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The STRAT-X Report and Its Impact

January 6, 2010

Page from the January 2010 Air Force Magazine article on Strat-X

One of the more important studies commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was the STRAT-X (X for experimental) report, completed by the Institute for Defense Analyses in August 1967 as a twenty-volume report. Concerned about the impact of Soviet anti-ballistic missile systems and the danger of growing Soviet ICBM forces, McNamara wanted a study of “U.S. alternatives to counter the possible ABM deployment and the Soviet potential for reducing the U.S. assured-destruction force effectiveness during the 1970s.” (By “assured-destruction force,” he meant a retaliatory, second-strike, capability to destroy about one-third of the Soviet Union’s population and industrial capability.)  The National Security Archive has a long-standing FOIA appeal at the Defense Department for the STRAT-X summary, volume 1, which was released in a massively excised version in 2003. Except for a few volumes available at the Defense Department FOIA electronic reading room, most of the report remains classified.

Using documents provided by the National Security Archive, journalist Peter Grier establishes the significance of STRAT-X in a noteworthy article published in the January 2010 issue of Air Force Magazine. The author characterizes STRAT-X as “a wide-ranging look at the future of U.S. weapons that shaped the nuclear triad for decades, and remains a model for such efforts today.” So that the particular goals of the uniformed services did not distort the recommendations, Grier observes that McNamara insisted that it by “unrestrained by . . . political influences.” After reviewing 125 basing concepts, the STRAT-X team highlighted 9 candidates, ranging from “Rock Silo” (missile silos buried in granite bedrock) and “LandMobile” ICBMs to “Submarine Based” (missiles in canisters on the outside of hulls) and “AirLaunched ICBM.” Besides the volumes on basing concepts, the report included a study on the US threat written from the perspective of Soviet defense planners.

Tracing the impact of STRAT-X, Grier finds that it was “mixed.” While most of the missile-basing concepts never saw the light of day, LandMobile prefigured both the mobile “Midgetman” (cancelled at the end of the Cold War) and MX missiles (eventually reconfigured as the stationary “Peacekeeper”). The Submarine-Based concept presaged the Trident submarine, although Trident was faster than envisioned in “STRAT-X” (slower was even quieter) and the missiles were inside the submarine instead of outside. According to a 2006 Defense Sciene Board report, another STRAT-X legacy was air-launched cruise missiles.

More needs to be learned about the STRAT-X study. A pending FOIA request may shed light on what the project director Fred Payne thought was important about the study. Payne’s STRAT-X briefing is part of the Archive’s ongoing lawsuit against the US Air Force; it is one of the few uncompleted items in the litigation.

  1. March 30, 2011 12:41 pm

    well, it has been 15 months since last we heard the melifluous strains of STRAT-X. Any progress as measured in actual documents ? Also is this Fred Payne character still among the living and does he have any comments on this ? Will he become a late-blooming Whistleblower ?

  2. April 4, 2011 8:28 pm

    Peter Grier’s noteworthy article was noteworthy for its paucity of any detail that could not be found in a USAF sanitized press release. the article does say that Freeman Dyson was part of the IDA study group. I believe he is dead now but his memoirs and papers might have some interesting and pithy remarks re this now 44 year old classified Jurassic 20 volume set. 20 volumes and all we have is a pathetic article in an Air Force propaganda rag ? Only Obama could believe this is change one can believe in.

  3. Bill Burr permalink
    April 5, 2011 11:25 am

    Thanks for your comments. I’ve got a long-standing request to the Air Force for a briefing that Fred Payne gave on STRAT-X in August 1967. If that ever gets declassified, it may shed some light on the report. I don’t know if anyone out there has a request for the entire report, but even President Obama would have trouble getting the Defense Department, the Navy, and the Air Force to declassify all 20 volumes in their entirety. We might think that STRAT-X is “Jurassic” but until security reviewers in the Pentagon have better guidance it will be difficult to get this kind of information declassified. BTW, Freeman Dyson is still living.

  4. April 8, 2011 8:31 pm

    My misplaced sarcasm labeling the 20 volume set Jurassic was not meant to belittle its importance. Do you know if any individual volume dealt with the use of active countermeasures against ABM defenses ? That volume would be worth pursuing as we continue to squander money in the pursuit of what is now known generically as Ballistic Missile Defense. Do you ever coordinate your requests with other groups such as Federation of American Scientists. I believe they have a healthy and long-standing skepticism toward ABM and its latest iteration the kinetic kill vehicle.

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