IMDA’s Strategic Missile Defense News Analysis is authored by Avi Schnurr, IMDA Director, and funded by the American Friends of IMDA.
Missile Defense: Vaccine for our Autoimmune World
As we near the end of the second decade in the 21st century, analysts warn that both ends of the global power spectrum – superpowers and third world rogue states – are significantly expanding the capabilities of their strategic weapons and missile fleets. While reminiscent of the Cold War, these trends may be far more dangerous today, due to new structural vulnerabilities in our interconnected world.
In this environment active missile defense systems have the potential to be a critical and stabilizing tool, especially when coupled with coordinated, multisector infrastructure resilience planning – a key component of passive missile defense. This synergy is already well-demonstrated in dealing with conventional missile threats from third world nations, with Israel’s unique efforts standing as the prime example. The potential for this to become a template for the United States and its allies will depend, however, on decisions to be made soon, as the world’s most powerful nations near a turning point that will define the next stage in superpower competition
Some decades ago the infrastructures, resources and services that sustained our lives and the world’s economies operated largely independently. Geography was accepted, as a matter of course, as a key factor.
That world is dead.
Like it or not, today all nations are sustained by hyperconnected, autonomously operating resource networks, nourished by global supply chains and animated by the global monetary system.
In an autoimmune disease the body – a tightly integrated organic system – begins attacking itself. If the condition cannot be arrested, the organism dies.
Our world has become such a tightly integrated organic system.
A successful attack on any nation tied into global networks and supply chains would mean disruption of these world-spanning systems. All nations would suffer. And if the target is one of the world’s major economies – one of the G7 nations, for example – the impact on all other nations, including the attacker, would be unprecedented catastrophe. Consider, for example, how long an attacker’s economy and society would continue to operate smoothly if their attack effectively shut down the global monetary system.
Analogous to a vaccine for the “global autoimmune disease,” active and passive missile defense today – while by no means a complete answer – have become vital and stabilizing tools addressing this new reality. However, with the superpowers driving threat evolution to a new level, decisions will need to be made on investing in a new phase of active defense development and deployment.
Russia’s Strategic Gambit: Echos of the Cold War
Implications of the evolving superpower missile conflict
Russia’s announcement of the successful test of the new Avangard Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) represents a new threshold in the strategic offense - defense competition that many thought had perished with the Cold War. China, which has also been aggressively developing such warhead delivery vehicles, may not be far behind. In this environment it is unsurprising that the death of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation treaty excited little real interest, with the front lines in the superpower missile competition leaving INF calculations far behind.
HGVs use advanced aerodynamic methods to allow delivery of a warhead at intercontinental speeds and ranges, but without the smooth ballistic trajectory that characterizes ICBMs. Capable of aggressive in-flight maneuvering, such systems typically cannot be intercepted by conventional missile defense systems.
If Russia achieves its goal of deployment of this new missile next year, and if China is on track to follow suit, it seems likely the U.S. will invest to catch up. In this superpower scenario, coordinated infrastructure resilience planning and other passive missile defense strategies will, of course, be essential. If active strategic missile defense is to remain part of the equation, technologies will need to change and substantial new investment will be required. New global-scale architectures, undoubtedly including space-based detection and kill assets, will be an essential part of the mix.
The entry cost to play this game will be staggering, and Russia may come to regret moving the geostrategic game onto this new board. With their faltering economy, it is not at all clear they could compete.
Left: Submarine launched ballistic missile B-05 being test fired. (Photo | DRDO) | Right: Concept drawing of a hypseronic aircraft. Iamge: Lockheed Martin
The numbers game, and China’s move to stack the deck
With a “mere” 300 or so nuclear warheads – compared to the roughly 7000 in the hands of Russia and the U.S. – China may seem like a marginal player in the deadly superpower nuclear chess game.
That perception may be somewhat comforting, but with China’s expanding investment in submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), it is completely wrong.
Given the real vulnerability that any modern nuclear attack would exploit, the strategic game today is more about the quality and variety of the delivery systems than it is about numbers, or even warhead size. Given adequate means to deliver even a handful of nuclear warheads over a targeted nation, the EMP field footprint would shut down power grids on national scales. It is not even necessary to land the warheads, or aim them accurately. High altitude detonations are the desired deployment geometry.
Given the catastrophic economic blowback that would result, such an attack would call into question the sanity, not to mention the logic (if any) of an attacking power. Unfortunately, few wars in our planet’s history made any sense economically or logically. That did not seem to slow down aggressors, whose actions often arose from internal personal or political calculations, religious or political ideologies, or simply miscalculations.
China’s investment in SLBMs demonstrates their recognition of the changing rules of the game. Submarines are designed to allow clandestine deployment of weapons or sensors to strategic locations. That means their four existing Jin-class submarines, each carrying 12 8000km JL-2 missiles, represent an existential threat to any targeted nation, of any size, anywhere. Once they have deployed their recently tested, 9000 km JL-3 SLBMs on advanced submarines, that threat will expand substantially.
The Third World Threat: A multi-power game on multiple, messy boards
With Pakistan leading the pack in both deployed missile and nuclear assets, and with North Korea and Iran racing to catch up, the strategic game in the third world is being played on a variety of boards – none similar to the superpower conflict.
