28. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • US Capabilities to Respond to Limited Contingencies (U)

(S) This memorandum responds to your 9 July request2 for a status report on the progress which has been made in implementing the limited contingency aspects of PD/NSC–18.3

(S) First, by way of background, even prior to August 1977 the US had forces which could be used to respond to limited contingencies. However, the focus on planning for limited contingencies in the Middle East/Persian Gulf has increased substantially since PD/NSC–18 was issued. Competition for limited resources has precluded additions to our basic force structure, which is not the limiting factor in our capability for rapid deployment in any event.4 However, we have designated specific type units for a rapid deployment force, are refining our contingency plans, tailoring our training, and programming logistics, mobility, and support resources for the rapid deployment force so that it can operate effectively in the Middle East/Persian Gulf and Korea.

(S) I have instructed the Services to program logistics, mobility, and support for a rapid deployment force consisting of two Army divisions (one light and one mechanized) along with an armored brigade and combat support forces, four tactical fighter wings (seven for a Korean contingency), three carrier battle groups, a Marine Amphibious Force (MAF), and two tactical airlift wings. These units are being identified within the existing force structure; many of them also have NATO missions. Although forces programmed for NATO use can be used to respond to a limited contingency elsewhere, they will generally need more logistics (including lift) and military support for use in a rapid deployment force elsewhere than is currently funded for them.

(S) I have directed the programming of support for the rapid deployment force so that eventually it can operate for at least 90 days [Page 106] in an austere environment. The Services, however, are having difficulty meeting this goal, given the many competing demands for resources.

(S) The rapid deployment force is capable of responding adequately to a wide range of non-NATO contingencies. It is possible, however, to envision major non- NATO contingencies where the rapid deployment force would have to be reinforced by additional units committed to NATO, particularly if Soviet forces invaded the Persian Gulf region through Iran. To meet large-scale non-NATO contingencies, the JCS have noted a requirement (based on a Persian Gulf scenario) for five divisions and nine tactical fighter wings (as well as the MAF and three carrier battle groups). This would require either an expansion of the active forces or acceptance of a somewhat greater risk to NATO. Additionally, to deploy a force of this size quickly would require, at a minimum, an increase in our mobility forces and/or substantial prepositioning in the area.

(S) With respect to mobility, DoD is pursuing a range of programs to enhance the capabilities of our airlift assets.5 These programs include: the C–5 wing modification program; the C–141 “Stretch” program which will raise the C–141 force’s lift capability by about one third; the purchase of KC–10 tankers; and modification of civil passenger aircraft to carry cargo as part of the CRAF program. The naval forces provide their own lift and are largely independent of foreign bases for support.

(S) The initiatives outlined above, combined with the operating experience acquired in recent deployments to the Middle East/Persian Gulf (e.g., the increased naval deployments and the deployment of F–15s and AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia)6 indicate that we have made progress in the last two years to project forces to respond to limited contingencies. However, I would emphasize that there are significant problems that have not yet been solved. Many of these problems are not soluble without major programmatic efforts such as I described in the PRC meeting on the Draft Consolidated Guidance.7 Specifically, we are particularly concerned about programmatic difficulties in maintaining continuous combat presence in the region for immediate reaction and rapidly deploying mechanized forces to the area.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 28, Middle East Command Post: 7/79–3/80. Secret.
  2. Brzezinski’s July 9 request is ibid.
  3. PD/NSC–18, “U.S. National Security Policy,” August 24, 1977, is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IV, National Security Policy.
  4. An unknown hand underlined the portion of this sentence beginning with the word “Competition” and ending with the word “structure.”
  5. An unknown hand highlighted this paragraph, underlined “DOD is pursuing a range of programs,” and wrote a question mark in the right-hand margin next to the sentence.
  6. See Document 271.
  7. See Document 26.