Pentagon Briefing on Iranian Missiles by Missile Defense Agency Director, Lieutenant General Henry A. "Trey" Obering (Excerpts)

July 15, 2008

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

MODERATOR: Well, good morning. And thank you for joining us and for enduring a brief delay that we had in getting out here.

It's my privilege to welcome back to the briefing room General Obering, Trey Obering, who leads the Missile Defense Agency. And it's been some time since he's been in the briefing room giving you a program interview. And I think the last time he was here was for an intercept test that was conducted. But today he is back to talk to you about much of the success that has been achieved over the past several months and to also indicate some of the way forward in which the Missile Defense Agency is progressing with our missile defense capability.

So General, again, thank you for joining us and for bringing us up to speed. And let me turn it over to you.

GEN. OBERING: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

. . .

According to our own Defense Intelligence Agency, Iran is working on an extended range version of the Shahab-3 and a new 2,000-kilometer medium-range ballistic missile which they term the Ashura. In addition, in February of this year, Iran claimed that it had successfully launched an exploratory space vehicle, space rocket. The analysis that has been indicated shows that it has a resemblance to the Shahab-3 missile as well. And in November and in just this past week, Iran orchestrated launches of several short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and the U.S. bases in the Middle East.

. . .

Again, we have seen -- in turning to the Iranian threat more recently, we have seen this evolution from shorter-range missiles based on the old Russian scud technology to longer and longer range weapons. What you see here is that evolution. The dotted line is also representative of a qualitative improvement in the performance of those vehicles, going from the old scud-based technology to more modern technologies. And we know that they have stated this intent to achieve longer and longer ranges of weapons.

Now, if you go to the next slide, what is concerning is that this extending range is much farther beyond anything that they would need in a regional conflict with Israel, because a missile that is capable of even 1,300 or 1,500 kilometers could encompass the Israeli country as well as -- the country of Israel as well as the U.S. bases in the region.

So why this progression to longer and longer range delivery systems? That's what has us concerned, and that's why we also are moving out when we hear the intent of the Iranian president, for example, why we're concerned about providing protection, because we do not want to be in a situation where we're facing a long-range missile threat in which we don't have protection against it.

. . .

Okay, I know I ran through an awful lot of material in a short time. I know that many of you are already familiar with the program, so I'll be glad to answer any questions that you may have.

. . .

Q Back on Iran, you know, all these assessments last week about these tests -- and some people called it a medium-range missile that they were testing. Some -- Secretary Gates called them longer- range -- these several longer-range.

Can you give us your assessment on just a breakdown of what was tested last week? Are they considered longer-range? Medium-range? How far was the furthest one? Is that something that the Missile Defense Agency had seen before? Have they seen these kinds of tests? Just some of the basic --

GEN. OBERING: Well, first of all, the intel community is the one that provides that information. What I can say is that the Iranians themselves are describing their launches as a -- the one as a 2,000- kilometer range missile launch. They also made that claim last year, in November, a 2,000-kilometer missile launch.

I believe, based on what I have seen, that they have the ability to do that and to continue to advance in the future, based on what I have seen so far from that -- those reports and from the intelligence reports.

I won't go into detail as to what was fired when. That's something I think the intel community should answer, because we don't do that. We don't -- we're not involved in that. But the implications for us is what we're concerned about.

Q And how does the Missile Defense Agency classify something that's a 2,000-kilometer range? Is that considered --

GEN. OBERING: It would be considered a medium-range missile. Right.

And then here's a little bit of the ambiguity there. Typically, you'll say how far can a missile fly to class it. But it also is dependent on what the payload weight is. So one missile that could fly at a medium range with a certain payload weight, with a smaller payload could fly at an intermediate range. So that's why there's distinction sometimes between what is -- and confusion -- as to what is a medium- or an intermediate-range missile.

But we typically classify anything that is of 2,500 kilometers, 3,000 kilometers and you go -- that's beginning to get into the longer-range category.

. . .

Okay. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.