Missile Technology Access Emboldens Rogue Nations

April 1999
By Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.

Dangerous theater competitors in Asian flash points engender increasing threat environment instabilities.

Sails billowing from strong economic, technology and military winds, the U.S. ship of state is tacking toward the future, seeking to shape its own strategic environment. Dead ahead in Asian waters, however, are ominous heavy weather and treacherous shoals. The U.S. military and its allies are facing a growing number of hostile rogue states that are equipping themselves with dangerous technologies designed to thwart power projection.

Proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction is underway in a growing circle of countries. These nations see the weapons as cost-effective symbols of national power. Missile technology and expertise from China, Russia and North Korea is altering the calculus in U.S. strategy.

A stunning successful launch of North Korea’s three-stage Taepo Dong intercontinental ballistic missile is accelerating U.S. funding for development of national and theater missile defense systems. Without ballistic missile defenses, U.S. population centers from the Pacific coast to the Midwest are vulnerable to the deployment of North Korea’s extended-range Taepo Dong 2 missiles.

Pacific-based military facilities and cities in Hawaii and Alaska are also vulnerable to North Korean missiles. This portentous situation, coupled to nuclear warhead development at a secret underground site in Kumchangri, North Korea, is exacerbating the growing danger. Meanwhile, that nation continues excavation to deploy missiles hidden deep in underground tunnels near its border with China and is progressing with development of other weapons of mass destruction.

“A fairly significant ballistic missile threat is emerging almost overnight in North Korea,” according to former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. He heads the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. Mandated by Congress, the commission also takes its name from its chairman. The Rumsfeld Commission is a nine-person blue-ribbon panel of senior decision makers appointed by Congress and confirmed by the director of central intelligence.

Rumsfeld explains that much of the world has been dismissive of North Korea’s capability—in terms of systems integration and booster staging. “These are complex technical issues that have, over the years, caused difficulty in Western nations. However, depending on payloads and the materials used, if you can launch a satellite on a three-stage booster, you have the ability to reach the United States. And, I am not talking about Hawaii and Alaska,” he emphasizes.

Rumsfeld, who is chairman of the board of Gilead Sciences Incorporated, is also a former White House chief of staff, U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Secretary of Defense, presidential envoy to the Middle East and member of the U.S. Congress. He notes that, as the commission’s report points out, “a three-stage space launch vehicle can reach anywhere within an arc from Madison, Wisconsin, to Phoenix, Arizona.” The August 31, 1998, Taepo Dong launch, he adds, was to place a satellite in low earth orbit. While orbital geometry failed, staging was successful.

Both the Taepo Dong’s flight and an earlier medium-range No Dong missile launch overflew Japan without immediate detection. This U.S. ally is ill-equipped against the threat; it operates without effective early warning or missile tracking radar systems. To counter this problem, the United States is offering to help Japan build early warning sensors and surveillance satellites.

U.S. discussions also encompass Japan’s participation in a joint Asian theater missile defense. In spite of China’s objections, cooperative U.S.-Japanese funding for development and deployment is anticipated, perhaps for a sea-based system.

If North Korea judges the recent flight test to be a success, the Taepo Dong (TD) 2 could be rapidly deployed. This missile, with a nominal 6,000-kilometer (3,700-mile) range, “could reach major cities and military bases in Alaska and the smaller westernmost islands in the Hawaiian chain. Lightweight versions of the TD-2 could fly as far as 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) ... placing at risk western U.S. territory. These variants would require additional time to develop and would likely require an additional flight test,” the commission’s report reveals.

Having already developed and deployed the No Dong, a medium-range ballistic missile using a scaled-up Scud engine, North Korea can threaten a force of approximately 100,000 U.S. military personnel deployed in Japan, South Korea and bases in the vicinity.

In a scenario that the Taepo Dong could parallel, North Korea conducted only a single successful flight test of the 1,300-kilometer- or 800-mile-range No Dong missile in 1993. As the commission’s report states, “The No Dong was operationally deployed before the U.S. government recognized the fact. There is ample evidence that North Korea has created a sizable missile production infrastructure, and therefore, it is highly likely that considerable numbers of No Dongs have been produced.”

The continuing sale of North Korea’s missile technology to nations such as Iran poses additional problems for the United States and its allies in the Middle East and Europe. In addition to providing its No Dong technology for Iran’s successful launch of the Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile, North Korea has also announced plans to transfer Taepo Dong missile technology to Iran, compounding U.S. problems in this vital region.

