The United States does not have enough strategic weapons deployed to implement President Carter's new nuclear targeting policy, according to the head of the Strategic Air Command.
The SAC commander, Gen. R. H. Ellis, gave this assessment to Defense Secretary Harold Brown in a recent letter dated April 9, 1979. The general's views came to light yesterday, presenting a challenge from to top military commander to the policy Carter outlined in Presidential Directive 59.
Moscow has such a big edge over the United States in strategic weapons, Ellis wrote, that the doctrine of covering a wide range of targets in the Soviet Union could not be implemented by the United States if it had to absorb a surprise attack before retaliating.
"The princple of maintaining a countervailing strategy cannot be supported in the 1979-86 time period," Ellis wrote.
Only if the United States fired its missiles at the first sign of an attack, or attacked first, could Carter's new doctrine be implemented, Ellis continued.
Unlike 1976, the general wrote, when the United States enjoyed a 3-to-1 advantage over the Soviet Union in strategic weapons, the United states no longer had that advantage by 1979.
Reporter Jack Taylor of the Daily Oklahoman obtained the Ellis letter, which also contained this grim warning: "The demonstrated and projected growth in Soviet strategic capabilities will continue to erode our relative strength until sufficient numbers of ALCM [air launched cruise missiles], Trident [submarine missiles] and MX [the mobile land missile still under development] are deployed in the mid-1980s.
"In the interim, the survivability and quality of our forces supporting the SIOP [strategic intergrated operation plan] will cause a shift in our deterrent posture from one capable of fulfilling a countervailing strategy toward one much less capable."