46. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–8–69


The Problem

To estimate the strength and capabilities of Soviet strategic attack forces through mid-1971 and to estimate general trends in those forces over the next 10 years.

[Omitted here is the Foreword, explaining the estimate’s organization.]


Soviet Strategic Policy

For several years, the primary objectives of Soviet strategic policy have evidently been to build a more formidable deterrent and to overcome the US lead in capabilities for intercontinental attack. Today, while the Soviets remain inferior in numbers of intercontinental delivery vehicles, they have overtaken the US in numbers of operational ICBM launchers. Current programs will bring further improvements in the USSR’s strategic position, already the most favorable of the post-war period. But the Soviets face in the future a strategic situation [Page 194]changed and complicated by projected improvements in US forces and by the threat of a hostile China with an emerging nuclear capability.
We can make only the most general conclusions as to the course of Soviet strategic policy over the 10 year period of this estimate. In the absence of an arms control agreement, Moscow will almost certainly continue to strengthen its strategic forces, giving first priority as in the recent past to the forces for intercontinental attack and for strategic defense. Although we have no direct evidence of Soviet force goals, we believe that the Soviets will seek as a minimum something that they can regard as rough parity with the US; it is equally possible that they will seek some measure of superiority.2

Forces for Intercontinental Attack

The Soviets have built forces for intercontinental attack capable of inflicting heavy damage on the US even if the US were to strike first. Most of the ICBMs and all of the submarine-launched ballistic missiles are best suited for attacks on soft targets. The SS–9 is the only ICBM with the combination of payload and accuracy to attack hard targets effectively, but in its present numbers with single warheads it could attack no more than a small percent of the US ICBM force. The USSR’s capability to attack hard targets, however, is likely to increase considerably over the next 10 years. The Soviets will probably introduce ICBMs of greater accuracy. They are now testing multiple re-entry vehicles on the SS–9 and though the purpose of these tests is unclear, we believe the Soviets will introduce MIRVs3 capable of attacking hard targets. If the multiple re-entry vehicle tests are aimed at the development of a simple MRV, such a system could reach IOC late this year. If on the other hand they are aimed at the development of a MIRV [Page 195]system designed to attack Minuteman silos as described in paragraph 29 of the text, IOC could not be achieved before late 1970.4 A highly accurate MIRV system or one employing more than three RVs probably could not be developed before 1972, although its IOC might be delayed until as late as the mid-1970’s.
ICBMs. In the recent past, the Soviets have sought to improve their strategic position by a rapid buildup in the numbers of ICBM launchers. In the strategic situation that is emerging, qualitative improvements—particularly those related to accuracy, survivability, damage limitation, and the ability to penetrate defenses—become more important. Moreover, the number of launchers will probably become less significant in Soviet calculations than the numbers and kinds of re-entry vehicles. Considering current deployment activity and the probable phase out of older launchers, a Soviet ICBM force of some 1,300 launchers appears to be a minimum. Depending upon its composition and the extent to which it is supplemented by other weapons, such a force could in our view be consonant with a Soviet policy aimed either at rough parity or at some margin of advantage. Other factors, however, such as concern for survivability, a Soviet decision not to deploy MIRVs, a substantial delay in Soviet MIRV deployment, a try for superiority, or even the momentum of military programs could push these figures upward by some hundreds of launchers. We cannot now estimate the maximum size of the force which might result from such pressures.5
Space Weapons. There have been extensive flight tests which we think are related to development of a fractional orbit bombardment system (FOBS), a retrofired depressed trajectory ICBM, or perhaps a [Page 196]dual system to perform both missions.6 We have observed no testing since October 1968. We still think the chances are better than even that some version of the system will be deployed. Until our evidence is more conclusive, however, we cannot make a confident estimate as to the type of system being developed, when it could become operational, or how it might be deployed.
Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarines. Production of the 16-tube Y-class ballistic missile submarine continues; some five or six are now in commission. In addition, the Soviets may be developing a 3,000 n.m. submarine-launched ballistic missile. We continue to believe that the Soviets are building a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine force which will be roughly comparable to the US Polaris fleet by the mid-1970’s.
Heavy Bombers. The Soviets still have about 200 heavy bombers and tankers in operation. We have no evidence that any are currently being produced for Long Range Aviation, and we consider it unlikely that a new heavy bomber will enter service. Hence, by 1979 the heavy bomber force will probably be largely deactivated.7

