Again it was events that drove the debate on nuclear strategy forward -- at this point, the Cuban missile crisis. 1
In their rocket program, the Soviets decided on a bold move -- to skip the logical next step, rockets of 350 thousand pounds of thrust like the American Atlas, and go straight to giants of 800 thousand pounds thrust. The missile was to be not only the behemoth that launched Yuri Gagarin as the first man in space, but also the workhorse of their long-range missile force -- ICBMs.
In 1960, American intelligence picked up rumors that the Soviets were beginning to deploy these ICBMs at Plesetsk near the Arctic circle. Gary Powers was dispatched in a U-2 to take pictures of the area, but he was shot down en route. In the brouhaha that followed, President Eisenhower was forced to promise not to fly the U-2 over the Soviet Union again, and American intelligence was blinded. But the evidence already available showed that there was a "missile gap" in the Soviets' favor.
Fearing the effects on the economy of increased military spending, the Eisenhower administration argued that America's advantage in manned bombers made a crash ICBM program unnecessary. But the Pentagon leaked its unhappiness with this decision to Congress and the press, and Senator John E Kennedy made the missile gap a central feature in his successful 1960 campaign for the White House.
But when the Soviets began to deploy their giant rockets at Plesetsk, they discovered immediately -- and the Americans only much later -- that they were