Missile Threats and Defenses

Oct. 1, 1998

The threat of long-range missile attack against the United States continues to grow, and Washington now is moving quickly to prepare to field defenses against such systems. This campaign comes on top of the existing efforts to deal with theater range missile threats to deployed American military forces.

The threat was highlighted recently by three flight tests of new medium-range missiles-in Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan-and development of new intercontinental-range weapons in China and Russia.

A new report prepared by a blue-ribbon congressional panel presents an alarming picture of a “no warning” missile threat emerging around the world, created by states that see missiles as premier weapons for power projection and war.

For the Pentagon, the bottom line is this: The threat of short-range missile attack on deployed US forces is here now. The even more dangerous threat of long-range missile strikes against US territory will emerge in the not too distant future.

The Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Organization will be spending billions over the next few years on theater missile defense programs to thwart short- and medium-range missiles fired in terror attacks or during major regional warfare.

BMDO this spring took a major stride toward building a National Missile Defense system with its award of a $1.6 billion contract to Boeing as the “lead systems integrator” for a three-year program to put together all the pieces of a complex NMD system.

The most alarming news from Washington was the July report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, a bipartisan, congressionally appointed panel of experts headed by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Members had unlimited access to all US intelligence data on emerging missile threats. After reviewing this top secret material, the panel concluded that nations like Iran and North Korea are much closer to fielding long-range missiles than US intelligence agencies had previously estimated.

Little or No Warning

“We see an environment of little or no warning of ballistic missile threats to the United States from several emerging powers,” Rumsfeld said. He noted that missile development is getting a boost from technology sold by established missile powers like Russia and China.

The Air Force’s National Air Intelligence Center, which specializes in tracking worldwide ballistic missile developments, made much the same point. In a report issued in May, the center asserted that more than 25 nations have ballistic missiles and that future conflicts involving US forces likely will involve missile exchanges. The center also issued a warning about the proliferation of ground-hugging cruise missiles. It said that, though these systems are not yet spreading at the same rate, many nations will field them in the next decade.

For many nations, missiles are attractive weapons, inasmuch as they provide effective attacks against nations with formidable air defenses or where aircraft strikes are impractical or costly. While Russia and China are building new strategic systems, North Korea and Iran are working on missiles with ranges of more than 1,000 miles. The expectation is that these latter systems will be fitted with Weapons of Mass Destruction, the center states.

In April, Pakistan test fired its new Ghauri missile, an 800-mile-range weapon that US intelligence officials say appears identical to North Korea’s No Dong. “It looked like they took a No Dong and painted it green,” said one official.

Then in July, Iran sent shock waves throughout the Middle East with its first test firing of the new Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile. Only days earlier, the Rumsfeld commission warned that a Shahab 3 test was imminent and that its deployment would follow soon thereafter. The Shahab 3 can strike nations and US forces throughout the Mideast.

From the Far East came a warning from a US commander of forces in Northeast Asia. He claimed North Korea has completed development of the No Dong missile, with its 800-mile range, and that the system is now fielded. The missile now threatens US troops based in Japan and Okinawa, he said. North Korea made a successful launch Aug. 31 of a new, 1,000-mile range Taepo Dong 1.

No Patriot anti-missile systems have been deployed at Japanese sites to defend against the new threats, though Patriots are based in South Korea as shields against shorter range Scud missiles. “No Dong is now a viable system,” the officer said.

The CIA reported in May that 13 of China’s 18 long-range missiles are targeted on US cities. The report, circulated within government, contrasted sharply with statements by President Clinton that no missiles are pointed at the United States.

As if to highlight its growing missile capabilities, China conducted a rocket motor test of its new DF-31 ICBM on July 1 as the President visited China. US intelligence agencies detected the ground test of the motor that will power China’s new mobile ICBM, which is expected to be deployed in the next two years.

“Significant Threat”

The ICBM will give China new strategic capabilities, according to Air Force intelligence sources, that will be difficult to counterattack at any stage of its operation. They predict the DF-31 will pose a significant threat to US forces deployed in the Pacific theater, portions of the continental United States, and many US allies. The missile will be extremely hard to detect because of its mobility and will be able to hit portions of the western United States.

A Pentagon official also noted recently that DoD had detected a surge in Chinese production of its CSS-4 Mod 2 ICBM. In the first four months of the year, Beijing produced six new ICBMs and will produce two more before temporarily closing operations as part of a two-year defense industry restructuring.

China also is building a second new ICBM called the DF-41 with an estimated range of more than 7,000 miles that is expected to be deployed, on mobile launchers as well, soon after the DF-31 is fielded. The threat from China was revealed in a new defensive strategy report released by Beijing in July.

