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National Intelligence Council

Foreign Missile Developments
and the Ballistic Missile Threat
to the United States Through 2015

September 1999

This paper has been prepared under the auspices of the National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, Bob Walpole; comments or questions should be directed to CIA's Office of Public Affairs on (703) 482-7677.


Contents


Preface

Congress has requested that the Intelligence Community produce annual reports on ballistic missile developments. 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 (SLV). Our 1999 report is a classified National Intelligence Estimate, which we have summarized in unclassified form in this paper.

This year we examined future capabilities for several countries that have or have had ballistic missiles or SLV programs or intentions to pursue such programs. Using intelligence information and expertise from inside and outside the Intelligence Community, we examined scenarios by which a country could acquire an ICBM by 2015, including by purchase, and assessed the likelihood of various scenarios. (Some analysts believe that the prominence given to missiles countries "could" develop gives more credence than is warranted to developments that may prove implausible.) We did not attempt to address all of the potential political, economic, and social changes that could occur. Rather, we analyzed the level of success and the pace countries have experienced in their development efforts, international technology transfers, political motives, military incentives, and economic resources. From that basis, we projected possible and likely missile developments by 2015 independent of significant political and economic changes. Subsequent annual reports will be able to account for such changes.

Our projections for future ICBM developments are based 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. For example, we may not know all aspects of a missile systems configuration until flight testing; we did not know until the launch last August that North Korea had acquired a third stage for its Taepo Dong 1.

We took into account recommendations made in July 1998 by the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States and incorporated the results of several academic and contractor efforts, including politico-economic experts to help examine future environments that might foster ICBM sales and missile contractors to help postulate potential ICBM configurations that rogue states could pursue.


Key Points

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 so than that posed by China, and orders of magnitude more than that potentially posed by other nations, whose missiles are likely to be fewer in number— probably a few to tens, constrained to smaller payloads, and less reliable and accurate than their Russian and Chinese counterparts.

We judge that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq would view their ICBMs more as strategic weapons of deterrence and coercive diplomacy than as weapons of war. We assess that:

Sales of ICBMs or SLVs, which have inherent ICBM capabilities and could be converted relatively quickly with little or no warning, could increase the number of countries able to threaten the United States. North Korea continues to demonstrate a willingness to sell its missiles. Although we judge that Russia or China are unlikely to sell an ICBM or SLV in the next fifteen years, the consequences of even one sale would be extremely serious.

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 programs. For example, biological or chemical weapons could be prepared in the United States and used in large population centers, or short-range missiles could be deployed on surface ships. However, these means do not provide a nation the same prestige and degree of deterrence or coercive diplomacy associated with ICBMs.

The proliferation of medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs)—driven primarily by North Korean No Dong sales—has created an immediate, serious, and growing threat to US forces, interests, and allies, and has significantly altered the strategic balances in the Middle East and Asia. We judge that countries developing missiles view their regional concerns as one of the primary factors in tailoring their programs. They see their short- and medium-range missiles not only as deterrents but also as force-multiplying weapons of war, primarily with conventional weapons, but with options for delivering biological, chemical, and eventually nuclear weapons. South Asia provides one of the most telling examples of regional ballistic missile and nuclear proliferation:

Foreign assistance continues to have demonstrable effects on missile advances around the world, particularly from Russia and North Korea. Moreover, some countries that have traditionally been recipients of foreign missile technology are now sharing more amongst themselves and are pursuing cooperative missile ventures.

We assess that countries developing missiles also will respond to US theater and national missile defenses by deploying larger forces, penetration aids, and countermeasures. Russia and China each have developed numerous countermeasures and probably will sell some related technologies.


Discussion

Introduction

The worldwide ballistic missile proliferation problem has continued to evolve during the past year. The proliferation of technology and components continues. The capabilities of the missiles in the countries seeking to acquire them are growing, a fact underscored by North Korea's launch of the Taepo Dong-1 in August 1998. The number of missiles in these countries is also increasing. Medium- and short-range ballistic missile systems, particularly if armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) warheads, already pose a significant, threat to US interests, military forces, and allies overseas. We have seen increased trade and cooperation among countries that have been recipients of missile technologies from others. Finally, some countries continue to work toward longer-range systems, including ICBMs.

