The STRAT-X Report and Its Impact
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.