All posts in “ballistic missiles”

Tit-for-Tat Weapons Procurement: You’re Doing it Wrong


Pershing II battlefield support missile_16

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va) has delivered a letter to the Army Chief of Staff outlining the need for Army to develop and deploy long-range anti-ship missiles.  Because China has:

Randy Forbes letter to Gen. Ray Odierno — 2014-10-10 by BreakingDefense

So much shallow analysis here and accompanying articles – one wonders where to start…

1. Be careful about discussing either re-opening the INF Treaty or abrogating it all together. The Russians are spoiling for the least little pretext to walk away from it and are likely poised for a breakout in MRBM/IRBM fielding – which would be a bad thing overall but especially for Europe (cf. l’affaire de SS-20). Oh and “breakout” – one of those Cold War terms, where another country suddenly fields a system (usually nuclear) in capabilities and quantity that leave a gap in terms of years before it can be adequately countered. Years which constitute a window of opportunity for mischief (at best) by the guy fielding the system to play the field. Precisely where we were in 1979 as Jimmy Carter fumbled around to find a workable deterrent to the SS-20 acceptable by Europe.  Which begat the GLCM and more importantly the Pershing II deployments as part of the Two Track approach that was executed under Reagan. But times were different then because:

2. In 1979 we had a fairly robust industry (not as robust as the Soviets) insofar as battlefield BMs went – the Pershing II was already well under way for development and deployment. Today? Because of INF and a general stagnation in terms of long-range, sub-ICBM development as a result, we have…nada. But that might be moot because:

3. Where are you going to put these missiles? Guam? Japan? China has strategic depth and interior LOC’s to support and conceal a land-based *ground-mobile* ASBM which complicates counter-targeting. ‘Just kill the launchers’ you say? Given our (not so) stellar record in that very endeavor reaching all the way back to Operation CROSSBOW in WWII, plus the fact you’d be directly attacking a nuclear near peer — well, that requires some cogitation. Oh – and by concentrating a force like that on an island you are painting a nice big sign that says “strike me first.” But even that is somewhat irrelevant because:

4. What is your target? The Chinese ASBM is quite clearly meant to exercise control over the broad ocean areas in/around the 1st island chain and inside – as are their ASCM forces which are more numerous and dispersed. Also, clearly, it is meant for capitol ships. Just saying we will build a system to take out PLAN ships beggars the reality of real-time OTH-T and something the armed forces have had to deal with for sometime now – what will the ROE be to permit their use? Anyone remember OUTLAW SHARK? Bueller? Bueller?

So how about this. let’s set aside this silly talk of tit-for-tat ballistic missiles and instead focus on putting long-range (500km+), supersonic (Mach 2+), over-the-horizon ASCMs on our surface combatants and subs. All of them. Expand the target set. Sell them to our allies (if they haven’t already begun work). Make them capable of being launched from all variants of the F-35 such that F-35Bs off an America-class LHA can provide another layer of complexity to PLA leadership. Make the P-8 and B-1/B-52 compatible for carriage so that they can hangout outside of PLAAF/PLANAF fighter range and salvo missles at PLAN ships. heck, why not even give it a LACM capability too. Too much you say? Can’t be done you say?  I know a few overseas firms that would argue otherwise.



This Week on MIDRATS: “Let’s Talk Missiles” – UPDATED


Join us for Midrats this Sunday, 22 July 2012 on blogtalk radio, where the topic is missiles – ballistic and cruise; and your humble scribe is the guest.  Seven months into this year and we have seen much on this front.  Pick a theater and you will find ballistic and cruise missiles are at or near the top of the various COCOM’s top 5 concerns.  A report released by DoD a few weeks back states in part:

Iran continues to develop ballistic missiles that can range regional adversaries, Israel, and Eastern Europe, including an extended-range variant of the Shahab-3 and a 2,000-krn medium-range ballistic missile, the Ashura. Beyond steady growth in its missile and rocket inventories, Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems by improving accuracy and developing new sub-munition payloads. – Annual Report on the Military Strength of Iran

At the same time, Iran has also been working at developing forces and tactics that will be used in an anti-access campaign to close the Strait of Hormuz and threaten regional naval and land forces should it decide to retaliate against growing sanctions over its nuclear program.

