Your browser currently has javascript disabled. Enabling it will give you access to the advanced features of this site, such as synchronized transcripts, videos, and photo galleries. Here's how to do it.

McNamara on Why the IL-28s Have to Go

IL-28 BEAGLE Bomber

A U.S. intelligence photo of an IL-28 bomber.

After Khrushchev backed down on October 28, one of the major issues that dominated the next few weeks was the presence of the IL-28 jet bombers. The bombers were old and, by the standards of the day, slow. But they were capable of carrying nuclear gravity bombs, and the southeastern corner of the continental United States was well within their range.

The question Kennedy and his advisers faced was how hard to push on the IL-28s. Khrushchev had not mentioned them specifically, so it wasn’t clear if they were included in the deal to remove “the weapons you call offensive,” as Khrushchev put it. For Kennedy, then, that meant deciding how hard to push to get them removed. Kennedy himself was skeptical they were worth risking agreement and had already instructed the U.S. negotiating team in New York not to let the deal get hung up on the issue. But others disagreed.

In this clip from the November 1, 1962, ExComm meeting, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argues emphatically in favor of insisting that the Il-28s be removed. The context of the discussion is whether or not to run the risk of sending low-level surveillance flights over Cuba immediately so as to see whether the Soviets were still uncrating and assembling the Il-28s.

Source Tape: Tape 47, President’s Office Files, Presidential Recordings Collection, John F. Kennedy Library,

Also published on Medium.