Missile Threats Surging Worldwide, U.S. Defense Study Finds

Tony Capaccio and Larry Liebert — Bloomberg.com June 26, 2017

Zolfaghar launch targeted at ISIL in Syria. Click to enlarge

An Iranan Zolfaghar missile was fired at ISIL targets in Syria recently. According to Janes Defence Weekly, the missiles flew 650-700 km, across Iraqi territory before acurately hitting their target in Deir ez-Zor, Syria. Click to enlarge

Technology for ballistic and cruise missiles is advancing in countries from North Korea and Iran to Russia and China, increasing potential threats to the U.S. even if they don’t carry nuclear warheads, according to a new Pentagon report.

“Many countries view ballistic and cruise missile systems as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power,” defense intelligence agencies said in the report obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of its release. “Many ballistic and cruise missiles are armed with weapons of mass destruction. However, numerous types of ballistic and cruise missiles have achieved dramatic improvements in accuracy that allow them to be used effectively with conventional warheads.”

The report comes as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks a way to stop North Korea’s drive to develop a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. mainland. While citing the ballistic missile programs being pursued by Kim Jong Un’s regime in Pyongyang and by Iran, the study describes a broader proliferation of missiles, advanced technology and launch options.

“Ballistic missiles can be deployed in silos, on submarines, surface ships, road- and rail-mobile launchers and aircraft,” the report said. “Mobile missiles can provide greater pre-launch survivability. The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in ballistic missile capabilities to include accuracy, post-boost maneuverability, and combat effectiveness.”

Among the new technologies are hypersonic glide vehicles being developed by Russia and China.

“HGVS are maneuverable vehicles that travel at hypersonic (greater than Mach 5) speed and spend most of their flight at much lower altitudes than a typical ballistic missile,” according to the report. “The combination of high speed, maneuverability, and relatively low altitude makes them challenging targets for missile defense systems.”

Other findings in the report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center and the Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee:

  • “Tehran’s desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM. Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles (SLV) use inherently similar technologies.”
    Iran has modified its medium-range Shahab 3 ballistic missile, which is based on a North Korean model, to extend its range and effectiveness. The longest-range variant reportedly is able to reach targets at a distance of about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles.) The U.S. agencies assess that Iran currently has fewer than 50 Shahab 3s.
  • “China continues to have the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world. It is developing and testing offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses.”
    China is expected to increase the number of warheads on its ICBMs capable of threatening the United States to substantially more than 100 by 2022 from the “relatively small number of nuclear armed, liquid-propellant” CSS-3 and CSS-4 ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S. today.
  • Russia, which surpassed the U.S. in 2014 in deployed nuclear warheads, “is expected to retain the largest force of strategic ballistic missiles outside the United States.”

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