166. Interagency Intelligence Memorandum1

IIM 76–041

[Omitted here is the Table of Contents.]


A review of the Soviet civil defense program leads us to conclude that:

—The program is more extensive and better developed than we had previously believed.

—The measures the Soviets are taking to protect their leadership, industry, and population could have a significant impact on both US and Soviet perceptions of the likely outcome of a nuclear exchange.2

—We cannot, at this time, make a confident estimate of the actual effectiveness of the Soviet program.

Thus, one of the most important findings of this study is that the civil defense problem demands priority attention by the Intelligence Community. Our current understanding of the Soviet program reflects a six-month survey of the available evidence, in the first detailed review of this subject since 1970. A more extensive and systematic collection and analysis effort will be required to resolve some of our uncertainties about the objectives and effectiveness of the Soviet civil defense effort.

Significant shifts in emphasis in the Soviet civil defense program occurred during the late 1960s and early 1970s. During that period the Soviets subordinated the entire civil defense program to military direction. They also increased their efforts to provide hardened command posts for the military and civilian leadership. At the same time, they modified to a degree their previous policy of mass evacuation of cities by placing somewhat greater emphasis on constructing hardened shelters within urban areas, a decision which they have attributed to concern that a nuclear attack could occur with little prior warning. Our study of Soviet civil defense has not revealed any major changes in the Soviet program since about 1971, nor does it suggest a crash program. [Page 765] Rather, the Soviets have been proceeding gradually but steadily to implement decisions evidently taken previously.3

In reviewing what we know about the subject for purposes of this memorandum, we have acquired new appreciation of several aspects of Soviet civil defense:

—The subordination of the entire civil defense structure to military direction has resulted in a more effective organization for carrying out civil defense plans and operations. Civil defense training efforts concentrate on the personnel responsible for carrying out civil defense operations, rather than on extensive training of the general population.

—We have reconfirmed our previous judgment that hardened shelters and command posts are available for the top political and military leadership, and for military and civilian leaders at a number of capitals and military headquarters below the national level.

—Thus far, the hardened shelter program for urban areas is primarily for the protection of personnel judged by the Soviets as essential, rather than for protection of the general population.

—The expansion of industries during the past 15 years into areas distant from previously existing urban centers has not significantly reduced the vulnerability of Soviet industry to nuclear attack. Although light industries are somewhat less concentrated, Soviet heavy industries remain for the most part in large urban areas. The vulnerability of some industry has been reduced somewhat as a result of expansion of some industries into suburbs or “satellite towns.”

—The numbers of underground structures discovered in a partial survey of industrial facilities, and the wide range of locations and industries at which such structures have been found, indicate that preparations for industrial protection are more extensive than we had previously realized.

—We have determined that the Soviets have reserves of food supplies and fuel located outside urban areas which could be used to support the urban population following a nuclear attack on cities, provided it could be distributed effectively. We do not know the actual size of these reserves or how long the available supplies would last. The most difficult problem for the Soviets would probably be to assure the survival of supply personnel, equipment, and communications, and to manage the complex distribution of supplies under chaotic conditions.

Despite our extensive review, major gaps remain in our knowledge of Soviet civil defense. From unclassified materials and intelligence sources, we know that the Soviets have an ambitious program and we have a good understanding of their overall civil defense planning and organization. But we lack important details about specific classified plans. While we know that the Soviets are taking some ac[Page 766]tions with respect to all aspects of civil defense, we lack evidence on the progress they are making in many of their preparations.



Beginning in 1971, military and civilian elements responsible for civil defense were integrated into a single nationwide organization, headed by a Deputy Minister of Defense at the national level and by commanders of military districts in the field. The leadership consists of at least 60 general officers, some of them at civil defense staffs as low as city level. The organization comprises at least 50,000 full-time personnel organized into staffs, civil defense troop units, civilian services, cadres, formations, and teams.4 They operate at various levels extending from the Ministry of Defense through military districts, republic capitals, oblasts, and cities down to small districts (rayons) and economic installations. This organizational structure is supported by dedicated nationwide communications systems. The number of part-time participants in the civil defense organization is probably in the tens of millions.

Mission and Objectives

Civil defense is an integral part of Soviet military planning for nuclear war. In Soviet military doctrine, it is one aspect of that part of military science concerned with “protection of the rear,” which in nuclear war the Soviets consider to be the entire nation. They regard civil defense as a task vital to successful operations of the armed forces. It is part of a broader Soviet concept which we have characterized as “war survival,” encompassing all the military and nonmilitary measures by which the Soviets seek to ensure the survival of Soviet society and the continuity of the Soviet state.

