WASHINGTON – Technology for ballistic and cruise missiles is advancing in countries from North Korea and Iran to Russia and China, increasing potential threats to the U.S. even if those missiles don’t carry nuclear warheads, a new Pentagon report states.
“Many countries view ballistic and cruise missile systems as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power,” 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 comes as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks a way to halt North Korea’s drive to develop a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. mainland. While citing the ballistic missile programs being pursued by Kim Jong Un’s regime in Pyongyang and by Iran, the study describes 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 pre-launch survivability. The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in ballistic missile capabilities to include accuracy, post-boost maneuverability, and combat effectiveness.”
The new technologies include hypersonic glide vehicles being developed by Russia and China.
“HGVs are maneuverable vehicles that travel at hypersonic (greater than Mach 5) speeds and spend most of their flight at much lower altitudes than a typical ballistic missile,” according to the report. “The combination of high speed, maneuverability, and relatively low altitude makes them challenging targets for missile defense systems.”
“China continues to have the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world,” said the report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center and the Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee. “It is developing and testing offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses.”
Other findings included details on the Iranian arsenal. “Tehran’s desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM,” the Pentagon report stated. “Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles (SLV) use inherently similar technologies.”
Russia, which surpassed the U.S. in 2014 in deployed nuclear warheads, “is expected to retain the largest force of strategic ballistic missiles outside the United States.”
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