Alarming Soviet Developments

Nov. 1, 1980
Washington, D. C., Oct. 8 In response to Secretary of state Edmund Muskie’s claim that this fall’s presidential election constitutes a “national referendum” on arms control, Rep. Robin L. Beard (R-Tenn.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a congressional SALT advisor, released detailed information concerning recent ominous Soviet activities. Mr. Beard’s information—which he claimed the voters had every right to know about—is gravely important in terms of what the Soviets are doing, and what the US is not doing, as well as pointing up loopholes and gray areas in SALT II and other arms-control accords.

The most perturbing and consequential Soviet breach of the intent—if not the language—of SALT II with a recent exercise involving the reloading of twenty-five to forty SS-18 ICBM silos. “This was more than just simulation. I understand that all the hardware was actually moved from place to place. While they naturally stopped short of an actual mass launch, they certainly proved that the physical wherewithal and logistics of such a reloading are now possible,” according to Mr. Beard. While it is not clear that this exercise violates the provisions of SALT II in a narrow legal sense, it runs afoul—in the view of most US analysts—of the intent of the accord. SALT II prohibits the “rapid reloading” of ICBMs, albeit in a somewhat waffled way.

Most importantly, the accord almost invites stratagems for “break out” from its ceiling on the permissible number of ICBMs by counting launchers rather than missiles. The section of the accord pertinent to the recent SS-18 reloading exercise obligates the signatories “not to supply ICBM launcher deployment areas with intercontinental ballistic missiles in excess of a number consistent with normal deployment, maintenance, training, and replacement requirements.” In an “agreed statement”—meaning a mutually agreed-to clarification of the official treaty text that is not an integral part of latter—“normal deployment requirements” are defined as “the deployment of one missile at each ICBM launcher.” The official treaty text also makes it illegal to “develop, test, or deploy systems for rapid reload of ICBM launchers.” There is no real definition in the official text and the appended statements and common understandings of what constitutes “rapid reload.” Informally, the US view is that rapid reload means anything less than twenty-four hours.

The frailty of the reload definitions has been recognized by Congress long before President Carter signed SALT II. On December 23, 1978, for instance, the House Armed Services Committee’s SALT panel warned in a special report that “with the deployment of the cold-launched SS-17 and the SS-18, the Soviets have already acquired the capability to reload and reuse their silos with extra missiles.” The SALT panel added that “reload times for cold-launch ICBM systems, according to testimony before the committee, would take only a matter of hours. The absence of a secure retaliatory US ACBM capability, in combination with the existing Soviet ICBM reload capability, could thus pose a serious asymmetrical threat to a stable strategic environment.”

As reported in this space previously, the number of Soviet ICBMs available for launcher reloading or use without hardened silos—in conjunction with gantries erected on pre-surveyed sites—is estimated to be in the thousands. Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) asserted on September 16 of this year, “We have no idea how many missiles the Soviets have. We can’t even account for third-generation missiles [such as SS-9s and SS-11s] we know they produced for initial deployment in these silos.”

The reload exercise reported by Mr. Beard covered a five-day period and reflected a scenario keyed to nuclear wars lasting several months. The SS-18 is the world’s largest ICBM. Under SALT II rules the SS-18 can carry up to ten MIRVs, but it has been tested for the release of fourteen warheads.

Mr. Beard charged that the recent Soviet reload exercise makes a mockery of the Administration’s claim that SALT II puts a cap on the Soviet strategic buildup: “The Soviets have demonstrated that they build more missiles than the number of silos deployed and permitted under the SALT II agreement. If forty SS-18 silos can be reloaded, so can all 326 [SS-18] silos currently permitted under SALT II. There is also no reason the Soviets could not do the same with their cold-launched SS-17 ICBMs.”