The mission of the Soviet civil defense organization is to carry out three basic objectives through peacetime preparation and wartime action. Soviet writings are not clear about the relative priorities of these objectives, but our evidence on actual preparations suggests that they fall in the following order:

—to assure the continuity of government and control by protecting the leadership through hardened urban shelters and relocation sites with supporting communications facilities;

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—to provide continuity of operations of important economic facilities5 by hardening and relocating these facilities, maintaining reserves of supplies and materials, and protecting essential personnel through sheltering in urban areas and at dispersal sites; and

—to protect the nonessential part of the population through sheltering in urban and rural areas, evacuation of urban residents beyond the area of initial casualty-producing effects of nuclear strikes on cities, and at least minimal training and indoctrination in civil defense.

Protection of the Leadership

We have identified hardened urban shelters, alternate command posts, and supporting communications for protection of the military and civilian leadership in and near Moscow and at some capitals and military headquarters below the national level. The program to build such shelters is far from complete, but it appears intended eventually to provide hardened shelters and communications for Soviet military and civilian leaders at all levels.

—We have confirmed [less than 1 line not declassified] bunkered command posts in the USSR, not counting control centers of the Strategic Rocket Forces and numerous smaller bunkers for communications facilities. [5 lines not declassified]

—The characteristic pattern of such facilities includes hardened bunkers adjacent to military and civilian headquarters within urban areas and hardened relocation sites in suburban or rural areas, together with supporting communications systems, some with hardened antennas.

—While bunkers which have been identified for the leadership vary somewhat in design and structure, they appear in general to be hard enough to afford a good chance of surviving a nuclear attack unless targeted with accurate high-yield weapons.

Protection of Economic Facilities

The extent of Soviet preparations for the protection of economic facilities from the effects of a nuclear attack is greater than we previously realized. We have not yet been able to assess the effects of these measures on the vulnerability of important economic facilities to nuclear attack.

Dispersal. Soviet civil defense planning calls for redistributing industries outside urban areas, taking advantage of industrial dispersal brought about by economic requirements. The Soviets have created [Page 768] new towns near sources of raw materials and have established industries in many smaller cities in the course of their industrial expansion. We have determined, however, that the expansion of industries during the past 15 years into areas distant from previously existing urban centers has not significantly reduced the vulnerability of Soviet industry to nuclear attack. Despite their growth, Soviet heavy industries remain concentrated in large urban areas, although light industries are somewhat less concentrated.

The vulnerability of industry has been reduced somewhat by resiting facilities within large urban centers and by the expansion of some industries into suburbs or “satellite towns.” Also, some reduction in vulnerability has resulted from producing certain items of military equipment at more than one facility.

Hardening. Soviet planning also calls for hardening measures to reduce the vulnerability of economic facilities and equipment to nuclear attack. These range from underground facilities and protective engineering techniques to expedient measures for the protection of equipment. We have information on several hundred underground structures at a wide range of industrial facilities in various geographic areas. From the sample we have surveyed, first priority appears to be on defense industries, but performance in the defense industries is uneven. Some underground structures were evident at other industries as well. We have very little information on the extent to which other hardening techniques are being applied. Some defense industries are required to have plans for relocation just prior to a nuclear attack, but we do not know the number or type of plants involved in such planning.

Protection of Essential Personnel. It is clear that the emphasis in the Soviet urban shelter program since the late 1960s has been to protect essential personnel. We believe there are large numbers of hardened shelters available for this purpose but we have no estimate of the total or what percentage of the essential personnel could be accommodated. Workers would also be protected by movement to dispersal sites at predesignated locations outside urban areas which are close enough to the city to permit personnel to commute daily to their place of work. Emigrés have reported that advance preparations—prestocked supplies, shelters, and other facilities—to receive essential personnel have been made at some dispersal sites outside urban areas.

Civil Defense Units. Civil defense services and formations have been established at economic facilities to repair damage and restore operations. These units practice frequently and appear to be well trained.

Reserves. The Soviets maintain state reserves of critical supplies of industrial materials, equipment, fuel and food supplies, which have been reported as “large” by emigré sources. We have not determined, however, the location and size of the state reserves. If the normal flow [Page 769] of supplies to industries were halted, we believe they could continue production for only a few weeks without drawing on reserves. There are also reports of “strategic reserves” of supplies—presumably a level below which state reserves would not be drawn down during peacetime. Thus far we have identified 36 bunkered grain storage sites, confirming other indications that the Soviets have dispersed and protected some such strategic reserves. The capacity of the identified bunkers, however, represents only a small percentage of the capacity of the aboveground grain storage facilities located outside urban areas.

Protection of the Nonessential Population

Since the late 1960s, the Soviets have given more emphasis in their policy statements and in their construction programs to shelters in cities. They attribute this shift in emphasis to a concern that a nuclear exchange could occur with little prior warning. In their shelter construction program first priority appears to be on hardened shelters for essential personnel. In most cities hardened shelters could accommodate only a small percentage of the nonessential population. Fallout shelters in cities could probably provide some protection from radiation. However, within cities the primary casualty-producing effects of nuclear detonations would probably be blast and fire, rather than radiation from fallout.

