Russell E. Hershey,
INT: So does Russia pouring millions, millions into military weapons, was there a belief in America - and I'm going specifically into the sixties - that Russia was liable to do a first strike?
WL: I... think that perception was very limited. I always argued against it, simply because the evidence did not support it.
INT: Can I just ask you to repeat that... I need you say, I didn't believe Russia would...
WL: I did not believe that they were looking to carry out a first strike, because the evidence simply did not support it. The evidence clearly supported something that is different, the difference may appear subtle, but it's fundamentally different. And that is what is called preemption on warning, that at any point, if they were convinced that we were going to strike them, and there were times, especially in the early 1980s is when that was really a problem,... but if they had reliable warning, then they would have struck first, because that was the best way they could limit damage to themselves. And as I mentioned earlier before we started talking about this, their perception of their vulnerability of their missiles was so different than ours, they thought themselves much more vulnerable to a US strike than we thought they were vulnerable. And that was simply this technical problem of the vulnerability of the silo-based missiles. So... I always argued... I always tried to follow the evidence as best I could and the evidence never supported that. The one time that I think the Russians came very close to first strike was in the crisis of '81-'84.
INT: Which we'll have to save for another program. Can I ask you then to explain to me what an anti-ballistic missile is?
WL: An anti-ballistic missile, well, very simply is a... think of it in terms of a canon that shoots down the projectile of a canon on the other side. It is simply a missile against a missile. And what you have there is... you fire off the missile, the booster that carries the warhead, the re-entry vehicle, drops away and re-entry vehicle continues to its target. They call it an RV. The RV continues and it carries a nuclear warhead... continues to its target. What you have to do then is get a missile that will fire right up there and destroy that re-entry vehicle. Now you don't have to hit it directly with a nuclear weapon, depending on the weapon, depending on the altitude, if you come within a reasonable distance, and that's highly variable...
INT: Let me pick up on another question. It sounds like an incredible technology. I mean, did it ever work?
WL: Oh yes. We did it and they did it. The question was never whether it would work. The question was how well it would work? And that was always a question that could never be answered with any certainty. There were always a wide range of opinion as to how well it would work and in this country, there were demands that the thing be perfect and that is still the prevailing attitude. If it isn't perfect, we don't want it, it's no good. It's not an attitude we apply to any other part of our military establishment. The only area in which the critics of the military establish demand a hundred per cent perfection is from an anti-ballistic missile ABM system. that's a very strange thing and it's overlooked, but that's the way the game is played. Now until about 1964-65, both sides had systems had that if it was a one on one, a simple engagement, of an anti-ballistic missile against a ballistic missile, we could destroy it fairly confidently, and especially with a nuclear warhead. They actually succeeded in 1961 in scoring a direct hit on one of their warhead re-entry vehicles, with an anti-ballistic missile, direct hit. We didn't try, becauwe were going to use nuclear weapons, but they did that with a non-nuclear warhead. Thenthey converted to nuclear weapons, same as we'd done. But those systems on both sides were really limited to single RVs. They were not good against multiple independent re-entry vehicles, especially if accompanied by any type of penetration aid. Now, a revolution occurred in that respect in this country, around 1964-65, when we combined three new technologies to come up with the anti-ballistic missile system called Nike X and that system was capable of not only intercepting MERVs with high confidence, but of defeating many types of penetration aids, although the question of how well they would defeat them was always problematical and debated and disputed. But within two years, we went from relative parity with the Russians on ABM technology to a twenty-year lead, which they were never able to overcome. In fact, the system that they finally deployed at Moscow in 1989, which we call the ABM X3 is a copy, a Russian copy, of the 90X ABM of 1966. Presumably it had the better computer but otherwise, it was a copy and the big radar is scaled up at the ratio of one meter to a foot, compared to the 90X radar, but it's otherwise, it's a copy.
INT: But isn't there a problem with the actual concept of ABMs? All I need to do, if I'm to attack you, is just to increase two more missiles and you've got a lot more work to do to shoot them down?
WL: Yes, and that of course is the... well the exchange game that we worked on and analyzed at great length and that's when I predicted the SS18 as something they would do just in order to stay abreast in that game, but to follow their own strategy, which was to shoot at silos, not at cities. Well, you could increase the number of missiles on the defensive side also and that gets you involved in what's called the cost exchange ratio. Well, when this game started, in the early 1960s, the cost exchange ratios were believed to be... or estimated to be on the order of one hundred to one in favor of the offence. That is, for one hundred dollars of defense, one dollar of offence would defeat it. Same game. By 1966, even McNamara agreed that the cost exchange ratio had come down to near parity, no worse than four to one in favor of the offence. so the answer to that question is, first of all, is it's very expensive to play that game and the bigger kind of the richer country has the advantage. We had it, but we didn't use it. If we had, the Cold War, I'm convinced, would have been over much earlier or they would have completely changed their strategy, one or the other. Something big would have given. They would have had a much different military establishment, and much less threatening, or the Cold War would have ended much earlier than it did, if we had used that advantage. the other part of that question is, if you have the kind of strategy that the Soviets had, in limiting damage to yourself, with high confidence, so they would put two or even three warheads on the same silo to make sure they killed it, you only had to get the Soviets to believe that you could destroy half of their warheads to really put their whole strategy in jeopardy. In fact, if you could inflict something like thirty per cent attrition on their strategy, it began to weaken seriously. At fifty to sixty per cent, it started to go into total self-defeat mode. And it was almost impossible to get this across to anybody. It's very simple, but it was very difficult to get people to at first understand it and second, most importantly, to believe it. And you know, as far I as I know, it's never really gotten out in the public domain and still is not part of the public discourse. People arguing about it now, don't talk about this aspect at all.