Other congressional experts pointed out this column that the paramount significance of the SS-18 reloading exercise lies in the fact that the Soviets are deliberately showing off their protracted nuclear war-fighting capability at a time when all of Moscow’s mouthpieces are berating the United States for committing itself to the development of limited, flexible nuclear options known as a “countervailing strategy.” (See October 1980 issue, p. 21.) It follows from Mr. Beard’s disclosure of the SS-18 reloading exercise that this country’s countervailing strategy would require counterforce strikes against all SS-18 silos, whether the ICBMs deployed in them initially had been launched in a Soviet first strike or not. Yet, until the advent of the MX, beginning in 1986, the United States lacks the ability to execute such a counterforce strike swiftly and reliably.

Another alarming Soviet action reported by Mr. Beard and others involved Soviet high-yield nuclear weapons testing, culminating on September 14 in a detonation whose yield ranged between 320 and 640 kilotons and thus represented a violation of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty outlawing underground nuclear tests in excess of 150 kilotons. Other congressional sources told this column that some measurements suggest that the actual yield of the explosion was probably around 700 kilotons. US satellite photography also provided clues that the September 14 detonation at the Semipalatinsk test site was in excess of 150 kilotons. For one, the Soviet measurement vans were kept at about twice the normal distance from the test site, presumably to keep out of harm’s way. Similarly, the ground fissures and subsidence (surface depression) induced by the explosion were considerably greater than from previous evens involving yields at or below the permissible threshold.

Because of this evidence, the US filed a protest with the Soviets over this violation of the test ban, but did not make this information public. The Administration subsequently was urged by influential members of Congress to stage a US underground test involving similar yields but declined, this column learned.

Yet a third instance of recent Soviet arms-control violations alleged by Mr. Beard involved two test—on July 18 and November 2 of last year—of the SA-10 air defense radar in an antiballistic missile (ABM) mode. This act was in violation of the 1972 ABM treaty, he charged. This column learned from other congressional sources that the Soviets also have started flight tests of a new, high-performance interceptor missile eminently suitable for destroying US ICBM and SLBM warheads within the atmosphere.

In the same vein, there is considerable concern among US defense experts about a new Soviet phased-array radar said to be four times larger than the world’s largest operational system of this type, USAF’s PAVE PAWS system. Thought to be about a year away from completion, the gigantic Soviet radar system is located near Moscow. Although the full range of these capabilities is not completely understood because of the systems nascent state, US intelligence experts believe that it is both an ABM target acquisition and engagement radar that can handle a large number of targets simultaneously.

A series of other questionable or illegal actions undertaken recently by the Soviet Union, according to highly placed congressional sources, involves encryption of flight-test data from the Typhoon SLBM, camouflage of new ballistic missile-launching submarines, encryption of the SS-18 mod “X” and the SS-NX sea-launched cruise missile, and continued stockpiling of SS-16 mobile ICBMS.

Civil Defense and Continuity of Government Issues

Over the next five years—if the Carter Administration has its way—the US will spend about $2 billion on civil defense, mainly in the form of what John W. Macy, Jr., the Director of the Federal Emergency Agency (FEMA), terms “crisis relocation.”

Basis for this spurt in civil defense and related funding is a recently declassified Presidential Directive—PD-41—which orders the US civil defense program to seek to “enhance deterrence and stability in conjunction with our strategic offensive and other strategic defensive forces.” Further, the Presidential Directive treats civil defense as an element of the strategic balance that “should assist in maintaining perceptions that balance favorable to the US.”

Other tasks assigned to civil defense by PD-41 include reducing the nation’s susceptibility to coercion in time of crisis and providing “some increase in the number of surviving population and for greater continuity of government, should deterrence and escalation control fail.” The latter circumstance, the directive suggests, would boost both the nation’s ability to cope with crises and to increase the chance of eventual national recovery from nuclear war.

Key mechanism for increasing the population’s survival chances, PD-41 proclaims, is to be a combination of mobility derived from the country’s extensive highway system and wide-spread automobile ownership and the abundance of nonurban housing facilities to which the population from high-threat areas could be evacuated.