Therefore, the Soviets still rely heavily on evacuation to protect the nonessential urban population. Given a period of warning prior to a nuclear attack, Soviet planning calls for movement of the nonessential urban population to evacuation sites up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) from likely urban target areas (farther from the urban center than the dispersal sites from which essential personnel would commute to the city). On the basis of our study of 12 representative Soviet cities, we conclude that, under most favorable conditions, movement of the nonessential population to evacuation sites and the improvisation of shelters for them could probably be completed within less than a week from a decision to evacuate. In this case, as the Soviets claim, evacuation of cities could reduce prompt casualties to a few percent of the urban population. We are not sure about longer-term protection—that is, the degree of protection from radioactive fallout that would be attained for large numbers of people at evacuation sites.

Although we are aware that large stocks of essential supplies—food, water, fuel, and medicine—are located outside urban target areas, we are unable to estimate with confidence how long such stocks would satisfy the needs of the population or how soon after the attack supplies could start to move from producers. There is no evidence that evacuation areas are being prestocked with essential supplies.

We have, however, a general appreciation of total supplies likely to be available (based on such things as overall geographic distribution [Page 770] of industry, population, and normal distributive storage), and we have made rough calculations of normal consumption rates of some categories of supplies. Such evidence as we have suggests that following a nuclear attack on cities which was preceded by a period of warning to make final preparations, supply levels would be sufficient to satisfy the minimum subsistence needs of the population for weeks and perhaps months. Distribution of supplies to the relocated urban population would probably be a more serious problem than stock levels.

Major portions of the Soviets’ transportation equipment are normally located outside cities, and would probably not be destroyed by an attack on urban areas. If an attack were preceded by a period of warning, Soviet planning calls for the dispersal of transportation equipment from urban areas to predesignated sites outside cities. Nevertheless, important fixed transportation facilities and equipment in cities, including control centers, would be damaged and power for some segments of the electrified railroads would be disrupted. The most difficult problem for the Soviets would probably be to assure the survival of supply personnel, equipment, and communications, and to manage the complex distribution of supplies under chaotic conditions.

In the past several years, the emphasis in Soviet civil defense training, practices, and exercises has been on full-time and part-time personnel in civil defense staffs and organizations. The Soviets are relying primarily on programs at educational institutions and other organizations to indoctrinate the general population. This is a realistic approach to developing an effective civil defense capability, according to the findings of US civil defense experts.

Effectiveness of Soviet Civil Defenses

While it seems clear that civil defense preparations in the USSR are more extensive than we have been able to confirm, the status of preparations implied by our evidence is consistent with the Soviets’ own acknowledgement that the objectives of their civil defense programs have not been fully achieved. They are concentrating, however, on those preparations which we believe are most valuable for recovery operations: an extensive well-defined organization at all levels of government; a training program focused on the primary implementing organizations; detailed planning to mobilize and control military and civilian resources; measures to reduce damage to economic facilities; and a leadership familiar with civil defense plans and having available to it both protection and facilities to control operations.

The effectiveness of Soviet civil defenses, including evacuation and recovery, in the event of an unrestrained US nuclear attack on urban areas would vary widely, depending on such circumstances as the size of the attack, weather, time of day, and season of year, but the [Page 771] period of warning prior to the attack would be a critical factor. Thus an evaluation of Soviet civil defense effectiveness must take into account the following circumstances:

—The most severe test for Soviet civil defenses would be a situation in which the first warning of a nuclear exchange would come after strategic nuclear attacks were in progress, regardless of which side initiated the conflict.

—The more likely situation would be one in which a nuclear exchange followed a period of tension in which both sides were aware of a heightened risk of nuclear war, providing time for at least some final civil defense preparations.

—Regardless of how the nuclear exchange eventuated, the US could launch an unrestrained nuclear attack designed to prevent the early reconstitution of the Soviet Union as a major power, in accordance with one of the US nuclear weapon employment options in NSDM–242.6

We can draw only tentative conclusions about the effectiveness of Soviet civil defenses because of the large gaps in our knowledge of the program and the unknowables about its operation under stress. It is our tentative conclusion that, under optimum conditions, which included a period of warning prior to an unrestrained US attack during which evacuation and other prescribed preparations were implemented, Soviet civil defenses would: (1) assure survival of a large percentage of the leadership necessary to maintain control, (2) reduce prompt casualties among the urban population to a small percentage, and (3) give the Soviets a good chance of being able to distribute at least a subsistence level of supplies to the surviving population.

With minimal warning, some key leaders would probably survive, but the urban population would suffer very high casualties and the chances would be poor that the Soviets could distribute supplies effectively to the surviving population.

