The Pentagon's idea of playing a giant "shell game" with land-based missiles to fool the Soviets is nothing short of "madness," warns a weapon specialist who participated in a secret study of the concept.
Dominic Paolucci, a retired Navy captain who served on the Strat X team that assessed U.S. strategic options in the 1960s, said the "shell game" deployment would force the Soviets to target even more of their nuclear weapons on the America land mass.
U.S. planners should work on a nuclear offense that would draw Soviet fire away from land, not toward it, Paolucci contended in an interview.
He argued that the United States has enough nuclear weapons deployed already to combat the Soviet threat. If more missiles have to be added, he said, it would make more sense to put them out to sea where no body lives, perhaps installing the missile on ships.
His argument represents a fresh challenge the missile deploment scheme gaining momentum within the government as Carter administration officials look for ways to assure the Senate and the public that signing a news arms control agreement with the Russians is an acceptable risk.
The shell-game concept calls for digging 20 holes for one missle. The missle, complete with launcher, would be trucked from holt to hole secretly, in darkness, so that the Soviets gunners could never be sure which underground silo held a missile.
If the Soviets did not know which of 20 silos had the missle, backers of the scheme argue, they would have to use at least 20 warheads to cover the field hiding the single missile.
Deploying an additional 300 land missiles either the existing Minute-man or the MX blockbuster missile under development, and digging 20 holes for each would confront the Soviets with 6,000 new silos to cover.
Rather than engage in such an expensive and self-defeating holes vs. warheads contest, goes the supporting argument, the Soviets would be inclined to sign an agreement with the United States to reduce the number of warheads on each side.
Gen. Lew Allen Jr., Air Force chief of staff, said last week that Air Force studies had shown that land missiles sitting still in underground silos could not be fortified enough to keep Soviet H-bombs from disabling them.
One attractive response to the thousands of warheads the Soviets are putting on their missiles, said Allen, would be to deploy "a great sponge" of targets in the United States "to absorb" the Soviet warheads, making a surprise attack look futile to the Kremin.
The shell-game deployment is being called MAP, for Multiple Aim Point system.
"It is madness to use United States real estate as 'a great sponge to absorb' Soviet nuclear weapons," Paolucci asserted in contesting Allen's rationale.
"The objective of our military forces and strategy should be to reduce the weight of any potential attack on U.S. real estate rather than attracting even more," he said. The MAP scheme would prompt the Soviets to aim 20 times as many warheads at the United States as it does now, he contended.
The arms specialist further asserted that if the United States did dig a field of holes for one missile, Soviet technicians would soon figure out how to determine which hole held the missile.
The real-life politics of deploying weapons also would make the shell-game concept self-defeating, Paolucci maintained.
If a lot of holes are dug for a single missile, he predicted, "there will come a time when some mild crisis or other circumstance will invite the decision to fill the holes with missiles and launchers since 'the holes are dug anyway.'"
The result, he said, would be "the same fixed, vulnerable system we are trying to replace."
He said the Strat X team, which sifted through various strategic options for then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, looked at the shell-game proposal and rejected it as unsound before submitting its top-secret report in 1967.
Asked about those criticisms, one military advocate of the shell-game system countered that deception could be achieved by sending decoy missile transporters around the field of silos. The missile itself could be kept in an enclosed canister. The canister could be lowered into the silo in such a way that a Soviet spy satellite could not tell whether the missile had been deposited in the hole.