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Russia: What did the CIA know and when did they know it?
Part of CIA National Intelligence Estimates
Fifty years of declassified American National Intelligence Estimates, compared to what we now know was really happening in Soviet programs...
What did the US know about Soviet missile and space plans and when did they know it? Fifty years of declassified American National Intelligence Estimates, compared to what we now know was really happening in Soviet programs, make a fascinating study. In some cases, the CIA reports provide additional authoritative information on programs that the Russians are still secretive about. In other cases, we can see where the Americans had quite good inside or deduced information, and where they did not.
Throughout the space race, even when faced with a lack of detailed information, the Americans generally made more realistic assessments of Soviet future accomplishments than the Soviets did themselves. The Americans quite clearly knew that the Soviets were not going to win the moon race (that was the reason Kennedy selected that objective in the first place).In general, they seem to have had little information on the inside details and workings of Soviet programs until the late 1970's, when suddenly such information becomes available. It may be conjectured whether this was due to the availability of crucial human spies, the advent of improved communications intercepts, or just the accumulation of small details until the picture became clear. Whereas they did not know the true configuration of the first Soviet ICBM's and space boosters until several years after they were in service, they had full information on the Buran shuttle and Energia booster before they were even rolled out. Perhaps this last knowledge was derived from debriefings of Jewish space industry workers, who were allowed to leave the Soviet Union in substantial numbers in the 1980's.
- 1946 October 31 - CIG ORE of 31 October 1946 - Assesses Soviet plans for rocketry and missile development. V-2 production is not expected until 1950 at the earliest; transoceanic missiles unlikely until well after 1956. However the writers have no hard intelligence on which to base their conclusions. Download here. (0.14 MB - right click to download!)
- 1950 November 15 - CIA National Intelligence Estimate of 15 November 1950 - The only means of Soviet delivery of nuclear weapons through 1954 is seen as by aircraft; clandestinely (shades of post-2001 terrorist concerns); and possibly by a V-1-type cruise missile from a submarine. Download here. (1.67 MB - right click to download!)
- 1951 September 15 - CIA National Intelligence Estimate of 15 September 1951 - Any surprise attack against the US by the Soviet Union through July 1952 would have to use one-way Tu-4 bomber missions or clandestinely emplaced nuclear weapons. Development of a Soviet version of the V-1 cruise missile is underway; possibly a sub-launched version could be fielded in the near-term.
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- 1953 March 5 - CIA Special Estimate of 5 March 1953 - Assesses the potential for Soviet surprise attack of the USA through 1955. The CIA is aware of Soviet development of single- and dual-engine versions of the V-1, and of a version of the V-2. However these are not believed to be capable of being fitted with nuclear warheads or of being positioned so as to reach the United States. In fact work on Chelomei's V-1 derivatives had been shut down a month earlier.
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- 1953 June 16 - National Intelligence Estimate of 16 June 1953 - Soviet versions of the V-1 and V-2 are believed to be in limited production. The Soviet V-1 is thought to be capable of being fitted with a nuclear warhead for launch from submarines. In fact all further work on Chelomei's V-1 derived missiles was shut down in February 1953 and further cruise missile development centered on Mikoyan's Kometa cruise missile.
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- 1954 October 5 - National Intelligence Estimate of 5 October 1954 - The CIA has considerable detailed information on the activities of the German rocket experts in the USSR, and is able to make accurate educated guesses as to the course of future developments. What are now known to have been designated the R-1, R-2, R-3, and R-11 Scud ballistic missiles are described with some accuracy (although CEP is estimated to be much better than was actually achieved). Fielding of an ICBM based on a 90-tonne thrust motor is considered likely no earlier than 1963. However this is a speculative analysis; there is no firm information on the R-7 ICBM's configuration. The CIA has considerable information on the defunct Chelomei program to copy and improve on the V-1 cruise missile, and still believes it might be put into production. They accurately note that a missile derived from the MiG-15 fighter would be much more capable (which was indeed the course selected by the Soviets).
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- 1955 December 20 - National Intelligence Estimate of 20 December 1955 - The CIA is aware of deployment of the R-2 and R-3 ballistic missiles; of development of the R-3 and R-5 IRBM's for deployment by 1960; and of the R-7 ICBM with deployment expected in 1960. First Soviet launch of an earth satellite is expected in 1958. All of this was accurate - evidently Sputnik was a surprise only to the public!