INT: Could you explain to me then why - I'm thinking particularly of the 1967 Glassborough meetings - why America regarded the Soviet ABM system as so destabilizing?
WL: Well, simply because in...
INT: (Interrupts) I'm just going to ask...
WL: (Interrupts) It was simply caused in terms of MAD. If you believe in Mutual Assured Destruction, anything that interferes with both sides, see, it's mutual, Mutual Assured Destruction. It must be mutual, and it must be assured. So anything on either side that it would interfere with both sides, either or both sides, capability to kill twenty to fifty per cent of the population of the other side is, by definition, destabilizing. It's that simple.
INT: Excellent answer. Could you just explain two things to me. First of all, what is a MERV and what do you mean by penetration aids?
WL: Well, a MERV is simply where, instead of one warhead, one re-entry vehicle, on each missile boost you have a number of them, and more importantly, that you have what is called a post-boost control system, which releases these multiple re-entry vehicles, one at a time, and it can steer it to a different target. So, you say, for example, if you're shooting at a bunch of cities, you can... from the same booster that starts off from the silo, you can drop one on Chicago, one on say Indianapolis, one on New Orleans and depending how you design it and one on maybe New York and Washington. The way you designed the size of the area in which you can direct these things to individual targets, varies with the design of the system. There are engineering penalties associated with enlarging that area, but that's basically what it is. It makes it much more difficult for radar to track it. Now a penetration aid is simply any device that confuses the ABM radar or the sensors, radar or other optical sensors, as to what is the real re-entry vehicle, the real warhead and what looks like it, but it really is not. Or simply overloads the data processing system, so by the time the defensive system figures out which is which, it's too late. And there are all kinds of ways that people have worked on to do that. It's not as easy as it sounds, not at all. If you have very sophisticated computers and data processing systems, work with your radar and that is what, from the mid-1960s, we had and increasingly so. In fact, at that time, we had no idea that we ever would ... you know, at that time, nobody anticipated that ten, fifteen years later we would have the computers we actually had, ten or fifteen years later.
INT: Leaping slightly around now. In the early '60s the Chinese detonated their first atomic bomb and shortly after they followed with a hydrogen bomb. What was the reaction in America to that?
WL: Well, that's something I don't know a great deal about, as far as the reaction to it. I sort of took it as, myself, as a matter of course, what else do you expect, but it did have an effect on McNamara, when I was working on the ABM program at that time, I can talk about that. He had somehow had the idea that the Chinese would be very much more untrustworthy in terms of mutual deterrents than the Russians. So that a few missiles in the hands of the Chinese would be much more dangerous than a thousand missiles in the hands of the Russians. why I do not know, but anyway, that was the attitude. So, when we were working and carrying on this dialogue with him at his direction, on what are the advantages and disadvantages and the costs and the exchange ratios and so forth of defending against a Russian threat, in the summer of 1965, he interrupted that and said, I want a twenty year projection of the Chinese Communist nuclear threat to the United States and it's through 1985, and I want in six weeks that threat, the army was responsible for ABM defense in those days and part of the air defense, and the defense that you propose against that and the cost of it and the effectiveness. Well, we actually came back in nine weeks with the answer to those questions and McNamara was very happy with the answer we came back with. I was in charge of the threat projection. the threat we had three basic threats, one of which we thought much more likely than the other extremes. That turned out to be an incredibly good projection. The Chinese actually did a little less than we said was the maximum they could do. and McNamara wahappy with that and he would have been willing to deploy an ABM against the Chinese at that time, in 1965, think, from what he said and the feed-back we got from the briefings and so forth. But he was, by then, converted to MAD as far as the Russians were concerned, to Mutually Assured Destruction, and pressure was building in the Congress to go ahead with an ABM against the Russians. So he was afraid that if he approved a defense against the Chinese, that would be the camel's foot, head or foot under the tent for the Russians, which he didn't want. But when he was finally forced, in the end of 1966 to agree to announce ABM in 1967, which he did, he watered down the program that he announced in September 1967 to a defense against the Chinese, not against the Russians. That was the so-called safe-guard.
INT: Was that...
WL: (Interrupts) That was called Sentinel.
INT: So in '67 McNamara had announced what became known as the Thin ABM system. And then at Glassborough, he told Kosygin that ABMs were destabilizing and threatened the security of the world. What was the Russian reaction to that?
WL: Well, the Russian reaction to that was...
INT: (Interrupts) To what?
WL: I call it a mock sent...
INT: (Interrupts) Can I just ask you to say the Russian reaction to being told that it was destab...
WL: The Russian reaction to that was some kind of shock. But by the time Kosygin got back to Moscow, the reaction was, this is what I call a mock sent, a God sent to mock sent, because in 1967, by coincidence, they had come to grips with the fact that they were so far behind us, that we had gained that twenty year lead, that the path they were going was a dead end and that is indeed when they decided they were going to copy...