Geostrategic Target Tracking

Active missile defense systems have scored important successes in recent years, largely due to dramatic advances in “targeting:” threat detection, identification and tracking. But long before a threat can be tracked, there is an earlier phase: Geostrategic target tracking. And here, the story is not nearly so positive.

We may have overlooked an important geostrategic target.


The world today is held enthralled by weekly, daily and sometimes hourly exchanges of threats and counterthreats between North Korea and the United States. The governor of Hawaii has initiated nuclear attack preparations, the governor of Alaska is concerned and Guam, ground zero for Kim Jong Uns latest threats, has lost its tourists. But the price of a U.S. preemptive strike would be high: the population of Seoul and tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen are hostage to 15,000 heavily fortified North Korean cannon and rocket launcher sites, in easy range of Seouls skyscrapers. Kim Jong Un, as he considers his options, undoubtedly realizes his luxurious personal resort islands would be early casualties of any conflict. These factors are likely to at least delay actions that could become a shooting war, although not indefinitely. In the medium and long term, it will be difficult for either side to back down, and something is likely to happen. Among the available choices, many, as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pointed out, would be catastrophic.1

But in the complex webwork of tensions that make up todays nuclear realpolitik, what are the other compelling threats?

Welcome to the high-stakes game of geostrategic analysis. To begin, lets to review the rules in this case, the alignment of a few of the key players.



The United States consumes a whopping 20% of Chinese exports, and in the near term, at least, this could make China think twice before any direct conflict with the U.S. The situation with India, however, is quite different.

In 2016 China exported $52B of goods and services to India a tiny sum, representing just 3% of trade with Bei Jings nine most important trading partners. India doesnt even show up on the list.2 And Indian exports to China, interestingly, stood at just $8B, a figure representing coincidentally only about 3% of Indias exports.3 In short, neither country is an important market for the other. Not good for stability.



Unfortunately, this is not the end of the China India story. There is a long history of distrust between the two nuclear-armed mega-nations, especially over positioning in the South China sea, and continuing accusations of cross-border incursions that at least three times in the last 60 Years erupted into significant conflicts. A huge majority of Indians fear such disputes could lead to war, and view Beijings de facto alliance with Pakistan as dangerous, with Beijing using Islamabad as a Cats Paw to tame or divert New Delhi. Indias major opposition party asserts that China and Pakistan are preparing for war.4

China, in a near-perfect reflection of these concerns, sees Indian presence in the South China seas as interference,5 and views Indias virtual alliance with the U.S. as a strategic threat.

Where is all this mistrust going? Indias fears, in particular, seem justified: there is compelling evidence that things are going from bad to worse.

Following years of extensive technical support which has been vital for Pakistans fast growing nuclear arsenal,6 China recently inked a new Framework Agreement with Pakistan, for technical cooperation in the exploration and development of uranium resources.7 Intriguingly, the same reports that broke the news of the new uranium agreement with Pakistan revealed that China signed a similar agreement with Saudi Arabia, earlier this year. In fact, the connection was made almost explicit by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Speaking of the agreement, CNNC referred to Pakistan as an important bridge across the Middle East and South Asia.8

Unfortunately, coincidences in international relations especially when they relate to nuclear proliferation, are simply never credible. And if the China Pakistan Saudi Arabia triangle is not coincidental, its not hard to see the shape of an emerging three-way deal. Chinas bridge could become, potentially inadvertently, a global incendiary.

Rumors have been flying for years that, in return for funding Pakistans bomb, the Gulf Kingdom likely insisted that if and when they asked, they would be given a few of the warheads they funded. Pakistan, however, home to the fastest growing arsenal in the world, sees their missiles as an insurance policy against the Indian giant. If some of the products of their nuclear production line are about to leave for other shores, theyll need an assured supply of fuel to make more. Its not hard to imagine a plan to start uranium flowing from new mines in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia into Islamabads weapons factories, in return for parting with some of the products of those factories.

In other words as the India-China pot gets closer to boiling over, unsurprisingly, there will be regional consequences. And one of the most disturbing consequences could be an expansion of the Indo-Sino nuclear arms race into the Gulf, as Saudi Arabia prepares their own insurance policy against their own worst nightmare a nuclear Iran.



Of course, just to make all of this even more interesting, there are indications that even within Pakistan concerns are growing that Islamabads ability to ensure control over their nuclear arsenal is fraying. The New York Times recently reported9 that Pakistans Atomic Energy Commission sent an urgent letter to the director general of the Strategic Plans Division, which is responsible for securing Pakistans nuclear assets. Pakistans AEC requested that the military devote more resources to ensuring that personnel with knowledge of the nuclear program are monitored.

The same story reported a recently revealed document from Pakistans Ministry of the Interior, pointing out a wide range of concerns over the security of their own nuclear arsenal. According to the New York Times, the document raised concerns over the growing influence of terrorist groups inside the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies, and in the families of senior and midlevel military officers, and pointed out that many terrorist organizations are operational in the areas in Punjab near some of Pakistans nuclear facilities.10

And in a final twist, the internal document apparently refers to a security measure presumably meant to reduce the risk of local commanders starting a nuclear shooting war, with warheads de-mated from missiles. Unfortunately, de-mating is precisely what many analysts have feared, as a measure that could make international traffic in such warheads far simpler. If terrorist organizations acquire such warheads especially organizations on the growing list of those with access to missiles the consequences for global security would be disastrous.