In the Pacific, besides the world’s largest and most robust program in developing and deploying a range of ballistic missiles from short- to inter-continental, they are likewise building a range of cruise missiles for land-attack and anti-ship that are both formidable in number and capability:

The PLA is acquiring large numbers of highly accurate, domestically built cruise missiles, and has previously acquired large numbers of Russian ones. These include the domestically produced, ground- launched CJ-10 land-attack cruise missile (LACM); the domestically produced ground- and ship-launched YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM); the Russian SS-N-22/SUNBURN supersonic ASCM, which is fitted on China’s SOVREMENNY-class guided missile destroyers; and the Russian SS-N-27B/SIZZLER supersonic ASCM on China’s Russian-built KILO-class diesel-powered attack submarines. – Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, May 2012

If past practice is prologue, we can expect to see domestic variants of the Russian-sourced cruise missiles in the near future (witness the SU-27 v. J-11).  Again, all part of a larger Advanced-A2/AD strategy being put into play as we in turn conduct the “Pacific pivot”.  And need we mention Syria, with its inventory of missiles and extensive chemical weapons arsenal, teetering on the brink of chaos and their  practice of passing missiles to Hezbollah?

Joint ventures of the sort between Russia and India that yielded the BrahMOS ASCM/LACM will increasingly become more common.  And with a world increasingly awash in growing numbers of ballistic and cruise missiles, how long before a non-state actor obtains, and uses, these sophisticated, technical weapons systems?  Oh wait – that’s already happened.  Just ask the Israeli navy

Oh, and did I mention hypersonics too?

Today’s warfighters find themselves in a complex, multi-layered and highly nuanced threat environment – one that parallels the multi-polar world that has emerged in the past two decades.  Successfully operating in this environment will require that we open the aperture on kinetic and non-kinetic solutions and take an integrated approach to air and missile defense.

Just some of the things we’ll be talking about Sunday afternoon.  Why don’t you join us?

Here’s today’s transcript:

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio


P.S.  A little read-ahead if you’d like for background:

Flightdeck Friday: A BMD Primer

Every now and then I get a chance to reach escape velocity from my day job and do something really fun or different.  Recently that entailed presenting a BMD overview to a couple of classes that were part of the Naval War College’s Non-Resident Seminar program (of which YHS is a graduate).  And like any good presenter these days, one needs a brief – so, ecce:
…actually, I’d planned on part II of the Atlas story, but got re-tasked this week, so – Plan B(MD).
Oh, and yes, I do my own graphics – here’s a sample from Part II of the Atlas story:

Flightdeck Friday – On Atlas’ Mighty Shoulders (Part I)

Earlier this week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight, marking our full entry into the space race with the Soviets.  Signatory of the mission was our first use of an ICBM to launch Glenn into orbit — the previous missions had been suborbital and used the Redstone missile, itself an SRBM (operational range: 323 km) and not altogether too far removed from the V-2 (as well as a kissing cousin to the SCUD-series SRBMs).  Modified SRBMs were all well and good for tossing “grapefruits” (as Krushchev dismissively referred to the Vanguard satellite) into orbit, but to lift a nearly 4,000 lb space capsule (gross launch weight off the Mercury capsule w/escape tower) off the launch pad into orbit would require something much more powerful – and already designed to loft  a nuclear warhead and RV weighing over 3,000 lb on a 5,500 mile trajectory as an ICBM.  That missile was the SM-65 Atlas (and specifically for Project Mercury, the SM-65D), America’s first ICBM.

Continue Reading…

What We’re Reading – And Why

The Current "Stack of Shame"

A quick look at the sidebar will reveal a variety and number of books read over the course of the past year, oft times engendering discussions off-site as to selections and purpose.  Looking at the current working stack on my desk, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to why these particular selections.

My first read of Kissinger’s book got me thinking about deterrence theories that emerged during the Cold War, how they were put on the shelf 20 years ago when the Soviet Union disappeared and now, how some folks think we can just pull them off the shelf and apply them to China.  Problem is, not only do I think those theories may not apply, they may in fact, carry us down avenues with results quite different than we intended.  Part of my studies and work on theater nuclear forces was grounded in a better understanding of Russian culture as applied to Soviet deterrence practices across a range of operations, theaters and levels of war.  That I ended up disagreeing with the prevailing (at the time) school of thought shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers here – and neither should my initial thoughts laid out above vis-a-vis China.  This isn’t just in the nuclear arena, but even more so conventional as we look at the array of advanced anti-access/area denial forces being fielded by China, employable outside of a conflict over Taiwan.  So – I’m taking a historical perspective/approach looking at China’s actions in a conventional realm versus near peer (conventional) powers and major nuclear power.  There is a pattern that points to an offensive deterrence that, during a confrontation, has led to fairly aggressive actions that incurred substantive losses on the other party’s account, followed by a rapid withdrawal from overrun territory by Chinese forces to show occupation wasn’t their intent.  A noteworthy element of these actions though, and one that must be factored into the analysis is that these case histories stem from Mao’s reign and a PLA that was short on technology and long on manpower (ground forces) which runs counter to the decade-long modernization and overhaul in doctrine and operations (epitomized, for example, by the development and wide deployment of a range of conventional ballistic missiles).  Additionally, while most of the Party leadership were veterans of the Long March and Korea and as such, had experience with military operations, today’s Party leadership has at best, passing acquaintance with military operations and requirements.  In such a scenario, will there be more deference given plan and COAs sourced from the military — IOW, a tendency to accept at face value n the part of Party leadership?  As I delve into this issue, these are some of the questions I am asking myself and which form the entering argument with the publications above.