Pakistan is estimated to have in the neighborhood of 100 nuclear missiles and the fastest growing arsenal on the planet. Whatever their current numbers, it will not be long before their arsenal surpasses that of the United Kingdom
Anxiety over the potential for Pakistani proliferation leaped higher recently, after leaked footage showed Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi promising 'full support' to UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and countless other massacres.
LeT, one of the world’s largest terrorist groups, has a demonstrated interest in acquiring nuclear missiles, and a demonstrated antipathy to the West, having declared the United States, India and Israel to be “existential enemies of Islam.”
Iran’s continuing and ruinously massive investment in achieving regional hegemony show no signs of abating.
Tehran’s recent transfer of ballistic missiles to Iraqi territory, coupled with their continuing attempts to transfer precision missile capability to their Hizbullah clients were highlighted by Israel’s recent discovery of a precision missile factory being built in northwest Syria. Israel’s strategic military policy is, to some degree, suppressing this effort in Lebanon and Syria. In parallel, Israel’s security is backstopped by an excellent air force and best-in-class deployed, multilayer active missile defense system, coupled with their all-infrastructure coordinated resilience system and related passive missile defense planning.
However, as their efforts to provide weapons to the Houthi terrorists in Yemen indicates, their ambitions do not stop with Israel or, for that matter, even with the Middle East. At this point, they represent an immediate and expanding threat to the Middle East and, longer term, to the United States and the West. Their intercontinental-class missile development was highlighted by their attempted satellite launch in January of this year. While the final, third stage of that launch failed, engineering teams often learn more from failure than from success, and they are now refocusing to prepare for launch of a second satellite. Notably, the satellite planned for the first attempt was dubbed “payam,” which means “message” in farsi – a name with rather chilling implications to military strategists speculating on its possible payload.
If Iran continues this development, it would be foolish to presume they will not keep trying until they achieve a reliable orbital capability. Coupled with their presumed continued drive for nuclear warhead development, this represents a serious strategic risk to western nations. The only difference between an orbit-capable rocket and an ICBM is the atmospheric reentry capability. With an EMP attack, atmospheric reentry is neither required nor desirable.
Continuing hopes for “denuclearization” of North Korea seem, at this point, quite dead. The recent bombshell announcement from North Korea’s Central News Agency effectively defined “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula to mean removal of the U.S. “invasion force” from South Korea and “from areas neighboring the Korean peninsula.” I.e., removal of the ~30,000 U.S. troops deployed in the South, the U.S. nuclear-capable naval resources in the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, and possibly other assets in nearby regions.
Active Missile Defense in Israel: Best-in-class systems now popular, worldwide
With its deployed, integrated long, medium and short range missile systems, Israel’s missile defense architecture represents a defensive umbrella that is, at this point, unequalled anywhere else.
With development and upgrades continuing, Israel continues to rack up successful development tests – the successful Arrow III test in January, earlier this year, is just the latest in a remarkable series of successes.
These capabilities are not going unrecognized elsewhere. Thus, for example, the U.S. Army – following its purchase of a few hundred Rafael Trophy missile systems for its M1 tanks – has now followed Canada’s lead and is acquiring two Rafael Iron Dome missile defense systems. Among other reasons, the U.S. appears to be particularly interested in the system’s capability to intercept commercial drones, which are becoming widely available.
India is also continuing to expand its procurement of Israeli missile defense systems. Bharat Electronics Limited, a government-owned company, inked an agreement to acquire the marine version of the Israel Aircraft Industry’s (IAI) Barak 8 air and missile defense systems for seven more warships, following a similar purchase last year.
The same is true of South Korea, which is now purchasing the IAI Elta Green Pine solid state phased array radar to accurately identify and precision track missiles and rockets. Given the scale of the threat faced by Seoul, the unique, state of the art capabilities offered by this radar are a logical acquisition for a government facing a continuing, wide range of threats.
Highlights of IMDA’s Seventh Annual Air and Missile Defense Conference and Exhibition
IMDA’s seventh annual Air and Missile Defense Conference and Exhibition took place on December 10, 2018. Chaired by IMDA board member and WALES CEO of WALES Alik Hermetz, this was the largest conference to-date in the series. Nearly 400 people participated in the event, which was cohosted by the Israeli Society for Aeronautics and Astronautics and by Israel Homeland Security, I-HLS.
A highlight of the conference was a special award to General Herzl Bodinger, former Israel Air Force Commander and former Chairman of IMDA. General Bodinger, one of the founders of IMDA – Israel’s only civil missile defense association – was instrumental in successfully representing the urgency of missile defense for Israel.
Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav, Air Defense Forces Commander, IAF, reviewed recent developments and achievements of the Israeli missile defense sector, stressing the importance of interoperability, and highlighting the contribution of the U.S. defense industry to the success of Israel’s missile defense programs.
Moshe Patel, Director of the IDF’s Israel Missile Defense Organization and former IMDA Board Member, also keynoted the event. International speakers at the conference included Scott Kripowicz, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Chief of Staff for International Affairs; Bernd Kreienbaum, Senior Advisor at IABG, Germany; Lt. Gen. (ret) Howard Bromberg, Lockheed Martin; and Steve Thomas from Parsons.
IMDA’s 8th Air and Missile Defense Conference and Exhibition, now in planning, will take place in December, 2019.