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- 1957 March 12 - National Intelligence Estimate of 12 March 1957 - The CIA has characterised accurately the entire panoply of Soviet ballistic missile development. The R-1, R-2, R-5, and R-12 intermediate range missiles are described with some accuracy. The R-7 ICBM is known, but the configuration is not understood. A satellite launch before the end of 1957 is correctly expected. In all cases, the throw weights and warhead masses of the missile are underestimated, and the accuracy is overestimated.
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- 1957 December 17 - National Intelligence Estimate of 17 December 1957 - The first assessment of the CIA after the R-7 Sputnik and ICBM launches over the previous four months indicate the lack of any detailed information on the program. The configuration of the R-7 is unknown and speculative. Deployment plans are completely speculative, amounting to 100's of missiles and dozens of launch sites (in fact only five operational launch pads would ever be built). The R-7 flight test failures in May and July 1957 were undetected by the CIA. However they were aware of the construction of the ICBM launch facilities at Tyuratam, accurately noting work had begun there in mid-1955.
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- 1958 August 19 - National Intelligence Estimate of 19 August 1958 - The Missile Gap NIE - wild fantasies, perhaps a reaction to the Sputnik shock. The CIA predicted that 100 Soviet ICBM's would be deployed by 1959, and 500 by 1962 (actual number: one launcher). They expected Russian probes to Mars and Venus by 1958; a manned flight and robot landings on the moon by 1960; manned circumlunar flights by 1962, a Soviet manned lunar landing by 1965, and thereafter manned interplanetary expeditions. All this vastly exceeded even Korolev's ever-optimistic dreams... On the other hand, the intelligence community was slowly getting to the correct configuration of the R-7 ICBM. Ground-based photography indicated that the rocket stage orbited with the first Sputniks was 16 to 17 m long - much too long for a third stage, and probably too long for a conventional second stage. Therefore, while clinging to the belief that it was a two-stage vehicle, they 'cannot eliminate the possibility' that the R-7 was some kind of one-and-a-half or parallel staging vehicle.
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- 1958 November 25 - Memoranum Supplement to National Intelligence Estimate of 25 November 1958 - The Missile Gap starts to unravel ... Noting the slow rate of ICBM tests, the CIA moves back their date for 500 operational Soviet ICBM's to 1963, and notes that in any case this number is just conjecture, not based on any knowledge of intentions or capabilities...
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- 1959 September 8 - National Intelligence Estimate of 8 September 1959 - The Missile Gap begins to evaporate. An unusual advance notice to the November 1959 NIE notifies the government that in fact the Soviet ICBM is not a crash program. Deployment of a provisional system of ten missiles and one launcher may have already occurred, but construction of additional launchers and missiles does not seem to be underway. On the other hand, the opinion solidifies that the R-7 is of a parallel or stage-and-a-half configuration. Interestingly, it is known that the R-12 uses and four-chamber rocket engine.
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- 1959 November 3 - National Intelligence Estimate of 3 November 1959 - The Missile Gap is gone. R-7 flight test continues at a measured pace, but there is no evidence whatever of production or deployment beyond the single pad at Tyuratam. The R-7 configuration is now seen to definitely use parallel staging. Download here. (3.15 MB - right click to download!)
- 1960 January 15 - Memoranum Supplement to National Intelligence Estimate of 3 November 1959 - A supplement to the NIE of November 1959 backpedals on ICBM accuracy and reliability estimates. Download here. (0.13 MB - right click to download!)
- 1961 April 25 - National Intelligence Estimate of 25 April 1961 - R-7 ICBM development is now seen to be continuing very slowly. The various intelligence agencies disagree if the system has even been made operational in a limited manner. The configuration of the missile has now been deduced with considerable accuracy, although the lift-off mass and thrust are still underestimated by 20%. Construction of the R-7 ICBM pads at the new Angara missile base at Plesetsk have been detected, as well as what are believed to be two additional R-7 launch areas at Tyuratam (One of these, Area 31, is indeed the second R-7 pad, which will begin use in January-February 1961. However the other is Area 41, being built for Yangel's R-16 ICBM, development of which has not yet been detected by the CIA). The CIA notes the first manned flight has occurred (a year later than their original prediction) and makes more realistic assessments that a Soviet manned circumlunar flight will come no earlier than 1966 and a manned lunar landing no earlier than 1970. This last prediction is interesting in the context of Kennedy's decision a month later to land an American on the moon before 1970.
