26. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1

There are two points of recent intelligence I should bring to your attention regarding Soviet Union ICBM and ABM testing.

First, you will recall that the Soviets have been flying SS–9 type test missiles across their own country from Tyuratam to their impact area on the Kamchatka peninsula. These tests have involved a “heavy pay-load and configuration” of three re-entry vehicles. On Friday, 18 April, at 0055Z time, they fired a similar test SS–9 from Tyuratam to their broad open ocean impact area in the Pacific where they had four range ships stationed in a large rectangle. We had a U.S. Navy Destroyer within this rectangle to observe the tests. Although at this time only preliminary information is available, tentative conclusions indicate:

The range of the SS–9 in a 3 re-entry vehicle configuration when fired to the U.S. will be at least 4700 nautical miles. Data from other sources and events indicate the maximum range could be 5000 nautical miles. If this is indeed so, then the SS–9 with 3 re-entry vehicles could attack 5 or 6 Minuteman Wings, but it does not have the range necessary to attack major population areas on our East and West coast. However, using the “light payload configuration,” they could deliver a single 15–megaton re-entry vehicle to greater ranges and cover all major population areas in the U.S.
The additional importance of these Pacific tests is that they indicate the Soviets are moving into another advanced phase of their multiple re-entry vehicle testing.

The second point concerns Soviet missile tests of an advanced ABM interceptor. [5 lines not declassified] The advantage of this technique is in effect to extend the radius of effectiveness of ballistic missile defense systems. We plan to use this technique in an advanced version of our own Spartan missile. The Soviet tests we have observed, and there was an additional one conducted over the weekend, may be associated with the Moscow Galosh interceptors.2 If this proves so, it will indicate an improved capability to protect areas several hundred miles from Moscow.

Mel Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 709, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. II. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]; No Foreign Dissem. Kissinger sent the memorandum to Nixon under a covering memorandum dated April 22. The covering memorandum, in which Kissinger summarized Laird’s points, bears a stamped note that reads, “The President has seen.”
  2. The Galosh was an interceptor missile deployed in an ABM mode around Moscow.