Rumsfeld adds that North Korea is also actively engaged in ballistic missile proliferation and the transfer of warhead technologies to countries such as Pakistan. North Korea’s missile technology is for sale to any nation with sufficient capital, he maintains. China and Russia, which are again cooperating with one another on the transfer of weapons and technologies, are also assisting Pakistan and Iran to gain significant missile and warhead capabilities.

The commission’s assessment is that Iran is placing extraordinary emphasis on its ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction development programs. “The ballistic missile infrastructure in Iran is now more sophisticated than that of North Korea and has benefited from important assistance from abroad, essential long-term assistance from Russia and important assistance from China as well,” the report states.

“We judge that Iran now has the technical capability and resources to demonstrate an intercontinental ballistic missile-range similar to the TD-2 (based on scaled-up technology) within five years of a decision to proceed—whether that decision has already been or is yet to be made,” the Rumsfeld report contends.

In addition to this Scud-based long-range ballistic missile program, Iran has acquired and is seeking major advanced missile components that can be combined to produce ballistic missiles with sufficient range to strike the United States. “For example, Iran is reported to have acquired engines or engine designs for the RD-214 engine, which powered the Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile, and to have an interest in even more advanced engines,” the report illustrates. “A 10,000-kilometer-range Iranian missile could hold the U.S. at risk in an arc extending northeast of a line from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to St. Paul, Minnesota.”

Even without the Taepo Dong, if Iran based its Shahab 3 missiles in a proxy nation, it could make all of Europe and the Middle East vulnerable. It is easy enough to hide missile development by flight testing or basing missiles in another country, Rumsfeld illustrates. If Iran were to base its new Shahab 3 or an even longer-range Shahab 4 missile in Libya, the weapons could easily strike targets in the United States and throughout Europe.

“While not yet publicly known, this has already been done by some nations,” Rumsfeld reveals. “One day a country has no missile capability, and the next, it has its own, along with assistance and technicians to operate the weapons.”

Rumsfeld registers astonishment that more than 70 percent of Americans, according to recent polls, believe that there is a U.S. missile defense system available to protect them against attack. The decision on whether to build and deploy a limited-attack national missile defense system will not even be made for more than a year, depending on technical progress, and it will take at least five to seven years to deploy.

A number of countries with regional ambitions do not welcome a U.S. role as a stabilizing power in their areas and are not accepting it passively. Because of their ambitions, these states want to place restraints on the U.S. capability to project power or influence into their regions. They see the acquisition of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction as a way of doing so.

For those nations seeking to thwart the projection of U.S. power, the capability to combine ballistic missiles with weapons of mass destruction provides a strategic counter to U.S. conventional and information-based military superiority. With such weapons, these nations can pose a serious threat to the United States, to its forward-based forces, to their staging areas and to U.S. friends and allies.

All the nations that are developing long-range ballistic missiles have the option to arm them, as well as shorter-range systems, with biological or chemical weapons. The weapons can take the form of bomblets as well as a single, large warhead. Ballistic missiles provide a cost-effective delivery system that can be used for both conventional and nonconventional warheads.

Possessing ballistic missile weapons equipped with warheads of mass destruction instantly transforms military geography. It also conveys enormous influence to regional states deploying and operating them. As more members join this rarefied club, the rules are altered, and the risks of war escalate.

Partially as a result of unfolding ballistic missile developments, the Clinton administration is seeking to add $6.6 billion to the defense budget. This would bring total funding to $10.5 billion between fiscal years 1999 to 2005 for development and possible deployment of a national missile defense system. A deployment decision is planned for June 2000, based primarily on technology maturity from development and testing demonstrations. This system is being designed for the protection of all 50 states against a limited ballistic missile attack.

Whether this national missile defense will be available in time and effective against emerging threats is the subject of heated political, diplomatic and military debate. This colloquy also involves constraints from existing arms control agreements with former Soviet states. Increasing its own ballistic missile deployments, including mobile systems, China is also registering loud, bellicose objections to missile defenses in the Far East area, especially those that might protect Taiwan.

Nevertheless, to implement a power projection national strategy, the United States must also develop and deploy an effective theater missile defense capability to thwart regional powers armed with ballistic missiles. The Defense Department is accelerating development of a sea-based theater missile defense system to counter a perceived medium-range missile threat. It is also a hedge against past test failures of the U.S. Army ground-based theater high-altitude area defense (THAAD) system.

