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

Unclassified Summary of a National Intelligence Estimate by the National Intelligence Council
December 1, 2001

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Excerpts

Preface

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has requested that the Intelligence Community (IC) produce annual reports containing the latest intelligence on ballistic missile developments and threats and a discussion of nonmissile threat options. This paper is an unclassified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that is the fourth annual report.

The NIE describes new missile developments and our projections of possible and likely ballistic missile threats to the United States, US interests overseas, and military forces or allies through 2015; updates assessments of theater ballistic missile forces worldwide; discusses the evolving proliferation environment; and provides a summary of forward-based threats and cruise missiles. We examine future ballistic missile capabilities of several countries that have ballistic missiles and ballistic missile development programs. Each country section includes a discussion of theater-range systems and current and projected long-range systems.

Our assessments of future missile developments are inexact and subjective because they are based on often fragmentary information. Many countries surround their ballistic missile programs with extensive secrecy and compartmentalization, and some employ deception. Although such key milestones as flight-testing are difficult to hide, we may miss others. To address these uncertainties, we assess both the earliest date that countries could test various missiles, based largely on engineering judgments made by experts inside and outside the Intelligence Community, on the technical capabilities and resources of the countries in question, and, in many cases, on continuing foreign assistance; and when countries would be likely to test such missiles, factoring into the above assessments potential delays caused by technical, political, or economic hurdles. We judge that countries are much less likely to test as early as the hypothetical "could" dates than they are by our projected "likely" dates.

In making these projections, we examine the level of success and the pace individual countries have experienced in their missile development efforts and consider foreign technology transfers, political motivations, military incentives, and economic resources. We have not attempted to address all of the potential political, economic, and social changes that could occur; we have projected missile developments between now and 2015 independent of significant political and economic changes. For example, some countries that currently have hostile or friendly intentions toward the United States could change significantly over the next fifteen years. As we prepare each annual report, we review strategic trends that could indicate such changes in order to make any necessary adjustments in our projections.

Key Judgments

Most Intelligence Community agencies project that before 2015 the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from North Korea and Iran, and possibly from Iraq-barring significant changes in their political orientations-in addition to the longstanding missile forces of Russia and China. One agency assesses that the United States is unlikely to face an ICBM threat from Iran before 2015.

Short- and medium-range ballistic missiles already pose a significant threat overseas to US interests, military forces, and allies.

  • Emerging ballistic missile states continue to increase the range, reliability, and accuracy of the missile systems in their inventories-posing ever greater risks to US forces, interests, and allies throughout the world.

  • Proliferation of ballistic missile-related technologies, materials, and expertise-especially by Russian, Chinese, and North Korean entities-has enabled emerging missile states to accelerate missile development, acquire new capabilities, and potentially develop even more capable and longer range future systems.

. . .

Iran is pursuing short- and long-range missile capabilities.

  • Tehran has 1,300-km-range Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) that could be launched in a conflict.

Iran is pursuing an ICBM/space launch vehicle (SLV) system. All agencies agree that Iran could attempt a launch in mid-decade, but Tehran is likely to take until the last half of the decade to flight test an ICBM/SLV; one agency further believes that Iran is unlikely to conduct a successful test until after 2015.

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Introduction

The ballistic missile remains a central element in the military arsenals of nations around the globe and almost certainly will retain this status over the next fifteen years. States willingly devote often scarce resources in efforts to develop or acquire ballistic missiles; build the infrastructures necessary to sustain future development and production; and actively pursue technologies, materials, and personnel on the world market to compensate for domestic shortfalls, gain increased expertise, and potentially shorten development timelines.

Most US Intelligence Community agencies project that during the next 15 years the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from North Korea and Iran, and possibly Iraq-barring significant changes in their political orientations-in addition to the strategic forces of Russia and China. One agency assesses that the United States is unlikely to face an ICBM threat from Iran before 2015.

The threats to the US homeland, nevertheless, will consist of dramatically fewer warheads than today owing to significant reductions in Russian strategic forces. China has been modernizing its long-range strategic missile force since the mid-1980s, shifting from reliance primarily on silo-based liquid-propellant CSS-4s to mobile solid-propellant systems. The Intelligence Community projects that by 2015, the total number of Chinese strategic warheads will rise several-fold, though it will remain still well below the number of Russian or US forces.

North Korea has extended until 2003 the missile launch moratorium it announced late in 1999, although the North continues to work on the Taepo Dong-2 program. The Taepo Dong-2-capable of reaching parts of the United States with a nuclear weapon-sized payload-may be ready for flight-testing. The initial test likely would be conducted in a space launch configuration. Iran also is pursuing a longer range missile capability.

Short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, particularly if armed with WMD, already pose a significant threat overseas to US interests, military forces, and allies. Moreover, the proliferation of missile technology and components continues, contributing both to the production of SRBMs and MRBMs and to the development of even longer range systems.

The trend in ballistic missile development worldwide is toward a maturation process among existing ballistic missile programs rather than toward a large increase in the number of countries possessing ballistic missiles. Emerging ballistic missile states continue to increase the range, reliability, and accuracy of the missile systems in their inventories-posing ever greater risks to US forces, interests, and allies throughout the world. A decade ago, US and allied forces abroad faced threats from SRBMs-primarily the Scud and its variants. Today, countries have deployed or are on the verge of deploying MRBMs, placing greater numbers of targets at risk.

Proliferation of ballistic missile-related technologies, materials, and expertise-especially by Russian, Chinese, and North Korean entities-has enabled emerging missile states to accelerate the development timelines for their existing programs, acquire turnkey systems to gain previously non-existent capabilities-in the case of the Chinese sale of the M-11 SRBM to Pakistan-and lay the groundwork for the expansion of domestic infrastructures to potentially accommodate even more capable and longer range future systems.

