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The Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States

Statement for the Record to the Senate Subcommittee on
International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services
on The Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
by Robert D Walpole, National Intelligence Officer for
Strategic and Nuclear Programs


February 9, 2000


Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss, in an open session, the Intelligence Community's recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the ballistic missile threat to the United States through the year 2015, as well as to discuss the methodologies we used to develop our projections. You have copies of the unclassified paper that summarizes our Estimate. It can also be found on CIA's web site at www.cia.gov. Following my comments, I will try to answer questions without providing important information to countries seeking to hide weapons developments from us. They do not need any more help. Thus, you'll understand that if I cannot answer a question more fully, it's not that I do not want to. In such cases, I could provide a classified answer for the record if you would like.

That said, I am a proponent of unclassified intelligence papers for the public; I have written several. Such papers provide our public important insight into the Intelligence Community and its work. After all, the American public is one of our primary customers, although in most cases only their Congressional representatives view the work we perform in the their behalf. Thus, I value these opportunities. We need the general populace to understand how important intelligence work is to our national security and to our personal safety and security. That necessity did not end with the Cold War. In some ways, it is more important today. Intelligence is essential for dealing with the intentions of hostile nations and for combating terrorism, weapons proliferation, and narcotics trafficking. Indeed, significant intelligence work goes on each day to make our lives safer and more secure.

My Statement for the Record does not cover all the important material published in our recent unclassified paper on this subject. Moreover, in the interest of time I would like to summarize my statement verbally, so I would like to submit both the unclassified paper and my written statement for the record.

Congress has requested that the Intelligence Community produce annual reports on ballistic missile developments worldwide. We produced the first report in March 1998 and an update memorandum in October 1998 on the August North Korean launch of its Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle. Our September 1999 report is a classified National Intelligence Estimate, but we summarized it in the unclassified paper I just mentioned.

Our approach for this year's report differs with past efforts in three major ways.

 

  • First, we projected missiles through the year 2015; previous reports went to 2010. Thus, we have included five important years for development.
  • Second, with expertise inside and outside the Intelligence Community, we examined when a country could acquire an ICBM and assessed when they would likely do so. Earlier intelligence reports focused on scenarios judged as most likely; the Rumsfeld report focused only on what a country could do. We decided an honest, thorough analysis would need to include both judgments. As expected, we found greater uncertainty and differences in projecting when countries would likely test an ICBM; more variables are involved.
  • Third, because countries could threaten to use ballistic missiles following limited flight-testing and before a missile is deployed in the traditional sense, we use the first successful flight test to indicate an "initial threat availability." Emerging long-range missile powers do not appear to rely on robust test programs to ensure a missile's accuracy and reliability nor will they necessarily deploy a large number of long-range missiles to dedicated, long-term sites. A nation may decide that the ability to threaten with one or two missiles is sufficient. With shorter flight test programs—perhaps only one test—and potentially simple deployment schemes, the time between the initial flight test and the availability of a missile for military use is likely to be shortened. Using the date of the first projected flight test as the initial indicator of the threat recognizes that an adversary armed with even a single missile capable of delivering a weapon of mass destruction may consider it threatening. Using the first flight test also results in threat projections a few years earlier than those based on traditional definitions of deployment.

 

I should note that our projections are based largely on limited information and engineering judgment. Adding to our uncertainty is that many countries surround their ballistic missile programs with secrecy, and some employ deception. Although some key milestones are difficult to hide, we may miss others, at least until flight testing; recall that we did not know until its launch that North Korea had acquired a third stage for its Taepo Dong-1.

I should also note that we incorporated the results of several expert, academic and contractor efforts, including the recommendations of former members of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, assistance from politico-economic experts to help examine future environments that might foster ICBM sales, and the expertise of missile contractors to help postulate potential ICBM configurations countries could pursue.

Worldwide missile proliferation has continued to evolve during the past 18 months. Missile capabilities are growing, as demonstrated by North Korea's Taepo Dong-1 launch. The number of missiles is increasing; medium- and short-range ballistic missile systems already pose a significant threat to US interests, forces, and allies overseas. We have seen increased trade and cooperation among countries that have been recipients of missile technologies. Finally, some countries continue to work toward longer-range systems, including ICBMs.

The missile threats that we see develop over the next fifteen years will depend heavily on our changing relations with foreign countries, the political and economic situation in those countries, and other factors we cannot predict with confidence.

 

  • For example, 15 years ago the United States and Soviet Union were superpower adversaries in the midst of the Cold War, posturing military forces opposite each other in Europe and competing for global power.
  • Fifteen years ago Iraq shared common interests with the United States.
  • Finally, we do not know whether some of the countries of concern will exist in 15 years.

