Prepared Testimony by Robert Walpole Before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing: Iran's Arms Proliferation

September 21, 2000

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile
  • Chemical
  • Biological

Mr. Chairman, members of this subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today in an open session to discuss our assessments of the Iranian missile and weapons of mass destruction threat to the United States in coming years. Open sessions give the public a brief glimpse at the important work the Intelligence Community performs for the security of our nation. But as you know, much of our knowledge on Iran's weapons programs is based on extremely sensitive sources and methods; it must remain classified to aid in our nation's security. Thus, many details will have to be summarized or left unsaid in open session. We can provide additional details in classified briefings to you or other Senators if you so desire. We hope our summaries today will be of use to the Subcommittee and the public.

The Evolving Missile Threat in the Current Proliferation Environment.

The worldwide proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction continues to evolve. Short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, particularly if armed with weapons of mass destruction, already pose a significant threat overseas to US interests, military forces, and allies. Moreover, the proliferation of missile technology and components continues, contributing to longer-range systems. Development efforts, in many cases fueled by foreign assistance, have led to new capabilities-as illustrated by Iran's Shahab-3 launches in July 1998 and July 2000 and North Korea's Taepo Dong-1 space launch attempt in August 1998. Also disturbing, some countries that traditionally have been recipients of missile technologies have become exporters.

The Intelligence Community continues to project that during the next 15 years the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from North Korea, probably from Iran (the focus of today's hearing), and possibly from Iraq-barring significant changes in their political orientations. These threats are, of course, in addition to the long-standing threats from Russia and China. That said, the threat facing the United States in the year 2015 will depend on our evolving relations with foreign countries, the political situation and economic issues in those countries, and numerous other factors that we cannot predict with confidence. For example, our current relations with Russia are significantly different than any one would have forecast 15 years ago. Important changes could develop in Iran and in Iran's external threat environment over the next 15 years. Iran is in a period of domestic dynamism, with its parliament and other institutions engaged in a vibrant and potentially tumultuous debate about change and reform. At the present time and for at least the next three years, we do not believe that national debate is likely to produce any fundamental change in Iran's national security policies and programs. Recognizing the significant uncertainties surrounding projections fifteen years into the future and the potential for reformers' success in Iran, we have projected Iranian ballistic missile trends and capabilities into the future largely based on assessed technical capabilities, with a general premise that Iran's relations with the United States and related threat perceptions will not change significantly enough to alter Tehran's intentions. As changes occur, our assessment of the threat will change as well.

The new missile threats from Iran and others are far different from the Cold War. The emerging missile threats will involve considerably fewer missiles with less accuracy, yield, survivability, reliability, and range-payload capability than the hostile strategic forces we have faced for decades. Even so, the new systems are threatening. North Korea's space launch attempt demonstrated-in a way words alone could not-that the new long-range missile threat is moving from hypothetical to real. Moreover, many of the countries developing longer-range missiles probably assess that the threat of their use would complicate American decision making during crises; increase the cost of a US victory; potentially deter Washington from pursuing certain objectives; and provide independent deterrent and war-fighting capabilities. Some of these countries may believe that testing these systems only as SLVs-without a reentry vehicle-may achieve deterrence, coercive diplomacy, and prestige goals without risking the potential negative political and economic costs of a long-range missile test.

Acquiring long-range ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction will increase the possibility that weaker countries could deter, constrain, and harm the United States. The missiles need not be deployed in large numbers. They need not be highly accurate or reliable; their strategic value is derived from the threat of their use, not the near certain outcome of such use. Some may be intended for political impact; others may be built to perform more specific military missions-facing the United States with a spectrum of motivations, development timelines, and hostile capabilities. In many ways, they are not envisioned at the outset as operational weapons of war, but as strategic weapons of deterrence and coercive diplomacy.

The probability that a missile with a weapon of mass destruction would be used against US forces or interests is higher today than during most of the Cold War, and will continue to grow. More nations have them, and ballistic missiles were used against US 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 regimes controlling missiles have exhibited a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction with other delivery means. In addition, some non-state entities are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and would be willing to use them without missiles. In fact, we project that in the coming years, US territory is probably more likely to be attacked with weapons of mass destruction from non-missile delivery means (most likely from non-state entities) than by missiles, primarily because non-missile delivery means are less costly, easier to acquire, and more reliable and accurate. But the missile threat will continue to grow, in part because these missiles have become important regional weapons in numerous countries' arsenals, and they provide a level of prestige, coercive diplomacy, and deterrence that non-missile means do not.

Iran, Missiles, and WMD.

Iran has very active missile and WMD development programs, and is seeking foreign missile, nuclear, chemical, and biological technologies. Iran's ballistic missile program is one of the largest in the Middle East. Tehran already has deployed hundreds of short-range (150-500 km) ballistic missiles, covering most of Iraq and many strategic targets in the Persian Gulf. It will soon deploy the 1,300 km-range Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, which will allow Iran to reach Israel and most of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Tehran probably has a small number of Shahab-3s available for use in a conflict; it has announced that production and deployment has begun, and it has publicly displayed three Shahab-3s along with a mobile launcher and other ground support equipment.

Iran's public statements suggest that it plans to develop longer-range delivery systems. Although Tehran stated that the Shahab-3 is Iran's last military missile, we are concerned that Iran will use future systems in a military role.

