the capability of the Mod 2 against Minuteman, we have estimated that it can have sufficient range to reach most or all targets even though such range has not been demonstrated in tests. We see no reason to doubt that in the event of general war the Soviets would use it for whatever it could accomplish against the Minuteman system. But, the Soviets would have to deploy several times the present number of SS–9 Mod 1 and Mod 2, with their present capabilities, before achieving a force which would pose a serious threat to the Minuteman force as a whole. This brings us to a consideration of the Mod 4.
In August 1968, the Soviets began testing the SS–9 Mod 4, carrying three RVs. By April 1970, they had carried out 17 tests, about the usual number for a missile before it goes into operational deployment. In these tests, the three RVs [2 lines not declassified] were not independently targetable, and the weapon as tested was not a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV). [less than 1 line not declassified] we presume that the Mod 4 has not been operationally deployed, though it could be at any time.
In October 1970, tests resumed, and by 5 November there had been four more. One of these was like the earlier tests; one was a failure. The two others exhibited [5 lines not declassified] one practicable method of developing a MIRV, though it is a different method from that used by the US. Data are still scanty, and analysis far from complete. Should the Soviets decide to deploy a MIRV system based on these tests they could probably begin to do so in late 1971, using the present SS–9 guidance system. This guidance system would give each RV a CEP no better than that of the SS–9 with a single RV. The yield of each of the three RVs is estimated to be [less than 1 line not declassified]. The Mod 4 has sufficient range to reach Minuteman silos.
Returning now to the SS–9 Mod 3, as observed above it has been tested both as a DICBM and as a FOBS. In neither form does it have sufficient accuracy to attack hard targets effectively; its apparent function would be to attack soft strategic targets, avoiding early detection by the US Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. (New US warning systems give promise of reducing or eliminating this advantage.) There is some difference of opinion as to the capability of this vehicle operating as a FOBS. It is agreed, however, that the Mod 3 has been deployed only to a very limited extent, and that its future deployment will also be limited.

II. Soviet Policy and Future Programs

The broader reasons for the USSR’s energetic buildup of intercontinental attack forces are neither complex nor obscure. In the early 1960s the Soviet leaders, politically and ideologically hostile to the US, [Page 624] and thinking and behaving as rulers of a great power, perceived that in this particular respect their military forces were conspicuously inferior to those of their most dangerous rival, the US. Consequently, they set themselves to rectify the imbalance—to achieve at a minimum a relation of rough parity. Parity in this sense cannot be objectively measured; it is essentially a state of mind. Such evidence as we have, much of it from the strategic arms limitation talks, indicates that the Soviet leaders think that they have now achieved this position, or are about to achieve it, at least in respect to weapons of intercontinental range.
Many aspects of the present force structure are also susceptible to simple and probably correct explanation. The Soviets built a large number of ICBMs in order to match—and now to surpass—the number of US ICBMs, and also to increase the probability that many would survive an initial US attack. They built missile-launching-submarines which are virtually invulnerable to attack when deployed, and they retained a manned bomber force as yet another option.4 The intercontinental attack force is obviously capable of being used in war, but there is no reason to believe that the Soviet leaders intend deliberately to make nuclear war. The force is an attribute of power, an instrument to support policy, a deterrent to the US.
Looking to the future, it seems clear that the Soviet leaders intend to maintain at a minimum such forces as will continue to give them—in their own phrase—a sense of “equal security” with the US. One method of doing so might be through an arms limitation agreement; they appear seriously interested in this possibility. We do not know whether an agreement will be reached, or on what terms. If it were indeed concluded, the development of Soviet intercontinental attack forces would be subject to its terms, but in this Estimate we confine ourselves mainly to a consideration of the situation in the absence of agreement.
With the general attitudes and policies of the USSR being what they are, it might seem obvious to infer that the Soviet leaders will strive to achieve marked superiority over the US in strategic weaponry. We do not doubt that they would like to attain such a position. The question is whether they consider it a feasible objective—whether they believe the chances of success good enough to justify allocation of the necessary resources, adjustment to the political implication of an all-out [Page 625] arms race, and acceptance of the risk that instead of surpassing the US they might fall behind, especially in the technological competition. They might, in any case, think it feasible to seek a strategic posture that, while falling short of marked superiority, makes clear that the Soviets have advantages over the US in certain specific areas. For example, they can now claim an advantage in numbers of ICBM launchers. While this might not be significant militarily, it would help to dramatize the strategic power of the Soviet Union.
