A word from the Director …
Geopolitical Weather Forecast: Changeable
In these uncertain times, the defense establishments of the U.S. and its allies work hard to project fundamental changes in strategic threats. But the swift pace of geopolitical change – and the even faster rate of technology development – has made it hard to keep up.
The news from the last few months is an excellent case in point.
By the turn of the century, military analysts in Washington D.C. were already talking wistfully of the “bad old days” of the Soviet Empire, when the existence of the world was held in metastable thrall between West and East. The Soviet monster, analysts quipped, had been replaced by a Hydra, the mythic beast that grew many heads for each that was cut off.
No one was happy about the hydra, but at least the bad old days were gone.
Now analysts worry that some shadow of those days may be coming back – and the Hydra, for the foreseeable future, seems inclined to stay.
News from the East: The expanding China-Russia Axis
Unlike in the United States, military budgets in Russia and China are growing. And though smaller than the Pentagon’s budget, new initiatives are more often a product of the direction than the size of a budget. Increasing budgets can be engines for change – decreasing budgets, almost never.
In both China and Russia there is an increasing trend toward aggressive new military initiatives. Even more disturbing, these trend lines are starting to get tangled. The recent announcement of joint naval exercises – with the specific goal of improved interoperability – hints at new scenarios where the two nations expect to have aligned interests.
Curiously, both Russia and China have also announced big changes in their missile programs. Russia, remarkably, plans a 30-fold increase in cruise missile production over the next six years. China, while taking credit for recent successful tests of a new nuclear ICBM and a near-operational new submarine-launched ballistic missile, recently completed a successful flight test of its own new hypersonic cruise missile. It is hard to read these announcements without concluding the long-predicted expansion of the core missile threat from ballistic to ballistic + cruise is nearly upon us.
Incidentally, this also means it is far too early to crow over the new START treaty, now being celebrated as the preeminent success of Michael McFaul, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, whose retirement was just announced amid speculation that disappointment with the “Russian Reset” was a factor in his departure. The new START treaty limits ballistic missile launchers and bombers – not cruise missiles.
And there is no doubt which continent the designers of Russia’s and China’s new intercontinental cruise missiles had in mind. Lest anyone miss the point, the new Russian Intercontinental Cruise Missile, the RadugaKh-101, will carry a 400 kilogram nuclear payload 9,600 kilometers. The Pentagon has now decided to launch cruise-missile-surveillance blimps near Washington D.C.
None of this, of course, implies any pull-back in the ballistic missile threat. China’s push toward a qualitatively and quantitatively expanded ballistic missile fleet is on-track, with one of its missile factories now set to surpass Raytheon as the world’s top missile producer. Where will this vast new capacity find lucrative markets? The risk of China becoming a problem for missile proliferation can no longer be dismissed.
News from the West: Shrinking budgets and deafening silence
After the series of announcements that marked the expanding, evolving Russian and Chinese missile plans and growing bilateral military cooperation, analysts are beginning to worry that we may be in the early stages of a gradual shift in the delicate geostrategic balance of power. Surprisingly, there has been little public reaction from U.S. policymakers, though this may be due in part to distraction by another issue, itself a potential threat to the traditional balance of power.
The leading weapon that weighs in the geostrategic balance scales is the nuclear deterrent – nuclear ICBM fleets. While these fleets will never, it is hoped, be used, their deterrent value depends on an unequivocal perception that the system, and its operators, are viable and healthy. This makes the news of widespread proficiency test cheating by U.S. nuclear missile officers more than disturbing – both for its impact on readiness perceptions, and for what it implies about the ongoing priority of this keystone of the West’s deterrent.
In this context, stories of a series of failures plaguing the U.S. missile defense system, could not have come at a worse time. While the interceptors were never designed to deal with a Russian or Chinese force, this news reduces confidence in the U.S.’s ability to deal with a launch from a rogue nation.
The Proliferation Index
In treating cancer, doctors refer to a “proliferation index,” used as a measure of the number of cells in a tumor that are dividing (proliferating). Given the recent news, this seems an apt term to use to review the state of missile and nuclear proliferation.
Russia and China are not alone in reaching for dramatically increased influence on the world stage. As the U.S. continues to draw down its presence in the Middle East, the regional Proliferation Index appears set to climb to a new level, including a few new dimensions.
- Missile threat to commercial air travel: Just a few weeks ago, the first public report of appeared of terrorist use of a sophisticated shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile to shoot down an aircraft. Reacting to the news of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists shooting down an Egyptian military helicopter, former CIA director David Petraeus pointed out that, using such missiles, a terror organization could shut down the global air traffic system. As reported in these pages more than a year ago, armed terrorists were reportedly seen outside warehouses in the Libyan chaos, loading trucks with anti-aircraft weapons.
- Improvements in India’s new ICBM heighten regional tensions: Last year, after a successful test, India joined the ranks of nations with demonstrated ICBM technology, reportedly with a missile capable of carrying Multiple Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) warheads. Although India, it is to be hoped, will not stoop to joining the proliferation marketplace, the announcement of testing later this year of a new, easily transportable, containerized version of the solid state missiles has ratcheted up tensions further in this already-tense region.
- Pakistan prepares to accelerate production of the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal: Meanwhile Pakistan, apparently not content with owning the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal, has now announced they are near completion of a new plutonium production facility, giving Islamabad the capacity for further acceleration of a nuclear fleet that already surpasses India’s. Pakistan, it should be remembered, is home to the world’s largest terrorist organizations, including Lashka with, reportedly, more than 500,000 active members, and with good relations with the Pakistani military.
- Iran expanding the Bushehr plant, capable of plutonium production: Not to be left out, Iran also announced plans to build a new nuclear reactor at the Bushehr nuclear complex. The Bushehr site, which will produce plutonium as a by-product, is not covered by the current negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. And further east, the cooperation between Iran and North Korea apparently continues, with Iranian missile experts now reportedly in North Korea, cooperating on development of a long range missile.
Israeli missile defense programs move ahead
While Israel already faces the world’s largest combined enemy missile fleets, recent news suggests that qualitative changes are making this threat increasingly serious. In time of war, with the Israel Air Force vigorous and active, the rate at which Israel’s enemies can erect and launch heavy missiles will be limited. This puts a premium on every missile that is successfully launched. As Uzi Rubin pointed out at a recent conference, this has led Israel’s enemies to begin using homing sensors on their missiles, greatly increasing the accuracy and destructiveness of those that are successfully launched.
This, of course, highlights the importance of Israel’s missile defense plans. Here, the news is quite encouraging. Ideally, an effective missile defense deployment has multiple layers, giving defenders time for multiple shots at incoming threats.
Arrow 3, Israel’s longest range interceptor, will add to the Arrow 2 capability, providing a new layer to Israel’s intercept capability, engaging threats in space far beyond Israel’s borders. The system has now completed its second successful test flight, and is still on track to become operational in 2015.
At the same time David’s Sling, a highly flexible, shorter range interceptor, recently completed a live target intercept test. Initial deployment of the system is expected next year.
Finally, supplementing the short range Iron Dome interceptor, a new missile defense system, Iron Beam, is now being publicly discussed by manufacturer RAFAEL. The high technology, high energy laser defense system is designed to function as the innermost layer of Israel’s many-layer missile defense architecture, intercepting mortars, rockets and airborne threats with trajectories too short for Iron Dome.
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Executive Director, IMDA