149. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–3/8–74

[Omitted here is the table of contents and an introductory note.]


The Soviets are pressing ahead with a broad range of programs for the near-term deployment of much improved offensive systems for intercontinental conflict, are gradually improving their deployed strategic defenses, and are vigorously pursuing the development of advanced technology applicable to strategic forces.

In strategic offensive forces:

—Four new ICBMs are being tested. Three have MIRVs and a mobile version of the other is probably being developed.

—New silos which were started prior to the Interim Agreement are being completed and a program is under way to convert a major portion of the existing Soviet silos for the new missiles.

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—More ballistic missile submarines with long-range missiles are being constructed.

—A new multipurpose bomber is being introduced into operational service.

—Additional new ICBMs and SLBMs are in the preflight stages of research and development.

Through these programs the Soviets will increase the number of their ICBM and SLBM warheads and improve the accuracy, survivability, and flexibility of their strategic offensive forces. The programs will add to Soviet capabilities for deterrence and for engaging in nuclear war.

In strategic defensive forces:

—The Soviets are gradually improving the capabilities of forces currently deployed.

—They are developing a new antiballistic missile system which can be deployed much more rapidly than the one currently operational, possibly as a hedge against abrogation of the ABM Treaty.2

—In antisubmarine warfare they are developing new sensors, weapons, and techniques, and are attempting to augment their skills in the use of aircraft, surface ships, and submarines in coordinated operations.

—They are investigating the application of lasers to air defense, ABM, and antisatellite uses.

We believe that the Soviet leaders are united on both the broad outlines of détente policy and the high value of strategic programs, although it is reasonable to assume that they differ on priorities. As the need to make new strategic decisions arises, more clear-cut divergence within the leadership may become evident. For the short term, they appear to have forged a working consensus to move forward with major force improvements. The Soviet leaders probably hope through the SALT process to constrain future US strategic programs, or at least reduce the chances of major new US arms initiatives. But they probably do not expect détente or SALT to face them with pressures sufficient to alter their near-term deployment plans in any major way. They evidently see no contradiction between their current strategic programs and their détente policies.

We doubt that the Soviets have firmly settled on acceptance of strategic parity or have decided to seek clear-cut strategic superiority.3 The concept of superiority in Soviet military doctrine is ill defined and is [Page 679]probably contested. In making the practical choices they confront, however, we believe that the Soviet leadership is pursuing a strategic policy which is both prudent and opportunistic—a policy aimed at assuring no less than comprehensive equality with the US and at the same time seeking to attain a margin of strategic advantage if US behavior permits.

Considering the history of Soviet strategic policy and force improvements, we believe that the motives underlying present Soviet strategic programs are to provide the USSR with:

—A counterbalance to the strategic strength of the US, plus its Allies, and China;

—A narrowing of the gap with the US in important strategic weapon technologies;

—Hedges against future US force improvements and possible deterioration of US-Soviet relations;

—Opportunities to gain strategic advantages should US behavior permit.

Inherent in present Soviet force improvement programs is an increasing capability to conduct selective or limited nuclear operations. In view of Soviet doctrinal aversion to limited nuclear warfare, however, it is unlikely that the USSR will adopt limited-use concepts at the intercontinental level during the 1970s.

Our best estimate of Soviet strategic force improvements over the next ten years—assuming that present SALT limitations continue and that US strategic programs develop as currently programmed—would provide to the USSR:

—By about 1980, with the present new systems, a lead over the US in most quantitative measures of offensive forces;

—In the 1980s, with improved or follow-on systems, a potential capability to destroy a large percentage of US Minuteman silos;

—An appearance of overcoming the US lead in such qualitative aspects of strategic forces as MIRV technology.

Despite expected improvements in Soviet forces, it is extremely unlikely that during the next ten years the Soviets will conclude that they could launch an attack which would prevent devastating US retaliation.

—The Soviets will be uncertain about the outcome of an attack on US Minuteman silos and would probably expect a considerable number to survive.

—Their ASW forces will be unable to locate and destroy the US ballistic missile submarine force at sea.

—There will continue to be weaknesses in Soviet defenses against low-altitude bomber attack.

ABM defenses will be limited by treaty to insignificant levels.

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—Soviet civil defense will be unable to prevent massive casualties and breakdown of the economy.

We do not foresee technological advances which would sharply alter the strategic balance in the USSR’s favor during the next ten years. Nevertheless, the scope and vigor of Soviet research and development, particularly in strategic defensive systems, bear especially close watching in the years ahead.

Although deterrence will be maintained and no overall strategic advantage obtained, the political impact of future Soviet forces will depend to a great extent on how they are perceived by the Soviets, the US, and other nations. The question of whether the Soviets could obtain a psychological edge in a time of crisis, for example, will depend heavily on the degree to which those involved focus on the basic strategic relationship or on appearances, and on how perceptions of strategic forces affect views about the total capabilities and resolve of both sides.

As Soviet forces for intercontinental conflict improve, acute problems of perceived strategic imbalances, threats to security, and distrust of motives are likely to arise.

—Ideology and strategic doctrine make it difficult for the Soviets to embrace concepts of long-term strategic stability that take into account US security interests as well as their own.

—Soviet strategic doctrine puts a high premium on war-fighting capabilities as the best deterrent and on counterforce operations as the best way to employ Soviet forces should deterrence fail.

—The Soviets do not readily recognize that programs they deem important to their security can easily be read by the US as threatening its strategic position.

—The Soviets are likely to perceive countervailing US responses, as well as some features of present US programs, as deliberately threatening to them.

In the coming years, uncertainties faced by each side in assessing the capabilities of the other’s future forces, particularly their qualitative characteristics, will tend to magnify more fundamental uncertainties and fears about the other side’s strategic objectives. Unless such a strategic environment is significantly changed by arms limitation agreements, it is likely that the Soviet leaders will continue to believe that the acquisition of more and better strategic armaments is their best course.

[Omitted here are the 29-page Summary, the 88-plus-page Estimate, and the Annexes.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council, Job 79R01012A: Intelligence Publications Files, Box 476, NIE 11–3/8–74. Top Secret. [Handling restriction not declassified] The CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, Defense, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force; the NSA, and the AEC participated in the preparation of this estimate. The DCI issued this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the USIB with the exception of the representatives of the FBI and the Department of the Treasury, who abstained.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 2.
  3. The Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Department of the Navy, and the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Department of the Air Force, believe that the USSR is fully committed to a policy of achieving strategic superiority over the United States and its allies in the years ahead. [Footnote in the original.]