40. Memorandum From Laurence Lynn of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

    • Analysis of Memorandum to Holders of NIE 11–8–682

Per your request, enclosed is my analysis of the recent Memorandum to Holders of NIE 11–8–68, Soviet Strategic Offensive Forces.

In my judgment, the Memorandum fails to present anything like a clear analysis of Soviet strategic offensive capabilities and of possible and probable developments in Soviet strategic offensive forces and their implications for the U.S.

Instead, the text, which is primarily the responsibility of the Director of CIA, appears to be a strenuous exercise in avoiding meaningful conclusions and postulations. As a result, this is, I am told, one of the most badly split estimates in some time; DIA, the Services and State have taken many exceptions to the text in footnotes, and some of the disagreements are fundamental.

I think we are faced with a rather serious problem. After all that has transpired, the intelligence community has still produced a murky and confused picture of Soviet strategic offensive forces and developments. I am confident that if we repeated the events of the last few weeks with respect to Soviet strategic defensive forces, we would get a similar result; the disagreements might be just as basic, e.g., over the capabilities of the Talinn system against ICBMs and the nature and purpose of Soviet ABM developments.

At the same time, we are being asked to have high confidence that the intelligence community can verify Soviet compliance with the most complex and far reaching arms control agreements and that they will keep the Government’s key officials informed of the most subtle developments. I do not have that confidence.

[Page 156]

Tab A
Analysis of Memorandum to Holders of NIE 11–8–68 Prepared by Laurence Lynn of the National Security Council Staff



In the first half of 1969, we have detected a total of 30 additional SS-9 silos under construction; 12 of these new starts (two new groups) have been confirmed since June 22, 1969. When all current construction is completed, the Soviets will have 258 SS-9 launchers.

Last year, 36 new SS-9 starts occurred in the first six months, but no SS-9s were started in the last six months.

Comment. In the June 22, 1969 Memo to Holders of NIE 11–8–68,3 it was noted, “the detection of only three group starts in the past 12 months … suggests no particular urgency in deployment activity …” With the discovery of two more group starts since that memo was written, this language has been dropped.


Present SS-9 accuracy is estimated to be 0.5–0.75 nautical miles CEP.4 There are three views concerning future SS-9 accuracy improvements.

  • —The majority of USIB (principally CIA) believes it likely that the Soviets will use a new guidance system and a new re-entry vehicle (RV) to improve SS-9 accuracy over what it is now. They recognize that accuracy improvements could be achieved using the present RV. They are “not persuaded,” however, that the Soviets are now trying to improve SS-9 accuracy; [less than 1 line not declassified] A CEP of 0.25 n.m. could not be achieved before 1972.
  • DIA, Navy and Air Force believe, [less than 1 line not declassified] that the Soviets do have an accuracy improvement program with existing RVs. By 1970–71 the Soviets could achieve 0.35 n.m. CEP (90% probability of destroying a hard silo) with the present RV.
  • —State (INR) reserves its position on this issue.
[Page 157]

Comment. CIA seems to have established an arbitrary standard (0.25 n.m. CEP) by which to judge Soviet progress toward a hard target capability. However, it is irrelevant to estimate when the Soviets can achieve 0.25 n.m. CEP. What is relevant is when they can achieve a high probability of destroying a Minuteman silo and whether they are trying to do so. On this point, the CIA and DIA views are fundamentally different.

We are given no explanation as to why the evidence that persuaded DOD that the Soviets are increasing SS-9 accuracy did not persuade CIA.


SS-9s have been tested with a “light” 12–18 megaton payload and “heavy” payload consisting of either a 25 megaton warhead or a multiple re-entry vehicle (MRV). [1 line not declassified]


With the light payload, SS-9 range is 7,000 n.m.

On the range with a heavy payload there are two views:

  • —The majority of USIB believes:
    • —that the demonstrated range to date is 4,700 n.m., insufficient for the SS-9 to reach the continental United States; (The majority notes that “it seems implausible that the Soviets would develop an ICBM payload so heavy that it could not reach important targets in the U.S.”),
    • —a 5,000 n.m. range would be achieved [4 lines not declassified] At this range, the SS-9 would reach five of six Minuteman complexes.
    • —longer ranges are possible by burning more fuel, but because of the uncertainties of planning down to such a small fuel residual, the Soviets would test at longer ranges before targeting their missiles.
    • —in summary (page 14) that “the SS-9 does appear to have range limitations if we assume it to be used against Minuteman silos from present deployment.”
    • DIA, Navy and Air Force believe the SS-9 configured for operational deployment, has a range of 5,400 n.m., enough to reach all six Minuteman complexes. “They do not believe that the Soviets would deploy [the SS-9] so extensively if they had doubt about it reaching important targets in the U.S.

