150. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–15–74

[Omitted here is the table of contents.]



—A primary mission of the Soviet Navy is to furnish a deterrent to attack through the presence of a credible and survivable SSBN force, and, in time of general war, to participate in the nuclear exchange and strike at soft targets such as military installations, industries and government centers.

—The Soviets routinely maintain five of their operational SSBNs on station. The Soviets also appear to keep [number not declassified] SSBNs ready for deployment [less than 1 line not declassified] the majority of these—the Y-class SSBNs—will take about a week to ten days to reach station after notice. This will change appreciably during the next decade since increasing numbers of D-class submarines will be within missile range upon leaving home port.

—Under conditions of sufficient warning to get additional forces to firing stations, the Soviets might currently expect as many as 400 sea-based missiles to reach their targets in an initial strike. Under conditions of no warning, successful NATO damage limiting operations, delays in command and control procedures, or deliberate Soviet decisions, the Soviets might be able to launch only a few score missiles from the Y-class and D-class SSBNs.

—The Soviets are attempting to increase the survivability of their SSBN force in several ways. They are constructing tunnels near SSBN bases suitable for concealment and protection of the submarines and have built dummy SSBNs probably to conceal deployment levels during crises or to mislead NATO targeting.

—We expect the Soviet SSBN force to expand to 62 modern units by the late 1970s. The 62nd unit is probably already under construction, and we believe all of them will be completed. If the proposed SAL Agreement covering the 1977–1985 period is successfully concluded, [Page 682]the Soviets will be limited to a total of 2,400 delivery vehicles—ICBMs, SLBMs, and intercontinental bombers—with no sublimit on SLBMs. This would require some reductions in the numbers and probably some changes in the mix of Soviet strategic forces. We believe the Soviets will retain a force at the level of 62 modern SSBNs until about 1980. But pressures will mount for change in the mix of strategic forces in the 1980s and we are uncertain how these will affect the SSBN force.2

—An extensive program to refit new and probably MIRVed missiles to the force is expected to start in the late 1970s, and to continue through the mid-1980s.

—The Soviets continue to believe that a war with the West will probably evolve into a short nuclear conflict, but they also see some increasing likelihood that a war could begin, and perhaps even remain, at a conventional level. Soviet doctrine calls for the earliest possible destruction of enemy nuclear capabilities, including naval, in the early phases of a conventional conflict. Because the Soviets think it unlikely that a war with the West would remain conventional, we believe that they would seek to destroy SSBNs in the early stages of a conflict. However, it is possible, if the Soviets saw the opportunity to contain the conflict at conventional levels and given the low probability that they could actually destroy an SSBN, that the Soviet leadership would direct the Navy to refrain from attacking SSBNs in order to reduce the chances of escalation.

—We do not believe that the Soviets would choose to engage in a war conducted only at sea between the major powers. Soviet wartime naval operations are seen as closely related to war developments on the Eurasian landmass.

—Soviet capabilities for combating Western carrier strike forces—to them a first priority task—include forces for the surveillance of NATO carrier task forces in peacetime, and a combination of air, submarine and surface forces for the destruction of those NATO carrier task forces in war.

—We believe that, given time to coordinate all of their surveillance assets, the Soviets would probably be able to locate and track most US aircraft carriers in the northeastern Atlantic, Norwegian Sea, northwestern Pacific Ocean and the eastern Mediterranean. We believe that coordinated strikes against Western carriers in these areas would be at least partially successful.

—The degree of success would depend upon the location of the carriers, whether the Soviets use conventional or nuclear weapons, and [Page 683]whether surprise were achieved. If nuclear weapons were used in a surprise attack, most of the carriers in these areas could be destroyed. On the other hand, timely warning of a Soviet attack would allow the carriers to take action which would probably assure the survival of some carriers, especially against a conventional attack.

