Center for Strategic Decision Research


Ballistic Missile Defense: A Challenge NATO Must Face

Major General Peter C. Franklin
Deputy Director, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization

One is constantly reminded of the many ways in which modern technology is breaking down the barriers—once thought of as formidable—to dialog, commerce, and, perhaps most of all, between potential adversaries. Even the United States, once in the envious position of being far removed from many of the world’s trouble spots, now finds itself becoming vulnerable to threats to its territory and to its people from conflicts arising in countries far away. All sorts of new vulnerabilities must now be considered by our national security establishment: threats from terrorists, from cyberattack, and from weapons of mass destruction, including those delivered by long-range ballistic missiles.

I would like to talk about the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization’s views concerning our perception of the growing challenge the Alliance faces from ballistic missiles. We believe that NATO is, or will soon be, vulnerable to ballistic missile threats. We in the United States are addressing that challenge, but need our allies around the world, in particular those in the NATO Alliance, to work together with us to address it.


All of us must first recognize that this has been a year of almost astonishing progress in many national ballistic missile development programs around the world. Major new missiles, representing significant improvements in indigenous technology and capability, have flown for the first time. Perhaps the most significant of these is the new Taepo Dong flown by North Korea in August 1998. That flight demonstrated that the North Koreans have mastered, with assistance from other nations, some significant new technologies, among them the ability to stage a missile and new solid rocket motor propulsion in a third stage. The North Koreans, in fact, in their attempt to launch a satellite with a three-stage missile, inadvertently sent debris from the failed third stage most of the way across the Pacific Ocean, clearly indicating that a similar missile whose upper stage functioned properly could send a small payload as far as parts of Alaska and Hawaii.

The North Korean test was not the only one of significance. Iran also tested a new, longer-range missile, the Shahab-3. Although the test was only partially successful, it showed that Iran too is well on its way to developing a much more significant indigenous ballistic missile capability. Further, there is every indication that Iran intends to develop an even longer-range ballistic missile, the Shahab-4, a missile with a reach well into NATO territory.

India, too, has tested a significantly longer-range missile, the Agni, and Pakistan has flight-tested its modernized Ghauri, a medium-range missile that was first tested in April 1999. Even Iraq continues its ballistic missile development program. While staying within the limits imposed by the U.N., the program is capable of keeping its technical staff current and preparing them for the day when U.N. sanctions may be lifted.

These developments are cause for concern in their own right, but of even more concern is the apparent willingness of some countries to share ballistic missile technology through technical assistance programs or outright sales of missile systems themselves. Further, it appears that all of the missile development programs I just mentioned have been accelerated by assistance from one or another outside source. Ballistic missile technology has, in some circles, become a business commodity, something that can be bought and sold with little regard for political consequences.


We NATO countries are all members of the Missile Technology Control Regime and support other diplomatic initiatives aimed at curbing proliferation of this extremely dangerous technology. But our diplomatic efforts fall on deaf ears in some corners of the world, and it is clear that we must do more. Deterrence is a key element of our efforts to counter the proliferation of ballistic missiles, but even deterrence has its limits, especially against regimes that do not always appear to be rational actors on the world stage. That is why we in the United States feel missile defense is becoming indispensable in today’s world.

The U.S.’s current missile defense programs can be traced back to our first-hand experiences in the Gulf War with an adversary who had few qualms about using ballistic missiles. That experience convinced us that if we were ever again to face an adversary like Saddam Hussein, we clearly had to be in a position to mount a credible and effective defense against the kind of tactical missile threat he, and others like him, pose. That decision led to the transformation of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization into the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), a change that was much more than a symbolic name change. In fact the mission of BMDO now is to field a missile defense that will serve U.S. forces and our allies in areas where there is a real danger of facing an adversary who could and would use ballistic missiles against us.