Russia, too, is modernizing its ICBM force. The NAIC report noted that the first new silo-based SS-X-27 was deployed in recent months and that future variants will go on mobile launchers. The center’s report states that Russia continues to invest heavily in its strategic missile force, and most of its ICBMs are still on alert, capable of being launched within minutes of receiving a launch order. Russia, despite severe economic problems, expects to maintain the largest force of land-based strategic missiles in the world, according to the center.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester L. Lyles, the BMDO director, spoke recently to Air Force Magazine about emerging threats and planned responses. The general said the recent medium-range missile tests and the Rumsfeld commission assessment of emerging threats have not altered the Clinton Administration’s current “3+3” National Missile Defense program.

The program called for spending three years developing technical capabilities for a nationwide American defense system and then, in 2000, making a decision about whether the threat warrants a three-year drive to actually deploy a limited system (by 2003). This initial system could handle attacks from only a few missiles; it could not withstand an all-out missile assault of the kind that could be generated by Russia.

The Hedge Program

“In some respects, 3+3 was always devised as sort of a hedge program,” Lyles said, when asked how recent developments have affected his work. “We’ve always considered that a threat may materialize very quickly. So the first three years of our program of development and testing really is not impacted. We don’t think we can go any quicker. It’s already high-risk.”

The international missile danger was highlighted by CIA’s annual missile threat estimate earlier this year. The assessment stated that North Korea’s longest-range missile, the Taepo Dong 2, could be flight-tested by 2002-a full year before anti-missile systems could be deployed under the 3+3 plan.

The Taepo Dong 2, with a range of 2,500 to 3,700 miles, is capable of hitting Alaska and Hawaii. With a smaller payload, the missile’s range could be extended to 6,200 miles, placing at risk an arc of US territory extending from Arizona to Wisconsin.

“There is evidence that North Korea is working hard on the Taepo Dong 2 ballistic missile,” the Rumsfeld commission report notes. “Once the system is assessed to be ready, a test flight could be conducted within six months of a decision to do so.” If the test is a success, the Taepo Dong 2 “could be deployed rapidly,” warned the Rumsfeld report.

In addition, the North Koreans are active proliferators of their missiles and could be expected to transfer the Taepo Dong 2 or its technology to states such as Iran or Iraq. North Korea’s communist government recently admitted that its missile sales are a major source of hard currency for the cash-strapped regime.

The National Missile Defense architecture calls for a system that will cost about $8 billion to develop and deploy. It will be designed to have a very high probability of success of protecting all 50 American states against a limited long-range missile attack by systems with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

One key NMD component is the ground-based interceptor. It will be deployed to fire at incoming missile warheads and destroy them in space by force of impact. A warhead “kill vehicle” packed with sensors, motors, guidance, and computers will sit atop the interceptor booster. The booster will propel the kill vehicle to an area close to the incoming enemy warhead and it will then maneuver itself to ram the target.

For the interceptor, Boeing is looking at using a converted Minuteman III booster outfitted with new upper stages and a totally new booster. However, Pentagon officials say the company’s likely choice will be a completely new missile for the ground-based interceptor.

The NMD will include networks of advanced radars to perform a variety of functions. Key elements will be X-band radars deployed in Alaska, California, and on the East Coast to provide acquisition, tracking, warhead discrimination, and kill assessment. The X-band systems will use high frequencies and advanced radar signal processing technology with the goal of improving the defense system’s ability to hit incoming warheads, even in the presence of debris and penetration aids designed to fool missile defenses.

Cold War Systems

US early warning radar systems, set up during the Cold War, would be upgraded to improve capabilities for tracking ballistic missiles. Upgraded early warning radars are intended to be used as stopgaps until the Air Force’s Space Based Infrared System is deployed. The mission of the early warning radars is to detect and track missiles during their midcourse phase to provide cueing data for the more precise X-band radar.

A constellation of SBIRS satellites will be deployed in two modes-Low Earth Orbit and High Earth Orbit-and will replace the current Defense Support Program satellites missile detection system. SBIRS Low satellites will acquire and track missiles throughout flights and will provide the National Missile Defense with over-the-horizon capability which will increase warning and reaction time for the battle management component of the system. SBIRS High will provide complete missile-launch detection throughout the northern hemisphere and most of the southern hemisphere. Its functions will include warning of missile launches, missile tracks through engine burnout, launch point, and initial impact point prediction, and target handover to ground-based radar.