We expect the threat to the United States and its interests to increase over the next 15 years. However, projecting political and economic developments that could alter the nature of the missile threat many years into the future is virtually impossible. The threat facing the United States in the year 2015 will depend on our changing relations with foreign countries, the political situation within those countries, economic factors, and numerous other factors that we cannot predict with confidence.

Recognizing these uncertainties, we have projected foreign ballistic missile capabilities into the future largely based on technical capabilities and with a general premise that relations with the United States will not change significantly enough to alter the intentions of those states pursuing ballistic missile capabilities. Future annual reports will be able to take account of any contemporary information that alters our projections.

The Evolving Missile Threat in the Current Proliferation Environment

The new missile threats confronting the United States are far different from the Cold War threat during the last three decades. During that period, the ballistic missile threat to the United States involved relatively accurate, survivable, and reliable missiles deployed in large numbers. Soviet—and to a much lesser extent Chinese—strategic forces threatened, as they still do, the potential for catastrophic, nation-killing damage. By contrast, the new missile threats involve states with considerably fewer missiles with less accuracy, yield, survivability, reliability, and range-payload capability than the hostile strategic forces we have faced for 30 years. Even so, the new systems are threatening, but in different ways.

First, although the majority of systems being developed and produced today are short- or medium-range ballistic missiles, North Korea's three-stage Taepo Dong-1 SLV demonstrated Pyongyang's potential to cross the 5,500-km ICBM threshold if it develops a survivable weapon for the system. Other potentially hostile nations could cross that threshold during the next 15 years. While it remains extremely unlikely that any potential adversary could inflict damage to the United States or its forces comparable to the damage that Russian or Chinese forces could inflict, emerging systems potentially can kill tens of thousands, or even millions of Americans, depending on the type of warhead, the accuracy, and the intended target.



Classification of Ballistic Missiles by Range

Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) Under 1,000 km
Medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) 1,000 to 3,000 km
Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) 3,000 to 5,500 km
Intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) Over 5,500 km



Second, many of the countries that are developing longer-range missiles probably assess that the threat of their use would complicate American decision-making during crises. Over the last decade, the world has observed that missiles less capable than the ICBMs the United States and others have deployed can affect another nation's decision-making process. Though US potential adversaries recognize American military superiority, they are likely to assess that their growing missile capabilities would enable them to increase the cost of a US victory and potentially deter Washington from pursuing certain objectives. Moreover, some countries, including some without hostile intent towards the United States, probably view missiles as a means of providing an independent deterrent and war-fighting capabilities.

Third, the probability that a WMD-armed missile will be used against US forces or interests is higher today than during most of the Cold War. Ballistic missiles, for example, were used against US forces during the Gulf war. More nations now have longer-range missiles and WMD warheads. Missiles have been used in several conflicts over the past two decades, although not with WMD warheads. Nevertheless, some of the regimes controlling these missiles have exhibited a willingness to use WMD.

Thus, acquiring long-range ballistic missiles armed with WMD 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, these WMD-armed weapons 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 threat (implicit or explicit) 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 in Asia and the Middle East toward acquiring longer-range ballistic missiles has been dramatically demonstrated over the past 18 months:

Many of these countries probably have considered ballistic missile defense countermeasures. Historically, the development and deployment of missile defense systems have been accompanied by the development of countermeasures and penetration aids by potential adversaries, either in reaction to the threat or in anticipation of it. The Russians and Chinese have had countermeasure programs for decades and are probably willing to transfer some related technology to others. We expect that during the next 15 years, countries other than Russia and China will develop countermeasures to Theater and National Missile Defenses.

Threat Availability Before "Deployment"

Emerging long-range missile powers do not appear to rely on robust test programs to ensure a missile's accuracy and reliability—as the United States and the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. Similarly, deploying a large number of long-range missiles to dedicated, long-term sites÷as the United States and the Soviet Union did—is not necessarily the path emerging long-range missile powers will choose. In many cases, a nation may decide that the ability to threaten with one or two long-range missiles is sufficient for its doctrinal or propaganda needs. China, for example, has only about 20 ICBMs; its doctrine requires only that it be able to hold a significant portion of an aggressor's population at risk.

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. Once a missile has performed successfully through its critical flight functions, it would be available for the country to use as a threat or in a military role. Thus, we project the year for a first flight test rather than the projected date for a missile's "deployment" as the initial indication of an emerging threat. Moreover, using the date of the first projected flight test as the initial indicator of the threat recognizes that emerging long-range missile powers may not choose to deploy a large number of missiles and that an adversary armed with even a single missile capable of delivering a WMD-payload may consider it threatening. Using the first flight test results in threat projections a few years earlier than those based on traditional definitions of deployment, which may not apply as well to the emerging threats.