—We expect the Soviets to maintain the high priority on combating enemy aircraft carrier task forces. Cruise-missile submarines will continue to be built throughout the 1970s, as will major surface ships with antiship missiles. The SS–NX–13 antiship nuclear ballistic missile will most likely enter the force in the next year or two. [3 lines not declassified]

—The strike capability of the Soviet Navy against Western surface forces will be significantly improved by the deployment with Soviet Naval Aviation of the BACKFIRE ASM strike aircraft. The BACKFIRE’s increased range capability will give it coverage over all the major sea lanes leading to Europe and extend Pacific Ocean coverage to Hawaii—areas that were formerly out of range of the strike aircraft of the Soviet Navy. Equally important, BACKFIRE’s capability for high-subsonic, low-level flight will also give it a better chance than the BADGER of successfully crossing potentially hostile land areas such as Turkey and Greece in order to operate over the Mediterranean, an area over which, in practical terms, the Soviets could not now operate their naval strike aircraft. The BACKFIRE’s variable-flight profile and high-speed capabilities—Mach 2 at high altitudes—will give it a higher probability of penetrating carrier defenses in the open ocean than is the case with the BADGER aircraft.

—Soviet capabilities for antisubmarine warfare—countering Western SSBNs and defending against attacks from Western general purpose submarines—are inadequate:

—We expect the Soviets to continue to pursue various approaches to antisubmarine warfare, with emphasis on the anti-SSBN problem. Improved ASW sensors and supporting systems and stand-off weap-ons will be more extensively deployed. The construction rate of ASW submarines probably will increase.

—Although we believe the Soviets in wartime would attempt to attack Western SSBNs, they have no effective capability to do so in the open ocean and will probably not acquire such a capability during the next decade.3 However, we cannot exclude the possibility that the So[Page 684]viets might be able to detect a few SSBNs in limited areas such as the western approach to the Barents Sea or in strategic choke points such as the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap.

—We do not expect that Soviet forces will have systems for the reliable detection of Western attack submarines beyond the range of the latter’s weapon systems during the period of this Estimate.

—The Soviet and other Warsaw Pact navies have concentrated large numbers of small coastal patrol, ASW, and minewarfare ships, short-range submarines, and ASW aircraft in the Black, Baltic and Barents Seas and the Sea of Japan to secure their sea frontiers in time of war. These forces continue to receive the latest Soviet equipment and have some significant capabilities against Western forces. The Soviets and other Warsaw Pact navies could probably establish control over the Baltic and Black Seas early in a conflict, and plant mines to prevent penetrations by Western naval forces. In the Sea of Japan and in the Barents Sea, enemy surface units could be destroyed quickly, but Western nuclear submarines would pose a more difficult problem and the Soviets probably could not protect their ships from this threat.

—The Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies maintain amphibious forces in the Barents Sea area, in the Baltic and Black Seas, and in the Sea of Japan. The effectiveness of operations of these forces would probably vary widely. The North Cape of Norway could probably be taken fairly readily if the Norwegian brigade normally deployed there were not reinforced. In the Baltic, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact forces could probably capture the Danish islands, if the Danish air and ground forces on Zealand were not reinforced, and link up with land forces attacking Jutland. In the Black Sea area, strong Turkish defenses and difficult terrain would make a coordinated land and sea assault on the Turkish straits more difficult. The Soviets probably could not seize these Straits quickly using conventional weapons. Soviet Naval Infantry capabilities in the Pacific are insufficient for conducting amphibious assaults on the Japanese home islands to secure exits from the Sea of Japan.

—We believe that, if a conventional war in Europe were to continue for some time, the Soviets would probably mount an interdiction campaign against Western sea lines of communications. The Soviets would have major problems in doing so. They do not have forward bases for resupply, and attempts to operate their small number of resupply ships beyond Soviet-controlled waters could be easily countered. Thus their submarines would almost certainly have to return through choke points to an uncertain resupply situation. Moreover, the North Atlantic sea lanes are basically beyond the range of all but BEAR and BACKFIRE aircraft. In a prolonged conventional conflict, therefore, the Soviets could effect attrition on NATO shipping, but could not [Page 685]disrupt it completely. We believe it unlikely that, outside of direct involvement in a war with the West, the USSR would attack Western sea lines of communication, however vulnerable.

