30. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

  • SUBJECT
    • Significance and Implications of Soviet Multiple Reentry Vehicle Testing
1.
The following information and assessment is forwarded in accordance with your request. I have included in the final paragraph a statement of opposing views which do not represent any significant differences in interpretation of the Soviet test data2 but do represent differences in what this test data means.
2.
There have been seven flight tests of the multiple reentry vehicle system on the Soviet SS–9 ICBM. Four of these tests, conducted in the last half of 1968, were from Tyuratam to Kamchatka, a distance of [Page 94]about 3,400 nautical miles. The last three tests were flown into the Pacific Ocean about 5,100 nautical miles from Tyuratam in April and May of this year. The first of these extended range tests exhibited a malfunction but all others were apparently successful. Analysis [less than 1 line not declassified] indicates no significant difference in any of the tests other than the trajectories that were flown. It has been determined that the system consists of three identical reentry vehicles capable of delivering about five megatons. These vehicles are separated just prior to cutoff of the second stage engines, and acquire their separation forces from the missile’s acceleration rather than using separate propulsion devices as in some U.S. multiple reentry systems.
3.
The CIA believes that the system has been tested only in a simple multiple reentry vehicle (MRV) mode. We recognize that the separation system [less than 1 line not declassified] could be designed to allow independent targeting of each reentry vehicle (MIRV). The system in this case would have the capability to attack closely spaced targets such as Minuteman silos. We have conducted studies to determine how the system would have to work to perform the MIRV mission and have concluded that the capability has not been demonstrated in flight tests to date. [2 lines not declassified], and we expect to identify it at least a year before IOC.
4.
The opposing view in some parts of the intelligence community is that a MRV of this type does not give the Soviets any advantage over a single reentry vehicle. They believe, therefore, that the system being tested is a MIRV intended for use against Minuteman silos. They further believe that the necessary capability of the system need not be demonstrated before making such a judgment. We cannot agree with this view since the Soviets have always tended to conduct very complete weapon systems tests. It would be a radical departure from normal practice if they were to deploy a weapon with the potential importance of MIRVs without complete testing.3
Dick
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 845, ABMMIRV, MIRV Test Program. Secret. Haig forwarded this memorandum to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on May 27 and requested comments on it by the following morning. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 26.
  3. Richard Helms later recalled that, while CIA and Pentagon experts differed over the SS–9’s throw-weight and accuracy, the deepest disagreement was whether or not the missile’s three warheads were independently targetable. The Pentagon analysts held that each of the SS–9’s warheads had its own independent guidance system, which would be a major Soviet step toward achieving a first-strike capability. “If anything was likely to unleash the dollars needed to create an ABM,” Helms wrote, “the specter of a score of SS–9s delivering sixty precisely guided missiles in one volley should have carried the day.” According to Helms, CIA analysts “remained convinced that any such independent guidance capability was beyond the grasp of Soviet science, and the research and testing so expensive it might unhinge the USSR’s economy.” The “USSR was not seeking a first-strike capability, and the SS–9 was some four years away from its first testing.” (Helms, Look Over My Shoulder, pp. 384–388)