 

Recognizing these uncertainties, we project that during the next 15 years the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China, and North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq. The Russian threat, although significantly reduced, will continue to be the most robust and lethal, considerably more than China's, and orders of magnitude more than that potentially posed by the others, whose missiles are likely to be fewer in number, constrained to smaller payloads, and less reliable and accurate.

The new missile threats are far different from the Cold War threat, which involved accurate, survivable, and reliable missiles deployed in large numbers. By contrast, the new missile threats involve significantly less capable forces. Even so, they are threatening, but in different ways.

  • First, although the majority of systems today are short- or medium-range ballistic missiles, North Korea's three-stage Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle launch heightened sensitivities and moved earlier projections of the threat from hypothetical to real. If flown on a ballistic trajectory with an operable third stage and reentry vehicle, the TD-1 could indeed deliver a small biological or chemical payload to the United States, albeit with significant inaccuracy.
  • Second, many countries probably assess that the threat of longer-range missile use would complicate US decision-making. Over the last decade, the world has observed that missiles less capable than modern ICBMs can affect another nation's decision-making process
  • Third, the probability that a missile with a weapon of mass destruction will be used against US forces or interests is higher today than during most of the Cold War, and will continue to grow. More nations have them, and recall that ballistic missiles were used against US forces during the Gulf war. Some of the regimes controlling these missiles have exhibited a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction with other delivery means. In addition, some non-state entities are seeking weapons of mass destruction.
    • In fact, we project that in the coming years, US territory is probably more likely to be attacked with weapons of mass destruction from non-missile delivery means (most likely from non-state entities) than by missiles, primarily because non-missile delivery means are less costly and more reliable and accurate. They can also be used without attribution.

    Nevertheless, the missile threat will continue to grow, in part because they have become important regional weapons in numerous countries' arsenals. Moreover, missiles provide a level of prestige, coercive diplomacy, and deterrence that non-missile means do not.

 

 

 

Thus, acquiring long-range ballistic missiles armed with a weapon of mass destruction probably will enable weaker countries to do three things that they otherwise might not be able to do: deter, constrain, and harm the United States. To achieve these objectives, the missiles need not be deployed in large numbers; with even a few such weapons, these countries would judge that they had the capability to threaten at least politically significant damage to the United States or its allies. They need not be highly accurate; the ability to target a large urban area is sufficient. They need not be highly reliable, because their strategic value is derived primarily from the implicit or explicit threat of their use, not the near certain outcome of such use. Some of these systems may be intended for their political impact as potential terror weapons, while others may be built to perform more specific military missions, facing the United States with a broad spectrum of motivations, development timelines, and resulting hostile capabilities. In many ways, such weapons are not envisioned at the outset as operational weapons of war, but primarily as strategic weapons of deterrence and coercive diplomacy.

 

The progress of countries toward acquiring longer-range ballistic missiles has been dramatically demonstrated over the past 18 months:

  • Most notably, North Korea's three-stage Taepo Dong-1 SLV has inherent, albeit limited, capabilities to deliver small payloads to ICBM ranges. The much more capable Taepo Dong-2 could be flight tested this year, unless North Korea maintains a freeze on flight testing.
  • Pakistan and Iran flight-tested their 1,300 km range Ghauri and Shahab-3 missiles.
  • India flight-tested its 2,000 km range Agni II MRBM.
  • In addition, China conduced the first flight test of its 8,000 km range DF-31 mobile ICBM.

 

Against this backdrop, let's turn to our projections of the potential ICBM threats to the United States through the year 2015. Instead of discussing those threats country-by-country—as you have seen in the unclassified paper—I will array the projections into five-year periods.

Let's start with where we stand today:

  • The proliferation of MRBMs—driven primarily by North Korean No Dong sales—has created an immediate, serious, and growing threat to US forces, interests, and allies in the Middle East and Asia, and has significantly altered the strategic balances in the regions. As alarming as the long-range missile threat is, it should not overshadow the immediacy and seriousness of the threat from shorter-range missiles.
    • For example, Iran has tested its 1,300 km-range Shahab-3, which can reach most of Turkey.
    • Pakistan has M-11 SRBMs from China and Ghauri MRBMs from North Korea; India has Prithvi I SRBMs and recently began testing the Agni II MRBM; we assess these may have nuclear roles.
    • Countries developing missiles view their regional concerns as one of the primary factors in tailoring their programs—to provide deterrents and force-multipliers.

  • Furthermore, with an operable third stage and a reentry vehicle capable of surviving ICBM flight, North Korea's Taepo Dong-1 could be converted into an ICBM that could deliver a light payload to the United States—probably constrained to a biological or chemical warfare agent. Most believe such a conversion is unlikely, especially with the much more capable Taepo Dong-2, which could be readied for testing at any time.
    • A two-stage Taepo Dong-2 would be capable of delivering a several-hundred kilogram payload to Alaska and Hawaii, and a lighter payload to the western half of the United States.
    • A three-stage Taepo Dong-2 would be capable of delivering deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload anywhere in the United States.