The U.S. Navy’s theaterwide system, using the Aegis radar and Standard missile interceptor, will move from scheduled fielding in 2010 to 2007. This approach pits the Navy system against the Army THAAD to determine which of the upper-tier systems would intercept long- and medium-range missiles in or above the atmosphere. The Defense Department is increasing funding for the Navy system by more than $500 million through 2001. This includes funding added to the program by Congress last fall.

The Defense Department will also continue development of lower-tier systems to defend against short- or medium-range missiles in the late or final flight stages. Lower-tier defenses include the Patriot advanced capability (PAC) 3 and the Navy area missile system. The PAC-3 and Navy systems could be fielded by early fiscal years 2001 and 2003, respectively.

Upper- and lower-tier systems work in conjunction with space-based sensors—the same sensors that will be used for surveillance and early warning against missiles targeted at the United States. Funded by the U.S. Air Force, an airborne laser program adds to the array of defenses likely to be fielded. Battle management, command, control and communications are also major elements of any defensive engagement system.

The Rumsfeld Commission determined “that the threat to the United States from emerging ballistic missile capabilities is broader, more mature and is evolving more rapidly than contained in earlier estimates and reports by the U.S. intelligence community.”

A 1995 National Intelligence Estimate and a U.S. intelligence community annual report in March 1998 calculated that it would take 15 years for a nation without a ballistic missile infrastructure to develop and deploy a weapons capability. The United States would have ample warning of emerging ballistic missile threats—at least five years before missile deployment, according these intelligence community calculations.

The basis of most missile developments by emerging powers is the Soviet Scud missile and its derivatives. The Scud, which evolved from the World War II-era German V-2 rocket, can be stacked to increase range. “With the external help now readily available, a nation with a well-developed Scud-based ballistic missile infrastructure would be able to achieve first flight of a long-range missile, up to and including a 5,500-kilometer intercontinental range, within about five years of deciding to do so. During several of those years, the United States might not be aware that such a decision had been made,” the commission reported.

Moreover, within weeks of the commission’s assessment, ballistic missile flight tests began both in North Korea and Iran. Even as the panel’s final report was being prepared, India and Pakistan completed their underground tests of multiple nuclear warheads, and Pakistan conducted a launch and, immediately afterward, started deployment of its Ghauri missile. India operates a new Agni ballistic missile with extended range.

Pakistan’s successful Ghauri test shows it to be a version of the North Korean No Dong. “We believe that Pakistan has acquired production facilities for this missile as well. Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons that employ highly enriched uranium, and in May 1998, it conducted its first nuclear weapon test series,” according to the Rumsfeld Commission’s report. “China’s assistance has been crucial to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.” China transferred nuclear warheads designed for the Ghauri to Pakistan, which has biological and chemical weapons programs.

Syria and Libya are also on the receiving end of technology for missile proliferation, and Iraq maintains the skills and industrial capabilities needed to reconstitute its long-range ballistic missile program. This capability exists even though its plant and equipment are less developed than those of North Korea and Iran as a result of actions forced by United Nations monitoring.

Rumsfeld claims that commission members received unprecedented access to the most sensitive and highly classified intelligence information. The commission’s assessment diverges from intelligence community assessments “because we used a somewhat different approach. We came at the subject as would senior decision makers who have to make difficult judgments based on incomplete facts. We considered not only what is known, but what is not known, and what we consider to be plausible alternative outcomes in light of inevitable gaps in knowledge.”

Deception and denial being used by nations to hide missile development from U.S. surveillance systems is behind the drastic reduction of the warning time for deployment of these weapons. Earth excavation equipment commercially sold in the international marketplace by the United States, Europe and Japan is being used to dig huge underground caverns for entire missile development programs.

The economies of underground construction have changed dramatically. Equipment of the type used in constructing the tunnel beneath the English Channel that connects France and Great Britain—the “Chunnel”—in a single day can open a hole 50 feet in diameter and 200 feet in length.

The major implication of our conclusions, Rumsfeld continues, is that warning time is reduced. “Indeed, we see an environment of little or no warning of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. from several emerging powers,” he maintains. In part, this is based on sophisticated and costly efforts by rogue nations, including underground construction to conceal the development, testing, storage and launching of ballistic missiles, the commission’s report asserts.

Major U.S. initiatives are being identified as responses to the emerging asymmetric threats of missiles and weapons of mass destruction delivery. Among the actions are upgrades to theaterwide reconnaissance and surveillance sensors. The improvements include hyperspectral, electro-optic and synthetic aperture radar on spacecraft and unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Global Hawk and Dark Star-like platform.