  • Iran's Defense Minister announced the development of the Shahab-4, originally calling it a more capable ballistic missile than the Shahab-3, but later categorizing it as an SLV with no military applications.
  • Tehran has also mentioned plans for a Shahab-5, strongly suggesting that it intends to develop even longer-range ballistic missiles in the near future.
  • Iran has displayed a mock-up satellite and SLV, suggesting it plans to develop a vehicle to orbit Iranian satellites. However, Iran could convert an SLV into a missile by developing a reentry vehicle.

Foreign Assistance. Entities in Russia, North Korea, and China supply the largest amount of ballistic missile-related goods, technology, and expertise to Iran. Tehran is using this assistance to develop new ballistic missiles and to achieve its goal of becoming self-sufficient in the production of existing systems. China provided complete CSS-8 SRBMs, North Korean equipment and technical assistance helped Iran establish the capability to produce Scud SRBMs, and Russian assistance accelerated Iranian missile development.

Iranian Missile Threats to the United States and Its Interests.

Today. We judge that like many others, Iran views its regional concerns as one of the primary factors in tailoring its programs. Tehran sees its 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. On 15 July of this year, Iran conducted a second test of its Shahab-3. We assess that Iran's interest in eventually developing an ICBM/space launch capability has not changed.

2001-2005. We believe Iran is more likely to develop an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) based on Russian technology before developing an ICBM using that technology. Iran could test such an IRBM before the end of this period.

First, what could Iran do during this period. Some analysts believe that Iran could test an ICBM or SLV patterned after the North Korean TD-1 SLV in the next few years; such a system would be capable of delivering BW/CW payloads to the United States. Nevertheless, all assess that Iran would be unlikely to deploy an ICBM version of the TD-1.

Most believe that Iran could develop and test a three-stage TD-2-type ICBM during this period, possibly with North Korean assistance; it would be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon-sized payload to the United States. A few believe that the hypothetical routes toward an Iranian ICBM are less plausible than they appeared in our analysis last year and believe that Iran will not be able to test any ICBM in the 2001-2005 time frame.

Now to our likelihood assessments. Some believe that Iran is likely to try to demonstrate a rudimentary ICBM booster capability as soon as possible; a Taepo Dong-type system-likely tested as an SLV without an RV impact downrange-would be the shortest path to this goal. Finally, others believe Iran is unlikely to test any ICBM during this period.

2006-2010. Most believe Iran will likely test an IRBM-probably based on Russian assistance-during this period.

All assess that Iran could flight test an ICBM that could deliver nuclear weapon-sized payloads to many parts of the United States in the latter half of the next decade, using Russian technology obtained over the years.

Some further believe Iran is likely to test an ICBM-possibly as an SLV without an RV impact downrange-before 2010; others believe there is no more than an even chance that Iran will test an ICBM-probably based on Russian assistance-capable of threatening the United States by 2010; and a few believe an ICBM test is unlikely in this period.

Nevertheless, most agree that Iran is likely to test an SLV by 2010. Such a vehicle could be converted into an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear weapon-sized payload to the United States. A few believe such a test is unlikely until after 2010.

2011-2015. Most believe Iran is likely to test an ICBM-possibly as an SLV without an RV impact downrange-before 2015, some believe this is very likely; a few believe that there is less than an even chance of an Iranian ICBM test by 2015.

Sales of complete ICBMs or SLVs. Sales of ICBMs or SLVs, which have inherent ICBM capabilities, could further increase an Iranian ability to threaten the United States with a missile strike. North Korea has demonstrated a willingness to sell its missiles and related technologies and could continue doing so, perhaps under the guise of selling SLVs. Although we judge that Russia or China are unlikely to sell an ICBM or SLV in the next 15 years, the consequences of such sales, especially if mobile systems were involved, would be extremely serious.

Alternative Threats to the United States. Some countries, perhaps including Iran, probably have devised other means to deliver weapons of mass destruction to the United States-some cheaper and more reliable and accurate than ICBMs that have not completed rigorous testing and validation programs. The goal would be to move the weapon within striking distance without a long-range ICBM. These alternative threats include preparing chemical or biological weapons in the United States and using them in large population centers; and deploying short- and medium-range missiles on surface ships-which can be readily done, especially if the attacking country is not concerned about accuracy. The reduced accuracy in such a case, however, would be better than that of some of the ICBMs I mentioned earlier.

Ballistic Missile Defense Countermeasures. Many countries, such as Iran, probably will rely initially on readily available technologies to develop penetration aids and countermeasures, including: separating RVs, radar absorbent material, booster fragmentation, jammers, chaff, and decoys. These countries could develop some countermeasures by the time they flight-test their missiles. More advanced technologies could be available over the longer term. Some of the factors that will influence a nation's countermeasures include: the effectiveness weighed against their cost, complexity, reduction in range-payload capability; foreign assistance; and the ability to conduct realistic tests.

Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs.

Let me turn now to Mr. A. Norman Schindler, Deputy Director of the DCI's Nonproliferation Center (NPC), which recently published its 721 report related to this issue, to talk about Iran's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Following his remarks, we will both be available to answer those questions that we can while still protecting sources and methods. We would not want this session to inadvertently facilitate Iran's efforts at hiding its work from us.