Battle management systems will serve as the brains of the entire NMD system and will be located within Cheyenne Mountain AS, Colo. Should a long-range missile be fired, the North American Aerospace Defense Command commander in chief will set in motion everything needed to shoot out a warhead in space. NORAD will have extensive decision support systems, battle management displays, intelligence reports, tracking data, and communications networks.

Gen. Howell M. Estes III is the former commander in chief of NORAD and US Space Command. The officer in that position is the one who would be the chief missile defense warfighter in charge of the NMD. Now retired, Estes said he sees the threat of long-range missiles coming sooner rather than later.

“I would tell you that, in the year 2020, the issue of ballistic missiles is going to be upon us,” the retired four-star Air Force general said. “It will be in the hands of people who are not going to be deterrable.” The large US arsenal deterred an attack by Russia during the Cold War, but rogue states are not likely to be held at bay by the threat, he said.

With missile threats growing, the American people will eventually demand to be defended, said Estes. “I don’t think the American public is going to stand for the notion that they are under risk from somebody [who] actually might use one of these things against us,” Estes said, “and the time to sort that out, to have a protective system in place, is not after we have an impact here on US soil, whatever part.”

Don’t Be Late

He is cautious in calling for immediate deployment of a National Missile Defense-a step which the Clinton Administration opposes-and said he favors the 3+3 program, as long as it is not built too late. “It can’t be late to need,” he said. “We’ve got to get the thing out there, and that is what 3+3 is all about.”

The current budget for all ballistic and cruise missile defense programs is $3.8 billion. The Fiscal 1999 budget request is $3.6 billion.

Now looming over the NMD program is the delicate political issue of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Administration officials have called the treaty the “cornerstone” of US­Russian strategic relations. Clinton’s top arms advisors have set out to protect the pact from what they see are efforts by missile defense advocates to jettison the treaty as a Cold War relic that does little except hamstring construction of effective defenses.

The Administration has engaged in protracted negotiations with Moscow to clarify whether theater defense is covered by the treaty, even though the original treaty limited its provisions to strategic defenses against long-range missiles. Last year, President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed on a “demarcation” agreement that sought to clarify what US theater defenses are allowed.

Critics among Republicans in Congress see the demarcation agreement as hindering development of effective missile defenses, both theater and national.

The ABM Treaty prohibits deployment of nationwide defenses against strategic missiles and bars certain testing of components of what could be a nationwide defense. As theater missile threats increase and ballistic missile defense becomes more sophisticated, weapons designers are encountering problems that were not anticipated by the treaty.

Defense Department officials said the US can develop and possibly deploy an NMD within the treaty’s limitations and, if it cannot, then Washington will seek to change the pact. “We will do the development in a treaty-compliant manner,” Lyles said. “But when it comes time [for] a decision to deploy, we will do whatever is necessary to provide protection for the United States. That’s the guidelines under which we’re working.”

For Boeing, the ABM Treaty poses no restrictions on what it might choose to study. As for whether the 3+3 system would be located at a single, ABM Treaty­compliant site, Lyles said the number of sites will be based on where the threat emanates. A single treaty-compliant site for NMD interceptors could protect the entire United States but only from “some threats,” he said.

Options under consideration include putting a single site at Grand Forks, N.D.; a single site in Alaska to deal with the most immediate threat of a North Korean Taepo Dong 2; or multiple sites on both US coasts. “We’re developing the program to be flexible to respond to wherever the threat might be,” Lyles said.

Pentagon planners are looking at the Rumsfeld commission’s findings as they would relate to the deployment years of the plan, Lyles said. “We’re obviously looking at various options relative to funding the program.”

Tough Deadline

Lyles acknowledged he is facing a tough deadline for the National Missile Defense plan and he also recognizes the urgent need to push ahead with the theater defenses, despite five intercept test failures of the newest and first dedicated anti-missile system, known as THAAD for Theater High Altitude Area Defense. The THAAD test failures are a setback, but the Pentagon plans to keep going and BMDO took steps to restructure the program recently in order to keep it on track for a target deployment of 2006. The system is urgently needed by commanders in South Korea and Japan.

Martin S. Indyk, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, sees a bigger threat emanating from Iran: a longer-range version of its Shahab 3 missile, one known as Shahab 4.

“We have to be concerned not only about the Shahab 3 but about the Shahab 4 as well,” said Indyk. He said it is “a long-range ballistic missile system which would present an even greater threat and which will require foreign technology of a more sophisticated nature than the Iranians were able to acquire for the Shahab 3.”