Comment. CIA is reluctant to endorse estimates of longer ranges unless hard evidence is in hand, i.e. they refuse to rely on circumstantial evidence. Yet, from various places in this estimate we can determine that:

  • —[1 line not declassified]
  • —the MRV system requires the heavy payload,
  • —the original purpose of the SS-9 MRV program may have been to penetrate a U.S. ABM defense, presumably of our cities,
  • —at the range demonstrated to date, the SS-9 with a heavy pay-load could not reach the U.S.

It is difficult to understand the diffidence of the CIA on the range question, implying as it does a reluctance to endorse any explanation for the SS-9 MRV or heavy payload program. Yet they have supplied no hint of any other conceivable explanation for the SS-9 heavy pay-load developments.

Again the CIA and DIA view are fundamentally different.


The Soviets have the capability to retarget the SS-9—i.e. to target and launch a backup missile on information that the original missile failed in flight. “There is no evidence of such a development, but it is unlikely that we would obtain such evidence.”

Multiple Re-entry Vehicles

The Soviets have conducted seven tests of a three RV system, each of which could carry a 5 megaton warhead. These RVs were “certainly not independently guided after separation from the launch vehicle.” As to the implications of these tests, there are two “hypotheses:”

  • —The first hypothesis is that the Soviet objective is to achieve a simple MRV capability. The main purpose of the system has been and is to counter a U.S. ABM. “Except as a possible counter to ABM, … the system as demonstrated does not improve Soviet capabilities to attack individual targets. In general, an ICBM so equipped would be no more effective against a soft target than one with a single large payload, and it would be less effective against a single hard target.”
  • —The alternative hypothesis is that their system is designed with the mechanical flexibility to allow each RV to be targeted against closely spaced targets such as Minuteman silos. “Evidence [less than 1 line not declassified] suggests that the mechanism within the ICBM itself is more sophisticated than necessary if this development were to achieve a simple MRV.” However, [less than 1 line not declassified] have provided insufficient evidence that the size, shape and orientation of the impact pattern is adequate to target Minuteman silos. “Further testing would certainly be required to develop the flexibility in spread and dispersal pattern needed for such a system, and we would be able to identify such testing when it occurred.”

Comment. The inconsistencies and logical flaws in the estimate are most evident in the development of these two hypotheses. If the first hypothesis is plausible.

  • —how do we explain the SS-9 range limitations?
  • —how can we explain the complexity of the MRV mechanism (do the Soviets typically overdesign their weapons)?
  • —how do we explain the continuation of MRV testing in the face of evidence that the system as a simple MRV will not be an effective ABM penetrator or hard target killer?

[2 lines not declassified] This raises the question as to how we can have such high confidence that we can rapidly and accurately interpret Soviet tests in the face of evident holes in our collection efforts.

There are two somewhat fuzzily drawn views about the purpose and future of the SS-9 program:

  • —The USIB majority believes “the tests thus far observed provide insufficient evidence that the second hypothesis is the probable explanation. They go on to note that “in any event, if the Soviets intend to create a force to target 1,000 Minuteman silos in a single strike, they will have to deploy many more SS-9 launchers than are now operational and under construction.”
  • DIA, Navy and Air Force believe that “although there are still unresolved technical issues [the second hypothesis] offers the more plausible explanation of the nature of the weapon system under test …” (They concur, however, that more SS-9s would be needed for a first strike capability.)

Comment. Elsewhere in the estimate (page 3) it says “there is no evidence of the duration of the SS-9 deployment program or of the SS-9 force goal; we would judge now, however, that it will exceed 258 launchers.”

It is difficult to see why the sentence downplaying the first strike threat was included or why DOD didn’t object. No one knows what the Soviet SS-9 goal is. Moreover, it is quite possible for the Soviets to develop an accurate MIRV with more than 3 RVs. Last year’s NIPP considered the possibility of 6 RVs “representative.” A force of 258 SS-9s with the 6 RVs each and a retargeting capability would do nicely for targeting 1000 Minuteman silos.

Summary of SS-9

The overall impression created by the USIB majority view recorded in the text is that:

  • —We can say virtually nothing about the purposes and objectives of the SS-9 program; the evidence does not justify our making any presumptions or any projections.
  • —An improved system will not be deployed without further testing.
  • —[2 lines not declassified]

In general, the USIB majority (mainly CIA) appears to be quite conservative and unimaginative in developing the implications of available evidence, and quite optimistic about the ability of U.S. intelligence to stay abreast of Soviet weapons developments. (In justifying [Page 160] this view CIA analysts point out that they were wrong in calling the Tallinn system an ABM, implying that a major reason for caution now is the desire to avoid similar errors.)

The impression created by the minority view recorded in the footnotes is very different: a willingness to formulate and accept hypotheses based on a combination of limited evidence, inductive logic, and common sense.