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- 1961 December 29 - The Role of Space Weapons in a Future War - CIA Translation of the Top Secret Soviet paper by Lt-General M Korenevskiy, which appeared in Issue 1 of Military Thought, published on 29 December 1961. Download here. (0.78 MB - right click to download!)
- 1962 December 5 - National Intelligence Estimate of 5 December 1962 - The first NIE dedicated solely to the Soviet Space Program is significantly less cautious than the combined missile-space report of a year earlier. Manned rendezvous and docking is now expected by 1963; and a manned lunar landing by 1967 to 1968. There doesn't seem to be any hard intelligence that the Soviets are pursuing development of bigger boosters or a moon program (in fact they weren't), but these are based on a presumed Soviet capability to "concentrate human and economic resources on priority objectives" (which space exploration never was).
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- 1965 January 27 - National Intelligence Estimate of 27 January 1965 - The optimistic projections of the last available Soviet space NIE in 1962 has faded. The Soviet space program is correctly assessed as being stalled, with numerous failures and new boosters and spacecraft being developed to regain momentum. Development of the Proton booster has been detected (seemingly only from satellite observation of launch complex construction), but the payload potential is overestimated by 150%. It is expected it will be used to launch a space station and manned circumlunar flights by 1967-1968. Development of the N1 has been detected, and a first launch was expected by 1968. However the CIA cannot assess the Soviet program as being competitive with the US Apollo - there is no chance of a Soviet manned lunar landing before 1969. The N1 is assessed as being smaller than it actually was, meaning an earth-orbit-rendezvous technique would be needed to support a lunar landing, which could only occur as early as 1969 if everything went right.
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- 1967 March 2 - National Intelligence Estimate of 2 March 1967 - CIA Version, with more extensive redactions. Full commentary is at CIA's National Intelligence Estimate of March 1967 Download here. (1.63 MB - right click to download!)
- 1967 March 2 - National Intelligence Estimate of 2 March 1967 - less redacted version - LBJ Library Version, with fewer redactions, obtained by Peter Pesavento. Full commentary is at NIE 11-1-67. Download here. (1.66 MB - right click to download!)
- 1967 August 3 - National Intelligence Estimate of 3 August 1967 - Communist China's Strategic Weapons Program - Limited deployment of the DF-2 MRBM is expected within six months, with an ICBM not being deployed until the mid-1970's. Download here. (1.12 MB - right click to download!)
- 1969 June 19 - National Intelligence Estimate of 19 June 1969 - On the eve of America's win of the moon race, the CIA seems to have a full understanding of the Soviet space program. The Zond missions are rightly seen as an attempt at manned circumlunar flight that has been abandoned due to continuing booster unreliability and the loss of any propaganda value after Apollo 8. The N1 booster is seen as supporting a manned lunar landing and a large earth orbit space station, but the expected launch attempts were not observed (the CIA completely missed the failed N1 launch of January 1969). In any case, no Soviet lunar landing could be expected until 1972 at the earliest. It was expected that a Soyuz-derived space laboratory would be used for a 90-day mission (which never happened, although the contemporary Soyuz VI project had this goal). A Proton-launched space station would be orbited by the mid-1970's (actually 1971 under the crash Salyut project).
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- 1969 June 23 - National Intelligence Estimate of 23 June 1969 - A flash update to the strategic missile forces estimate reveals the high tempo of test and deployment of Soviet nuclear forces, especially the feared R-36 ICBM. This assessment makes it clear the enormous effort being exerted by the Soviet Union to achieve missile parity, at the expense of their manned space program.
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- 1970 March 26 - National Intelligence Estimate of 26 March 1970 - The first post-Apollo assessment of the Soviet space program finds it to be in disarray. The N1 pad explosion of July 1969 is believed to have set the moon landing program back at least two years (the CIA believes both pads must be in use to support an earth-orbit rendezvous twin-launch mission profile). The CIA however believes that the Soviets believe that this will work to their advantage, putting their lunar landing program after the American Apollo program was completed and in the absence of any American manned spaceflight activity. Continuing Proton reliability problems are led to intractable quality assurance problems, and will delay the launch of the Salyut space station. Rendezvous problems with Soyuz 6-7-8 indicate the CIA's expected Soyuz-derived space laboratory is in jeoprdy. Interestingly, the use of Soyuz 6-7-8 to observe ICBM launches was noticed by American intelligence.
