A. Friday December 16, 1960 – Power’s Briefing on SIOP-62, the Pentagon, Washington, DC
SIOP-62: “This is not the American Way.”
—General David Shoup
22nd Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps,
Medal of Honor Winner
On the second day of briefings at the Pentagon in December 1960, General David Shoup, the 22nd Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, was disturbed by a chart he had seen the previous day during the first Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) briefing to the Pentagon. The chart showed tens of millions of Chinese being killed by SIOP-62. He asked General Thomas Power what would happen if the Chinese were not involved in the war. “Do we have any options so that we don't have to hit China?” General Shoup inquired.
General Power responded, “Well, yeah, we could do that, but I hope nobody thinks of it because it would really screw up the plan.” General Shoup responded to General Power’s statement by saying, “Sir, any plan that kills millions of Chinese when it isn't even their war is not a good plan. This is not the American way.” General Power maintained throughout many other briefings to the National Safety Council (NSC) and the President that SIOP-62 had to be an all-or-nothing plan whether it was preemptive or retaliatory.
Admiral Arleigh Burke also criticized the plan, stating that the number of casualties, estimated at 200–300 million by various think tanks and the JCS, was understated since it only accounted for the blast effects of the 7,847 megatons to be employed by SIOP-62. Burke had a point.
Nuclear bombs release 35 percent of their energy as thermal radiation (Power hadn’t thought of that?). The B-52H carried the MK-41 bomb with a yield of 25 megatons. A single MK-41 dropped in the middle of New York City would produce 5,848,480 fatalities and 5,729,520 additional injuries. Third-degree burns (most serious) would be inflicted on anyone not sheltered within 26 miles of the epicenter. Certainly, more than 300 million would perish in the communist countries, and since this plan would be implemented only when Soviet forces were on alert, Soviet bombs would kill tens of millions in the United States and other NATO countries, —all over access to Berlin. Crazy!
B. McNamara Is Horrified
As was stated in Part I of this series in February 1961, Robert McNamara traveled to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, to be briefed by General Thomas Power on SIOP-62. He went away looking for another plan. McNamara was not bamboozled by Power’s charts and graphs. He asked the same question that George Rathjens and George Kistiakowsky had asked when they were given Power’s dog-and-pony show in November 1960. Why does the plan call for three 80 kiloton weapons for cities the size of Hiroshima when a single 15 Kt weapon decimated that city? (The plan had apparently been modified somewhat to exclude the previous megaton weapons for those cities.)
McNamara ultimately came to embrace the William Kaufman no cities counterforce plan developed by the RAND Corporation. But the process would involve determining how many counterforce targets had to be struck within the Soviet Union. By September 1961, courtesy of Discoverer satellite images, there was little argument within the intelligence community about the Russians’ counterforce weapons. They had four intercontinental ballistic missiles located at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. They had approximately 200 capable intercontinental bombers and 28 submarines capable of launching nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that were in or near their pens absent an alert situation. That greatly simplified the no cities counterforce strategy because it would require less delivery vehicles and therefore less coordination of those delivery vehicles from the United States. But the Berlin drama boiled over into October. Kennedy had had enough.
Rather than tell the Soviets that the United States would expend seven divisions to keep the Autobahn open to West Berlin, as the JCS advocated on October 21,1961, Kennedy sent Roswell L. Gilpatric, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, to the Business Council in Hot Springs, Virginia, to tell the Soviets just exactly what the score was. One sentence kind of sums up the situation: “The number of our nuclear delivery vehicles, tactical as well as strategic, is in the tens of thousands; and of course, we have more than one warhead for each vehicle.”
Kennedy was making it crystal clear to the Soviets that he had the upper hand and saw Berlin as an existential struggle between East and West, good and evil, and that he would deploy nuclear weapons if the Soviets moved on any part of Western Europe. It was obvious that Khrushchev got the message. Now was not the time to press any issues with the young American President. If Kennedy was faced with a situation where he had to use nukes to save his position of power, he would, leaving the Eastern alliance smoldering.
Because the Berlin problem and other issues with the Soviets were not going away, Kennedy wanted more options than 1-A of SIOP-62. It was about this time that Kennedy was also examining whether a preventive first strike was available to the United States should the situation demand one. He directed General Maxwell Taylor to pose questions to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense concerning the readiness of the Soviet nuclear forces. He was considering the Rowen-Kaysen surprise attack as an alternative to all-or-nothing SIOP-62. This all came about in the fall of 1961 shortly after Kennedy received a full briefing on SIOP-62 on September 13, 1961.
At this juncture, we will examine some of the finer details of SIOP-62, keeping in mind that the efficacy and stealthy nature of the delivery vehicles will play a critical role in Part III of this blog series. But before we do, I want to explore with you what I consider to be the most dangerous aspects of the relatively inferior Soviet offensive weapons—Soviet submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The Soviets were the first to launch a surfaced submarine-based missile (1955), called the R-11FM. It had a range less than 150 miles and carried a 100–500 kt warhead. It was deployed on the 611 AB Zulu V and 629 Golf I, utilizing a D-1/D-2 launch system.
R-13/ SS-N-4 Sark missiles were deployed on 629 Golf and 658 Hotel class submarines beginning October 13, 1961. These missiles improved the range to 350 miles and the payload to 1 megaton utilizing the D-2/D-3 launcher. Still, the sub had to surface to fire the R-13.
R-21/SS-N-5 Serb missiles were deployed on both the Golf-II diesel electric and the Hotel–II class nuclear submarine. Both deployed three missiles in their sails and carried a 1–3.5 megaton warhead. With the new D-4 launcher, the subs could launch submerged at a speed of about five knots. More importantly, the range on the R-21 was over 900 miles. Deployment began in late 1963.
While the U.S. Navy claimed it was able to easily track and destroy earlier Soviet submarines that would come within 150 miles of the US coast, it is certainly doubtful whether that net could extend to the 900-mile limit. My review of the Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrates that at least on two occasions the U.S. Navy lost track of Soviet Golf and Foxtrot submarines.
Clearly, the window of opportunity for a preventive strike against the Soviet Union was closed after the deployment of Soviet submarines that could launch missiles from nearly 1,000 miles off the US coast while submerged. Others may argue that with SOSUS and the Navy investing so heavily in ASW during this period that my conclusion is wrong, but the risk had increased exponentially by December of 1963
Annex-I SIOP-62 Weapons
END OF PART II