Technology for ballistic and cruise missiles is advancing in countries from North Korea and Iran to Russia and China, increasing potential threats to the US even if they do not carry nuclear warheads, according to a new Pentagon report.
“Many countries view ballistic and cruise missile systems as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power,” US defense intelligence agencies said in the report obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of its release.
“Many ballistic and cruise missiles are armed with weapons of mass destruction. However, numerous types of ballistic and cruise missiles have achieved dramatic improvements in accuracy that allow them to be used effectively with conventional warheads,” the report by the US National Air and Space Intelligence Center and the Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee said.
The report comes as US President Donald Trump’s administration seeks a way to stop North Korea’s drive to develop a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the US mainland.
While citing the missile programs being pursued by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime and by Iran, the study described a broader proliferation of missiles, advanced technology and launch options.
“Ballistic missiles can be deployed in silos, on submarines, surface ships, road and rail-mobile launchers and aircraft,” the report said. “Mobile missiles can provide greater prelaunch survivability. The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in ballistic missile capabilities to include accuracy, post-boost maneuverability and combat effectiveness.”
Among the new technologies are hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) being developed by Russia and China.
“HGVs are maneuverable vehicles that travel at hypersonic [greater than Mach 5] speed and spend most of their flight at much lower altitudes than a typical ballistic missile,” the report said. “The combination of high speed, maneuverability and relatively low altitude makes them challenging targets for missile defense systems.”
“Tehran’s desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM. Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use inherently similar technologies,” it said.
“China continues to have the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world. It is developing and testing offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading missile systems and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses,” it said.
Russia, which in 2014 surpassed the US in deployed nuclear warheads, “is expected to retain the largest force of strategic ballistic missiles outside the United States,” the report added.
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