Crisis relocation depends largely on warning times of at least a week, comprehensive planning, and timely activation of the evacuation apparatus, according to Mr. Macy. Under such conditions, a recent interagency study concluded that crisis relocation could assure survival of about eighty percent of the US population in case of a heavy attack on US military and urban/industrial targets in the mid-1980s.

By contrast, only twelve percent of the population would survive such an attack if no civil-defense provisions exist. The most effective form of civil defense in case of nuclear attack on the United States, according to FEMA, would involve a comprehensive array of blast shelters in all the high-risk areas. Such a system would provide the urban population with significant protection even if warning is limited to a few minutes. Up to ninety percent of the population might survive a nuclear strike against the US if such a system is used. But the cost of building the required number of blast shelters would be about $70 billion, which is far more than either the Administration or Congress is willing to spend on civil defense at this time.

In FY ‘81, FEMA’s emphasis is on accelerated crisis relocation planning for areas in the vicinity of “counterforce” targets, such as ICBM complexes, SAC bases, and ballistic missile submarine ports. At the same time, these same areas will be provided with shelters under a comprehensive preparedness program. Overall, fifty-one sites in thirty-one states have been identified as potential counterforce targets. About 40,000,000 people live in these high-risk areas, according to FEMA surveys. This year’s civil-defense investment tops last year’s by about twelve percent in real dollars. But even with this increase, Soviet per capita spending on civil defense is about sixteen times that of this country.

So far as survivability of the national leadership, especially the National Command Authorities (NCA), is concerned, the analyses triggered by PD-41 are somewhat troublesome. Assuming a sneak attack on Washington, D. C., by SLBMs launched from submarines standing off the eastern US coast—and hence a warning time of only a few minutes—FEMA concedes that it may not be possible to evacuate those members of the NCA in town at the time to either hardened ground-based or air-borne command posts.

In such an eventuality, the so-called continuity of government planning calls for successor elements of the NCA to pick up the reins of government. Admittedly, the likelihood of an attack of this type probably is infinitesimal for two principle reasons. For one, an attack out of the blue aimed at the NCA makes little sense militarily since it virtually compels the surviving elements of the NCA to instantly mount the most massive retaliatory strike the US is capable of.

Further, the combination of US early warning capabilities and the difference in flight times between Soviet ICBMs and SLBMs would prevent Moscow from attacking US targets simultaneously with both. Hence, the US would have time to launch its ICBMs after the warheads of the Soviet SLBMs have detonated. Nevertheless, National Security Council and FEMA analysts see a need for planning against such a contingency and to assure continuity of government under even the most extreme conditions.

One of the key steps toward assuring continuity of government in case of nuclear attack is to provide the nation with telecommunications facilities that can function during and following a nuclear war. Toward this end, the White House issued another Presidential Directive, PD-53, that promulgates a new National Security Telecommunications Policy. Its purpose is to furnish communications linked between the NCA and strategic and other essential forces to “support flexible execution of retaliatory strikes during and after an enemy nuclear attack.”

In a manner similar to PD-59—which commits the nation to flexible, sustained nuclear war-fighting capabilities—PD-53 stipulates “responsive support for operational control of the armed forces, even during a protracted nuclear conflict,” as well as the ability to gather intelligence, conduct diplomacy, mobilize, command and control military forces, provide continuity of essential functions of government, and reconstitute the political and social structure of the nation.

“Footprints” of Early Soviet MIRVing

Prominent defense analysts who believe in the action-reaction principle of nuclear arms developments portray this country’s decision in the 1960s to MIRV its ICBMs at the prime example of one side’s technological innovation forcing the other into a series of responses that perpetuate and escalate the arms race. MIRV technology ostensibly was developed to negate emerging Soviet ballistic missile defense capabilities; in reality, it probably was a technology whose time had come and whose operational payoffs were so pervasive as to make it inexorable.