  • Russia, NATO BMD and the INF Treaty:
Nervov, RSVN (Strategic Missile Troops) Missile Complexes Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; Text and Annexes National Defense University, Case Studies: U.S. Withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Stav, The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East

When the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, there was a varied response from Russia, ranging from Putin’s non-committal “do what you must” to statements from the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff that Russia would investigate dropping out of the INF Treaty.  In the intervening years since, this threat was rolled out on various occasions when the Russians wanted to highlight their concern over various aspects of the US efforts to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense.  Since the initial announcement of the European Initiative in 2007  (basing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, supported by an X-band radar in the Czech Republic) it has become a recurring theme, in concert with “other military-technical means.”  This begs a couple of questions – namely, what are the real motivations behind the rhetoric, what real benefits would Russia accrue in stepping away from the first bi-lateral nuclear treaty that banned an entire class of weapons and set the stage for the START treaties on strategic nuclear forces and, in an age of growing numbers of ballistic missiles, nuclear and conventional, inhabiting the 500-5500km range (essentially longer ranged SRBM, MRBM and IRBMs as well as ground-launched cruise missiles), is the INF Treaty still relevant?  Part of the investigation includes a deep dive into the developmental history of Russian ballistic missiles with particular attention being paid to one of my old haunts — the period 1976-1987 and the impetus behind the development and deployment behind the SS-20/Pioneer IRBM.  As noteworthy as the political, military and engineering decision-making behind Pioneer’s development and controversial deployment was, there were two other programs – Skorost (“Speed”) and Kuryer (“Courier”) which bear investigation.  Each program was the result of a deliberate decision to respond to the Pershing II/GLCM deployment (itself a response to the SS-20 deployment) with new ballistic missile systems (or in the Russian vernacular, missile complexes), derived from (then) new mobile strategic systems like the SS-25 and aimed specifically at the systems the US was deploying to strengthen the nuclear guarantee to NATO.  The impetus behind this is to see if there are parallels between then and now that may predict or explain certain behaviors and statements from Russian leadership in the current dispute over the US-led European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense against the Iranian ballistic missile threat.

It is popular to talk about the “global economy” in referential terms as if it is a late-20th Century/21st Century phenomena.  In actuality, beginning with the return of Columbus from the 1492 expedition, profound ecological and economic wheels were put into motion – almost all of which had unforeseen consequences.  Mann’s work is a masterful, scientific review of the “Colombian Exchange” and later, the impact the founding of Manila some 80 years later by the Spanish explorer Legazpi would have on not only Europe, but the American and African continents that stretch into today.  Economist Miller (author of “War Plan Orange”) turns to recently declassified documents to take another look at attempts by the US to dissuade Japan from its aggression in China in the run-up to Pearl Harbor.  Building on his experience in international trade while working for a major mining company, he brings new perspectives on the role international finance had in influencing Japanese decision-making and actions — and in the process spurred a branches & sequels process that led to the Pacific war.  While far from finished with Bankrupting the Enemy, I think those who would argue for a trade war/currency war today with China would be well advised to consider Miller’s work and a look at the unintended consequences (as well as what a bureaucracy can do to thwart Presidential initiatives) that may result.  Both authors have a compelling writing style that addresses head on, complex ideas and concepts, placing them in a thoroughly comprehensible context – something, unfortunately, that cannot be said about some the preceding texts which can verge on the turgidly pedagogical….