  • Russia currently has about 1,000 strategic ballistic missiles with 4,500 warheads. Russia's forces are experiencing serious budget constraints but will remain the cornerstone of its military power.
    • We judge that an unauthorized or accidental launch of a Russian strategic missile is highly unlikely so long as current technical and procedural safeguards are in place.

  • Chinese strategic nuclear doctrine calls for a survivable long-range missile force that can hold a significant portion of the US population at risk in a retaliatory strike. China's current force of about 20 CSS-4 ICBMs can reach targets in all of the United States, although Beijing almost certainly considers its silos to be vulnerable.
    • China conducted the first flight test of the mobile DF-31 ICBM last August; we judge it will have a range of about 8,000 km and will be targeted primarily against Russia and Asia.
    • We assess that an unauthorized launch of a Chinese strategic missile is highly unlikely.


During the 2001-2005 period:

  • North Korea, Iran, and Iraq could test ICBMs of varying capabilities—some capable of delivering several-hundred kilogram payloads to the United States.
    • Most believe that non-flight-testing aspects of the Taepo Dong-2 program are continuing and that North Korea is likely to test the system as a space launch vehicle unless it continues the freeze. If flight testing resumes, the capabilities would increase.
    • Some believe Iran is likely to test some ICBM capabilities in the next few years, most likely as a Taepo Dong-type space launch vehicle.
    • Iraq is not likely to test an ICBM capable of threatening the United States during this period.

  • Russia will maintain as many strategic missiles and associated nuclear warheads as it believes it can afford, but its force size will continue to decrease below START limitations.
  • We expect China to test a longer-range mobile ICBM in the next several years and the JL-2 SLBM within the next decade. Both will be able to target the United States.
    • China could use a DF-31-type RV for a multiple-RV payload for the CSS-4 in a few years.
    • China is also significantly improving its theater missile capabilities and will increase the number of SRBMs deployed opposite Taiwan.


Let's turn our attention to 2005-2010:

  • North Korea, Iran and Iraq could test ICBMs capable of delivering several-hundred kilogram payloads to the United States during this period.
    • North Korean capabilities to test and threaten would likely remain the same in many respects with a freeze in place, although non-flight-testing aspects of the program are likely to continue, at least covertly.
    • Iran is likely to test a space launch vehicle by 2010 that could be converted into an ICBM capable of delivering a several-hundred kilogram payload.
      • Some believe Iran is likely to test an ICBM that could threaten the United States before 2010; others believe there is no more than an even chance of an Iranian test by 2010; a few believe there is less than an even chance before 2010.
    • Some believe that if Iraq received significant foreign assistance it would be likely to test an ICBM capable of delivering a several-hundred kilogram payload to the United States during this period.
  • Russia will maintain strategic missiles and nuclear warheads, but the numbers will continue to fall below START I or II limitations.
  • We expect China to continue testing a longer-range mobile ICBM and the JL-2 SLBM; both will be able to target the United States.


Finally, 2010-2015:

  • North Korea, Iran and Iraq could test more capable ICBMs that could deliver several-hundred kilogram payloads to the United States during this period.
    • Most believe Iran is likely to test a US-threatening ICBM before 2015, some view it as very likely; a few believe there is less than an even chance by 2015.
    • Most believe Iraq's first flight test of a US-threatening ICBM is unlikely before 2015; some believe it is likely before 2015, possibly before 2010 with foreign assistance.

  • If Russia ratifies START II—with its ban on multiple warhead-ICBMs—it would probably be able to maintain only about half of the weapons it could maintain without the ban.
  • By 2015, China will likely have tens of missiles targeted against the United States, having added a few tens of more survivable land- and sea-based mobile missiles with smaller nuclear warheads—in part influenced by US technology gained through espionage.
    • We expect Chinese MIRVing of a future mobile missile would be many years off.

Foreign assistance continues to have demonstrable effects on missile advances around the world. Russian and Chinese missile assistance continues to be significant; North Korea may expand sales; and some recipients are now sharing more with others and are pursuing cooperative missile ventures. Moreover, changes in the regional and international security environment—in particular, Iran's Shahab-3 missile test and the Indian and Pakistani missile and nuclear tests—probably will fuel regional interests in missiles and perhaps weapons of mass destruction.

Sales of ICBMs or space launch vehicles, which have inherent ICBM capabilities, could further increase the number of countries that will be able to threaten us. North Korea continues to demonstrate a willingness to sell its missiles. Projecting the likelihood of a Russian or Chinese ICBM transfer 15 years into the future is very uncertain, driven in part by unpredictable future economic conditions, how Moscow will perceive its position vis-à-vis the West, and future Russian and Chinese perceptions of US ballistic missile defenses. Nevertheless, we continue to judge it unlikely that Moscow or Beijing would sell a complete ICBM, SLV, or the technologies tantamount to a complete ICBM during the next 15 years. That said, I note that in evaluating the risks involved, this likelihood is weighed with the consequences of even one such sale.

