Prepared Testimony by Robert Walpole Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing: Missile Threats to the United States (Excerpts)

September 16, 1999

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Related Country: 

  • China
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Russia

Opening Statement

Prepared Testimony


. . .

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. Following my statement, I will try to answer your questions without providing important information to countries seeking to hide weapons developments from us. 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.

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 1999 report is a classified NIE, but we summarized it in the unclassified paper I just mentioned. You have copies of that paper for this hearing.

This year we examined future capabilities for several countries that have or have had ballistic missiles or space launch programs or intentions. Our approach for this year's report differs with past efforts in three major ways.

  • First, we have projected missile developments through the year 2015; previous reports projected the threat through 2010. Thus, we have added five years of further development.

  • Second, using intelligence information and expertise inside and outside the Intelligence Community, we examined scenarios by which a country could acquire an ICBM and assessed the likelihood of various scenarios. (Earlier intelligence reports have focused on scenarios we judged as most likely; the Rumsfeld report focused only on what a country could do. We decided it was time to combine both approaches, although one agency believes that the prominence given by this approach 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, 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.

  • 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 or to intend to 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 Access 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 others could pursue.

Projecting political and economic developments that could alter 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.

  • For example, 15 years ago the United States and Soviet Union were superpower adversaries in the midst of the Cold War, with military forces facing off in central 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.

Understanding the 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 so than that posed by China, and orders of magnitude more than that potentially posed by the others, whose missiles are likely to be fewer in number-probably a few to tens, constrained to smaller payloads, and less reliable and accurate.

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 ICBM threshold if it develops a survivable weapon for the system. Other potentially hostile nations could cross that threshold during the next 15 years.

  • 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.

  • 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. Ballistic missiles, for example, were used against US forces during the Gulf war. More nations now have longer-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Missiles have been used in several conflicts over the past two decades, although not with weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, some of the regimes controlling these missiles have exhibited a willingness to use such weapons.

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 in Asia and the Middle East 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 it is delayed for political reasons.

  • Pakistan flight-tested its 1,300 km range Ghauri missile, which it produced with North Korean assistance.

  • Iran flight-tested its 1,300 km range Shahab-3-a version of North Korea's No Dong, which Iran has produced with Russian assistance.

  • India flight-tested its Agni II MRBM, which we estimate will have a range of about 2,000 km.

  • China conducted the first flight test of its DF-31 mobile ICBM in August 1999; it will have a range of about 8,000 km.

Potential ICBM Threats to the United States from Five Countries


. . .

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.

  • Iran could test an ICBM that could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload to many parts of the United States in the latter half of the next decade, using Russian technology and assistance.

  • Iran could pursue a Taepo Dong-type ICBM and could test a Taepo Dong-1 or Taepo Dong-2-type ICBM, possibly with North Korean assistance, in the next few years.

  • Iran is likely to test an SLV by 2010 that-once developed-could be converted into an ICBM capable of delivering a several-hundred kilogram payload to the United States.

  • Beyond that, analysts differ on the likely timing of Iran's first flight test of an ICBM that could threaten the United States. Assessments include:

  • likely before 2010 and very likely before 2015 (noting that an SLV with ICBM capabilities will probably be tested within the next few years);

  • no more than an even chance by 2010 and a better than even chance by 2015;

  • and less than an even chance by 2015.


. . .

Foreign assistance

Foreign assistance continues to have demonstrable effects on missile advances around the world.

  • Russian missile assistance continues to be significant.

  • China continues to contribute to missile programs in some countries.

  • North Korea may expand sales.

  • Some countries that have been recipients of 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. 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.

Warning Times and our Ability to Forecast Missile Development and Acquisition

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. In hindsight, however, we had overestimated that North Korea would begin flight testing the Taepo Dong-1 and Taepo Dong-2 missiles years earlier than turned out to be the case; projected correctly the timing of a North Korean missile with the potential to deliver payloads to the ICBM range of 5,500-km; and underestimated the capabilities of the Taepo Dong-1 by failing to anticipate the use of the third stage.

North Korea demonstrated intercontinental-range booster capabilities roughly on the timetable we projected in 1994, but with a completely unanticipated vehicle configuration. Thus, 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. 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. 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).

  • 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.

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.

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. A concept similar to a sea-based ballistic missile launch system would be to launch cruise missiles from forward-based platforms. A country could also launch cruise missiles from fighter, bomber, or commercial transport aircraft outside US airspace.

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. Countries or non-state actors could pursue non-missile delivery options, most of which:

  • Are less expensive than developing and producing ICBMs.

  • Can be covertly developed and employed; the source of the weapon could be masked in an attempt to evade retaliation.

  • Probably would be more reliable than ICBMs that have not completed rigorous testing and validation programs.

  • Probably would be more accurate than emerging ICBMs over the next 15 years.

  • Probably would be more effective for disseminating biological warfare agent than a ballistic missile.

  • 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 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.

  • Pakistan has M-11 SRBMs from China and Ghauri MRBMs from North Korea; we assess both may have a nuclear role.

  • India has Prithvi I SRBMs and recently began testing the Agni II MRBM; we assess both may have a nuclear role.

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.

  • 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.


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.

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