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- 1971 July 1 - National Intelligence Estimate of 1 July 1971 - The CIA notes the success of the Lunokhod robot lunar rover and Salyut space station (neither predicted in their earlier estimates). But they perceive a disenchantment of the Soviet leadership with the space program, leading to budget cutbacks and a concentration on modest earth-orbit activities (as did occur). They also accurately predict that the Soviets will seek some kind of cooperative space project to remedy the technical and managerial problems that have prevented their program from beating the Americans to the moon. A manned lunar landing program is believed to be still underway, but leading to a landing no earlier than 1975-1976 as a precursor to a lunar base. The CIA knows accurately the configuration of the N1, but persists in its overestimate of its weight and performance, crediting it with nearly double its actual payload. Interestingly, they assess that it might have a complexity level that was beyond Soviet technological capabilities (it would be cancelled three years later). The CIA is aware of Russian development of high-energy rocket engines using fluorine or hydrogen.
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- 1973 December 20 - National Intelligence Estimate of 20 December 1973 - The CIA finds Soviet space technology to be dismal, with development of a US-style space shuttle beyond their capability. They have detected the different configuration of Salyut 2 from Salyut 1, but seem unaware of the entirely independent Almaz military space station program. An acute slow-down in development of the N1 superbooster has been detected, with a Soviet manned lunar landing now slipped to 1978, or the 1980's if another launch failure occurs. They seem to have discovered the true name of the N1 (redacted material).
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- 1974 June 13 - National Intelligence Estimate of 13 June 1974 - China's Strategic Attack Programs - A slowdown or even cessation in China's development of long-range ballistic missiles is noted. The ICBM, it seems, will be mainly devoted to satellite launch activities in the future. China seems to seek only a 'token' ICBM force, with deployment no earlier than 1978. Probably satellite payloads include reconnaisance satellites but manned spacecraft are not mentioned.
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- 1974 October 15 - Inter-Agency Intelligence Report - A Soviet Land-Mobile ICBM - The CIA notices the heavily-secret Soviet development of the Temp-2S mobile ICBM. The question of the very existence of the missile became a hot political topic during the Carter presidency and an example of the 'Evil Emprire's' peridy during the Reagan administration.
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- 1975 November 15 - Inter-Agency Intelligence Memorandum - Soviet Depenence on Space Systems - Copy 221, release obtained by Peter Pesavento. More extensive but sometimes different redactions from official CIA release copy 219. An extensive discussion of Soviet military satellite capabilities, a useful addition and a parallax view to information released by the Russians in the 1990's.
Download here. (1.27 MB - right click to download!)
- 1975 November 15 - Inter-Agency Intelligence Memorandum - Soviet Depenence on Space Systems - CIA release version of Copy 219. Less extensive but sometimes different redactions from 221. Download here. (1.56 MB - right click to download!)
- 1980 August 6 - National Intelligence Estimate of 6 August 1980 - Soviet Military Capabilities and Intentions in Space - By 1980 the Soviet Military had completed deployment of mature first generation military space systems. This CIA report surveys them, noting the differences with American equivalent programs. The Soviet Union is assessed as developing a small manned spaceplane (a recurring CIA theme in the 1980's, and actually a low-priority Soviet program). The CIA also believes that Russia is developing a large-scale space shuttle (Buran) but the DIA disagrees, believing it is only in the concept stage. Development is fully underway of second-generation Soviet military systems, but the scope of this work is not fully appreciated by US intelligence. They are believed to be developing a new sensor for their existing conventional anti-satellite system and developing a space-based laser anti-satellite weapon.The CIA has detected the facilities work related to development of the Energia and Zenit-2 boosters, but makes some incorrect guesses as to their configuration and makeup. Over the years a sophisticated understanding of the organization of the Soviet space industry has been obtained, including correct identification of the major design bureaux, their chief designers, and the interlocking roles of the MOD, MOM, VPK, etc.
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- 1982 June 15 - InterAgency Intelligence Memorandum of June 1982 - CIA Review of the organization and accomplishments of the KGB-GRU technology acquisition effort. Most space-missile related effort seems to concentrate on solid propellant rocketry, with liquid propulsion (in which the Soviets had a lead) barely mentioned.
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- 1982 October 15 - National Intelligence Estimate of October 1982 - An overview of what the CIA knew about Soviet ABM development and what the future possibilities were. The existing system was correctly seen as rather limited, but the confusion about the whole project's objectives and future course mirrored the Soviet's own internal disagreements on the subject.
