Intelligence & Policy

Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015

September 1999


National Intelligence Council. Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015. Washington, DC: September 1999.

"This paper has been prepared under the auspices of the National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, Bob Walpole; comments or questions should be directed to CIA's Office of Public Affairs on (703) 482-7677."

See also Robert D. Walpole, "Statement for the Record," 16 Sep. 1999.

The Table of Contents, Preface, and Key Points of this document are given below.



Key Points


The Evolving Missile Threat in the Current Proliferation Environment

Classification of Ballistic Missiles by Range

Threat Availability Before "Deployment"

Potential ICBM Threats to the United States

North Korea





Foreign Assistance

Warning Times and Our Ability to Forecast Ballistic Missile Development and Acquisition

Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) Conversion

Alternative Threats to the United States

Forward-Based Threats

Non-Missile WMD Threats to the United States

Immediate Theater Missile Threats to US Interests and Allies

Penetration Aids and Countermeasures


Congress has requested that the Intelligence Community produce annual reports on ballistic missile developments. We produced the first report in March 1998 and an update memorandum in October 1998 on the August North Korean launch of its Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle (SLV). Our 1999 report is a classified National Intelligence Estimate, which we have summarized in unclassified form in this paper.

This year we examined future capabilities for several countries that have or have had ballistic missiles or SLV programs or intentions to pursue such programs. Using intelligence information and expertise from inside and outside the Intelligence Community, we examined scenarios by which a country could acquire an ICBM by 2015, including by purchase, and assessed the likelihood of various scenarios. (Some analysts believe that the prominence given to missiles countries "could" develop gives more credence than is warranted to developments that may prove implausible.) We did not attempt to address all of the potential political, economic, and social changes that could occur. Rather, we analyzed the level of success and the pace countries have experienced in their development efforts, international technology transfers, political motives, military incentives, and economic resources. From that basis, we projected possible and likely missile developments by 2015 independent of significant political and economic changes. Subsequent annual reports will be able to account for such changes.

Our projections for future ICBM developments are based on limited information and engineering judgment. Adding to our uncertainty is that many countries surround their ballistic missile programs with secrecy, and some employ deception. Although some key milestones are difficult to hide, we may miss others. For example, we may not know all aspects of a missile systems configuration until flight testing; we did not know until the launch last August that North Korea had acquired a third stage for its Taepo Dong 1.

We took into account recommendations made in July 1998 by the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States and incorporated the results of several academic and contractor efforts, including politico-economic experts to help examine future environments that
might foster ICBM sales and missile contractors to help postulate potential ICBM configurations that rogue states could pursue.

Key Points

We project that during the next 15 years the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China, and North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq. The Russian threat, although significantly reduced, will continue to be the most robust and lethal, considerably more so than that posed by China, and orders of magnitude more than that potentially posed by other nations, whose missiles are likely to be fewer in number probably a few to tens, constrained to smaller payloads, and less reliable and accurate than their Russian and Chinese counterparts.

We judge that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq would view their ICBMs more as strategic weapons of deterrence and coercive diplomacy than as weapons of war. We assess that:

North Korea could convert its Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle (SLV) into an ICBM that could deliver a light payload (sufficient for a biological or chemical weapon) to the United States, albeit with inaccuracies that would make hitting large urban targets improbable. North Korea is more likely to weaponize the larger Taepo Dong-2 as an ICBM that could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload (sufficient for early generation nuclear weapons) to the United States. Most analysts believe it could be tested at any time, probably initially as an SLV, unless it is delayed for political reasons.

Iran could test an ICBM that could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload to many parts of the United States in the last half of the next decade using Russian technology and assistance. Most analysts believe it could test an ICBM capable of delivering a lighter payload to the United States in the next few years following the North Korean pattern.

Analysts differ on the likely timing of Iran's first test of an ICBM that could threaten the United Statesassessments range from likely before 2010 and very likely before 2015 (although an SLV with ICBM capability probably will be tested in the next few years) to less than an even chance of an ICBM test by 2015.

Iraq could test a North Korean-type ICBM that could deliver a several- hundred kilogram payload to the United States in the last half of the next decade depending on the level of foreign assistance. Although less likely, most analysts believe it could test an ICBM that could deliver a lighter payload to the United States in a few years based on its failed SLV or the Taepo Dong-1, if it began development now.

Analysts differ on the likely timing of Iraq's first test of an ICBM that could threaten the United Statesassessments range from likely before 2015, possibly before 2010 (foreign assistance would affect capability and timing) to unlikely before 2015.

By 2015, Russia will maintain as many nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles as its economy will allow but well short of START I or II limitations.

By 2015, China is likely to have tens of missiles capable of targeting the United States, including a few tens of more survivable, land- and sea-based mobile missiles with smaller nuclear warheadsin part influenced by US technology gained through espionage. China tested its first mobile ICBM in August 1999.

Sales of ICBMs or SLVs, which have inherent ICBM capabilities and could be converted relatively quickly with little or no warning, could increase the number of countries able to threaten the United States. North Korea continues to demonstrate a willingness to sell its missiles. Although we judge that Russia or China are unlikely to sell an ICBM or SLV in the next fifteen years, the consequences of even one sale would be extremely serious.

Several other means to deliver weapons of mass destruction to the United States have probably been devised, some more reliable than ICBMs that have not completed rigorous testing programs. For example, biological or chemical weapons could be prepared in the United States and used in large population centers, or short-range missiles could be deployed on surface ships. However, these means do not provide a nation the same prestige and degree of deterrence or coercive diplomacy associated with ICBMs.

The proliferation of medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs)driven primarily by North Korean No Dong saleshas created an immediate, serious, and growing threat to US forces, interests, and allies, and has significantly altered the strategic balances in the Middle East and Asia. We judge that countries developing missiles view their regional concerns as one of the primary factors in tailoring their programs. They see their short- and medium-range missiles not only as deterrents but also as force- multiplying weapons of war, primarily with conventional weapons, but with options for delivering biological, chemical, and eventually nuclear weapons. South Asia provides one of the most telling examples of regional ballistic missile and nuclear proliferation:

Pakistan has Chinese-supplied M-11 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and Ghauri MRBMs from North Korea.

India has Prithvi I SRBMs and recently began testing the Agni II MRBM.

We assess these missiles may have nuclear roles.

Foreign assistance continues to have demonstrable effects on missile advances around the world, particularly from Russia and North Korea. Moreover, some countries that have traditionally been recipients of foreign missile technology are now sharing more amongst themselves and are pursuing cooperative missile ventures.

We assess that countries developing missiles also will respond to US theater and national missile defenses by deploying larger forces, penetration aids, and countermeasures. Russia and China each have developed numerous countermeasures and probably will sell some related technologies.

Click for text of Robert D. Walpole, National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, "Statement for the Record" to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 16 September 1999.

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