Chapter 12 - Strategic Offensive: Modernization, START Reductions, Nuclear Deterrence and Testing

[Soviet ICBM] The 1970s modernizations . . . included more than half of the 1,398 Soviet ICBM launchers had been rebuilt to house the [new] SS–17, SS–18 and SS–19 ICBMs in vastly more survivable, hardened silos. These ICBMs, all of which are MIRVed, are in the forefront of ICBM technology. Certain versions of the SS–18 and SS–19 are among the most accurate ICBMs operational anywhere. Together, these systems have the capability to destroy a large percentage of the more than 1,000 US ICBM launchers, using only part of their total numbers.

[Soviet SLBM/SSBN] The Soviet SLBM/SSBN modernizations began in the early 1970s with the introduction of the long-range SS–N–8 SLBM deployed on DELTA-Class SSBNs. By the late 1970s, the Soviets were producing the MIRVed SS–N–18 and deploying it in a modified version of the DELTA-Class submarines. In 1979, a new SLBM, the MIRVed SS–NX–20, was first tested. This SLBM will probably reach operational status by the mid-1980s, deployed in the new TYPHOON-Class SSBN submarine.

[Communications, Organization] These technological advances in ICBM and SLBM weapons systems have been accompanied by major improvements in communications systems and in the organization of the forces as well. 

[Backfire] . . . Since the early 1970s, the USSR has also deployed, over 70 BACKFIRE bombers to operational LRA units and is producing about 30 more of these supersonic bombers each year. While BACKFIRE appears to have been given primarily theater and maritime missions, it has a strategic capability and cannot be ignored as a potential intercontinental bomber threat.

[Totals] Current force levels of Soviet intercontinental strategic nuclear forces include 1,398 ICBM launchers, 950 SLBM launchers and 156 longrange [Bear and Bison] bombers, excluding BACKFIRE. These delivery systems are loaded with some 7,000 nuclear warheads. Deployment programs now underway indicate that the number of warheads will increase over the next few years.

[Soviet Strategic Nuclear Preemption Doctrine] The mission of the SRF [Strategic Rocket Force] is to destroy an enemy’s means of nuclear attack, military-industrial production facilities, civil and military command and control capabilities and logistics and transport facilities. . . . Soviet strategic operational employment plans, based on Soviet writings, point to seizing the initiative through preemptive attack. Such an attack would effectively reduce the impact of a retaliatory strike, limiting damage to the USSR. While this is the preferred Soviet scenario, the Soviets also have the capability to launch on tactical warning if necessary. (headings added)2

Special National Intelligence Estimate—October 1981. A Special National Intelligence Estimate, SNIE—11–4/2–81 Soviet Potential to Respond to U.S. Strategic Force Improvements and Foreign Reactions, issued on October 6, 1981, confirms Reagan’s publicly stated assessments as true and his proposed U.S. strategic programmatic responses as sound. The SNIE projects the enormity of the Soviet strategic programs and the potential impact of U.S. strategic force modernization efforts seeking to reduce the U.S.-Soviet strategic asymmetries over the next ten years. It includes reviews of Soviet economic, arms control, and foreign policy implications for U.S. policy. Highlights follow:

[Soviet Programs] They have at least 70 strategic and space systems under development, and some 40 military design bureaus with the capacity to develop about 200 systems in a ten year period. The Soviets also have a growing number of military technologies to draw upon—in guidance and navigation, microelectronics, computers, signal processing and space technologies . . . [and for improving] capabilities for attacking mobile land, sea, and airborne weapon carriers, and could overcome some weaknesses in Soviet low-altitude air defenses, ballistic missile defenses and defenses against submarines.

[U.S.] [New ICBM deployments] and ABM defenses of U.S. ICBMs would increase Soviet uncertainties about the success of a counterforce attack. . . . In sum, the deployment of ICBMs will complicate and make less likely a Soviet attempt to eliminate US strategic forces in a counterforce first strike. . . .

Foreign Perceptions U.S. strategic programs to modernize bomber and missile forces along the lines we have assumed will: enhance world perceptions of American power and determination to thwart aggressive Soviet ambitions, but produce concern about successive new rounds of weapons development by the USSR and the United States. (headings added)3

Prompt, Hard Target-Killing Soviet “First Strike” Potential. References in this book to Soviet nuclear “first-strike” capabilities refer especially to Soviet nuclear doctrine and the large asymmetries in land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and their warheads as deployed by the Soviets compared to the United States. These asymmetries notably increased with every new Soviet “heavy” missile that had far more “throwweight” capability and could thus carry and deliver far more warheads per missile than U.S. ICBMs.

[Book pg. 267]