123. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford1


  • U.S. Anti-Satellite Capabilities

As you know, an Ad Hoc Panel of NSC technical consultants has been studying a number of aspects of U.S. military use of space. An interim report on their study of U.S. anti-satellite capabilities was forwarded to you last July.2 They have now completed their final report on this subject. (Tab A)3

Summary of Panel Views

The Panel concluded that there is an urgent need for a U.S. capability to destroy at least some militarily important low altitude Soviet space systems. [3 lines not declassified] The Panel is convinced that this Soviet trend will continue and that real-time space capabilities will become even more important to the effective use of military forces in the future.

[5 lines not declassified] The Panel believes that this long-range missile threat to the U.S. surface Navy is of great concern and will continue to improve.

If the U.S. had the capability to destroy the critical target-locating satellites, which are at low altitude and are few in number, [1 line not declassified]. In the opinion of the Panel, the capability to nullify this ocean surveillance threat alone provides sufficient motivation to undertake an anti-satellite development program. There are, however, other low altitude Soviet space systems such as the [less than 1 line not declassified] and possibly the photo-reconnaissance satellites, which are important to Soviet military operations and could also become targets for an anti-satellite. This list is expected to grow as the Soviets continue to expand their space capability in the future.

The Panel concluded that a limited anti-satellite capability sufficient to conduct six to ten low altitude intercepts within a week and to [Page 588] respond to a new Soviet launch inside one day, could be developed by the end of CY 1980 using available technology, if sufficient priority is applied. However, budgetary pressures, arms control considerations, and other international policy factors could impede progress in this area unless a clear statement of U.S. national policy is made emphasizing the need for anti-satellite development.

The Panel also concluded that there is a need for a parallel effort to achieve an even earlier capability to electronically nullify (jam) Soviet satellites. The Panel believes that the ability to negate a satellite electronically in local regions and for controlled time periods in a reversible, less provocative way would have a lower crisis threshold for use and would be a very valuable option. It may be possible to adapt existing ground and airborne assets for this purpose.

The Panel further concluded that space-based lasers as anti-satellite weapons will not be feasible as an operational anti-satellite capability before the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.

Next Steps

The Panel has highlighted the value of a U.S. anti-satellite system and has helped to clarify possible program objectives. One of the reasons for lack of progress in the past has been the absence of clear policy guidance on national objectives in this area. Recently DOD has moved more aggressively toward obtaining a limited near-term anti-satellite capability, and has budgeted substantially more funds for FY 1978 through FY 1982. A clear statement of national policy on U.S. anti-satellite capabilities would help to maintain this momentum.

Toward that end, a draft NSDM is now being prepared which would (1) clearly state the need for a limited near-term U.S. low-altitude anti-satellite capability, (2) clarify the objectives of such a capability, and (3) explore complementary arms control measures to restrain growth of anti-satellites to high altitudes. Following agency review and comments on the study effort, I will present the NSDM to you for consideration.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 66, NSDM 333 (3). Top Secret. Sent for information. A note at the top of the memorandum reads: “The President Has Seen.” Ford’s handwritten memorandum, undated, addressed to Scowcroft was found attached. It reads: “Very helpful report. I believe it important that the NSDM be issued as soon as possible otherwise the matter could be delayed. I believe it important to issue it before Jan. 20th.”
  2. See footnote 3, Document 96.
  3. Not found attached.