Potential ICBM Threats to the United States

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, although the threats will consist of dramatically fewer weapons than today because of significant reductions we expect in Russian strategic forces.

North Korea. After Russia and China, North Korea is the most likely to develop ICBMs capable of threatening the United States during the next 15 years.

Iran. Iran is the next hostile country most capable of testing an ICBM capable of delivering a weapon to the United States during the next 15 years.

Iraq. Although the Gulf war and subsequent United Nations activities destroyed much of Iraq's missile infrastructure, Iraq could test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States during the next 15 years.

Russia. Russia's strategic offensive forces are experiencing serious budget constraints but will remain the cornerstone of its military power. Russia expects its forces to deter both nuclear and conventional military threats and is prepared to conduct limited nuclear strikes to warn off an enemy or alter the course of a battle.

China. 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.

Foreign Assistance

Foreign assistance continues to have demonstrable effects on missile advances around the world. Moreover, some countries that have traditionally been recipients of foreign missile technology are now sharing more amongst themselves 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 missile and WMD interests in the region.

Sales of ICBMs or SLVs, which have inherent ICBM capabilities, could further increase the number of countries that will be able to threaten the United States with a missile strike. North Korea continues to demonstrate a willingness to sell its missiles and related technologies and will probably continue doing so, perhaps under the guise of selling SLVs. In the past, we judged that political conditions made the sale of a Russian or Chinese ICBM unlikely and that the geopolitical situation would not change enough for either to decide that the sale of an ICBM would be in its national interest. We have not detected the transfer of a complete ICBM by Russia or China, nor do we have any information to indicate either plans to transfer one. Projecting the likelihood of such a transfer 15 years into the future is very uncertain, driven in part by unpredictable future economic conditions, how Moscow will perceive its position vis—vis the West, and future Russian and Chinese perceptions of US ballistic missile defenses. As we attempt to project the politico-military-economic environment for that period, we continue to judge it unlikely that Moscow or Beijing would decide that the financial and perhaps strategic inducements to sell a complete ICBM, SLV, or the technologies tantamount to a complete ICBM, would outweigh the perceived political and economic risks of doing so. 2

Warning Times and our Ability to Forecast Missile Development and Acquisition

In our 1998 annual report, we stated we had high confidence that we could provide warning five years before deployment that a potentially hostile country was trying to develop and deploy an ICBM. Because countries of concern could threaten to use ballistic missiles following limited flight-testing and before a missile is deployed in the traditional sense, we broadened our warning in the 1998 update memorandum to encompass the first successful flight test as the beginning of an "initial threat availability."

Our ability to provide warning for a particular country is depends highly on our collection capabilities. For some countries, we have relatively large bodies of evidence on which to base our assessments; for others, our knowledge of the programs being pursued is limited. Our monitoring and warning about North Korea's efforts to achieve an ICBM capability constitute an important case study on warning. In 1994, we were able to give five years warning of North Korea's efforts to acquire an ICBM capability. At that time, the Intelligence Community judged that:

Thus, the Intelligence Community warned that North Korea was pursuing an ICBM capability and would flight test an ICBM (the Taepo Dong-2) in the mid- to late 1990s. When North Korea did not flight test either Taepo Dong missile until 1998, and then used the Taepo Dong-1 as a space launch vehicle, it became clear that the Intelligence Community had:

North Korea demonstrated intercontinental-range booster capabilities roughly on the timetable projected in 1994, but with a completely unanticipated vehicle configuration. The Intelligence Community had expected North Korea to achieve an ICBM-range capability initially with the two-stage Taepo Dong-2, not the Taepo Dong-1 with an unguided third stage. North Korea's use of the Taepo Dong-1 with a third stage as a space launch vehicle was completely unexpected. Until the flight test, the Intelligence Community was unaware of the third stage and the intended use of the Taepo Dong-1 as a space launch vehicle.