—We do not believe the Soviets are building naval forces for intervention in distant areas against substantial opposition nor do we believe they have much capability for such intervention now.

—Soviet ability to sustain combat at sea for long periods would be severely circumscribed by logistics-related weaknesses. Most of the new larger Soviet surface combatants have no reloads for their major offensive weapons systems, and the ships’ limited underway replenishment capability constrain Soviet abilities for sustained combat at sea. The current forward posture of the Soviet Navy depends upon the support of auxiliaries and merchant ships in anchorages and in Third World ports, and presumes a non-hostile environment.

—Since the mid-1960s, the Soviet Navy has diversified its areas of operation. However, the rapid growth rate in naval activity away from home waters that characterized the late 1960s has slowed in the 1970s. Virtually the only increase in the last four years has been related to unusual circumstances such as minesweeping operations in 1974 in the Gulf of Suez and the Bangladesh harbor-clearing operations in 1971. We believe that the majority of the Soviet out-of-area operations, especially those in the Norwegian Sea and the Pacific Ocean, have been related primarily to training for operations against Western navies. But we also believe that many of the Soviet out-of-area operations reflect a Soviet decision to use naval forces more extensively in furthering Soviet foreign policy objectives in peacetime.

—Through their naval operations in peacetime the Soviet leadership has sought to influence US actions at some cost and risk while at the same time keeping to a minimum the chances of actual US-Soviet conflict. We expect this approach to continue.

—We believe that the level of Soviet naval out-of-area activity is approaching practical limits, given the USSR’s current priorities. Over the longer term, as newer more capable ships enter the force, there will be a moderate but steady increase in the number of ships available for distant operations. Any rapid increase in sustained distant deployment probably would require a more intensive ship-building effort, not only of surface combatants, but also of logistic support ships.

—Naval activity and port visits, particularly in the Third World, probably have improved the Soviet Union’s position with some foreign political leaders, but it has irritated others. Still others—perhaps a majority of Third World leaders—show little outward concern about Soviet naval deployments. Nevertheless, in many countries, especially developed countries with a maritime tradition, naval activity is perceived as an important element in the international political balance. As [Page 686]long as this view continues to be prominent, the Soviet Navy’s peacetime operations will have significant political impact.

—We believe that future Soviet naval developments will bear a strong resemblance to the current trends. Given the bureaucratic continuities in Soviet naval efforts and the Navy’s apparently integral place in Soviet policies with regard to the US, NATO, and the Third World, there is not much chance for the Navy to lose its position. However, given the general resource problems in the USSR, we do not expect substantial gains for the Navy at the expense of others. We thus expect basic changes to the current line to come about slowly, if at all.

—The Soviet Navy has been widely perceived as equal to or even superior to the US Navy, despite the many asymmetries in the two forces. This perception has given the Soviet Navy a degree of credibility which, while not always fully supported by its combat capabilities, has made it an important element in calculations of international political power.

[Omitted here is the Discussion portion of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council, Job 79R01012A: Intelligence Publications Files, Box 477, NIE 11–15–74, Soviet Naval policy and Programs. 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 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. The Defense Intelligence Agency calls attention to its footnote 10 on page 34. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. The Defense Intelligence Agency [less than 1 line not declassified] believes that several of the nonacoustic methods currently known to be under investigation by the Soviets offer potential for improving their detection of nuclear submarines and thus could provide them with a capability to threaten the survivability of a portion of the US SSBN force deployed in the open ocean. The Director of Naval Intelligence, Department of the Air Force, share this view. [Footnote in the original.]