Forces for Peripheral Operations

Soviet strategic forces for peripheral operations consist primarily of MRBMs, IRBMs, medium bombers, and diesel-powered ballistic missile submarines. In addition, the Soviets are probably deploying some short-range ballistic missiles and some ICBMs against targets in Eurasia. These forces are arrayed for the most part against Europe, and in massive strength—an emphasis that will probably continue. The conflict with China, however, has posed new requirements for strategic forces. These can be met to some extent by retargeting existing systems (e.g., bombers and ICBMs), but there will probably be some additional deployment of strategic missiles against China.
Within the period of this estimate, the MRBMs and IRBMs now in service will probably be completely replaced. Our evidence of new missile development is scanty and inconclusive, but a 1,500 n.m. solid-propellant missile and a missile of longer range (up to 3,000 n.m.) seem [Page 197]the likeliest possibilities. We project an MRBM/IRBM force of some 400–700 launchers, supplemented by additional short-range missiles and ICBMs. The medium bomber force will probably decline from its present level of some 700–750 aircraft.8 It seems highly unlikely that any new diesel-powered ballistic missile submarines will be built.

[Omitted here are the Discussion section of the estimate covering Soviet strategic policy, Soviet forces for intercontinental attack, and Soviet forces for peripheral operations, and an Annex containing the glossary and several tables.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]. The CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Department of State, the Department of 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 with the exception of 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. For the views of Mr. George C. Denney, Jr., Acting Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State; Vice Adm. Noel Gayler, the Director, National Security Agency; and Maj. Gen. Jammie M. Philpott, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, see their footnotes to paragraph 12. [Footnote in the original. Paragraph 12 of the estimate deals with the question of whether the Soviet Union was seeking strategic parity or superiority vis-à-vis the United States. In the footnotes, Denney argued that the Soviet Union would “face great difficulties,” including cost, the threat of exposure, and an eventual American response to Soviet advances, “in any attempt to achieve strategic superiority.” On the other hand, Gaylor and Philpott believed that, given the Soviet R&D expenditures and the pace of deployment, “it is more likely than not that the Soviets are seeking some measure of superiority.”]
  3. See the Glossary for definition of MRV and MIRV. In this estimate, the words “multiple re-entry vehicles” include both MRVs and MIRVs. [Footnote in the original. The estimate’s Glossary defines MRVs as a “payload package consisting of two or more RVs. The individual RVs are dispersed (but not independently-targeted or maneuvered) in order to confuse enemy radars, to aid penetration, and/or to increase kill area.” It defined MIRVs as a “payload consisting of two or more RVs each of which is independently targeted.”]
  4. According to paragraph 29, “An alternative [SS–9 reentry vehicle] system can be postulated and related to the current Soviet test program—one with sufficient flexibility so that variations in the dispersal pattern of the RVs would allow each to be targeted against closely spaced individual targets, i.e., Minuteman silos.”
  5. For the views of Mr. George C. Denney, Jr., Acting Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State; Rear Adm. Daniel E. Bergin, for the Acting Director, Defense Intelligence Agency; Brig. Gen. DeWitt C. Armstrong, III, for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army; Rear Adm. Frederick J. Harlfinger, II, the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations (Intelligence), Department of the Navy; and Maj. Gen. Jammie M. Philpott, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, see their footnotes to paragraph 41. [Footnote in the original. In the footnotes to paragraph 41, which deals with measuring the Soviet ICBM force, Denney disagreed “with the statement that we cannot now estimate the maximum size which the Soviet ICBM force might reach.” He projected a maximum of 1,800 Soviet ICBMs over the next decade. Bergin, Armstrong, Harlfinger, and Philpott agreed that, despite uncertainties, it was essential to attempt to estimate Soviet ICBM launchers, which they projected would number between 1,500 and 1,800 over the same period.]
  6. The glossary defines FOBS as “a system deployed on the ground, targeted prior to launch, and launched with intent to attack. Its operational and control requirements would be like those for an ICBM except for the need for a vehicle to place a warhead into an orbital trajectory and deorbit it on target. Such a vehicle would be targeted to attack prior to completion of the initial orbit.”
  7. For the views of Maj. Gen. Jammie M. Philpott, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, see his footnotes to paragraphs 61 and 62. [Footnote in the original. In footnotes to paragraphs 61 and 62, dealing with Soviet bombers, Philpott expressed his belief that “the USSR will act to maintain a credible bomber threat to the US in the 1970s and that additional intercontinental bombers will be introduced into LRA.”]