147. Memorandum From the Director of Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Marshall) to Secretary of Defense Schlesinger1
- Net Assessment of U.S. and Soviet Ground Forces
Attached is the Executive Summary of the Project 186 net assessment of U.S. and Soviet ground forces. Project 186 began life as NSSM 186.2 The original idea was to get an idea of the relative efficiency of the U.S. and USSR in producing, maintaining and operating ground forces. A first step would be to produce a complete, full, rich comparison of the two forces, including the qualitative factors often overlooked in most studies. The attached study is only a partial success in taking this first step. It is worth your reading, particularly the first twelve pages. It has generally been well received, except in the intelligence community.3 But it is not nearly the advance we hoped it would be.
There are several reasons why the study was not more successful. We foresaw many of the data problems and intelligence gaps, but we had little appreciation of how bad the problem was. Nor did anybody else. At the first steering committee meeting, we requested the JCS representative, a Rear Admiral, to provide data on the organization, manning, equipment, etc. of the U.S. ground forces, 1960 thru 1980. He promised the data in two weeks. It took over two months to produce, and was not nearly as complete as we expected. He was as surprised as we were. The JCS and services made a reasonable attempt to produce the data, and failed.
Similarly, on the Soviet side, we found that many things we thought we knew were the product of legend or speculation. For example, the community has very little idea how many men are in the Soviet ground forces. The ± 15% confidence interval applied only to divisional forces in GSFG. Even there the basis of the estimate is suspect [Page 668]outside the community. Another example is medium tanks. The community presently puts the Soviet inventory at about 43,000. They acknowledge that the Soviets have produced over 70,000 medium tanks in the last 20–25 years, but cannot reconcile the two figures. [3 lines not declassified.]
With regard to less quantitative aspects of Soviet forces the picture is even worse. DIA could not supply an estimate of how much the readiness of Soviet ground forces divisions is degraded by the semi-annual influx of new recruits that make up 25% of the division. Most of the new recruits have essentially no training. When pressed on this subject, they asserted that it would be unwise to assume any degradation in readiness. Similarly when asked about the effectiveness of the Soviet pre [word illegible] training (140 hours spread out over two years), DIA replied that this was not known, but that prudence dictated the assumption that it was roughly the same as the U.S. eight week basic training course.
Thus in the course of the study we confirmed two problem areas:
—Serious intelligence gaps, particularly with respect to the qualitative aspects of Soviet forces.
—A strong tendency for the community to fill the gaps with worst-case estimates.
It is worth noting that both the JCS and the Army liked the study. Indeed the Army would have considered withdrawing its concurrence had we watered down the conclusions further as requested by DIA and CIA.
Observations Drawn from the Study
1. Tooth to Tail. The study makes it clear that we don’t understand the question of appropriate support ratios. In Central Europe we have about twice as many men behind each weapon as the Soviets. We can’t say whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent. On the other hand, the Soviet mix may cause them problems in a war of any length. The annual transfer of troops from the USSR to East Germany causes quite a disruption of rail service in Eastern Europe. Reinforcement and resupply under wartime conditions cannot seem to them a trivial problem. In any event, the U.S. support tail probably gives our forces balance that the Soviets do not have.
2. Readiness. This is second only to “tooth/tail” in potential for arousing parochial passions. Here it appears that we really do derive some advantage from our readiness and training activity. By contrast Soviet forces must have semi annual cycles in their readiness levels. However, we do not know how to take credit for this yet in our comparisons.[Page 669]
3. Mobilization. There must be some way out of the dilemma that our reserves cannot be made ready before the war is over, but their reserves are effective in a week or two. Why do we have any reserves at all, and why do they have active forces? The question is only partly facetious.
4. Divisional Structure. Except for their seven airborne divisions the Soviets seem to have nothing but heavy divisions best for ground combat in Europe. Our mix contains a number and variety of light divisions, clearly intended for use other than on the Central Front. Is this the mix we want? Is it consistent with our notion that only the active forces will be available for combat in a war with the USSR?
5. New Soviet Systems. Some of the new Soviet equipment looks complex and sophisticated compared to their older stuff. The BMP and ZSU 23–4 are examples. Indeed it is alleged that all new Soviet ground force weapon systems show a discontinuity with past practices of simplicity of design, etc. It may be that these new designs are responding to some technical imperatives of their own. I intend to explore the hypothesis that this represents a trend to more expensive and capable equipment, and what the consequences might be for Soviet resource cost and maintenance requirements.
Clearly we cannot leave this subject in this state. I have several efforts going which may help clarify some of the issues raised here. The Army will undertake studies comparing U.S. and Soviet ground force training and maintenance. A potentially useful study of Soviet combat support is being done at General Research Corporation. We are concluding studies of anti-tank warfare and air defense over the battlefield, which will be briefed to you when done. I have Rand working on comparative U.S. and Soviet design philosophies for armored vehicles.
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Schlesinger Papers, Action Memoranda, October–November 1974. Top Secret.↩
- Document 139.↩
- On June 6, Colby sent a memorandum to Marshall criticizing the study’s treatment of cost data and its inadequate “consideration [of] recent information on changes that are taking place in Soviet weapons and forces.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–200, Study Memoranda, NSSM 186)↩
- Secret. On September 25, Graham sent a memorandum to Schlesinger raising questions about the summary study’s measurement of costs, readiness, and manpower procurement. On Graham’s memorandum, Wickham addressed a note to Schlesinger that read: “I’ve arranged a special JCS-Sec Def meeting for this to be discussed, including DIA’s views and where we go from here.” A note, dated October 17, on Graham’s memorandum reads: “Sec Def Has Seen.” No record of the referenced meeting was found. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Schlesinger Papers, Action Memoranda, October–November 1974)↩
- See footnote 3, Document 139. In an October 15 letter to Ford, Anderson reported that PFIAB, following consideration of the issue at its meeting of October 3–4, “continue[d] to believe a ‘National Net Assessment’ is required.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H—282, Intelligence Files, PFIAB (1) [1971–1975] [1 of 3])↩
- US separate brigades and cavalry regiments are roughly comparable in size to one third of a division, and are so counted throughout this paper. [Footnote in the original.]↩
- Attached, but not printed.↩