Pathways for Transfer: Roundtable with Dennis M. Gormley, Aaron Karp and Richard T. Cupitt

Appendix III to the Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
April 10, 1998

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Related Country: 

  • China
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Russia
On 10 April 1998, System Planning Corporation hosted an unclassified roundtable discussion on Russia for the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. SPC assembled three prominent experts on the alternative pathways to acquire ballistic missile capabilities: Dennis M. Gormley, of Pacific-Sierra Research Corporation; Aaron Karp, a professor at Old Dominion University; and Richard T. Cupitt from the Center for International Trade and Security. This paper summarizes their findings and notes key areas of consensus and dissent.

Pathways to Missile Technology Transfers: Iran

Aaron Karp's presentation focused on the missile technology transfers by Russia, China, and North Korea to Iran. Karp noted that there are three patterns of decision making employed by Russia and China to facilitate missile transfers to Iran:

The first type of decision making, formal authorization, describes a deliberate action by the central government to allow, or even encourage, such exports of technology and missile-related equipment. Karp refers to the second type of decision making as, informal acquiescence. In such instances, Moscow and Beijing turn a "blind eye" to transfers which may serve the national interest. Under this guise, government officials outwardly support nonproliferation, but do not comply with national export control guidelines. The third type of decision-making involves contravention of policy. Karp explained that government officials may not be able to enforce existing export controls. Private industry willingly violates the nonproliferation policies set by the central government. To halt such transfers, action must originate at the industry or government agency level.

International Cooperation With Iran

In the mid-1970s, Iran acquired solid motors. A partnership with North Korea began in 1985; Pyongyang supplied Iran with liquid-fuel rocket technology from China, which is used with the No Dong missile system.

Reports suggest that Iran has attempted to develop an intermediate range ballistic missile, the Shahab 3 and 4. The Shahab 3 resembles the Soviet SS-22 or SS-23, which was deactivated and dismantled under the INF Treaty. Israeli intelligence have reported that the Shahab 3 could be deployed by 1999-2000.

Despite the Israeli assessment, Karp concluded that the program suffers from numerous technical problems attributed to warhead development and guidance. Karp estimated that these obstacles may be overcome within fifteen years, but require significant technical and financial assistance from abroad.

Iran still lacks trained engineers and financial resources. The need for trained engineers has forced Iran to look to Russia. Recently, an Iranian agency employed a Russian firm to develop and design a component of a ballistic missile system. Also, Baltic State Technical University in St. Petersburg established a joint program in Persepolis under the direction of Iran's Sanam Industries Group, an arm of Iran's Defense Industry Organization (DIO), that directs Iran's solid-fuel rocket program. Karp suggested that such assistance is extremely problematic for U.S. nonproliferation efforts. In addition, North Korea has also offered the services of scientists and engineers to assist Iran's missile program.

Cruise Missile Technology

Noting the NIE 95-19 and the Gates Panel, Gormley outlined potential acquisition paths for land-attack cruise missiles and the challenges that the U.S. may encounter from cruise missile proliferation in the future. Both the NIE 95-19 and the Gates Panel explored the possibility of cruise missiles being launched from seaborne platforms against the United States.

Gormley stated that cruise missiles provide an alternative launch capability to states that wish to acquire ballistic missiles. Cruise missiles, as compared to ballistic missiles, are subject to fewer export controls, possess increased mobility, have a reduced size, are easily maintained, and can operate in extreme temperatures. These features--size, mobility, and rugged design--increase the range of launch options and heightens the difficulty in defending against the cruise missiles. The MTCR provides few controls on cruise missile-related technologies, which could be adapted from commercial aircraft and unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). While many countries possess cruise missiles, most cruise missiles command a range of under 100 km.


Gormley stated that nations can acquire land-attack cruise missiles two different ways; through indigenous development and by converting existing anti-ship cruise missiles or UAVs into land-attack cruise missiles. Indigenous development is time consuming, but technically feasible. The increase in commercial aircraft and maintenance requirements aid the distribution of knowledge that can be transferred from civil to military applications.

The conversion of existing anti-ship cruise missiles or UAVs presents an entirely different problem. UAVs, which are used in earth observation, are easily available and provide a platform for cruise missile development. Gormley stated that the larger and more simplistic anti-ship cruise missiles much like the Russian Styx and the Chinese Silkworm family, would be easiest to convert. He noted that the ability to exchange payload size for increased range is more easily accomplished in cruise missile than in ballistic missiles. Concerns have arisen regarding in the French-produced Apache air-launch cruise missile, the Russian AS-15 cruise missile, and the current Chinese cruise missile in development (with Russian assistance).

Challenges to Monitoring

The NIE 95-19 states that it takes at least five years to field a ballistic missile after testing starts. This time frame does not apply to monitoring cruise missile development and deployment. Moreover, cruise missile technology largely escapes MTCR controls and is often disguised under commercial aircraft development. Gormley stressed the MTCR must be adapted to address cruise missile-related technologies. Without adaptations in the MTCR guidelines to address cruise missile technologies, non-MTCR states will acquire cruise missile technologies within five years.

Pathways to Missile Technology Transfers: Asia

Richard T. Cupitt focused on missile technology transfers in Asia. He stated that export controls have limited the transfer of missile technology into the region and have increased the financial costs of obtaining missile technology. Although not all Asian nations have adopted effective export controls, Asian nations want to be portrayed as responsible global citizens.


Cupitt has found that the MTCR has limited appeal in Asia. Some Asian nations view the MTCR as a regulation mechanism imposed by the Western powers that affects their economic well-being. Most Asian nations understand the need to control chemical, nuclear, and biological weapon development, but fail to grasp that the control of missile-related technology is equally as important. As a result, few Asian nations, with the exception of Japan and Hong Kong, have export control systems over missile technology that are compatible with MTCR requirements. Moreover, export monitoring is practically non-existent without U.S. assistance. The export agencies do not conduct post-shipment verifications, but rely on end-use assurance.

Cupitt pointed out that Taiwan, which is on the fringe of the multilateral control mechanism, is the exception within Asia, and seeks to gain membership in the MTCR to limit the export of proliferation-related items. To further membership aspirations, Taiwanese officials have attended trans-shipment seminars and Asian export control seminars.


Export licensing catch-all controls are targets for bureaucratic mishaps. Conflicting pressures from multiple government agencies and industry encourage disparate applications of catch-all export provisions. While Japan and European nations interpret export catch-all guidelines narrowly, the U.S. designates that the export path or the particular end-user is enough to trigger the export regulations. Cupitt cautioned that removing catch-all export controls will escalate ballistic missile proliferation. Closing existing loopholes within catch-all controls, however, will strengthen efforts to limit missile-related exports.

Improving Cooperation in Asia

The recent East Asian economic crisis may limit the funding for ballistic missile programs in Asia. At the same time, pressure to export technology and defense-related items is likely to increase. Cupitt predicted that given the current export control mechanisms and the emerging industrial infrastructure, ballistic missile proliferation in Asia is apt to escalate into the next century. He warned that proliferation efforts are not limited to high technology exports, but in many cases prevail at lower technology levels that fall within Wassenaar Agreement, CoCom, and NPT guidelines.