But even if Soviet intentions go no further than maintenance of “equal security,” their arms programs are bound to be vigorous and demanding. This is in part because Soviet leaders must have an eye not to what forces the US has at present, but to what it can have, or may have, in future years. In this respect they are likely to be cautious—to overestimate rather than underestimate the US threat. Moreover, the weapons competition nowadays is largely a technological race; each side is impelled to press forward its R&D lest it be left behind. Weapons programs also tend to attain a momentum of their own; the immense apparatus of organizations, installations, personnel, vested interests, and so on, tends to proceed in its endeavors unless checked by some decisive political authority.
On the other hand, there are constraints upon Soviet arms programs. The most obvious is economic; resources are not unbounded; the civilian economy demands its share; one weapon system competes with another for allocations; and intercontinental attack forces compete with strategic defense and general purpose forces. The various bureaucracies with interests in one or another area compete partly with rational argument and partly in sheer political infighting. Soviet leaders must also consider how far they may wish to press their own programs lest they provoke countervailing programs in the US. And they must assess not only the present and future US threat, but also that from China, and elsewhere.
While the foregoing considerations probably govern the nature of Soviet decisions as to future weapons programs, they provide us with little or no basis on which to estimate in detail what these programs will be. We have never had solid evidence on the problem, and there is no reason to expect that we shall have such evidence in the future. Moreover, in the present era the rapidity of technological advance tends to produce especially vigorous action and reaction between military programs of the USSR and the US, and it has made the strategic relationship more susceptible to change than ever before.
Yet the possibilities are not unlimited, certainly in the next five years or so. For one thing, intercontinental weapons systems are of such complexity that their development, testing, and deployment take a long time. We can observe the testing phase, and thus project potential [Page 626] deployments. It usually takes about two years from the time we observe the first flight test of a new ICBM until that system becomes operational in the field. The interval for SLBMs is about the same or longer, and for bombers it is much longer. We can therefore estimate with much confidence that the kinds of weapons systems deployed by the Soviets during the next two years or so will be those already in operation or in the late stages of development. Even in the period from two to five years from now the force will be composed largely of existing kinds of delivery vehicles, though towards the end of the period some new ones may come into operational status, and some older ones be retired.
Because of the lead times involved in construction and deployment, we can also be highly confident of the number of launchers of intercontinental weapons which will be operational up to about two years from now. Beyond two years uncertainty increases as the time period of projection increases. Some reasonable limits to this uncertainty can nevertheless be derived from our knowledge of past deployment rates, especially those obtaining at a time when the Soviets appeared to be making a particularly vigorous effort.
But it is not in new types of weapon systems or in gross numbers of launchers that the most significant developments in Soviet forces for intercontinental attack will probably lie during the next several years. Rather it is in qualitative improvements to present systems, and of these the most important are in accuracy of missiles and multiple re-entry vehicles for them.
Accuracy. On technical grounds, we believe that the Soviets, without going to new guidance concepts but mainly by improving the components of the present guidance systems and changing the configuration of their RVs, could in two years achieve CEPs of about 0.25 n.m. for their ICBMs, and begin to introduce these improvements into the force. Hitherto, the Soviets have demonstrated no urgent disposition to achieve high accuracies. But they are likely to do so—at least for the SS–9—in the next few years, primarily because of the great increase in capability against hard targets which this development would afford them, and because, if for no other reason, the necessary technical developments are sure to occur in the normal course of product improvements.
Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles. We continue to expect the Soviets to develop MIRVs capable of attacking hard targets such as Minuteman. These could proceed from the current SS–9 Mod 4 program, or from a different concept such as that represented by the “bus” system used by the US. With the high order of accuracy desired in a hard target MIRV, we think that neither could be operational before late 1972 at the earliest. A MIRV with no more accuracy than the present SS–9 Mod 1 or Mod 2 could eventuate from the current Mod 4 program by late 1971.
Land-Mobile ICBMs. The Soviets will probably continue work on these, but it remains to be seen how extensively they may deploy them. There are many difficulties of maintenance, security, transportation, and the like which cause us to believe that the Soviets might have doubts about the practicability of such a system. In any event we would not expect it to become operational before 1975.
With respect to submarines, the Soviets will almost certainly continue to increase their Y-class fleet at the rate of about eight per year, for some time to come. Meanwhile, a new missile, the SS–NX–8, has been undergoing flight tests at a deliberate pace since June of 1969. Its range is indicated to be about 3,000 n.m., a substantial improvement over the missile presently carried by the Y-class. A puzzling aspect, however, is that the SS–NX–8 appears too large to be fitted into the Y-class. Moreover, we have no evidence of a new submarine class designed to carry this missile. We think it likely that, at a minimum, the SS–NX–8 will be deployed on 10 modified diesel-powered G-class units. Evidence is insufficient, however, for us to make a confident estimate as to the nature or extent of any further deployment. By about 1975 Soviet submarines could have missiles equipped with multiple warheads or penetration aids; the system CEP would probably be about 0.5 n.m. or worse.