And finally, there is reading just for the simple pleasure of a story well told, even if it is of an event that has been as widely dissected and told as that of Midway.  One of the vehicles used under such conditions is historical fiction and a new entry in that genre is Vengeance Strikes the Blow, written by G. Alvin Simons and published by Cripple Creek Press:

 Excerpt from the book:

    Kusaka staggered a few steps as Akagi turned toward the approaching enemy aircraft presenting a smaller target. He watched as three of the battered, tattered medium bombers continued winging toward the carriers intent on launching their torpedoes. Frantic Zeroes, having retreated earlier from the tremendous volume of friendly gunfire belching forth from the screening vessels, now ignored the threat. They dove in, blasting away at the deadly intruders.

    The deep Pacific waters already littered with destroyed enemy aircraft, Kusaka wondered at the Americans’ tenacity. We slaughter them with ease, yet still they come, he thought. Seemingly oblivious to the certain death awaiting them. Almost contemptuous in their disregard for our defense. Are they arrogant? Stubborn? Fools? What kind of men are these?

The lead aircraft closed to within a thousand meters before releasing its torpedo. It splashed down and disappeared from view, running toward its intended target. The unburdened plane skittered away across the wave tops with enraged Zeroes hounding its tail. Kusaka’s eyesight remained locked in place, waiting for the weapon to reappear when it neared Akagi.
    The huge ship made another hard turn, veering away from the oncoming torpedo. Kusaka lurched sideways into Genda, releasing a groan of pain from the young officer. The torpedo chugged past, missing the carrier and leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake. Cheers and clapping drifted on the combat-torn wind, falling silent as the second enemy plane bore in. The defensive gunfire increased in volume. A mountain of shot and steel sought to destroy the attacking aircraft. Amidst the panicked frenzy and close quarters, friendly fire struck neighboring vessels. Kusaka winced at the number of stray rounds zipping between the ships. This is utter madness, he thought. We could be wounded or killed at the hands of our fellow countrymen.

Haven’t had much of a chance to get too far in, but what I have read so far I like and it is getting good reviews in important venues like the Battle of Midway Roundtable; definitely a recommended buy (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions).

So that’s were the end of 2011 and the (near) start to 2012 finds us — some of the research will find its way here, but the bulk is for other venues.  I will be interested to see what is in the offering for the new year (book-wise) and am interested in what you are reading as well as why – let’s hear what’s on your Stack of Shame!

w/r, SJS

Sea-Based BMD — Another Successful Test

USS O'Kane (DDG 77) launches an SM-3 Blk 1A for FTM-15 (source:


Another test of the SM-3 Blk 1A was successfully completed last night with the intercept of an IRBM-class target:

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA), U.S. Navy sailors aboard the Aegis destroyer USS O’KANE (DDG 77), and Soldiers from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command operating from the 613th Air and Space Operations Center at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, successfully conducted a flight test of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) element of the nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, resulting in the intercept of a separating ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean. This successful test demonstrated the capability of the first phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) announced by the President in September, 2009.

At 2:52 a.m. EDT (6:52 p.m. April 15 Marshall Island Time), an intermediate-range ballistic missile target was launched from the Reagan Test Site, located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, approximately 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii. The target flew in a northeasterly direction towards a broad ocean area in the Pacific Ocean. Following target launch, a forward-based AN/TPY-2 X-band transportable radar, located on Wake Island, detected and tracked the threat missile. The radar sent trajectory information to the Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system, which processed and transmitted remote target data to the USS O’KANE. The destroyer, located to the west of Hawaii, used the data to develop a fire control solution and launch the SM-3 Block IA missile approximately 11 minutes after the target was launched.

As the IRBM target continued along its trajectory, the firing ship’s AN/SPY-1 radar detected and acquired the ballistic missile target. The firing ship’s Aegis BMD weapon system uplinked target track information to the SM-3 Block IA missile. The SM-3 maneuvered to a point in space as designated by the fire control solution and released its kinetic warhead. The kinetic warhead acquired the target, diverted into its path, and, using only force of a direct impact, destroyed the threat in a “hit-to-kill” intercept.

During the test the C2BMC system, operated by Soldiers from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, received data from all assets and provided situational awareness of the engagement to U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command.

The two demonstration Space Tracking and Surveillance Satellites (STSS), launched by MDA in 2009, successfully acquired the target missile, providing stereo “birth to death” tracking of the target.

Today’s event, designated Flight Test Standard Missile-15 (FTM-15), was the most challenging test to date, as it was the first Aegis BMD version 3.6.1 intercept against an intermediate-range target (range 1,864 to 3,418 miles) and the first Aegis BMD 3.6.1 engagement relying on remote tracking data. The ability to use remote radar data to engage a threat ballistic missile greatly increases the battle space and defended area of the SM-3 missile.

