Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Mainland Vulnerable to Ballistic Missile Threat

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Mainland Vulnerable to Ballistic Missile Threat

Article excerpt

Ten countries have ballistic missile capability to strike LI. S. homeland

The United States is currently incapable of intercepting a ballistic missile warhead or reentry vehicle, once it is launched against the U.S.. Most Americans, however, believe that there is adequate capability to defend their homeland against a ballistic missile attack.

This vulnerability is the by-product of a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction that relies on arms control agreements and threats of retaliation to protect the U.S. from large-scale nuclear attack during the Cold War. The U.S. continues to rely exclusively on those means of protection from any and all potential enemies who might threaten it with such an attack.

To say that a threat exists implies that the means to deliver nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads exists; the warheads themselves exist; and the will to use them exists in the country of origin.

Ballistic Missile Threat

The major ballistic missile threat to the U.S. has traditionally been from the former Soviet Union. There are now 10 countries (four formerly of the Soviet Union) with ICBMs with ranges to reach the United States. In the past, ballistic missile threats were limited to countries with ballistic manufacturing ability. Today, countries throughout the world are acquiring this capability through the purchase of missiles from other countries.

As evidenced during the Persian Gulf War, the political impact of targeting population centers in Israel and Saudi Arabia was far more important to Iraq than attempting to hit allied military locations. Thus, the requirement for extremely accurate targeting does not exist. This opens the door to systems made up by combining intermediate-range ballistic missiles into hybrid systems with the range and throw-weight necessary to reach the U.S. or the potential for converting space launch vehicles for the same purpose.

While indigenous development of longrange missiles is expensive and takes considerable time, by purchasing missiles, missile components, and/or related technologies, countries not now considered to be a threat could greatly reduce the time needed to obtain a long-range missile capability.

For instance, in 1988 Iran and China entered into missile technology transfer agreements. Similarly, Syria turned to China for additional support for missile programs that had previously been conducted with North Korean assistance. Pakistan has test fired its first Hatf missile and in 1990, Egypt began low-rate Scud B purchases from North Korea. In 1994, India initiated a new test program that has implications for future military development.

India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea have missile manufacturing capabilities and are making significant progress in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Libya and Syria remain the subject of ongoing concern in both respects, while Iran and Iraq have used missiles in regional conflict.

North Korea re-engineered the Soviet Scud B to produce its own Scud B and Scud C and the new Nodong with ranges up to 1,300 km. Two more longer range missiles are reported to be in development. Iraq modified Scuds to produce its Al Hussein, Al Abbas, and Al Asbed missiles.

China has developed the " series of solid propellant ballistic missiles specifically for sale to other countries. The Pakistani and Indian indigenous missiles were developed with assistance from China, Russia, France, and other countries. …

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