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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

R-9 - SS-8 SASIN - Early Western Views

The missile variously known as the R-9, SS-8, and SASIN was the subject of two American intelligence failures. When testing of the SS-8 began in April 1961, many Western analysts believed the missile to a large rocket, larger than any other Soviet rockets, capable of delivery a 100 MT bomb. The Soviets did have a program to develop such a missile, which eventually took shape as the Ur-500 Proton, though this space launch vehicle was never flown as an ICBM. Subsequently, the SS-8 flight tests and operational deployments were associated with the SASIN missile paraded in Red Square 1964. In fact, the SASIN was the R-26 (8K66) missile designed by Yuzhnoye (OKB-586). Development of the R-26 was halted by governmental order in July 1962, and the missile was never flight tested. It is not entirely clear at what point Western intelligence discovered that the missile shown in parades in Moscow and the missiles actually deployed elsewhere in Russia were different and entirely unrelated missiles.

On 09 April 1961, and again 12 days later, and in the succeeding months, the Soviets launched ICBMs from Tyuratam which were neither the SS-6 nor the SS-7, but another new vehicle of yet another design, later called the SS-8.

One group of CIA analysts developed a plausible hypothesis. The Soviets already had a large ICBM, the SS-6, and the SS-7 was much smaller. The SS-8 therefore must be a move in the opposite direction to a booster much larger than the SS-6. It could have a dual mission, to serve as a carrier for a truly huge nuclear payload of tens of megatons, and as a booster for space payloads larger than those which could be orbited by the SS-6. Some confirmation of this line of thought seemed to come from the fact that the trajectory data obtained on a few early SS-8 shots were of very good quality, and their backtracks ran very close to the known location of the SS-6 launcher at Tyuratam. Photographs of this facility had shown a massive firing platform at the edge of a huge excavation, and all experts agreed that the facility could probably handle boosters considerably larger than the SS-6. So it all seemed to make a pretty good story a new big missile, a mission for it to fulfill, and a facility large enough to handle it.

Others in the intelligence community reached no firm conclusion. The major effort on the part of most analysts was to examine the telemetry records to try to deduce the characteristics of this new missile. Telemetry is of course essential in such an enterprise, but it is not easy to use it to determine the size of a missile.

In October 1961 the Soviets fired two missiles to long ranges into the Pacific Ocean. For one of these firings a brief span of optical data was obtained during the time the incandescent re-entry vehicle was entering the atmosphere. And during the October revolution celebrations, Khrushchev started talking about his "global rocket" and Marshal Moskalenko said that "for the Pacific trials, Soviet scientists have developed rockets that could deliver 100 million tons" (apparently referring to the yield of a nuclear warhead).

Some scientists working under contract to the Air Force combined the optical data with data telemetered during re-entry to calculate the drag of the re-entry vehicle as well as other ballistic parameters related to size and shape. The net results of these calculations indicated a nose cone weighing in the neighborhood of 25,000 pounds. A re-entry vehicle that large could very nicely carry a bomb in the 100 megaton class.

By the winter of 1961 the analytical controversy had started in earnest. During 1962 each side performed exhaustive analyses of every scrap of data concerning the SS-8, and each side kept finding bits of evidence to reinforce its case or to negate that of the other. But the volume of data available was too small to permit anything other than tentative conclusions based on unverifiable assumptions. Nevertheless, as 1962 wore on, positions on each side hardened considerably, and the SS-8 sizing problem became the focal point of a major analytical effort.

Numerous measurements from telemetry of the SS-8 second-stage engine shut-down time showed it to be always between 0.16 and 0.18 seconds, and this gave a thrust range for the engine between 45,000 and 100,000 pounds, i.e., a small engine. The advocates of the "big missile" hypothesis countered this one by pointing out that there was no physical law which governed the relationship between shut-off time and thrust, that it depended on the design of the valves used to terminate propellant flow to the engine, and that if one wanted to shut off a large engine rapidly one could do so easily.

By early 1963, the Board of National Estimates released a Memo to Holders on Soviet strategic weapons estimate, the community faced a standoff. The gist of the memo was "We believe that the U.S.S.R. is developing a high-yield warhead ICBM (the SS-8). Evidence is insufficient to resolve the question whether the SS-8 is large or small. If it is small, the SS-8 has a gross weight of about 160,000 pounds and its re-entry vehicle carries a warhead of about 3,500 pounds. If it is large, then the gross weight is about 660,000 pounds and the re-entry vehicle carries a warhead weighing about 17,500 pounds."

A meeting was held under the auspices of the Guided Missile and Astronautics Intelligence Committee (GMAIC) of the US Intelligence Board. This took place in the spring of 1963 on "neutral ground" in Huntsville, Alabama and involved a three-day debate between the protagonists before the members of GMAIC. Nothing much was accomplished.

A 1963 RAND study [Counterforce and Damage-Limiting Capabilities in Central War. 1970 (U)" by Fred Hoffman, Harvey Averch, Manrin Lavin, David McGarvty and Sorrel Wildhorn - August 1963 R-420-PR] argued that "Against the diffused U.S. cities the SS-8 is an efficient city-buster which would make an important contribution to an urban force. However, it is a soft force, and so must be used early. The SS-8 has some interesting countermilitary capabilities as well, and there are arguments for moving urban strikes to later in the war... "

The second major meeting, held in the summer of 1963 in Los Angeles, a group of six eminent civilian scientists was empaneled under the chairmanship of Dr. Marvin Stern, then a Vice President at North American Aviation. The Stern Panel said, in effect, that they did not believe the SS-8 was as large as the Air Force suggested, even though they agreed that a Soviet requirement for a vehicle that large probably existed. The third major meeting of 1963 was a meeting of the Hyland Panel in September. Chaired by Lawrence Hyland, the General Manager of the Hughes Aircraft. The Hyland Panel concurred in the previous finding that the SS-8 was small. By this time, the Army had also decided that the SS-8 was small, and the new estimate draft reflected these judgments.

On October 18, 1963 NIE 11-8-63 "SOVIET CAPABILITIES FOR STRATEGIC ATTACK" noted that "Evidence acquired during the past year has led us to modify our estimates as to the size and composition of the Soviet ICBM force in the near term. The most important single development was the interruption of the deployment program during the summer and fall of 1962. The primary reasons for this interruption appear to have been technical, including a probable modification to the second-generation SS-7 ICBM system and persisting difficulties in development of the SS-8. Whatever the reason, however, it is clear that 1962 was a year of reappraisal, in which Soviet planners apparently made important new decisions with respect to their ICBM program. Some of these, for example curtailment of SS-8 deployment, are already evident. For the near term, the result is a somewhat smaller force than previously estimated....

"Of the three Soviet ICBM systems now in the field, the SS-7 has been the most successful in development and is the most widely deployed. Deployment of the large, first generation SS-6 was limited to four launchers at one complex. Deployment of the SS-8 had extended to four complexes before the program was interrupted. However, SS-8 deployment has now been curtailed, and it is believed that expansion of the ICBM force over the next year or so will be primarily in terms of the SS-7.

"We now believe that the SS-8 which we previously considered might be a very large missile, is comparable to the SS-7 in payload capacity. [emphasis added]... The Director, Defense Intelligence Agency and the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, believe that a confident selection between possible SS-8 delivery capabilities cannot be made at this time. In their opinion, available evidence and analysis do not permit excluding the possibility that the SS-8 may carry a nosecone of 10,000 lbs or a little more."

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Page last modified: 28-05-2018 19:42:42 ZULU