Initial indications are that all components performed as designed. Program officials will spend the next several months conducting an extensive assessment and evaluation of system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

FTM-15 is the 21st successful intercept, in 25 attempts, for the Aegis BMD program since flight testing began in 2002. Across all BMDS elements, this is the 45th successful hit-to-kill intercept in 58 flight tests since 2001.

Aegis BMD is the sea-based midcourse component of the MDA’s Ballistic Missile Defense System and is designed to intercept and destroy short to intermediate-range ballistic missile threats. MDA and the U.S. Navy cooperatively manage the Aegis BMD Program.

This test in essence replicates what Phase I of the European Phased Adaptive Approach will be capable of in final form — a sea-based SM-3 Blk 1A intercept of MRBM/IRBM class missiles with cueing from a forward-based sensor (here the TPY-2).  The lead element of Phase I, the sea-based element, is already deployed with the scheduled deployment of the USS Monterey (CG 61) earlier this year on BMD patrol.  Worth emphasizing is that while deployed on BMD patrol, Monterey is nonetheless still capable of multiple missions, of which BMD is one, demonstrating the flexibility of these mobile, sea-based units.

USS O'Kane (DDG 77) (via

Iran, Venezuela and MRBMs

According to some reports from various locations (I’ll begin with Hudson Institute’s as that is where I first read it with a h/t to Xformed for his heads-up) it would appear that back in October, Iran and Venezuela signed an agreement that, among other things, would establish a joint base in Venezuela as well as jointly developing and deploying ballistic missiles of varying ranges, up to and including the SHAHAB-3 with a nominal range of 1500-1800km. Reaction in the blog-sphere was limited, but along expected lines with many comparisons being made to the Soviet’s foray into Cuba and followed with demands for actions ranging from blockades to offensive operations.

Let’s step back for a minute and try and examine this from a couple of standpoints, beginning with the political, followed by an assessment of the threat missiles and then a little historical compare and contrast. We’ll wrap with a a short discussion on extant conventions and declarations that have bearing on this case and which may offer some avenues of approach and action.  

1. Political.  

   Iran is increasingly economically and politically isolated as a direct result of its nuclear program.  Yet Iran is still able to link with other states also finding themselves on the list of international pariahs (e.g., Syria, North Korea) and in so doing, looks for ways to export energy while importing the technical, scientific and engineering knowledge (and cash) needed to finance that nuclear program as well as others – such as its very active ballistic missile program.  Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez, has managed to antagonize a long list of neighbors and regional powers, including Colombia, Brazil and the US.  His appeal to and support from radicalized elements in Venezuelan society deepens the enmity and suspicions as to his true intents and purpose.  Like Iran, Chavez too is looking for aid and assistance in developing the domestic gas and oil industry, suffering in the wake of his nationalization that sent so much expertise home.  To this end, Iran and Venezuela have already launched joint ventures (e.g., agriculture, manufacturing, housing, and infrastructure) beginning with a finalization in 2007 of a $2 billion joint-fund for their numerous projects. As a major investor in the Ayacucho oil field joint project ($4 billion), Iran has agreed in 2008 to invest an additional $760 million in Venezuela’s energy sector and in 2009 and Venezuela agreed to invest $760 million in Iran’s South Pars gas field. In late October 2010, Venezuela offered an additional $800 million investment package in Iran’s Pars Field gas sector. Iran has also invested in Venezuela’s uranium mining industry – a necessary move on their part given the paucity of native uranium. Left unsaid, but not unnoticed, is the manner in which these large investments may be used to cover and facilitate the flow of cash, arms and people potentially used to promote and support “revolutionary” aims. Venezuela is one of the few countries permitting direct flights to/from Iran, which in itself increases the degree of difficulty in tracking persons of interest.

But economics isn’t the whole of it — in the run-up to the NATO Summit in Lisbon back in November, there was considerable effort on the part of the US to elevate discussions on missile defense to assume a major role in the conference with a desired outcome of the European partners agreeing to the necessity for missile defense in general, and regional defense in particular, something they had been studying for the better part of a half-decade. Until the eve of the conference, the basis of the discussion was focused on the threat presented by the growing numbers of Iranian medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and the threat they constituted to peace and stability in the Middle East as well as the threat to many cities in Eastern Europe. I say until the eve of the conference, because in a move to get Turkish buy-in to the concept of regional defense, specific language referring to Iran was removed from the table and substituted with more generic wording about the general threat presented by ballistic missiles, assuaging Turkey’s concerns about singling out Iran. How does this tie-in with Venezuela? Just as Syria provides a kind of diplomatic/military/economic breakout for Iran (of albeit limited means), so too does a feint with Venezuela. On the one hand, there is the opportunity it provides for domestic agendas and consumption — ongoing defiance of the US-dominated West and associated institutions, for example, continuing to trade on the one-sidedness of UN sanctions. Coming on the eve of the Lisbon Summit it was seen as an opportunity to preempt the NTO minister’s regional missile defense announcement with a bit of strategic tit-for-tat as well. On the other is the opportunity for the aforementioned hard currency.  

