198. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–8–71


The Problem

To assess the strength and capabilities of Soviet forces for intercontinental attack, to estimate their size and composition through mid-1976, and to forecast general trends thereafter.

Summary and 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 [Page 866] 10 years, the Soviets have engaged in a vigorous and costly buildup of these elements of their military establishment. As a result of this effort, the Soviets had operational on 1 October 1971 an estimated 1,375 launchers at regular ICBM complexes, 440 SLBM launchers, and 195 heavy bombers and tankers. To this may be added (1) 120 SS–11 launchers at Derazhnya and Pervomaysk which, though possibly intended for use against European targets, are nevertheless capable of reaching the US, and (2) 88 ICBM launchers at test or training sites. When all construction now under way on currently operational systems is completed by late 1973, the Soviets will have 1,407 launchers at regular ICBM complexes, including 288 of the large SS–9 type; about 750 SLBMs, including about 650 on Y-class submarines; and 190 heavy bombers and tankers. During the past year, it appeared that the large-scale deployment programs of the 1960’s had run their course and that no further deployment of existing ICBMs was planned. Construction of new types of silos which we believe to be underway, however, may indicate a new phase of deployment.
We believe that construction of two, possibly three, new types of silos is underway at the test center at Tyuratam and at some complexes in the field. The purpose of the new silos is not clear. They may be intended to house wholly new missiles, variants of present missiles, or existing types in a program aimed at increased survivability. Some may not be intended for missiles at all. We believe that at least one new missile system has been under development for some time and is probably nearing the flight test stage; it may be intended for one of the new types of silos. It would require about two years of testing to reach initial operational capability.
Production of the Soviets’ 16–tube Y-class ballistic missile submarine has continued apace. We estimate that these submarines are now being built at the rate of about nine per year. There probably are now 23 operational, five or perhaps six in various stages of fitting-out and sea trials, and another 12 on the building ways. Besides the nuclear-powered Y-class, there are missile 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. No heavy bombers are currently in production, and the design of types now in service—the Bear and Bison—dates from the 1950s. Testing of a new strategic bomber—the Backfire [less than 1 line not declassified]—is probably well under way, however, and the first units could be operational by late 1973 if equipped with existing weapons. All but the Air Force believe that this aircraft is best suited for use against Europe and Asia; the Air Force believes that it is suitable for both intercontinental and peripheral operations.
The Soviet system of command and control has been considerably improved over the past decade, and it is now flexible, reliable, and highly survivable. It permits Moscow to exercise highly centralized control over the Soviet forces for intercontinental attack. Soviet writings have considered a number of circumstances under which the order to fire might be given; there is little evidence from these or other sources that the Soviets consider a bolt-from-the-blue first strike a workable strategy, or that they think a US first strike likely. In the event of war, the primary mission of the Soviet strategic attack forces would probably be the classic one of destroying the enemy’s war making potential: ICBM launchers and launch control facilities, submarine and bomber bases, command posts, communications and power facilities, and industrial centers.