North Korea has assumed the role as the missile and manufacturing technology source for many programs. North Korean willingness to sell complete systems and components has enabled other states to acquire longer range capabilities earlier than otherwise would have been possible-notably the sale of the No Dong MRBM to Pakistan. The North also has helped countries to acquire technologies to serve as the basis for domestic development efforts-as with Iran's reverse-engineering of the No Dong in the Shahab-3 program. Meanwhile, Iran is expanding its efforts to sell missile technology.

States with emerging missile programs inevitably will run into problems that will delay and frustrate their desired development timelines. The impact of these problems increases with the lack of maturity of the program and depends on the level of foreign assistance. Most emerging missile states are highly dependent on foreign assistance at this stage of their development efforts, and disturbance of the technology and information flow to their programs will have discernible short-term effects. The ready availability of assistance from multiple sources, however, makes it likely that most emerging missile states will be able to resolve such problems and advance their missile programs, albeit with a slippage in development time.

Projecting When a Country Could and Is Likely To Test an ICBM

Expertise from inside and outside the Intelligence Community was used to examine many possible options for ICBM development and to determine when a country could test each option, based largely on technical, industrial, and economic capabilities. These judgments indicate when countries would be capable of testing if they met certain conditions, such as beginning engine testing by a certain date. This formulation also addresses what a country may be capable of achieving if a decision were made to try to field a missile as rapidly as possible and if the program progressed without significant delays. Other factors including potential technical problems, motivations and intentions, and political and economic delays-then were applied to assess the likely timing of the country testing an ICBM. These judgments provide the Intelligence Community assessments of the most likely course of events based on a variety of factors.

Providing assessments of when a country could and is likely to test an ICBM takes into account uncertainties and cases where a solid evidentiary base is not available for making more definitive assessments. The availability of foreign assistance is frequently a critical driver in both formulations, and is so noted, especially when foreign assistance accelerates the program dramatically. These assessments of future missile developments are, by their nature, subjective. This Estimate examines the level of success and the pace individual countries have experienced in their missile development efforts and considers foreign technology transfers, political motivations, military incentives, and economic resources. But it does not attempt to address all of the potential political, economic, and social changes that could occur; it projects missile developments between now and 2015 independent of significant political and economic changes. As each annual report is prepared, we review strategic trends that could indicate such changes and make necessary adjustments to the projections.

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 it will continue to grow as the capabilities of potential adversaries mature. More nations have ballistic missiles,[1] and they have already been used against US and allied forces during the Gulf war. Although the missiles used in the Gulf war did not have WMD warheads, Iraq had weaponized ballistic missile warheads with BW and CW agents and they were available for use.

Some of the states armed with missiles have exhibited a willingness to use chemical weapons with other delivery means. In addition, some nonstate entities are seeking chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) materials and would be willing to use them without missiles. In fact, US territory is more likely to be attacked with these materials from nonmissile delivery means-most likely from terrorists-than by missiles, primarily because nonmissile delivery means are less costly, easier to acquire, and more reliable and accurate. They also can be used without attribution. Nevertheless, the missile threat will continue to grow, in part because missiles have become important regional weapons in the arsenals of numerous countries. Moreover, missiles provide a level of prestige, coercive diplomacy, and deterrence that nonmissile means do not.

. . .

Iran

Iran's missile inventory is among the largest in the Middle East and includes some 1,300-km-range Shahab-3 MRBMs, a few hundred SRBMs, and a variety of unguided rockets. Tehran's longstanding commitment to its ballistic missile programs-for deterrence and war-fighting-is unlikely to diminish.

Ballistic Missile Programs

Shahab-3. The 1,300-km-range Shahab-3 MRBM-based on the North Korean No Dong-is in the late stages of development.

ICBMs/SLVs. In addition to SRBM and MRBM development, Iran is likely to develop space launch vehicles to put satellites into orbit and to establish the technical base from which it could develop IRBMs/ICBMs capable of delivering payloads to Western Europe and the United States. Iran is likely to test these vehicles initially as SLVs and not as ballistic missiles to demonstrate an inherent IRBM/ICBM capability without risking the potential political and economic costs of a long-range missile test. Iran certainly is aware of the North Korean SLV/missile program and the benefits P'yongyang has tried to gain from the inherent ICBM capability posed by the Taepo Dong-1 and -2.

  • All agencies agree that Iran could attempt to launch an ICBM/SLV about mid-decade, although most agencies believe Iran is likely to take until the last half of the decade to do so. One agency further judges that Iran is unlikely to achieve a successful test of an ICBM before 2015.

  • Iranian acquisition of complete systems or major subsystems-such as North Korean TD-2 or Russian engines-could accelerate its capability to flight-test an ICBM/SLV.

    If Iran were to acquire complete TD-2 systems from North Korea, it could conduct a flight test within a year of delivery, allowing time to construct a launch facility. Iran is unlikely to acquire complete ICBM/SLV systems from Russia. In contrast, a halt or substantial decrease in assistance would delay by years the development and flight-testing of these systems.

WMD Payload Options

The Intelligence Community judges that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon. Most agencies assess that Tehran could have one by the end of the decade, although one agency judges it will take longer. All agree that Iran could reduce this time frame by several years with foreign assistance. Iran has biological and chemical weapons programs.

Foreign Assistance

Foreign assistance-particularly from Russia, China, and North Korea-will remain crucial to the success of the Iranian missile program for the duration of this Estimate.

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