US intelligence agencies estimate that the Shahab 4 will have a range of up to 1,240 miles, enough to hit targets as far away as Central Europe. More alarming is the fact that Iran also has undertaken an active and clandestine nuclear weapons program, Indyk said.

BMDO’s Joint Program Office awarded the three-year NMD contract to Boeing, which beat out a consortium of contractors headed by Lockheed Martin for the job of piecing together an NMD. The program is headed by Boeing’s John Peller, a vice president who handled several major programs for the aerospace giant, including the space shuttle and development of commercial airliners.

Peller said the program is off and running. The company built a staff of about 1,200 and is pushing hard to keep itself on the aggressive schedule for an integrated NMD system test in late 1999 or early 2000. Aside from the tough schedule, said Peller, “I have no doubt about the technical ability of this system to work.”

Boeing’s job will be to develop and put together all the elements of the nationwide missile defense, including a ground-based missile interceptor that will launch on demand and destroy attacking missiles in outer space.

Not a Program–A Mission

Peller is well aware of the threat driving the program. “Most Americans believe the United States is protected against an enemy attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles, but it isn’t,” he said. “While our troops overseas have some protection against such attacks, our homeland doesn’t. Because of that, this is not just another program to us. We look at it as a mission.”

To counter the immediate threat of short- and medium-range missiles deployed in areas where US troops are based overseas or that threaten US allies that are under US protective agreements, BMDO has several theater missile defense systems under way. They include THAAD, which will be deployed and operated by the US Army, the Patriot Advanced Capability 3, which will be a hit-to-kill version of the Patriots used during the Persian Gulf War to stop incoming Iraqi Scud missiles, and two sea-based US Navy defenses.

“We still have some very, very strong and big technical challenges ahead of us in all our programs, particularly ones that have a hit-to-kill lethality methodology, like THAAD, the new PAC 3, even Navy Upper Tier,” Lyles said.

The current Army PAC 2 system, being deployed, relies on an explosive warhead detonating close to an incoming missile. All future missile defenses will be nonexplosive kinetic energy systems.

The Navy Area Ballistic Missile Defense Program, aimed at providing lower tier defense, is based on ship-fired interceptor missiles (Standard Missile 2 Block IV) controlled by the sophisticated AEGIS battle management system, found on most modern cruisers and destroyers. The AEGIS battle management system is built around a large phased array radar system that is capable of tracking objects hundreds of miles, including objects in space.

The upper tier Navy system is called Navy Theater Wide BMD Program, which will be the sea-based equivalent of THAAD and which will be able to provide defense against medium- and long-range theater missiles over wide areas. It will also make use of AEGIS­equipped ships and the Standard Missile 2 modified with a kill vehicle. When linked with tracking and cueing information supplied by space-based sensors, such as the SBIRS, the Navy Theater Wide is expected to be one of the most formidable missile defense weapons. Rear Admiral Rodney P. Rempt, the Navy’s program executive officer for theater air defense, believes a complete Navy Theater Wide system could be deployed with the fleet by 2005 or 2006 and that with an additional $2 billion to $3 billion a well-engineered wide area missile defense at sea could be built in 36 to 40 months. The first units of the system could come on line as early as 2003.

The Air Force is in charge of one of the most revolutionary regional missile defenses–a high-powered Airborne Laser. In July, the Air Force announced it is moving into the next phase of designing the laser weapon and is on target for a test missile shoot down in 2002. Lyles said the ABL is a very important part of the theater missile defense efforts because it is the sole boost-phase element in what should be a layered defense against the missile threat.

“I think it has the potential of not only revolutionizing some part of missile defense, particularly the boost-phase capability, but that kind of technology has the potential of revolutionizing air warfare,” he said. “To me, it portends what we are going to be doing in war, more so in the future.”

Estes also sees space weapons as one potential way of countering missiles, but he recognizes the political realities as well. “Our nation is not going to put weapons in space until the national security is threatened,” he said. What would lead to the use of space weapons? “When there is a threat to our country and the best way to handle it is to go to space,” Estes said. “When does that happen? I don’t know, but I can sure see one out there: the proliferation of ballistic missiles.

“If in fact we find that at some point in the future ballistic missiles have been proliferating sufficiently that the limited system we are developing–which is a ‘catch’ system, a system of last resort–then we’re going to decide that if our national security is threatened, then we might be better off moving to space for this mission,” he said.

National Missile Defense Elements

Ground-based interceptor. State-of-the-art, cost-effective, lightweight, non-nuclear, hit-to-kill system. Has two major elements-Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle and fixed, land-based EKV booster.