The Principal Types of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

The SS–11 Mod 1, by far the most numerous of Soviet ICBMs, is estimated to have a circular error probable (CEP) at intercontinental range of [less than 1 line not declassified] and a yield [less than 1 line not declassified] range. Thus it is 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 on two versions of a modified SS–11 having greater throw weight and increased range. One, the Mod 2A, has a new re-entry vehicle (RV), a warhead probably yielding about [less than 1 line not declassified] and what are probably one or more exoatmospheric penetration aids. The other, the Mod 2B, has three RVs which are not independently targetable. Each RV has a warhead with an estimated yield [less than 1 line not declassified]. The SS–11 remains a soft target weapon; the two new versions are most likely intended to improve the system’s ability to penetrate antiballistic missile defenses.
The SS–9 exists in four variants: Mod 1, which carries an RV weighing about 9,500 pounds; Mod 2, whose RV weighs about 13,500 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 [less than 1 line not declassified]. These tests were pursued with great vigor, and the Mod 2 [Page 868] 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 all of them 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 [2 lines not declassified]. Depending upon the assumptions used and the statistical techniques employed, various results may be obtained. 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 n.m. The significance of these differences is considerable.2 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 SS–9 Mod 2 against Minuteman, we have estimated that it can have sufficient range to reach 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 1s and Mod 2s, 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 conducted 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] and there was no evidence that the Mod 4 had been operationally deployed.
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. [Page 869] The two others exhibited [2 lines not declassified]. This led us to point out in NIE 11–8–70, “Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Attack”, dated 24 November 1970,3 Top Secret, Restricted Data, that a system of the type implied by preliminary analysis of these tests could have the capability of attacking independently three separate targets, [2 lines not declassified]. In-depth analysis of the four latest tests has cast doubt on the preliminary judgment of last year that the Soviets appeared to be testing a MIRV. There are now divided views: some agencies believe that the Mod 4 is and will remain a soft target multiple re-entry vehicle (MRV); others believe that it could be either an MRV or an MIRV with limited targeting flexibility; still others think that it was intended to be an MIRV, but that development may have been discontinued.4 No further tests of the Mod 4 have taken place since last fall. [less than 1 line not declassified] there are indications that the Mod 4 is being deployed at one SS–9 complex. All are agreed that if this is so, what is now being deployed is an MRV.
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.) The Mod 3 appears to have limited capability as a FOBS. It is agreed that it has been deployed only to a very limited extent, and that its future deployment, if any, 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, 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 (SALT), indicates [Page 870] that the Soviet leaders think that they have now generally achieved this position, or are about to achieve it.
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 highly survivable when deployed, and they retained a manned bomber force as yet another option. 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.
Certain features of the Soviet system have affected the way in which decisions are made, and by whom. In the case of military policy and programs, decision-making is probably centered on two key elements—the military and military-industrial authorities who formulate new programs, and the top political leaders. The latter have the final say, but they must operate in a context of other forces and take them into account. Decision-making appears to involve clusters of advisory and executive bodies which are likely, at times, to be in competition with one another. Bureaucratic pressures, conflicts, and constraints may be heavy on occasion. We think it unlikely that observed Soviet programs are the product of a carefully thought out strategy or rationale which is undeviatingly executed. It is probably fair to say that the system is characterized by conservatism, both in making new proposals and in disposing of them.
Looking to the future, we have little basis in evidence for estimating the content of specific decisions on strategic policy or particular weapon programs. 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. While we have given consideration in this Estimate to possible effects of a SALT agreement, 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 [Page 871] believe the chances of success good enough to justify allocation of the necessary resources, adjustment to the political implications of an allout 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. Whether or not such advantages are significant militarily, they 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; the USSR is impelled to press forward its research and development lest it be left behind. Soviet weapon 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 weapon 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.
Yet the possibilities are not unlimited, certainly in the next five years or so. For one thing, intercontinental weapon 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 872] 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 weapon 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, but it could change substantially by the end of the period of this Estimate.
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 for periods up to about two years from now. Thereafter 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.
The most significant developments in Soviet forces for intercontinental attack during the next several years will probably lie in qualitative improvements to the ICBM force. The most important of these are likely to be in accuracy of missiles, in MIRVs for them, and in survivability.
Accuracy. There is still no direct evidence that the Soviets are taking the steps that would be required for them to improve significantly the accuracy of their ICBMs. Improvements sufficient to give system CEPs of about 0.25 n.m. could come about through normal advances in present technology, but an improvement to say 0.15 n.m. would require the Soviets to go to wholly new techniques of guidance. Whether they decide to do this will depend on their future targeting requirements and particularly on how much stress they place on improving capabilities to attack land-based ICBMs.
Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles. We continue to believe that the Soviets will develop MIRVs for their ICBMs. We expect a flight test program to start soon involving a new missile with MIRVs and with better hard target capabilities than the SS–9. About two years of testing would be required for this missile to achieve an initial operational capability. The Soviets probably could develop MIRVs based on the technology of the SS–9 Mod 4 with only one year of flight testing, but such MIRVs could not, in so short a time, be made more accurate than the present SS–9—that would require an improved guidance system and about two years of flight testing. Although there are differences of opinion on the future of the SS–9 Mod 4, all agree that it is unlikely to be developed as a hard target weapon if a new [Page 873] missile with hard target MIRVs is in fact to become available in the next two years or so.
Survivability. The USSR’s concern about the survivability of its ICBM force is likely to increase, as the US deploys increasingly large numbers of independently targetable RVs. In addition to the employment of active defenses, survivability can be achieved through hardness and mobility. The new silos which are believed to be under construction will probably be harder than existing types. The Soviets may also pursue development of land-mobile ICBMs, but we believe this less likely than we did a year ago.
With respect to ballistic missile submarines, the Soviets already have about 40 Y-class units in service or under construction, and may continue this program for some time. By the end of 1973 the Soviets will have as many launchers on Polaris-type submarines as the US, and these launchers will constitute a substantial portion of their forces for intercontinental attack. A new missile, the 3,000 n.m. range SS–NX–8, has been undergoing flight testing since June of 1969. Although this missile would be a substantial improvement over the 1,300 n.m. SS–N–6 now carried by the Y-class, the SS–NX–8 appears too large to be carried by Y-class submarines as they are currently configured, and we have yet to identify a new submarine class which might be designed to carry this missile. If the Soviets do in fact deploy a new submarine for the SS–NX–8, the first units probably could not reach operational status until about 1975, by which time the Soviets could have SLBMs equipped with penetration aids or multiple warheads, possibly including MIRVs. As an alternative to a new class of submarines, the Soviets might develop a new missile of extended range (at least 2,000 n.m.) for the present Y-class. If so, the first retrofitted Y-class unit probably could not be operational before late 1974, even if testing of a new missile began soon.
The present fleet of intercontinental manned bombers will probably remain about the same size or diminish only slightly up to the mid-1970’s. In time, however, increasing numbers of aircraft in the current inventory are likely to be phased out. We believe that the Backfire is best suited for peripheral operations, but that it may have some capability for intercontinental attack. If so, it could be used to replace or augment existing elements of the intercontinental bomber force, provided a suitable tanker force were also developed. All but the Air Force, however, 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 the Backfire indicate a Soviet intent to employ the aircraft in both intercontinental and peripheral operations.

