Sunday, April 02, 2006

Iran's Burgeoning Missile Arsenal

Ilan Berman, American Foreign Policy Council: Plus other news items.
"Western intelligence sources" have told Middle East Newsline (March 20) that Iran is assembling a new class of hybrid intermediate ballistic missiles. The nuclear-capable missiles, which are believed to be comprised of Iran's "Shihab-3" and the North Korean "BM-25" and to have a range of up to 4,500 kilometers, will dramatically increase Iran's reach, bringing nearly every city in Western Europe within striking distance.

"The Iranians have achieved a major breakthrough in missile development with North Korean help that would allow Teheran to fire a nuclear missile toward Europe," one intelligence source has told the news agency. "It's likely that Iran has already obtained at least one nuclear warhead." Moreover, intelligence officials say, the news could greatly complicate the current international crisis over Iran's nuclear program. "The threat of one mushroom cloud is enough to deter Europe." READ MORE


The Pentagon is inching forward with plans for research on space-based missile defenses
. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 9th, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, disclosed that the U.S. is planning to erect a missile defense test bed in outer space next year. Though strictly for "experimental purposes," the test bed will assist policymakers in "understanding the challenge" of successfully integrating a space based component into the pre-existing BMD infrastructure, Obering said in comments carried by Defense Daily (March 10).


The United States desperately needs to begin building the capability to defend against the threat of cruise missiles, a top military commander has told Congress. "There exists a real and growing threat from land attack cruise missiles in the world today," Lieutenant General Larry Dodgen, commander of the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee on March 9th. "Cruise missiles are inherently very difficult targets to detect, engage and destroy because of their small size, low detection signature, and low altitude flight characteristics. When armed with a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) warhead, the effect of a cruise missile could be catastrophic." In response, Dodgen urged, the U.S. must accelerate development of "the required systems and capabilities" to field a cruise missile defense system "as soon as possible."


MSNBC (March 22) reports that, after years of developmental delays and cost overruns, the U.S. Air Force's troubled Airborne Laser (ABL) program could be seeing clearer skies ahead. Steady technological progress - coupled with new interest in the system from a key American missile defense partner, Japan - are reducing risks for the program, previously on the budgetary chopping block. However, the coming year is shaping up to be a make-or-break one for the ABL; U.S. defense officials have made clear that the high-tech missile defense project will need to meet certain performance benchmarks in coming months, and subsequently to successfully carry out a critical live test fire in early 2008, in order to remain funded.

Missile Defense Briefing Report No. 199, March 29, 2006
For more information on Iran's missile program, click here.