By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianJune 22, 2016
After years of negotiations, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks began in November 1969, American President Richard Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev met in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow and in a televised ceremony signed the SALT agreements on Friday, May 26, 1972.
The SALT accord was actually three separate documents. The first was the Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM, Treaty, the second, an executive agreement to limit the number of offensive nuclear missiles launchers, and the third a protocol which specified allotted numbers.
The executive agreement or interim accord and its protocol, which did not require Senate authorization, banned new construction on intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers and the conversion of current land-based launchers for ICBM use; provided for the replacement and/or modernization of existing missiles and launchers; and, placed maximum limits on sea- launched ballistic missiles using 1964 as the benchmark.
Specifically, the United States was allowed 710 SLBMs with no more than 44 modern ballistic missile submarines. The Soviet Union meanwhile agreed to 950 SLBMs and 62 modern ballistic missile submarines. Similarly the number of heavy land-based ICBM launchers was limited to the number of launchers currently in operation combined with those under construction. This equated to 1,054 launchers for the United States and 1,618 for the Soviet Union. Agreeing to continue negotiations, this interim accord was scheduled to remain in effect for five years.
The primary document, the ABM Treaty had a more direct impact upon the command, then known as the U.S. Army Safeguard Systems Command. After carefully defining the components of an ABM system - an ABM missile, launcher and radar, the treaty noted that the agreement applied to all system components be they (a) operational; (b) under construction; (c) undergoing testing; (d) undergoing overhaul, repair or conversion; or (e) mothballed.
At this point both nations were allowed to construct two ABM facilities. In many respects the treaty validated the status quo -- documenting existing deployment concepts. In keeping with the Soviet system, the Galosh deployed outside Moscow, one site could be constructed within a radius of 150 kilometers of the national capital.
To support this system no more than six ABM radar complexes, with a diameter of no more than three kilometers, could be constructed. Following the American deployment model, the other site could be constructed within 150 kilometer radius of ICBM silo launchers. The Safeguard complex was under construction in North Dakota to provide defense for the strategic forces based at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
As the North Dakota facility was not yet operational, the treaty allowed for "two large phased array ABM radars comparable in potential to corresponding ABM radars operational or under construction as of the date of this treaty. Additional ABM radars, no more than 18, "with the potential less than the potential of the smaller of the above mentioned two large phased array radars" were also permitted.
A maximum of 100 ABM launchers and 100 ABM interceptor missiles could be deployed at each site. Up to an additional 15 launchers were allowed for development and testing at pre-approved test ranges.
Future programs were also addressed. Both countries also agreed to limit ABM systems to land-based programs. The treaty specifically states that "each Party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based." Nor would either country develop a launcher capable of launching more than one ABM interceptor at a time.
At the same time, neither country was permitted to share ABM technology with other nations or deploy an ABM system outside their national borders. Finally, both nations were subject to and permitted to conduct verification inspections.
Although the treaty would not be ratified until August 1972, the impact upon the command was almost immediate. On that same day, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird directed the Army to take initial actions immediately, pending the treaty ratification.
Laird ordered all construction on the ABM site near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana and all other sites stopped. The 12-site Safeguard concept was reduced to the North Dakota complex, which was then approximately 80 percent complete. Construction elsewhere ceased that Saturday.
In addition, all ABM programs prohibited by the treaty were also suspended. Then planning for the future, Laird directed the Army to review options for "an ABM defense of the national command, control, and communications capabilities at Washington, D.C. … on the fastest reasonable schedule."
Laird's guidance "[recognized] that these actions will cause some temporary economic hardship, but the Defense Department will do everything it can to help alleviate those hardships."
Nevertheless, as one reporter observed the effect was dramatic. The Independent Observer, located in Conrad, Montana, noted "Since Friday's freeze, Conrad has become bedlam. Thousands of construction and labor personnel are out of work with no place to go. … Streams of railroad cars sit motionless, parked with heavy equipment including tons of steel reinforcing and eight huge Sprint cones which house the Sprint missiles."
By the end of the year, all construction at Malmstrom had ceased and the Site Activation Command deactivated. Two years after the treaty was signed, the Corps of Engineers declared the Malmstrom restoration completed and the lands returned to agricultural use.