I know that Congress is interested in our ability to provide warning, which depends on our collection capabilities from one country to another. Our monitoring and warning about North Korea's efforts to achieve an ICBM capability constitute an important case study on warning. Six years ago, we warned that North Korea was trying to acquire an ICBM capability. In hindsight, however, we had overestimated that North Korea would begin flight testing the Taepo Dong missiles years earlier than turned out to be the case; we projected correctly the timing of a North Korean missile with the potential to deliver payloads to an ICBM range; but we underestimated the capabilities of the Taepo Dong-1 by failing to anticipate the use of the third stage. In other words, North Korea demonstrated intercontinental-range booster capabilities roughly on the timetable we projected in 1994, but with a completely unanticipated vehicle configuration. The important point here is that detecting or suspecting a missile development program and projecting the timing of the emerging threat are easier than forecasting the vehicle's configuration or performance.

Furthermore, countries practice denial and deception to hide or mask their intentions—for example, testing an ICBM as a space launch vehicle. We continue to judge that we may not be able to provide much warning if a country purchased an ICBM or if a country already had an space launch capability. Nevertheless, the initiation of an space launch vehicle program is an indicator of a potential ICBM program. We also judge that we may not be able to provide much, if any, warning of a forward-based ballistic missile or land-attack cruise missile (LACM) threat to the United States. Moreover, LACM development can draw upon dual-use technologies. We expect to see acquisition of LACMs by many countries to meet regional military requirements.

Nations with space launch vehicles could convert them into ICBMs relatively quickly with little or no chance of detection before the first flight test. Such a conversion would include the development of a reentry vehicle (RV).

  • If the country had Russian or Chinese assistance in a covert development effort, it could have relatively high confidence that a covertly-developed RV would survive and function properly.
  • If a country developed an untested RV without foreign assistance, its confidence would diminish, but we could not be confident it would fail. Significant amounts of information about reentry vehicles are available in open sources. The developing country could have some confidence that the system would survive reentry, although confidence in its proper delivery of the weapon would be lower without testing.

Several other means to deliver weapons of mass destruction to the United States have probably been devised, some more reliable than ICBMs that have not completed rigorous testing and validation programs. The goal of an adversary would be to move the weapon within striking distance without a long-range ICBM. Most of these means, however, do not provide the same prestige and degree of deterrence or coercive diplomacy associated with long-range missiles, but they might be the means of choice for terrorists.

  • Several countries are capable of using a forward-based ship or other platform to launch SRBMs and MRBMs, or land-attack cruise missiles against the United States. If the attacking country were willing to accept significantly reduced accuracy for the missile, such a launch would not be a major technical hurdle. The reduced accuracy in such a case, however, would probably be better than that of some early ICBMs.

Although non-missile means of delivering weapons of mass destruction do not provide the same prestige or degree of deterrence and coercive diplomacy associated with an ICBM, such options are of significant concern. Most are less expensive than ICBMs; can be covertly developed and employed; probably would be more reliable, accurate, and effective for disseminating biological warfare agent; and would avoid missile defenses. Foreign non-state actors, including some terrorist or extremist groups, have used, possessed, or are interested in weapons of mass destruction. Most of these groups have threatened the United States or its interests. We cannot count on obtaining warning of all planned terrorist attacks, despite the high priority we assign to this goal.

Recent trends suggest the likelihood is increasing that a foreign group or individual will conduct a terrorist attack against US interests using chemical agents or toxic industrial chemicals in an attempt to produce a significant number of casualties, damage infrastructure, or create fear among a population. Past terrorist events, such as the World Trade Center bombing and the Aum Shinrikyo chemical attack on the Tokyo subway system, demonstrated the feasibility and willingness to undertake an attack capable of producing massive casualties.

We assess that countries developing ballistic missiles would also develop various responses to US theater and national defenses. Russia and China each have developed numerous countermeasures and probably are willing to sell some technologies.

  • Many countries, such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq probably would rely initially on readily available technology —including separating RVs, spin-stabilized RVs, RV reorientation, radar absorbing material (RAM), booster fragmentation, low-power jammers, chaff, and simple (balloon) decoys—to develop penetration aids and countermeasures.
  • These countries could develop countermeasures based on these technologies by the time they flight test their missiles.

Finally, we assess that foreign espionage and other collection efforts are likely to increase. I led an interagency team last year to examine China's collection and espionage efforts against US nuclear information. We have since assessed that China, Iran, and others probably are targeting US missile information as well.

That concludes my opening statement and I am prepared to take your questions.


Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:58 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:20 AM