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- 1983 July 15 - National Intelligence Estimate of July 1983 Volume I - Key Judgements - With no indication to the CIA that the regime had only seven years left, they project Soviet space developments to the end of the 20th Century. However, the they admit that it honestly, for (deleted) reasons, was having great difficulty anticipating Soviet space developments....
They expect electronic antisatellite weapons to be developed, but no particular development of conventional ASATs. A space-based laser ASAT may be tested by the 1990's, in two versions (low-altitude and geosynchronous - echoing contemporary NPO Energia studies on use of the DOS space station as a weapons platform). Soviet space capabilities in a war situation are seen as limited due to the ground facilities not being hardened and no evidence of development of ICBM-launched small emergency satellites (actually, this was underway, with the secretive Perimetr system having just completed its state acceptance trials the year before. Deployment of a high-altitude signals intelligence system was expected, and perhaps manned lunar bases or Mars expeditions in the 1990's.
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- 1983 July 15 - National Intelligence Estimate of July 1983 Volume II - The CIA knew the name and precise configuration of the Buran space shuttle years before it flew, the report reveals. They also were well aware of development of the MiG-105 small manned spaceplane, and trace its concept and development correctly. Plans for the Mir space station are sketched out, and they know that the add-on modules will be based on the TKS space tug.
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- 1984 November 15 - National Intelligence Estimate of November 1984 - Key Judgements - The CIA reviews how and what US space technology has been transferred to the Soviet Union. The assessment is that certain Soviet space systems are so similar to US systems that they must be direct copies based on detailed technical knowledge. The Soviet Buran shuttle is singled out, with the CIA estimating that the Russians saved $750 million in development costs by copying US technology.
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- 1984 November 15 - National Intelligence Estimate of November 1984 - Key Judgements and Summary - Additional details to the Key Judgements volume. Download here. (0.55 MB - right click to download!)
- 1984 December 15 - Inter-Agency Intelligence Memorandum - the Soviet Approach to Nuclear Winter - December 1984 - The CIA tries to unravel whether stated Soviet concerns over the possibility of nuclear winter (catastrophic global climate change after a nuclear war) are genuine or just some kind of propaganda campaign. Download here. (1.58 MB - right click to download!)
- 1985 August 15 - Special National Intelligence Estimate of August 1985 - the Soviet Reaction to Stealth - The Soviet reaction to the pending American deployment of stealth systems, and the state of their own stealth technology, are assessed by the CIA. Download here. (1.06 MB - right click to download!)
- 1985 December 15 - National Intelligence Estimate of December 1985 - The CIA surveys widespread Soviet military manned space experiments and finds them difficult to assess. There seems to be a huge deployment going on in preparation for a space-based defense system, but no sign of any weapons to equip such a system. Download here. (0.70 MB - right click to download!)
- 1985 December 15 - National Intelligence Estimate of December 1985 - The CIA surveys the massive explosion of Soviet spending in military space technology in the 1980's. The program is so broad and deep that it is difficult to discern its objectives, except that the investment will make the Soviet Union ready to exploit any technological breakthroughs they may achieve in anti-satellite or submarine-detection technology. The CIA did not appreciate that this very effort would contribute greatly to the breakup of the Soviet Union in just a few years...
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- 1986 March 15 - Inter-Agency Intelligence Memorandum - Soviet Weapons Systems Production - March 1986 - The CIA's assessment of the production rates of weapons systems, including space boosters and ballistic missiles, in the period 1976-1985. Download here. (0.31 MB - right click to download!)
- 1987 June 15 - Inter-Agency Intelligence Memorandum - Soviet Weapons Systems Production - June 1987 - The previous year's estimate updated through 1986. Download here. (0.31 MB - right click to download!)
- 1988 September 15 - Assessment - Soviet Reusable Space Systems - September 1988 - The CIA correctly discerns two manned spaceplane programs, and the fact that both designs are being handled by the Molniya bureau. The small military spaceplane originated in 1962 at the Mikoyan bureau, was taken to subsonic flight test phase in the 1970's, but then put on the back burner to the higher priority Buran shuttle program. With the shuttle program entering flight operations, the Molniya bureau has turned back to the smaller spaceplane. But the CIA fails to discern that a developed version of the spaceplane is to be used for air-launch only, and instead reinforces speculation since the early 1980's that the small spaceplane will be launched on the Zenit-2 booster.
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- 1991 August 8 - National Intelligence Estimate of November 1999 - With the Soviet Union on the edge of total disintegration, the CIA assesses the prospects for further missile development in the next decade. Download here. (0.36 MB - right click to download!)
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