By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianNovember 10, 2016
In recent weeks there has been much discussion in the news about the deployment of Russian missiles and missile defense systems. Fifty years ago this topic was also are the forefront.
On Nov. 10, 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Earle Wheeler flew to Johnson City, Texas, to confer with President Lyndon B. Johnson at his ranch. Following this meeting, McNamara conducted a press conference in which he made the first official announcement that there was "considerable evidence" that the Soviet Union was deploying an anti-ballistic missile, or ABM, system around major cities.
Known by the NATO nations as the ABM-1 Galosh, the Soviet missile had a range estimated at 200 miles. Sixty-four of these nuclear tipped interceptors were being deployed around Moscow. The system, as described by Mike Gruntman in his recent study, consisted of four sites around the city each with two firing complexes capable of firing eight missiles. These complexes were supported by one control center and a long-range radar.
The question for the United States was whether to increase the inventory of strategic missiles or deploy the advanced Nike-X missile defense system currently in the testing stage of research and development. By 1966, the American system was composed of the Zeus DM 15X-2 and the Sprint interceptors and an array of radars such as the Multifunction Array Radar and the Missile Site Radar and computer systems.
At this point, however, McNamara remained an opponent of the missile defense system. Noting in this news conference that "it is much too early to make a decision for deployment against the Chinese threat, and we have not arrived at a decision on any other deployment." Instead as the National Observer reported: "In this era when nuclear devastation packs the noses of missiles deployed ashore and under the sea, the defense secretary believes that the United States can buy more protection by increasing its power to obliterate an enemy than by preparing defenses against an aggressor's missiles."
With reference to the Soviet ABM system, McNamara told reporters "I think there is absolutely no questions about our capability of penetrating the Soviet defenses with our missiles and aircraft. There has been no question in the last 15 years and there is no question now."
Nevertheless, as an advocate of a strong offense as an effective deterrent, McNamara opted for a stronger offense and concluded his press conference with an announcement that a decision had been made to pursue the production and deployment of the new more powerful submarine based missile -- the Poseidon. The Poseidon would replace the smaller Polaris A-3 missile in a move to restore the balance between the two super powers.