The fleet of intercontinental manned bombers will probably diminish in numbers gradually until at least 1975, when the new [less than 1 line not declassified] could begin to enter operational units. We believe that the [less than 1 line not declassified] is best suited for peripheral operations, but that it has some capability for intercontinental attack. All but the Air Force believe that our knowledge of this aircraft is still too limited to justify a confident judgment of its capabilities and future employment. The Air Force believes that the capabilities of [less than 1 line not declassified] as now assessed, indicate a Soviet intent to employ the aircraft in both intercontinental and peripheral operations.
The various uncertainties summarized above make it evident that no exact estimate of the future Soviet force structure, at least after about the end of 1972, could be defended. We have therefore constructed, in Section XII of this Estimate, several illustrative models to depict various possibilities.5 The first, called Force A, represents little [Page 628] more than a completion of programs presently under way; it seems highly unlikely that the Soviets would stop at this. Another model, Force D, is a sample of what we believe would be a maximum effort short of converting to a wartime basis; this also appears highly unlikely. Force C, without going as far as Force D, represents something the Soviets might undertake if they were to place top priority on the early acquisition of a capability to knock out virtually all of the US ICBM force; we also think this unlikely.6
Between these outer limits of reasonable force structures we have set forth three others designated respectively B1, B2, and B3. These differ primarily in the rapidity with which the Soviets, either for technological or other reasons, deploy MIRVs, and they reflect also some differences in general force structure which would seem likely to obtain because of such differences in MIRV development. Our estimate is that Soviet intercontinental attack forces are most likely to fall somewhere in the area depicted by these B-models, but we wish to emphasize that these and the other models are strictly illustrative, and not to be regarded as confident estimates or as projections for planning. As one moves beyond the next two years or so, all projections become increasingly uncertain; beyond five years they are highly speculative.7

[Omitted here is the Discussion section of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Top Secret. The CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the AEC, and the NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of the CIA submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the USIB with the exception of the representative of the FBI, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside of his jurisdiction. The table of contents is not printed. The full text of this NIE is in the CIA FOIA Electronic Reading Room (www.foia.cia.gov). Nixon sent a letter to Helms on March 8, 1971, thanking him for the NIE, which marked “a considerable improvement over last year’s version.” The President commended the NIE’s “frequent sharply-defined, clearly argued discussions of various contested issues;” its “attempt to incorporate a wide range of sources,” including Soviet SALT statements; its attempt to identify the most likely Soviet force models and goals; and its quantitative detail. (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 80–B01086A, 157, White House) NIE 11–8–69, September 9, 1969, is Document 46.
  2. The dollar figures (appearing in parentheses after the rubles) are approximations of what it would cost to purchase and operate the estimated Soviet programs in the US. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. See paragraphs 52–54 for a discussion of the effect of differences in accuracy and yield. [Footnote in the original. Paragraphs 52–54 examined a table, “Kill Probability Against Minuteman,” illustrating the effects of differences in accuracy and yield. The NIE explained that 65 percent of single SS–9 Mod 2 RVs with yields between 18 and 25 MT and a 0.5 n.m. CEP would knock out their targeted Minuteman silos. If the CEP were 0.6 n.m., 55 to 60 percent of the attacking missiles would accomplish their missions.]
  4. Maj. Gen. Rockly Triantafellu, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, does not believe Soviet missile-launching submarines are virtually invulnerable to attack. Based on the discussion of Soviet submarine patrol activity (paragraphs 127–132), only a few appear to be deployed at any one time; the remainder become vulnerable soft-targets in port. In view of extensive US efforts in ASW operations he further believes that some portion of the deployed subs would also be vulnerable and that vulnerability will increase as ASW technology improves. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. Section XII, “Future Forces,” included four sections: A Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement, Possible Forces in the Absence of an Agreement, Soviet Perception of the Threat, and Multiple Re-entry Vehicles and Accuracy. The section outlined three broad strategic alternatives available to Soviet military planners: allowing their “relative position to deteriorate somewhat” while still maintaining a credible deterrent, “maintaining a position of rough parity with the US, either through an arms control agreement or by making appropriate changes in their forces in the absence of an agreement,” or improving “their position by trying to outrun the US in an arms race.”
  6. Maj. Gen. Rockly Triantafellu, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, does not agree with the judgments in this paragraph. For his views, see his footnote to Section XII, page 61. [Footnote in the original. Triantafellu’s reservations stemmed from two factors: the estimate’s analytical methodology and its projection of Soviet force goals in the absence of a strategic arms limitation agreement, which he felt was low.]
  7. Maj. Gen. Rockly Triantafellu, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, does not agree with the judgments in this paragraph. For his views, see his footnote to Section XII, page 61. [Footnote in the original.]