THE SOVIETS DRAW AN ACE
While the Soviet capability of launching an atomic attack this year or the coming two years is believed to be small, it is not to be ignored, because when all the hundreds of key targets in the United States are broken down by target systems, it is found that the destruction of a relatively few targets could cause a serious delay in our mobilization, or retaliation, and delay--the loss of time during an extreme emergency--is one factor that could jeopardize our position in this era of blitzkrieg and far-reaching military surprise moves.
-- Briefing for the President, January 31, 19501
The real unknown variable in a contest between the U.S. and the USSR was not Soviet ability to survive widespread air-atomic assault. It was the question of when Soviet scientists would produce their own atomic device and the Soviet military a capability of responding with atomic attacks to American bombing. In mid-1948, the CIA had predicted that the earliest the Soviets would build an atomic bomb would be mid-1950 but that the most probable date was mid-1953. SAC's EWP had been updated to anticipate this possibility as early as January 1949. Still, it came as a sudden shock when on September 3, 1949 an American reconnaissance bomber detected atmospheric debris that indicated the Soviets had detonated an atomic device in late August (the 29th). When President Truman finally announced the event on September 23, a shiver of fear passed through Americans and their NATO allies.2
Despite the fact that the Soviets had only 150 B-29 type TU-4 bombers with no forward bases or aerial refueling capability to reach the continental U.S., despite the fact that on September 30, 1949 the American atomic stockpile reached 200, the mood in the free world was one almost of despair. China was falling to the Communists. Mao Tse-tung announced the founding of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) on October 10, 1949, adding another 700 million people to the enemy camp. At Truman's request, the JCAE voted to expand greatly the American atomic program for rapid and huge increases in the stockpile of bombs and sided with those in the administration who wanted to