176. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • FROM
    • Henry A. Kissinger
    • NIE 11-8-70, “Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Attack”2

Attached at Tab A is the intelligence community’s latest effort at a comprehensive estimate of present and future Soviet strategic attack capabilities.


The highlights of the NIE are:


  • —The Soviets have continued the numerical build-up of their ICBM force, but at a slower rate. (Subsequent intelligence indicates that the Soviets have started no new groups since June 1970 and have halted construction on two SS-9 groups (six launchers each) and one SS-13 group (ten launchers), which were among the last groups to be started.)
  • —The SS-9 is a real threat to Minuteman if the Soviets improve its accuracy and develop a MIRV system for it.
  • —A system evidenced in recent Soviet flight tests of the SS-9 Mod 4 could lead to a MIRV with initial operational capability by late 1971, but this would be no more accurate than the present SS-9 which means limited effectiveness against hard targets.
  • —The Soviets could develop a MIRV with three or six RVs and with the accuracy for hard targets [less than 1 line not declassified] by late 1972.
  • —Soviet R&D testing, which has been quite active, has concentrated on testing improved versions (i.e., better accuracy, penetration aids) of ICBM systems which are already deployed, rather than on new systems. The intelligence community believes this trend will continue.
  • —It is agreed that the Soviets will probably continue work on land-mobile systems. However, the one mobile missile program which has been suggested as being an ICBM appears to be in limbo or to have been cancelled.


  • —The Soviets are energetically developing SSBNs. The Y-class submarine is the mainstay of this fleet. Fourteen are now operational. At the present production rate—which shows no signs of slackening—the Y-class force will reach forty units (comparable in size to the U.S. Polaris fleet) in early 1974.
  • —Soviet SSBNs have started patrolling in the past year within missile range of the U.S. No particular pattern is yet discernable.
  • —The Soviets are developing a new SLBM with an extended range [less than 1 line not declassified] which could add greatly to the flexibility and survivability of Soviet submarines. (Subsequent intelligence estimates that the missile could have an initial operational capability by late 1971.) The missile is too large to fit in the Y-class submarine without major ship modification. It appears most likely that the missile will be initially deployed in one earlier model SSBN and ten diesel submarines, for a total of 66 launch tubes.


  • —At present, the Soviets have only 197 heavy bombers and tankers operational, their designs dating from the 1950’s.
  • —The Soviets are proceeding smoothly with flight tests of a new strategic bomber, [less than 1 line not declassified] which should be ready for operational use by 1974-76. Because of the relatively limited range of the bomber, all in the intelligence community, except [less than 1 line not declassified] believe that the aircraft is best suited for peripheral operations, though (especially with refueling) it could be used for intercontinental attack.


  • —The number of major Soviet strategic forces and projections for mid-1972 are shown in the table on the next page.3
  • —We know very little about the purposes of the Soviet force. All agree that the Soviets seek, at a minimum, a position of acknowledged strategic parity with the U.S. But how they are most likely to define “parity” and how likely it is that they might seek some quantitative edge is unclear. Moreover, little is known about Soviet perception of U.S. intentions, command and control, and war-fighting strategies.
[Page 713]


This year’s NIE is a major improvement over last year’s. As you might recall, that effort had serious defects:

  • —Most serious was a lack of sharply-defined, clearly-argued discussions of the characteristics and purposes of Soviet strategic forces.
  • —It was too often satisfied with reciting facts and reluctant to raised fundamental questions about their significance.
  • —Judgments and background which often underlie conclusions were not made explicit.

Recognizing the weaknesses in last year’s product, Dick Helms asked for comments from intelligence consumers. After getting your reaction, I provided comments and had my staff work closely with the intelligence community. The result, as reflected by this NIE are encouraging:

There was some frank, clear discussion of the characteristics and purposes of Soviet forces. For instance,
  • —Penetrating beyond the fairly obvious generalization that the SS-9 was (at least initially) intended for hard targets, there is an extensive discussion of possible roles and missions of the SS-9. (Pages 46-48)
  • —Likewise, possible Soviet purposes behind deploying some SS-11s in MR/IRBM sites are examined carefully. (Annex E)
The discussion is backed by considerable detail which is presented in usually very clear ways (e.g., graphics) and which even spills over into a number of annexes. As a rough measure, last year’s NIE (which also included peripheral attack forces) was 47 pages long with annexes versus 159 pages for this year’s.
A wide range of sources is often used to advance the analysis. For instance,
  • —[less than 1 line not declassified] is used to suggest a shift in SS-9 targeting strategy.
  • —The Soviet SALT statements are used to support the conclusions that the Soviets will continue at least exploratory research on a mobile missile and will convert some diesel submarines to carry an extended-range SLBM.
One of the best improvements is the development of a wide range of alternative force models based on assumed differences in Soviet objectives, the pace of Soviet technological developments, and the resources which the Soviets are willing to apply. This approach forces everyone to remember that estimates rely heavily on underlying assumptions. However, to avoid the real danger that any point along the wide spectrum would be undifferentiated from any other point, the NIE designates certain assumptions and their accompanying illustrative force structures as most likely.

[Page 714]

All the alternative force models are provided in considerable numerical detail which is essential for an understanding of the differences between the alternatives and for performance of some simple threat calculations—e.g., on the possible vulnerability of Minuteman.


While this year’s NIE is a major improvement over last year’s, considerably more work is required. The present NIE suffers from two serious weaknesses:

It still fails to draw on all sources and research methods which could advance the analysis.
The greatest emphasis is still heavily on observed activity at test ranges, construction sites, and operational bases. However, a variety of other material could be useful—e.g., Soviet doctrinal and strategic writings, economic information, analysis of Soviet institutions. The NIE includes a section on these approaches, but that section mirrors the weakness of the old NIE—it lacks detail and clear-cut differences in viewpoints. For instance, the NIE is almost fatuous when it ponderously concludes: “It can only be said that military policy is made as a result of a political process involving debate, hard bargaining, and bureaucratic infighting, in which the military interest plays a ‘substantial’ role.”
The NIE often fails to estimate Soviet objectives and strategies, yet such information is fundamental to understanding present Soviet programs and estimating future ones. The NIE made a few attempts to improve its work here—notably with the discussion of the roles and missions of the SS-9—but the gaps are many.
  • —How sophisticated is Soviet strategic thinking? How do various individuals and groups define “parity”?
  • —What are likely Soviet war plans? What are Soviet views as to the possibility and outcomes of limited strategic war? Will the Soviets tend to hold many units in reserve?
  • —How good is Soviet command and control?


I will commend Dick Helms for the improvement in this NIE. At the same time, I will indicate that more can, and must, be done.

I will also continue to work with the intelligence community over the next year to insure that improvements are made.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 405, USSR SS-9 Deployment. Top Secret. Sent for information. The memorandum bears a note indicating that the President saw it.
  2. Document 160.
  3. The one-page table is attached, but not printed.