The Iraqi missile attacks during the Gulf War were an even stronger signal to the countries in the region that were on the receiving end that there was an urgent need for active ballistic missile defense. Swift action by the United States and the Netherlands to provide active defenses for Israel in the wake of initial Iraqi attacks was an important factor in Israel’s decision not to enter the war. Following the Gulf War experience, Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, set about acquiring the best immediately available active defense, the U.S. Patriot. Israel then began a development program for an indigenous capability called Arrow, which is now on the verge of becoming operational.

Lower- and Upper-Tier Systems

We have supported Israel’s development of the Arrow in parallel with our own development of what we call the Family of Systems for theater missile defense. We have given first priority to the so-called lower-tier systems—the Army’s Patriot PAC-3 and the Navy Area Defense Standard Missile Block IV-A. Both of these systems take advantage of major investments and operational experience with Patriot and AEGIS, and have demonstrated intercepts in flight test activity. Following continued flight test success in the PAC-3 program, we will start fielding the system in 2001. We also anticipate that our Navy Area System will be deployed in 2003. But to defend against the longer-range threats, such as the Shahab-3, we need the more capable, or upper-tier, defenses of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Navy Theater Wide Systems. By combining upper-and lower-tier systems we can provide a more effective, in-depth defense. And by intercepting incoming threats further away from their intended target and at a much higher altitude (or in space), we can mitigate the effects of the warheads, especially if they are weapons of mass destruction.

We have encountered a series of problems with the flight-testing of the THAAD system. However, throughout these tests, almost all of the system components have performed flawlessly, and very recently we achieved our first successful THAAD intercept. We believe that the intercept demonstrates that we are on the right track with THAAD, and anticipate that the program will ultimately be successful. At this point, the development of the Navy Theater Wide System is not as far advanced as THAAD; however, its flight-testing is scheduled to begin in 2000, and current plans call for the first of these upper-tier systems to enter our forces in 2007.


Following the Gulf War, we also continued to work on the technology necessary to support a missile defense system for the U.S. homeland, but viewed the deployment of such a defense as a lower priority issue, given the “here and now” presence of the TBM threat. However, as our assessment of the potential risk to the United States from missile attack began to change, debate concerning the need for a homeland defense intensified. The Administration approved an enhanced program of missile defense technology development called the Technology Readiness Program, and later, as the Administration’s concern about threat developments increased, our NMD program was changed to the so-called Deployment Readiness Program. This change put us on the path to a deployment decision, but as yet no specific date has been set.

In 1998 a commission headed by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld concluded that our intelligence community had seriously underestimated the pace at which the development of ballistic missiles could proceed. The commission concluded that the United States and its NATO Allies could be faced with much more serious threats than previously envisaged, and that those threats could manifest themselves with far less strategic warning than previously thought possible. The Taepo Dong launch in August 1998 gave new impetus to our missile defense program as the United States recognized the potential threat to itself manifested in this latest North Korean launch. It also played a significant role in our decision to aggressively prepare ourselves to deploy a homeland defense. Our new budget for missile defense, announced in January 1999, provided the remainder of the funding we needed to develop and deploy a limited national missile defense system if the President makes a decision to do so. Ultimately, this decision will rest on a determination of the maturity of NMD technologies and on the urgency of the threat.


In addition to the Taepo Dong launch, the deployment of the medium-range NoDong missile by North Korea (after only one flight test) dramatically affected the view of our major Pacific ally, Japan, concerning the need for ballistic missile defense. Shortly after the Taepo Dong launch, the Defense and Foreign Ministers of both the United States and Japan agreed to move ahead on a joint program of advanced ballistic missile defense research. This program was fully supported by the Japanese parliament, and we are about to begin the first phase of the program, which could lead to the deployment of a robust sea-based ballistic missile defense system.

Still, no one has acted with greater resolve to meet the threat of ballistic missiles than the State of Israel, and I am particularly pleased that our support of their efforts will soon lead to a real, fielded capability for a key, valued friend of the United States. The Israelis have had excellent success in their development, integration, and flight-testing efforts. We are now beginning to work with our Israeli counterparts to find the best way for our two forces to interoperate in a future contingency in which we would send U.S. missile defenses to the region.


