52. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–3–69


The Problem

To estimate the strength and capabilities of Soviet strategic air and missile defense forces through mid-1971 and to estimate general trends in those forces over the next 10 years.2


A. Throughout the postwar period the USSR has devoted a major effort to strategic defense. This effort can be attributed primarily to the size and diversity of US strategic attack forces, although for the future the Soviets must consider the threat posed by third countries, particularly China.

Air Defense

B. The Soviets have deployed in depth a formidable system of air defenses, which is very effective against subsonic and low-supersonic aircraft at medium and high altitudes. The system is less effective against higher performance aircraft and standoff weapons; it has virtually no capability against penetration below about 1,000 feet except in a few, limited areas.

C. At present, the major effort is directed against the threat posed by high-performance aircraft and standoff weapons. The SA–5, which represents a considerable improvement over older systems in terms of range, velocity, and firepower, is being deployed as a barrier defense around the European USSR and for point defense of selected targets. There are about 40 operational SA–5 complexes and we believe that [Page 216]about 100 complexes will be operational by 1973. In addition, the Soviets are deploying supersonic, high-altitude interceptors. They have an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) in limited operation. This system, when used in coastal areas and with long-range interceptors, could greatly extend the area in which incoming aircraft could be engaged.

D. To cope with low-altitude attack the Soviets have deployed all-weather interceptors with improved capabilities, and they are continuing to deploy the SA–3, primarily along the Black Sea and Baltic Sea approaches. More advanced radars, SAMs, AAMs, and interceptors better suited for low-altitude defense will probably be introduced. The primary limitation on low-altitude defense, however, is surveillance and control. Through the dense deployment of new radars, the Soviets have improved tracking capabilities in a few areas down to altitudes of 500 feet and even below, but we do not expect them to extend such deployment to large areas of the USSR.

Ballistic Missile Defense3

E. Ballistic missile early warning and initial tracking would probably be provided by large, phased-array dual Hen House radars. Those now operational in the northern USSR are intended primarily to detect ICBMs launched from the US. They also provide some coverage of the Polaris threat from the north and northwest. The Soviets will probably take steps to provide additional early warning coverage against ICBMs, against Polaris, and against the Chinese missile threat.

F. The Moscow ABM system (ABM–1), under deployment since 1962, has achieved some operational capability. Apparently the Soviets will deploy only about half as many ABM–1 launchers as originally planned. The launch sites still under construction should be operational in 1970. The Soviets are probably also making some improvements in the ABM–1.

G. Our analysis of the Moscow system indicates that, as presently deployed, it will furnish a limited defense of the Moscow area, but that it has some weaknesses. It appears to have little ability to handle such sophisticated threats as long chaff clouds and certain other penetration aids; the small number of launchers and the apparent limitations of the [Page 217]fire control radars make the system highly susceptible to saturation and exhaustion. Its capability to deal with nuclear blackout is probably not high, and none of the system compounds appear to be hardened to withstand the effects of nuclear bursts. Finally, the Moscow system is primarily an anti-ICBM system; it provides long-range radar coverage of only a part of the multidirectional Polaris threat.

H. We believe that the Soviets are developing a follow-on ABM system. Like the Moscow system, it will probably be designed for long-range, exoatmospheric intercept; it could become operational in the 1974–1975 period. We have no evidence that the Soviets are developing a short-range intercept system comparable to the US Sprint. If they do, it would probably not begin to enter service before the late-1970’s.

I. We still have no evidence of ABM deployment outside the Moscow area; any extension of ABM defenses will probably await the availability of the system now under development. The logical first step in any future deployment would be to augment the defenses of Moscow. The extent of deployment beyond Moscow will depend heavily upon economic as well as technical considerations. Deployment of a national defense system on a scale sufficient to cope with the full US missile threat does not appear to be a feasible course of action for the USSR within the period of this estimate. We believe that the Soviets will decide upon a program that would provide some defense for the most important target areas in the USSR. Some part of this defense would probably be deployed against Communist China and other third country threats.

Anti-satellite Capabilities

J. With existing radars and missiles armed with nuclear warheads, the Soviets could almost certainly destroy or neutralize current US satellites in near earth orbits during an early phase of their mission. With terminal guidance, they could probably use a non-nuclear war-head to neutralize satellites. During the last year we have seen evidence that the Soviets may be developing a co-orbital anti-satellite system. Neither inspection nor destruction operations have been specifically identified, but the activity observed seems more applicable to an anti-satellite mission than any other. This system now probably has a limited capacity to intercept US satellites, but a fully operational capability is not likely before 1971.

[Omitted here is the Discussion section of the estimate covering Soviet strategic defense policy, air defense, missile defense, space surveillance and anti-satellite defense, and civil defense.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Top Secret; Restricted Data. The Central Intelligence Agency 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 of 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. This estimate considers only those Soviet strategic defensive forces located in the USSR and Eastern Europe. The Soviet anti-submarine warfare effort, with its implications for Polaris, will be discussed in the forthcoming NIE 11–14–69, “Soviet and East European General Purpose Forces.” [Footnote in the original.]
  3. Maj. Gen. John F. Freund, Acting for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, and Maj. Gen. Jammie M. Philpott, the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, consider that this section underestimates the Soviet missile defense (ABM) capability. For their views, see footnote on page 15. [Footnote in the original. According to the footnote on page 15 of the NIE, Freund and Philpott remained convinced that the estimate underrated Soviet missile defense capabilities primarily because they believed that “the state of available evidence is such that an ABM role cannot be excluded for the SA–5 (Tallinn) system.”]