Precision deep-strike systems to overcome ballistic missiles in hostile nations include low-observable aircraft, supersonic cruise missile variants and a range of advanced conventional munitions. Other possible counters are enhanced special operations capabilities and theater missile defenses.


Iran Poses Nuclear Threat

Despite extensive Western government efforts, Iran may soon be equipping its ballistic missiles with nuclear devices obtained from former Soviet stockpiles. According to foreign intelligence sources, the Persian Gulf nation already has obtained and smuggled out of Russia two nuclear warheads that can be engineered to fit on its Shahab 3 missiles.

This development comes in spite of U.S. incentives under the Nunn-Lugar amendment. This program devoted millions of dollars to keeping former Soviet nuclear specialists gainfully employed to prevent the export of their technology or expertise to other nations. A recent General Accounting Office report lauded the effort that has employed thousands of scientists at approximately 170 institutions, but it criticized the program for not achieving its broader nonproliferation goal. Despite these efforts, as well as interdictions by several nations’ intelligence agencies over the years, Iran apparently was able to acquire nuclear weaponry from Russia.

Iran already had acquired missile technology in a state-sponsored deal with Russia, according to U.S. intelligence sources. The Gulf nation’s successful acquisition of nuclear warheads now may have ramifications across the rogue nation spectrum. Iran’s Shahab 3 employs North Korean ballistic missile technology, and the Gulf nation continues to seek longer-range launchers. With its acquisition of Russian nuclear warheads, Iran would have fissile material and a proven warhead design that it could trade to North Korea for more advanced missile technology.


Psst! Want to Buy a Missile?

With the end of the Cold War, Americans appear to have stopped worrying and have learned to live with the bomb. This may be overstating the case; however, concerns about recent nuclear weapons tests by bitter South Asian enemies, Pakistan and India, both armed with ballistic missiles, are quickly receding from the national consciousness.

Americans in particular might draw comfort from the fact that even if the worst case scenario unfolds—one Third World nation harnessing the atom to annihilate another—the tragedy would be half a world away, with little direct impact on the United States or its close allies.

Then why is North Korea developing ballistic missiles that could strike targets in Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. mainland? The answer is that missiles are not just weapons of mass destruction; they are the dark side of what former President George Bush called the “new world order.” Indeed, ballistic missiles with their deadly cargoes are transforming military and political landscapes.

Who knows which Third World country beset by tribal conflict, border clashes and megalomaniacal leaders will acquire a weapon capable of killing millions of innocent civilians and thus become a new and potentially destabilizing superpower?

Indeed, ballistic missiles sometimes make modern geopolitics seem like a surreal version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” Israel, as an example, is reported to have provided to India guidance and electronic miniaturization technology that can be used for warhead development and missile accuracy.

This Israeli technology, which could be used to support nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, is said to be based on trade and India’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a nation. Similarly, Russia initially provided Scud missiles to China, and China helped Pakistan, which has ties to Iran. Iran, in turn, maintains relations with India. India also is strengthening its ties with Egypt, which originally transferred Scud missile technology to North Korea, which also supplies missiles to Iran and Pakistan.

Yale professor Paul Bracken, who is writing Fire in the East, a HarperCollins book due out now, observes that ballistic missiles with their warheads of mass destruction are transforming military and political landscapes in much the same way that aircraft put an end to colonial empires.

A growing number of nations equipping themselves with ballistic missiles will use circuitous means to obtain them. “Israel scaled its military forces to meet threats from Syria and Egypt, traditional enemies. Now, it must confront the possibility of ballistic missiles from Iran, Iraq, Libya and perhaps Pakistan,” Bracken explains during an interview with SIGNAL.

Much as European superpowers in the days of colonial conflicts would wage war on each other one day, then sign a truce and attack a third, more powerful rival the next day, ballistic missiles often attract strange bedfellows. Iran and Iraq waged war on each other for several years, a conflict that included missile attacks. But as Bracken notes, both may soon figure out how to provide ballistic missile accuracy, causing grave concern not only to Israel and Saudi Arabia, but also to the Western Bloc led by the United States.

“The reality is that the United States is going to be living in a time when we must realize that other countries will increasingly have sophisticated weapons of mass destruction,” Donald H. Rumsfeld relates. He chairs a blue-ribbon Team B, which is reporting to Congress. “Believing we can stop it all, in essence make the world halt with respect to weapons of mass destruction, is unrealistic,” he says.