Despite a maze of security considerations entwined with ideological and political considerations that obscured the issue at the time, there are, in retrospect, grounds for arguing that the Soviets were already well on the way toward developing and deploying MIRVed systems—with or without a corresponding US effort.

Looked at from the vantage point of time and in the context of subsequent Soviet actions and advances, an increasing number of US analysts now are willing to classify the Soviet testing of the SS-9 Mod 4 configuration as a “rudimentary MIRV” and as tangible evidence that the USSR was committed to MIRV its ballistic missiles when the US tested its first MIRV—the Mk12—in August 1966. A small number of American scientists felt that way then but their views were not given general dissemination for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the tendency to underestimate Soviet technological prowess.

Although the SS-9 Mod 4 lacked a post-boost vehicle, or bus, for dispensing its three reentry vehicles (RVs), the design exceeded the performance criteria of a “dumb” MRV (multiple reentry vehicle system devoid of individual targeting capability) in several ways. US “post-mortem” analyses found, for instance, that the accuracy of the RV release mechanism far exceeded the degree of precision required for the MRV scattergun purpose. Similarly, the flexibility of “footprint”, or targetability of the RVs against such dispersed points as US ICBM silos, exhibited unmistakable MIRV characteristics, in the view of some US experts.

The SS-9 Mod 4’s first flight testing followed the US Mk12’s first flight within less than a month. Allowing for the prevailing state of technology on both sides and associated lead times, it seems certain to most analysts in this country that the Soviets must have had the Mod 4 design in the developmental pipeline for several years prior to the 1966 testing.

In retrospect, the issue transcends the academic question of whether the Soviet Union’s SS-9 Mod 4—which underwent twenty flight tests—was a hybrid between MRV and MIRV or a true but primitive MIRV. Rather, the moral or these ex post facto assessments is that the Soviet Union will exploit any opportunity across the full compass of technology, whether pressured to do so by external factors or not. By extension, this logic suggests that shackling US technology as a hoped-for deterrent of Soviet technological advance is probably as counterproductive as it is simplistic.

Soviet Defense Spending Growth Continues

CIA witnesses before the House Permanent Select Committee of Intelligence reports on September 3 that, while Soviet defense spending between 1965 and 1978 accounted for eleven to thirteen percent of Soviet GNP, that share increased to twelve to fourteen by 1979. The reason for this increase, according to the CIA, is that Soviet economic growth declined to its lowest rate since World War II. Nevertheless, Soviet defense spending continues to grow at a steady rate between four and five percent annually in real terms.

Since 1965, about half of Soviet defense spending has gone to investments in weapons, equipment, and facilities, almost one-third to operating costs, and roughly one-fifth to military research and development, according to the CIA’s testimony.

The current decline in Soviet economic growth, which the CIA predicts will continue, would seem to put in question the USSR’s ability to continue to increase defense spending. Yet, the agency concluded that “Soviet defense spending will continue to increase in real terms at least through 1985. . . . We think it unlikely that, even in the longer term, economic difficulties will force a reversal of the Soviet leaders’ long-standing policy of continuing to improve their military capabilities.”

Washington Observations

ê Eighteen senior former defense officials recently urged Defense Secretary Harold Brown not to “tolerate any further revelations of sensitive policies, hardware, or intelligence sources for the President’s partisan political advantages.” The signers of the petition included three former Secretaries of Defense, two former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former USAF Chief of Staff Gen. John Ryan, and former Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command Gen. Bruce Holloway. The eighteen officials said “Secretary Brown should refuse to politicize an office that, throughout thirty-five years of its existence, has remained essentially above the political fray.” A spokesman for Dr. Brown subsequently denied the allegation.

ê As a result of the October 1 11.7 percent military pay raise and the continued $50,112.50 federal pay ceiling, two-star generals now make the same as four stars. Since the ceiling does not apply to political appointees, there are now such anomalies as the Director or the First Lady’s personal staff earning more than the Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.