Of course, while this news may represent serious concerns for proliferation into the Gulf region, they need to take their place on a growing list. Irans weapons programs, for example, are unlikely to be tamped down any time soon by new U.S. sanctions. Tehrans parliament reacted to news of new sanctions by voting overwhelmingly to increase funding for missile development.11


As one might expect, growing concerns over nuclear proliferation has been mirrored by growing interest in missile defense. And with the steady drumbeat of threats coming from North Korea, this has been especially the case in the governments of Japan and the United States.

In a recent meeting, Japans Defence Secretary Itsunori Onodera reportedly asked U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis for support for Tokyos plans to install the Aegis Ashore system, a land-based version of the Aegis interceptor system that Tokyo feels would enhance their ability to stop North Korean missiles.12 And in the United States, President Donald Trump said announcement will be made soon on in increase of billions of dollars in funding for missile defense.13

Meanwhile, in Israel, news of a successful operational intercept by the new Arrow 3 system came as good news to the missile defense community especially news that the threat that was intercepted was apparently a challenging target for the system a SAM that did not self-destruct and on a trajectory toward Israel, but a significant departure from the standard characteristics for which the system, presumably was optimized.14

Given this success, talk in Israel is already turning to next steps, and the shape of a next phase Arrow 4 system, perhaps designed to deal with far larger heavy missile salvos, armed with more advanced countermeasures.15


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From all indications, this is a good time to be in the missile defense business. Unfortunately, the reason is anything but good news.

While North Korea is a serious and growing threat, Pakistan, one of the worlds poorest and, arguably, most corrupt and terror-ridden nations, has the worlds fastest growing arsenal. It already has more nuclear missiles than the United Kingdom. As evidence accumulates that Islamabad is being used as a nuclear cats-paw against India, there are indications that the resulting, rising temperature in Indo-Chinese relations may soon throw off nuclear sparks.

Saudi Arabia, the rumored patron of Pakistans arsenal, fears a nuclear Iran. If Chinas adventurism brings warheads from Islamabads growing arsenal to Riyadh, the Pakistan India China arms race will have expanded nuclear proliferation to the Middle East. And if some of the sparks from that conflict reach transnational terrorist groups, the consequences for global security would be devastating.



  6. (CNNC) "
    300 MWe () 1000 MWe." , " , , ."
  7. ibid.
  8. ibid.
  10. Ibid.




Work starts on the development of the next generation of the Arrow interceptor

In early August 2017, DEFENSE NEWS reported1 that work has begun on a new missile interceptor that will join the interception missile family of the Arrow Weapon System (AWS), the Arrow 2, which started operational service back in 2000, and the Arrow 3, which was implemented by the Israeli Air Force only this year. The Arrow 4 has been commissioned to MLM factory of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) by the HOMA Administration1 at MAFAT, the Ministry of Defense's Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure.

The interceptor is still in its early development stages and will probably require several adjustments of its weapon system, namely the radars and its management and control unit (BMC3).

While the Ministry of Defense and IAI refrain from disclosing specifics of the new development, the comments made by Moshe Patel, director of Israel's Missile Defense Organization (HOMA) reveal that it was motivated by forecasts of salvo striked and the introduction of MRVs on Iranian missiles. Hence, the Arrow-4 interceptor will probably be in MKLV configuration4 , which means it will carry several smaller sub-munition warheads on a single missile.

The development of this category of interceptors5 originated in Lockheed-Martin in the USA already in 2004, but was abandoned in December 2009 in view of the steep challenges it involves. It was only in August 2015 that the development was resumed, based on a similar concept with the addition of stated US uncertainties regarding discrimination capabilities, this time as initial, concurrent effort of several industries: Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon and with a slight name change to MOKV6 .

The fitting of the small interceptor missiles on GBI, the mega-missile platform is considered an intricate engineering feat which is fraught with risks and one that poses a first-rate technological challenge.



Left: Illustration of the MOKV \\ Right:Illustration of Lockheed-Martin's concept: six small interceptor-missiles mounted on mega interceptor GBI


If this is indeed so, then Israel's defense industry has assumed the leadership of an engineering project in the forefront of global knowhow, while imposing two key constraints:

  • Strict weight limitations by an order of magnitude (!) since the Arrow-3 interceptor is said to be 10 times smaller or more than the GBI.
  • Demands for "Israeli-level" price tag, not of the GBI's range.

IMDA's council believes that IAI, its MLM factory and the Israel Missile Defense Organization will outperform themselves again and will take the product through all development stages in another show of Israeli creativity and daring. We look forward to witnessing another link in the glorious chain of local interceptor projects (Arrows 2 and 3, Iron Dome and David's Sling), which offer world-rate level of unique innovation and ingenuity.

  1. / /
  2. MAFAT - Defense Research and Development IMDO - the Israel Missile Defense Organization,
  3. MRV - multiple reentry vehicles
  4. Miniature/Multiple Kill Vehicle MKV
  5. /
  6. Multi-Object Kill Vehicle MOKV