2. The Threat.


What type of threat set then would be presented by deployment of ballistic missiles to Venezuela? Primarily, they will serve to heighten tensions in the region, but chiefly with Venzuela’s immediate neighbors – Colombia and Brazil. There are long standing disagreements between Venzuela and Colombia over border areas and Colombia’s assertion that Chavez is providing assistance to rebel forces in the shared border regions. The majority of the missiles mentioned as part of the deal will have ranges of 600 km or less and thus, be of principal interest to states immediately bordering Venezuela. Among these are the Fateh 110 and ZelZal solid fuel, mobile rockets (up to 400 km range), SCUD C (up to 600 km range) and SHAHAB 3 (up to 1500 – 2000 km range though most estimates focus on the 1500-1800 km range).

 By far and way, the most attention has been focused though on the SHAHAB 3. The SHAHAB (derived from Persian: شهاب-Û³, meaning “Meteor”) is a domestically produced and modified, liquid-fueled SR/MRBM derived from the SCUD B, first obtained from Libya during the Iran Iraq war. Over time, the Iranians have modified the basic SCUD to improve range and accuracy with new or modified airframes, tankage, up-rated engines and most notably, changes in the nosecone shape for dealing with aerodynamic loading and heat dissipation. The longer-range variants (over 1000km) were alleged to have been tested in 2008 as part of the Great Prophet II wargames, though some subsequent test claims have been disputed. Nevertheless, Iran is moving towards a larger MRBM force as a strategic deterrent to Israel and the US (primarily) and as a means for coercion in the region. The missile is transportable, though the continued use of liquid fuel (and extremely toxic fuel at that) impacts the ability of the missile to be a truly mobile deterrent.

In view of these characteristics, Iran appears to be following a dual track approach for deployments using on the one hand, underground storage with dispersal to pre-surveyed sites as tensions increase and a presumably smaller cohort based in semi-hardened shelters (similar to the early Atlas deployments) for a more rapid response. With a range of 1500-1800km, the SHAHAB 3 is able to cover Israel from northern/central Iran as well as US and allied forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the better part of the region. Because the missiles are presumed to armed with conventional explosives only (Iran is a long way from producing a nuclear device, much less one that will fit in the RV of a SHAHAB 3) and have a pretty large Circular Error Probable (CEP), a preemptive or response launch would entail large numbers of mssiles to both overwhelm defenses as well as offsetting their poor accuracy and would be limited primarily to countervalue-type targets (so-called “soft” targets). All this sets the stage to examine the real threat potentially posed by these missiles. Presuming the SHAHAB is deployed to Venezuela (and there are indicators it won’t), the credibility of the threat is negligeable considering the extreme range required to reach the continental US (and southeast Florida in particular) and the amount of damage potentially to inflicted vs the guaranteed response by US, if not a combined US-regional force. Absent a nuclear or other WMD-type warhead, and with the limited numbers likely to be deployed (more token than credible deterrent) this threat, unlike that of the nuclear armed SS-4s and FROGs in Cuba would have little if any credible deterrence. In that case, there was a potential threat set that provided nuclear coverage of most of the southeastern US and incorporated short flight times (less than 15 minutes) enabling a decapitating first strike, substantially delaying or preventing a response.