Detecting or suspecting a missile development program and projecting the timing of the emerging threat, although difficult, are easier than forecasting the vehicle's configuration or performance with accuracy. Thus, we have more confidence in our ability to warn of efforts by countries to develop ICBMs than we have in our ability to describe accurately the missile configurations that will comprise that threat, especially years prior to flight testing. 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 SLV capability. Nevertheless, the initiation of an SLV program is an indicator of a potential ICBM program. North Korea and other countries, such as Iran and an unconstrained Iraq, could develop an SLV booster, then flight-test it as an ICBM with a reentry vehicle (RV) with little or no warning. Thus, we consider space launch vehicles, especially in the hands of countries hostile to the United States, to have significant ballistic missile potential.

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.

Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) Conversion. Nations with SLVs 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). A nation could try to buy an SLV with the intent to convert it into an ICBM; detection of the sale should provide a few years of warning before a flight test, although we are not confident that we could detect a covert sale. Finally, many SLVs would be cumbersome as converted military systems and could not be made readily survivable, a task that in many cases would be technologically and economically formidable.

Countries might mask their ICBM developments as SLV programs. They could test the complete booster and in most cases the guidance system, which would have to be reprogrammed to fly a ballistic missile trajectory. They could not mask a warhead reentry under the guise of a space launch. Nevertheless, they could develop RVs and maintain them untested for future use, albeit with significantly reduced confidence in their reliability.

Alternative Threats to the United States

Several other means to deliver WMD 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.

Forward-Based Threats. Several countries are technically capable of developing a missile-launch mechanism to use from forward-based ships or other platforms to launch SRBMs and MRBMs, or land-attack cruise missiles against the United States. Some countries may develop and deploy a forward-based system during the period of the next 15 years.

A short- or medium-range ballistic missile could be launched at the United States from a forward-based sea platform positioned within a few hundred kilometers of US territory. If the attacking country were willing to accept significantly reduced accuracy for the missile, forward-basing on a sea-based platform 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. The simplest method for launching a ship-borne ballistic missile would be to place a secured TEL onboard the ship and launch the missile from its TEL. If accuracy were a major concern, the missile and launcher would be placed on a stabilization platform to compensate for wave movement of the ocean, or the country would need to add satellite-aided navigation to the missile.

A concept similar to a sea-based ballistic missile launch system would be to launch cruise missiles from forward-based platforms. This method would enable a country to use cruise missiles acquired for regional purposes to attack targets in the United States.

Non-Missile WMD Threats to the United States. Although non-missile means of delivering WMD do not provide the same prestige or degree of deterrence and coercive diplomacy associated with an ICBM, such options are of significant concern. Countries or non-state actors could pursue non-missile delivery options, most of which:

The requirements for missile delivery of WMD impose additional, stringent design requirements on the already difficult technical problem of designing such weapons. For example, initial indigenous nuclear weapon designs are likely to be too large and heavy for a modest-sized ballistic missile but still suitable for delivery by ship, truck, or even airplane. Furthermore, a country (or non-state actor) is likely to have only a few nuclear weapons, at least during the next 15 years. Reliability of delivery would be a critical factor; covert delivery methods could offer reliability advantages over a missile. Not only would a country want the warhead to reach its target, it would want to avoid an accident with a WMD warhead at the missile-launch area. On the other hand, a ship sailing into a port could provide secure delivery to limited locations, and a nuclear detonation, either in the ship or on the dock, could achieve the intended purpose. An airplane, either manned or unmanned, could also deliver a nuclear weapon before any local inspection, and perhaps before landing. Finally, a nuclear weapon might also be smuggled across a border or brought ashore covertly.

Foreign non-state actors, including some terrorist or extremist groups, have used, possessed, or are interested in weapons of mass destruction or the materials to build them. 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.

Immediate Theater Missile Threats to US Interests and Allies

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.

We judge that countries developing missiles view their regional concerns as one of the primary factors in tailoring their programs. They see their short- and medium-range missiles not only as deterrents but also as force-multiplying weapons of war, primarily with conventional weapons but with options for delivering biological, chemical, and eventually nuclear weapons.

Penetration Aids and Countermeasures

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 the requisite technologies.

Foreign espionage and other collection efforts are likely to increase. China, for example, has been able to obtain significant nuclear weapons information from espionage, contact with scientists from the United States and other countries, publications and conferences, unauthorized media disclosures, and declassified US weapons information. We assess that China, Iran, and others are targeting US missile information as well.


Footnotes

1 An MRV system releases multiple RVs along the missile's linear flight path, often at a single target; a MIRV system can maneuver to several different release points to provide targeting flexibility.

2 The sale of an ICBM is prohibited by the START Treaty.