Even the peace process itself can be partly to blame for nuclear proliferation. Consider the fallout from scientific exchanges. The Rumsfeld Commission notes some 1,600 Chinese and 2,000 Russian technicians work in laboratories at Los Alamos and Sandia, New Mexico, and at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California—the brain trust of U.S. nuclear weapons development. There are hundreds of software engineers from India rewriting software code for the U.S. intelligence community. And without good software code, India could not have become a nuclear-armed ballistic missile power.

Then, there is the space program. For more than 30 years, the international scientific community has collaborated on space development. They shared key missile booster and guidance technology under the guise of transfering information to not only conquer a new frontier, but also to build a sense of international cooperation.

The origin of the Agni, India’s largest nuclear-capable missile, is a significant lesson about the U.S. policy of cooperation with foreign space programs and about the risk that this kind of cooperation can contribute to the spread of ballistic missile technology, according to Gary Milhollin. A University of Wisconsin professor and director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Milhollin testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science about the growing ballistic missile threat.

“In November 1963, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began the Indian space program by launching a U.S. rocket from Indian soil. Between 1963 and 1975, more than 350 U.S., French, Soviet and British rockets were launched from India’s new Thumba Range, which the United States helped design,” Milhollin said. “Thumba’s first group of Indian engineers learned rocket launching and range operation in the United States.”

Among them was A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the Agni missile’s chief designer. After the Indian Rajasthan nuclear tests last May, Kalam was also hailed as the “father” of the Indian atomic bomb. “In 1963 to 1964, he spent four months training in the United States. During this period, he visited NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, where the U.S. Scout rocket was conceived, and the Wallops Island Flight Center in Virginia, where the Scout was being flown,” Milhollin explained.

The Scout was a four-stage, solid-fueled launcher used to orbit small payloads. It was also used to test the performance of re-entry vehicles, a technology necessary to deliver nuclear warheads. According to NASA officials, the Indian engineers saw the blueprints of the Scout during their visit.

In 1965, the Indian government asked NASA for Scout design information. This request should have raised some eyebrows; it came from the head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, Milhollin observed. “Nevertheless, NASA obligingly supplied the information. Kalam then proceeded to build India’s big rocket, the Space Launch Vehicle (SLV)-3,” Milhollin continued, “which was an exact copy of the Scout. The first stage of the SLV-3 is now the first stage of the Agni missile.”

The Agni’s second stage is based on the SA-2 surface-to-air missile brought to India by Russia. However, in order to build the second stage, India had to learn about liquid propulsion. For this, India turned to France, which willingly transferred the technology necessary to build the powerful Viking rocket motor in the European Space Agency’s Ariane satellite launcher, according to Milhollin’s testimony.

Thus, India learned how to build the first stage of the Agni from the United States and how to build the second stage from France and Russia. For Agni’s guidance system, India turned to the German Space Agency. In the 1970s and 1980s, Germany conducted an extensive tutorial for Indian scientists in rocket guidance, presumably for peaceful space exploration. Each step in the guidance system building process moved India farther down the road toward a guidance package for the Agni missile and its breakthrough as a nuclear threat, Milhollin concluded.

A similar scenario unfolded for Pakistan, which tested and deployed its new 1,300-kilometer, medium-range Ghauri ballistic missile in April 1998. Analysts believe the weapon is based on North Korea’s No Dong missile. Both China and North Korea continue to provide assistance to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program.

In fact, Pakistan’s ballistic missile infrastructure is now more advanced than that of North Korea. It will support development of a missile with a 2,500-kilometer range, and Pakistan is seeking to put all of India within missile range. Development of the 2,500-kilometer missile will give Pakistan the technical base for developing an even longer-range system. Beginning without an extensive domestic science and technology base, and through foreign acquisition, this nation has acquired missile capabilities rapidly. China and North Korea are Pakistan’s major suppliers of missiles, production facilities and technology.

Pakistan’s story parallels India’s, Milhollin asserted. “In 1962, NASA launched Pakistan’s first rocket, a U.S. made Nike-Cajun, in a project led by Tariq Mustafa, the senior scientific officer of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. NASA also trained Pakistani rocket scientists at Wallops Island. Other NASA launches followed until 1970. The result of peaceful space cooperation by NASA in both Pakistan and India, however, has been long-range missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.”