3.  Options

As alluded to above, there is every likelihood that this agreement will not proceed beyond mere tokenism – Venezuelan VIPs at Iranian launches, a drawn out site construction process, etc. There may even be delivery of a certain number of the shorter-range missiles (e.g., Fateh 110) though we have not seen export of these except to Syria and possibly to Hezbollah forces in northern Lebanon . Nevertheless, assuming deployments proceed, there are a range of options under the DIME (DIplomatic/Military/Economic) umbrella to work with. Two venues are of particular note where ballistic missiles are involved – the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and applicable UNSCR resolutions.  The MTCR is:

“(A)n informal and voluntary association of countries which share the goals of non-proliferation of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, and which seek to coordinate national export licensing efforts aimed at preventing their proliferation. The MTCR was originally established in 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Since that time, the number of MTCR partners has increased to a total of thirty-four countries, all of which have equal standing within the Regime.
The MTCR was initiated partly in response to the increasing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The risk of proliferation of WMD is well recognized as a threat to international peace and security, including by the UN Security Council in its Summit Meeting Declaration of January 31, 1992. While concern has traditionally focussed on state proliferators, after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, it became evident that more also has to be done to decrease the risk of WMD delivery systems falling into the hands of terrorist groups and individuals. One way to counter this threat is to maintain vigilance over the transfer of missile equipment, material, and related technologies usable for systems capable of delivering WMD.
The MTCR rests on adherence to common export policy guidelines (the MTCR Guidelines) applied to an integral common list of controlled items (the MTCR Equipment, Software and Technology Annex). All MTCR decisions are taken by consensus, and MTCR partners regularly exchange information about relevant national export licensing issues.
National export licensing measures on these technologies make the task of countries seeking to achieve capability to acquire and produce unmanned means of WMD delivery much more difficult. As a result, many countries, including all MTCR partners, have chosen voluntarily to introduce export licensing measures on rocket and other unmanned air vehicle delivery systems or related equipment, material and technology.”

As a voluntary association, however, it carries little in the way of ability to enforce sanctions against member states – some of whom have only acceded to part of or earlier provisions of the regieme (e.g., China). Non-member states presumably would be prevented from obtaining the necessary technology and engineering knowledge and equipment – but that presumes an informal alliance between non-member states would gain little. Unfortunately, we are seeing a growing linkage between the programs in Syria, Iran, and North Korea which may be a slower path, is still providing the necessary ingredients for successful programs, especially in the case of Iran. Alternately, the sanctions outlined by UNSCR resolutions provide for actions in the event they are ignored or subverted. In particular, for Iran, this would focus on UNSCR 1737 et al which provide legal ground for actions like interdiction, should we choose to do so:

“7. Decides that Iran shall not export any of the items in documents S/2006/814 and S/2006/815 and that all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran;
“8. Decides that all States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to Iran, from or through their territories or by their nationals or individuals subject to their jurisdiction, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, or related materiel, including spare parts, or items as determined by the Security Council or the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1737 (2006) (“the Committee”), decides further that all States shall prevent the provision to Iran by their nationals or from or through their territories of technical training, financial resources or services, advice, other services or assistance related to the supply, sale, transfer, provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms and related materiel, and, in this context, calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and restraint over the supply, sale, transfer, provision, manufacture and use of all other arms and related materiel;”
“9. Decides that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities;”
“17. Calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and prevent specialized teaching or training of Iranian nationals, within their territories or by their nationals, of disciplines which would contribute to Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities and development of nuclear weapon delivery systems;”

Under similar provisions stipulated for North Korea, the Spanish navy stopped an unflagged merchantman that had been tracked leaving North Korea and bound for Yemen with a load of SCUD parts concealed by bags of concrete.  

 Clearly, Iran would have to undertake a notable effort to ship airframes, support equipment, warheads and personnel to establish and maintain a joint base of operations in Venezuela – one for which it (a) is resource poor but more importantly (b) could rebound decisively against the regime if a growing segment of the populace, increasingly afflicted under sanctions, perceives this as an unnecessary foreign adventure. Likewise, overt moves and measures taken by Chavez utilizing these weapons will equally threaten his government’s survival in a region where suspicions already are elevated over previous purchases from abroad. As much as we tend to paint both leaders as wildly irrational, at their core, self-preservation rules and one expects a certain degree of self-limiting rationality to be imposed.  Unlike the case of the Soviets installing nuclear armed IRBMs in Cuba, this threat is still talk only – affording the US a wider range of options to employ without the urgency of a Cuban Missile Crisis.  And while both parties (Iran and Venezuela) should take the time to thoughtfully reconsider COAs, one party in particular ought to be especially thoughtful about pushing beyond heated rhetoric – because, afterall, there is still the Noriega option if someone in this hemisphere gets too far out of the box.

Airborne Laser Testbed Successful in Lethal Intercept Experiment

From an MDA press release earlier today:

The Missile Defense Agency demonstrated the potential use of directed energy to defend against ballistic missiles when the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) successfully destroyed a boosting ballistic missile. The experiment, conducted at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off the central California coast, serves as a proof-of-concept demonstration for directed energy technology. The ALTB is a pathfinder for the nation’s directed energy program and its potential application for missile defense technology.

