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

    • Memorandum from Secretary Laird on New Soviet ICBM Silo Construction

Secretary Laird has sent you a memorandum expressing his concern over the new Soviet ICBM construction (Tab A). He reiterates some of the information with which you are already familiar.2 Secretary Laird concludes that this construction “could have significant implications” for our weapons developments and SALT. Since Secretary Laird’s brief memorandum deals only with new ICBM silos, I am providing below a summary of major recent developments in Soviet strategic forces.


New Silos. Satellite reconnaissance has revealed construction of a current total of 59 confirmed or probable and 9 suspected new [Page 779] missile silos at operational complexes. Of these 68 confirmed or suspected silos, 44 are at complexes where the SS–11 is now deployed and 24 are at SS–9 complexes.3
Test Center Activity. The latest photography indicates that the construction is not only at or near old SS–9 testing areas, but also SS–11 testing areas. Additionally, silo lining segments of two difference diameters have been observed; [number not declassified] in the SS–9 area and [number not declassified] in the SS–11 area.
Additionally, soft launch pads heretofore used exclusively for SS–9 R&D are being modified extensively.
Type of Missile Involved. Reasonable possibilities are:
  • —The Soviets are hardening silos for the SS–9 and SS–11. The extensive work at Tyuratam, even at the soft pads, suggests that there is at least a new variant of the SS–9, possibly with a MIRV warhead, in the works, which can be put in the SS–9-sized silos.
  • —The silos are intended for two new missile systems, one about the size of the SS–9 and the other about the size of the SS–11.


Moscow System. Construction activity has resumed at two incomplete and previously abandoned ABM launch sites. One site faces the Mediterranean and the other faces China. There are suggestions of a new type radar at one of these sites. The Soviets have also begun construction on a second large ABM radar at the Chekhov site near Moscow. The new radar is oriented toward China.4
Test Center Activity. Work at the Sary Shagan test range clearly indicates follow-on modifications of the Moscow ABM system are under development.
  • —Try Add radar capabilities are being significantly improved by the addition of a phased-array antenna.
  • —A new, larger, [less than 1 line not declassified] ABM missile booster has been tested five times.

Also, a new ABM system is being developed at another complex at Sary Shagan. The Soviets are apparently developing a new, smaller interceptor than the Galosh and have erected an entirely new type of radar. A hardened ABM facility also being constructed nearby may be part of this same system. This new system may be intended to intercept incoming warheads at short range within the atmosphere.

If the new radar functions independently of large, long-range acquisition and tracking radars, it might be constructed and made operational (without hardening) in as little as six months. If this is the case, it would sharply reduce the lead time we would have to react to a sudden Soviet ABM buildup.


It is too early to state with confidence the full nature, extent and purposes of these recent new developments in Soviet strategic offensive and defensive weaponry. Part of the motivation may be to keep pressure on SALT and part may be to gain a strategic advantage. In any case, there is no doubt that Soviet strategic forces are being qualitatively and quantitatively upgraded to as yet undetermined higher levels and capabilities.

Tab A

Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon 5

    • Soviet ICBM Silo Construction

I continue to be concerned about the magnitude and evident urgency of the new Soviet silo construction program as revealed by recent satellite photography.6

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The basis for my concern is simply the fact that there are now as many as 50 new missile silos under simultaneous construction in the Soviet Union. This total, which more than doubled our earlier count of the new sites, could and probably will go higher, as study of the latest mission is still underway at CIA and DIA, and as all potential construction areas were not covered by the latest mission. Of particular significance is the identification of at least 30 confirmed and probable silos under construction at a single operational complex in Western Russia. All apparently were started since last August.

Although the missile for which the new silos are intended cannot be determined at this time, they could be for a large new ICBM or a highly modified SS–9. In any event, the new silo is designed to accommodate a large system.

The timing of this construction suggests that a decision, some time last summer, resulted in a slow down or suspension of construction at some of the SS–9 silos, and probably called for the major new silo construction program which we are now observing. This program is marked by unique construction and deployment techniques, as well as concurrent efforts at six operational complexes at least, and at one area at the Tyura Tam Missile Test Center.

From the preliminary examination of satellite photography now underway, it is evident that we are witnessing a major new Soviet ICBM silo construction program which, if followed through, could have significant implications for our own weapons development programs as well as the ongoing SALT negotiations.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIV. Top Secret; [codewords not declassified]. Sent for information.
  2. On April 15, Helms sent Nixon the “President’s Quarterly Report on Soviet Strategic Forces.” The 9–page report is marked to indicate that the President saw it. Kissinger summarized the report in a May 4 memorandum to Nixon, which the President also saw. Kissinger drew Nixon’s attention to recent intelligence about some 56 confirmed or suspected new Soviet missile silos started since October 1970. According to Kissinger, speculation was that the new silos “may be for a new and as yet untested ICBM or for a modified version of the SS–9.” (Ibid., Box 429, Backchannel, President’s Quarterly Report—Soviet Strategic Forces)
  3. Ray Cline, Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, sent Rogers a memorandum on May 14 on the subject of “Implications of New Soviet ICBM Deployment.” Cline stated: “The Soviet ICBM deployment recently entered a new phase with the initiation of construction of a new phase type of silo at seven deployed missile complexes.” He added: “If the new missile is large, as now expected, it is likely to be a follow-on to the SS–9. We can expect the Soviets to try to provide it with increased range capabilities over the SS–9, improved accuracy and a new reentry system. We can also expect that the Soviets will try to develop a new reentry system with true MIRV capabilities and that this might lead eventually to a hard-target destruction capability. If these postulations prove correct, it will be this new system rather than the SS–9 which will be central to future strategic arms limitation discussions.” (Ibid., Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIV)
  4. Nixon circled the word “China” both times it appeared in this paragraph and wrote “note” above the first instance.
  5. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified].
  6. Laird sent Nixon a memorandum on March 1 expressing concern about recent evidence indicating that the Soviet Union was constructing “a new type of silo at three known ICBM complexes.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 714, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XII)