Ground-based radar. X-band, phased array sensor for target tracking and discrimination.

Upgrades to early warning radars. Modification of existing forward-based attack warning system to complement operation of an NMD system.

Battle management/C3. Integration of interceptor and sensor operations communications architecture.

Space sensor. Long wavelength, infrared early warning satellite such as Space Based Infrared System.

Theater Missile Defense Programs

Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC 3). Army system for low-altitude interception of short- and medium-range warheads fired at troops and fixed assets.

Navy Area BMD Program. Low-altitude interception system based on Navy AEGIS cruisers and destroyers, using AN/SPY-1 radar and AEGIS Combat System computers and Standard Missile 2 Block IV. Defense against short- and medium-range missile attacks.

Theater High Altitude Area Defense. Ground-based Army system for interception of longer-range missiles at high altitude. Exo- and endoatmospheric hit-to-kill engagements.

Navy Theater Wide BMD Program. Sea-based system using Navy AEGIS system and improved, longer-range interceptor missile for exoatmospheric engagement of missiles.

Airborne Laser. Air Force program to integrate a high-power laser on a wide-body aircraft to attack ballistic missiles in boost phase.

Strategic Ballistic Missiles

Missile Producer Exports Fuel Range Basing
SS-18 Mod 4 Russia n/a liquid 5,500+ silo
SS-18 Mod 5 Russia n/a liquid 6,000+ silo
SS-19 Mod 3 Russia n/a liquid 5,500+ silo
SS-24 Mod 1 Russia n/a solid 5,500+ rail mobile
SS-24 Mod 2 Russia n/a solid 5,500+ silo
SS-25 Russia n/a solid 7,000+ road mobile
SS-X-27 Russia n/a solid 7,000+ silo/road mobile
SS-N-6 Russia n/a liquid 1,500+ submarine
SS-N-8 Russia n/a liquid 5,000+ submarine
SS-N-18 Russia n/a liquid 3,500+ submarine
SS-N-20 Russia n/a solid 5,500+ submarine
SS-N-23 Russia n/a liquid 5,000+ submarine
SS-NX-28 Russia n/a solid 5,000+ submarine
CSS-3 China n/a liquid 3,400+ silo/mobile
CSS-4 Mod 1 China n/a liquid 8,000+ silo
CSS-4 Mod 2 China n/a liquid 8,000+ silo
DF-31 China n/a solid 4,500+ Road Mobile
Unnamed China n/a solid 7,000+ mobile
CSS-NX-3 China n/a solid 1,000+ submarine
JL-2 China n/a solid 4,500+ submarine
Sagarika India n/a unknown 180+ submarine

SubStrategic Ballistic Missiles

Missile Producer Exports Fuel Range Basing
SS-1c Mod 1 Russia many liquid 185 road mobile
SS-1c Mod 2 Russia many liquid 150+ road mobile
SS-21 Mod 2 Russia many solid 47 road mobile
SS-21 Mod 3 Russia many solid 75 road mobile
SS-23 Russia many solid 185+ road mobile
SS-X-26 Russia X solid 185+ road mobile
CSS-2 China Saudi Arabia liquid 1,750 unknown
CSS-5 Mod 1 China Solid 1,100+ road mobile
CSS-5 Mod 2 China solid 1,100+ road mobile
CSS-6 China solid 370 road mobile
CSS-X-7 China Pakistan solid 185 road mobile
CSS-8 China Iran mixed 93 road mobile
No Dong N. Korea X liquid 600+ road mobile
Taepo Dong 1 N. Korea X liquid 925+ unknown
Taepo Dong 2 N. Korea X liquid 2,500-3,700 unknown
Scud B N. Korea many liquid 185 road mobile
Scud C N. Korea Iran, Syria liquid 310 road mobile
Agni India mixed 1,250 unknown
Unnamed India solid 1,250+ road mobile
Prithvi I India liquid 93 road mobile
Prithvi II India liquid 155 road mobile
Unnamed Pakistan liquid 700+ road mobile
Hatf 1 Pakistan solid 50 road mobile
Unnamed Pakistan solid 350+ road mobile
Vector Egypt solid 425+ road mobile
al Hussein Iraq liquid 350+ road mobile
al Samoud Iraq liquid 90+ road mobile
Shahab 3 Iran liquid 700+ road mobile
Shahab 4 Iran liquid 1,000+ unknown

Bill Gertz covers national security affairs and defense for the Washington Times. His most recent article for Air Force Magazine, “The Chinese Buildup Rolls On,” appeared in the September 1997 issue.