The Alliance first recognized the need to further explore missile defense after the experiences of many of the Allies in the Gulf War. NATO decided that it would view ballistic missile defense as an extension of its air defense activities and began to explore its policy options for this extension in the NATO Air Defense Committee. The decision to view missile defense as an extension of Alliance air defense thus began to affect key Alliance programs such as the plan for a new Air Command and Control System (ACCS).

At the same time these changes were taking place, the Conference of National Armaments Directors began to explore ways in which nations developing or considering missile defense systems could cooperate to develop active defenses against ballistic missiles through a Missile Defense Ad Hoc Group. On the Alliance’s military side, SHAPE took the lead in examining the need for NATO to plan to defend itself against ballistic missiles and, once that need was established, began the process of formally expressing the need as a Military Operational Requirement. SHAPE was assisted by SACLANT in the final development of the requirement, which was approved two years ago.

NATO also saw the need for an overarching view of the emergence of the threat considering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, the experiences gained during the Gulf War, and the revelations of post-war U.N. inspections of Iraqi scientific and technical facilities. The Alliance created a group to examine all counterproliferation-related Alliance activities and to recommend a program to enable NATO to address the proliferation threat in a comprehensive manner. This group was called the Senior Defense Group on Proliferation, or DGP for short. The DGP reported on measures that could be taken in active defense, passive defense, and counterforce, and recommended the Alliance undertake and prioritize those activities in “tiers.” To attain an active ballistic missile defense capability, the DGP recommended that NATO first improve current air defenses to establish missile defenses effective against today’s shorter-range threat missiles and then go on to establish a layered defense. This defense initially would be designed to protect NATO forces, but eventually would provide a defense for NATO’s homeland.

NATO is now moving to implement the DGP finding that a layered, extended air defense is a necessary element of an Alliance counterproliferation strategy. After several years of work, the Alliance is preparing to define a system to satisfy the Alliance military requirement for layered defense for NATO forces, a system that could then be extended to protect NATO populations and territories as well. Unfortunately, it appears that the Alliance is still not of one mind concerning the need for missile defense, a regrettable situation to my way of thinking. These differences are, among other things, a reflection of the budget implications of developing and fielding a layered missile defense. However, in my view, failure to commit to the programs that support this mission could result in an unacceptable degree of vulnerability for certain Allies and thus an unacceptable degree of vulnerability to the fabric of the Alliance.

Except to protect Alliance forces from threats both in and out of the NATO area, some NATO Allies do not see the immediate need for ballistic missile defense. However, one need only consider how the scenario in the Balkans could have changed if the Alliance had been faced with an adversary in possession of tactical ballistic missiles, perhaps even missiles armed with warheads containing some sort of weapon of mass destruction. Such a situation could put millions of citizens in several Alliance nations at great risk, and, in an era in which ballistic missile technology is readily available, highlights the need for the Alliance to come together in support of an earnest program aimed at developing an active ballistic missile defense.

Ballistic missile defenses are complex and cannot appear overnight. It will require all NATO Allies working together and contributing to Alliance plans and actions to make long-range ballistic missiles available to enable NATO to face the challenge from hostile nations—a challenge that will surely materialize, perhaps sooner than any of us can imagine. Some Allies, in addition to the United States—notably Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy—are already working together to take the first steps toward creating a viable missile defense. And, in addition to development and procurement activity, NATO forces are beginning to address the many questions involved in integrating these new capabilities into their plans and force structures. One way such questions are being addressed is through the Optic Windmill series of exercises, a timely initiative brought about by the government of the Netherlands. These exercises show clearly that NATO Allies can work together to provide an answer to the ballistic missile challenge.


I believe that, in the years to come, we can build on the work I have just discussed and other efforts by NATO and NATO Allies to minimize the collective risk to the Alliance or the risk to any of its members from the ever-growing threat from the proliferation of ballistic missile technology. However, we must insure that the Alliance does not wait to begin a determined effort to develop active defenses until some defining or even tragic event takes place, such as the overflight of Japan by North Korean missiles or the Iraqi attacks on Saudi Arabia and Israel. The time for the Alliance to act is now.


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