197. Editorial Note

On August 19, 1971, the Central Intelligence Agency issued a memorandum to holders of National Intelligence Estimate 11–3–71, “Soviet Strategic Defenses.” ( Document 178) The memorandum provided updated intelligence regarding those sectors of Soviet strategic defense where significant new developments had occurred, including anti-ballistic missile and anti-satellite defenses. According to the memorandum, “major new construction has been identified at two of the four previously dormant launch complexes of the Moscow anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system, and at the site of one of its two large acquisition and target tracking radars.” Moreover, construction continued “at a high level” at a major ABM research and development launch facility at Sary Shagan, including assembly of an engagement radar capable of tracking incoming targets and interceptor missiles and testing of a faster exoatmospheric, long-range ABM interceptor.

As for anti-satellite defense, the memorandum reads as follows: “The Soviet program to develop and test an orbital interceptor system has progressed significantly. In addition to the increased pace of intercept testing—two satellite intercept tests were conducted in the first half of 1971, bringing the total to six—we now believe that the scope of the program is much broader than previously estimated. The 1971 tests have demonstrated progress in attaining mission flexibility.” CIA analysts, though unsure when an orbital interceptor system would become operational, believed “that satellites which pass over the USSR at any inclination and below altitudes of 1,000 miles could now be vulnerable to this system.”

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The memorandum continues, “In the light of the recent acceleration of orbital intercept testing, we have reviewed the bases of our judgment concerning the likelihood of Soviet interference with US satellites. We still believe it highly unlikely that the Soviets would undertake widespread and continuing destructive attacks against US satellites in peacetime. We rate the chances for selective or sporadic attacks nearly as low. We doubt that the Soviets would launch attacks against US satellites prior to the initiation of hostilities. The repeated demonstration of a non-nuclear anti-satellite capability against targets up to about 500 miles, however, gives the Soviets an option on which they can rely should they ever decide to take such action.” (Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A) The text of the memorandum is in the CIA FOIA Electronic Reading Room (www.foia.cia.gov).