[Omitted here is the 60–page Discussion section of the estimate, which includes the following parts: Deployment of ICBMs, the SS–9, [Page 874] SS–11, SS–13, Dimensions and Directions of R&D on ICBMs, SLBMs, Heavy Bombers and Tankers, Soviet Intercontinental Attack Forces: Concepts for Use, Decision-making in the USSR, and Illustrative Future Forces. Also omitted are two annexes: a glossary of missile terms and the Estimated Characteristics and Performance of Soviet Intercontinental Weapon Systems.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]. The CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, the AEC, and the NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the USIB except the representative of the FBI, who abstained on the grounds that it was outside 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).
  2. See paragraphs 32, 33, and 34 for a discussion of the effect of differences in accuracy and yield. [Footnote in the original. Paragraphs 32–34 discuss the SS–9’s accuracy and yield in terms of its projected ability to disable Minuteman launch silos and launch control centers by rendering them incapable of launching a missile, with the probability of achieving the desired result improving with increased accuracy.]
  3. Document 160.
  4. See paragraph 52 for a detailed presentation of the positions of the various agencies. [Footnote in the original. According to paragraph 52, the CIA and the State Department believed that the Mod 4 was a soft target MRV; DIA and the Air Force held that it could be either an MRV or an MIRV with limited targeting flexibility; and the NSA, Army, and Navy maintained that it was intended to be an MIRV, but that development may have been discontinued.]