28. Memorandum From the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Slocombe) to Secretary of Defense Brown1


  • ASAT—Suspension of Testing During Negotiations—ACTION MEMORANDUM

As you know, there is substantial sentiment in the building to have the SCC reconsider whether a suspension of testing during the ASAT talks is in the United States’ interest. (See Tab A.) The NSC staff refuses, however, to put that issue in the issues paper being drafted for the meeting in the absence of a request to do so by a principal. Simply to ask to have the issue discussed does not prejudge where DOD comes out. Accordingly, I recommend that you call Dave Aaron and ask that suspension of testing be included in the paper as an issue for the SCC.

Walter Slocombe

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense

International Security Affairs

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Tab A

Working Paper Prepared in the Department of Defense2

SCC Action

The direction to seek a “no test” agreement during the negotiations should be retracted for the following reasons:

—The Soviets have an orbital ASAT system in hand that has:

a. An 80% reliability.

b. Has been improved—demonstrated intercept on first orbit and may be employing a passive sensor.

c. Launch pad turnaround is estimated to be hours.

d. Launch pads available could be 4 and, with the SS–9, approximately 23.

e. Could eliminate 14 US critical low altitude satellites in 45 hours.

f. Can threaten synchronous targets using SL–12.

—With a “no test” arrangement during the negotiations, the Soviets will have less incentive to come to terms that result in a balanced US/USSR situation and in a quick and orderly fashion.

—They know that during this time frame, all US satellites are threatened and vulnerable and theirs are not.

—It is clear to the Soviets that the US has done little in the way of engineering and technology to get ready for ASAT development.

—Such an agreement could slow US programs because of DoD budget constraints and the Soviets would have effectively gained a 3- to 4-year advantage.

—Even if the US built an entire ASAT system ready to launch, the Soviets would have us at a 1- to 2-year disadvantage because it would take that long to test such a system and solve engineering problems.

US booster options will be disappearing because of conversion to the Shuttle.3

—In a “no test” situation, the Soviets may insist on a US equivalent response.

—We have nothing to offer except to say we won’t test our superior technology.

—It is questionable if they will accept such a proposal.

—They may insist that we cancel our on-going R&D.

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—Since we have publicly advertised what we are doing (MHV, conventional, non-nuclear ABM), they can point specifically to such programs.

—They have previously contended that the US is the aggressor in this area and they are not. In a public relations move, such as the neutron bomb, they could probably make this view stick.

—The Soviets may insist on restrictions to the Shuttle during this period.

—This could include no tests of the teleoperator (jeopardy to skylab).4

—During treaty negotiations, the absence of a no test agreement could force the Soviets to an acceptable agreement.

—A rapid moving US ASAT program could give them incentive to come to an agreement before a US test occurs.

—Politically, a “no test” agreement during negotiations could be a problem.

—It would be difficult to negotiate an agreement that did not include such an article.

—We are not ready to come to such a conclusion.

—The US would always face an asymmetry.

—A caveat that says the US will test if we determine the negotiations are not progressing does not help the situation.

—The President would be put in a position of breaking an agreement and of justifying that the Soviets were not negotiating in good faith.

—The implications with respect to détente would prevent us from ever making such a move.


1—Do not request “no testing” during negotiations and make it clear to the Soviets that we are progressing as rapidly as possible.

2—Have a “no test” agreement that expires at the earliest time the US could test the MHV.

3—Have a “no test” agreement for all other kill mechanisms except EW and low altitude non-nuclear kill.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–81–0202, Box 46, 471.96 (Apr–June) 1978. Secret. A stamped notation reads: “SEC DEF HAS SEEN.” Under Slocombe’s signature, Brown wrote “5/24. Called Dave A. He will include. HB.”
  2. Secret.
  3. One of the space shuttle’s projected missions was to launch satellites into space, eliminating the need to launch them by traditional booster rockets.
  4. Skylab was a manned space station built by NASA that had been damaged upon its initial launch in 1974. During the Carter administration, NASA scientists hoped that the space shuttle could attach an experimental booster, the teleoperator retrieval system, to the station, thereby sending Skylab into higher orbit and extending its life another five years. These plans were preempted when Skylab reentered the atmosphere and disintegrated in 1979.