If the purpose of an intelligence estimate is to present the evidence and indicate what it may mean, the USIB majority has clearly evaded its responsibility, preferring to avoid judgments rather than presenting informed judgments derived from available evidence.


Since last September we have discovered 110 new SS-11 launchers; 10 of these have been discovered since June 22, 1969. When all SS-11 launchers now under construction are completed, there will be a total of 790. “Nevertheless, it seems clear that the SS-11 program passed its peak in 1966–67.”

To improve its accuracy significantly, (it is now 1.0–1.5 n.m. CEP) would require a new guidance system and a new RV. We have no evidence that they are doing this.

[2 lines not declassified]

Comment. What could be a highly significant event—deployment of SS-11s at an IRBM complex—is put in a footnote without comments.


A new group of 10 launchers has been discovered since June 22, 1969. When completed, the single SS-13 complex active to date will include 50 launchers. One group is now operational and another soon will be.

Its maximum range to date is 4700 n. mi. [2 lines not declassified] we do not know what the maximum range may be.

Comment. After almost a year in which no new SS-13 starts were discovered, a new group of 10 silos was discovered in the last two weeks. This fact draws no comment.


Based on construction of new, large silos at the Tyuratam test area two years ago or so, USIB estimated that a large follow-on to the SS-9, the SS-Z-3, would be deployed in 1970–1972, that it would carry MIRVs and that it would have quarter mile accuracy.

Work on these silos ceased over a year ago, but construction on a new group in the same general area began this year. These may be for a new, large missile. If so, initial deployment will be later than 1970.

[Page 161]

Other Missile Systems

There is no evidence that development of a mobile SS-13, an improved SS-11, a new, small solid-fueled ICBM, or a new, small liquid-fueled ICBM—all considered probable or possible last September—is underway.

Ballistic Missile Submarines

Since last September’s estimate, production of Polaris type submarines has begun at a second shipyard. This possibility was taken into account in the high estimate, however, so there is no reason to change the estimate of 35–50 Polaris-type submarines by 1973–75.

Size and Composition of the ICBM Force

When present construction is completed and all silo groups are filled out, the Soviets will have by 1971 1,318 operational ICBM launchers plus about 87 test and training launchers, most of which “could be readied to fire at the U.S.” (The equivalent number of test and training launchers for the U.S. is 17.) They will doubtless build some more new launchers and phase out old, vulnerable ones.

By 1971, then, the Soviets will have reached the mid-point of the ICBM range of 1100–1500 predicted for 1974–1975.

Soviet force goals may not be fixed. They may seek either equality or a substantial advantage. There are two views about how far they might go.

  • —The USIB majority continues to endorse a high estimate of 1500. They point out, however, that this estimate is not the limit of their capability but one which takes into account costs, problems of resource allocation and the Soviet wish not to stimulate a new, large-scale arms race with the U.S.

    “It is clear that the SS-11 force [now at 790] will exceed the 700–750 that we projected in NIPP-695 … It is also clear that the SS-9 force [now at 258] will exceed the high side of the 234–246 launchers projected in NIPP 69.” However,

  • —the SS-13 force has not developed as expected, so there is no reason to believe that the number of small ICBMs [SS-11s & SS-13s] will exceed the earlier projection of 800–1,100 launchers.
  • —if the SS-9 program levels off, and if the Soviets do not develop a new large missile, the number of large ICBMs will fall short of the 334–396 projection. If both programs proceed, Soviets can build up to our projection.

[Page 162]

Thus we have no basis for changing our projections.

  • —State, DIA, Army, Navy and Air Force believe 1500 may not be exceeded if Soviets deploy multiple re-entry vehicles extensively. Otherwise, the Soviets may have considerably more than 1500 launchers by the late 1970s. They note that construction of 100 launchers a year from now on would produce an ICBM force level in excess of 1800 by 1978.

Comment. The CIA reasoning on force goals is almost completely tautological: if they don’t build as many missiles as we said they would, their force will fall short of our projections, etc. It is not surprising that virtually every other agency with intelligence responsibilities is starting to break away from the 1500 projection, though it is not a clean break.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 78, Country Files—Europe—U.S.S.R., SALT and U.S. Strategic Capabilities. Top Secret; Nodis; [codeword not declassified]. Kissinger forwarded the memorandum to Attorney General Mitchell on July 1 under cover of a memorandum in which he wrote: “Attached is an analysis of the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviet strategic threat prepared by a member of my staff. I am in substantial agreement with this analysis which again confirms the magnitude of the problem with which we have been dealing.” (Ibid.)
  2. Document 38.
  3. An apparent reference to a draft of Memorandum to Holders of NIE 11–8–68, the final version of which was issued on June 23. The draft was not found.
  4. CEP stands for circular probable error, the radius of a circle around the target within which 50% of all missiles will impact. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. Issued on December 13, 1968. Not found.