At 8:44 p.m. (PST), February 11, 2010, a short-range threat-representative ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform. Within seconds, the ALTB used onboard sensors to detect the boosting missile

Target launch from Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) for another test (Aegis BMD)

and used a low-energy laser to track the target. The ALTB then fired a second low-energy laser to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance. Finally, the ALTB fired its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure. The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch, while its rocket motors were still thrusting.

This was the first directed energy lethal intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform. The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light, at a range of hundreds of kilometers, and at a low cost per intercept attempt compared to current technologies.

Less than one hour later, a second solid fuel short-range missile was launched from a ground location on San Nicolas Island, Calif. and the ALTB successfully engaged the boosting target with its High Energy Laser, met all its test criteria, and terminated lasing prior to destroying the second target. The ALTB destroyed a solid fuel missile, identical to the second target, in flight on February 3, 2010.

Congrats are in order to all involved in a major milestone for the future of missile defense.

North Korea: Here We Go Again – Part II

09broad190As if the 29 April statement from the DPRK Foreign Ministry wasn’t provocative enough, comes the latest missive dated 29 May (full statement here):

As long as the UNSC fails to respond to the DPRK’s just demand, the DPRK will not recognize any resolution and decision of the UNSC in the future, too.

Third, if the UNSC will make further provocative actions, this will inevitably lead to the DPRK’s approach towards adopting stronger self-defensive counter-measures.

The end of the Cold War worldwide works only between big powers, but a Cold War still persists on the Korean Peninsula.

The UNSC-crafted UN Command itself is a signatory to the Korean Armistice Agreement.

Any hostile act by the UNSC immediately means the abrogation of the Armistice Agreement.

The world will soon find out how the army and people of the DPRK will stand up against the high-handed and get-it-alone approach of the UNSC in defending its dignity and sovereignty.

The U.S. is keen on using a catchphrase “Carrot and stick.”

It would be better for the “Donkey” of the U.S. Democratic Party to lick the carrot.

Well.  What next Alphonse?

Some have said another strong statement from the UNSC would do the trick and if the Russians or Chinese don’t join in it won’t matter – though in light of the above we are hard-pressed to see how this would work.  Others argue that it’s time to effect kinetic solutions on the DPRK homeland, to which we respond – ‘done a count of tube artillery in the hills outside of Seoul recently?’  Clearly those two COAs represent the extremes of the range of operations (assuming ‘do nothing’ isn’t an option).  Reflecting some of the rising frustration on this issue, a commenter on another site remarked –“I hear a lot of frustration from pretty much everyone I talk to about this. But what does anyone actually think we should do?“  Actually – there is a good bit we can do short of direct, kinetic effects.  A couple, for example might be:

1. Step up rigorous enforcement of the Proliferation Security Initiative. Every nK flagged vessel is suspect of carrying materials for their ballistic missile and/or nuke program and hence gets stopped, wherever they are, and searched. Any problems with manifests, logs, etc. and the ship is impounded and the crew interred or sent back to nK, minus the ship.

2. Crack down on the backdoor hard currency exchanges that only serve to keep the leadership elite in power and do nothing to aid the people. We started doing this back in ‘06-07 and it hurt them so much they agreed to come back to the 6-party talks. Do it again and this time keep the pressure up.

And work on regional confidence building measures with our allies in Australia (yes, Australia – look at yesterday’s chart and plot out a southerly trajectory to 4,000 nm/7500 km, roughly the same distance to Hawaii and you are in the heart of Australia), South Korea and Japan.  Things like strengthening theater and regional defenses to include missile defense, for example.

Because every carrot needs a stick.

Foreign Ballistic Missiles – Capabilities and Threat Guide

We’ve talked about it here before, the threat that is.  Now comes an open  source, current publication you can use for citations and the like:

Ballistic missile capabilities continue to increase with the proliferation of missile technology. Over 20 countries have ballistic missile systems and it is likely that missiles will be a threat in future conflicts involving U.S. forces. Ballistic missiles have been used in several conflicts over the last 20 years, including the Iran-Iraq war, the Afghan civil war, the war in Yemen, the 1991 and 2003 Persian Gulf conflicts, and the Russian military action in Chechnya.
In order to better understand ballistic missile capabilities, this document addresses ballistic missile basics, characteristics, proliferation, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from
select ballistic missile capable countries.


Foreign Ballistic Missile Capabilities