Our conclusions about the effectiveness of measures to protect economic facilities must be even more tentative. Our impression is that the protective measures we know about would be effective in reducing collateral damage to economic facilities which were not the primary targets of attack. We believe that, without warning of an attack, casualties among essential personnel would be very high. Warning may be less critical to the survival of economic facilities and equipment.

In spite of the potential contribution of Soviet civil defenses to survival of the leadership and to reducing casualties and damage to economic facilities, Soviet planners too would have major uncertainties in predicting the effectiveness of their civil defenses. Among the most important would be uncertainties about:

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—the time available for implementing prescribed preparations prior to the nuclear strikes;

—the timing and size of initial and subsequent nuclear strikes and the extent to which urban areas would be targeted;

—the aggregate effects, both prompt and longer term, of an attack involving several thousand nuclear weapons; and

—the magnitude of human and material casualties and the effect of their occurrence in a short period.

The Soviets’ overall assessment of their present civil defenses against an unrestrained US nuclear attack probably is not a highly optimistic one. Indeed, the usually conservative Soviet planners may attribute lower capabilities to their civil defenses than we do, given the magnitude of the problems they face and the large uncertainties about the circumstances, scale, and effects of the nuclear attacks they would have to cope with. Even under the most favorable circumstances, they probably would have to expect a breakdown of the economy, and under the worst conditions they would have to anticipate catastrophic human casualties as well.

Despite all the problems and uncertainties, however, the Soviets probably believe that civil defense measures contribute to giving the USSR a chance to survive as a national entity and to be in a better position than the US following a nuclear exchange. They probably would expect their present civil defenses to be able to protect some key civilian and military leaders and political and economic cadres, to reduce damage to economic facilities, to reduce casualties among the population, and to support the conduct of military operations.

More threatening interpretations of the Soviets’ motives and expectations for their civil defense programs are possible, but the evidence available to us does not suggest that Soviet civil defense preparations are being carried out on any crash basis or that they are peaking toward any particular target date. In any event, we have no doubt that the Soviets will continue their efforts to improve their civil defenses. They have long emphasized defense of the homeland in their military policy and believe that civil defense is a significant factor in the military balance. They are convinced that “protection of the rear” is vital to deterrence, to military success in war, and to national survival in the event of nuclear war. Whatever the nature of their specific current motivations, the Soviets would expect their civil defense efforts to contribute to their overall strategic posture and to enhance their prospects in nuclear war.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, believes that the Soviet civil defense program is seen by the Soviet leadership primarily as a prudent hedge against the possibility of attack by a nuclear-armed adversary. Moreover, INR believes that these Soviet civil defense efforts will not materially increase Soviet willingness to risk a nuclear exchange and will not [Page 773] undermine the deterrent value of US strategic attack forces. While fully agreeing that this is an important area of activity which deserves closer attention by the US Intelligence Community, INR believes that at the present time the scope of the civil defense program does not indicate Soviet strategic objectives beyond maintenance of rough strategic equivalence with the US.

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, consider that this memorandum accurately summarizes our present information on Soviet efforts to improve the war survival potential inherent in the Soviet civil defense effort. However, they judge the impact of this war survival effort upon the USUSSR strategic balance to be greater than that implied by these Principal Findings and Conclusions. They believe that the Soviet civil defense effort will have a definite and increasing impact on the USUSSR strategic balance. Moreover, they stress their belief that the Soviets are engaged in an effort to achieve a war-fighting and war-survival capability and that the civil defense program is an essential element in this effort. They are convinced that Soviet civil defense efforts are intended to contribute to the USSR’s strategic posture by eroding US SIOP capabilities. Finally, they believe that the Soviets will increasingly strive to enhance their international position by capitalizing on their war-survival capabilities in order to manipulate policy decisions in the Third World and NATO.

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

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council, Job 91R00884R: Intelligence Publications Files, Box 13, NIO IIM 76–041. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified].
  2. For the views of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, concerning the significance of Soviet civil defense measures, see the penultimate paragraph of the Summary and Conclusions. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. For the views of 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, about the significance of the Soviet civil defense effort, see the final paragraph of the Summary and Conclusions. [Footnote in the original.]
  4. The Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Department of the Air Force, believes that the estimated minimum of 50,000 full-time civil defense personnel is too low and should include an additional 15,000 for manning civil defense communications systems at all levels. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. Important economic facilities include industries, public utilities, transportation, and other facilities important to the war effort and postwar reconstruction. Essential personnel are those individuals who will be assigned under mobilization and civil defense planning to such facilities or services or will participate in emergency repair and restoration operations. Dispersal sites are predesignated locations outside urban areas which are close enough to the city to permit personnel of key economic facilities to commute daily to their place of work. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. Document 31.