At the moment, the cruise missiles on everyone’s mind are spinning up in the Mediterranean. But a few weeks ago, I wrote a little piece on the new National Air Space Intelligence Center on ballistic and cruise missile threat that I had intended to publish in Foreign Policy. But neither Peter nor I could get it together, then the news window closed.
So, here it is, much delayed:
The National Air and Space Intelligence Center has released a new glossy pub — a “slickee” – detailing the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat. NASIC, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, publishes this report about every few years – pervious editions in 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009.
Now, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat reflects the view of one part of the intelligence community. It is not unusual to find slight deviations between this report and other intelligence community products. But report is fairly comprehensive and well done. And the fact that NASIC has produced it on a fairly regular schedule makes it one of the more useful and anticipated released for people like me. It’s wonkporn, Playboy for arms control wonks. Well, maybe Hustler. I read Playboy for the articles.
As always, the report contains a number of interesting revelations. It is always a challenged to decide whether to write a “grab bag” or try to choose a notable theme. Others have chosen China, Iran, North or in fit of straight paranoia all of the above. (Here’s a hint: On the cover this year is a North Korean missile. Last time it was an Iranian one.) Some commented on process, noting the political implications (“Missile-defense advocates in Congress are sure to use the report to bolster their case”) or the fat that the report is a “cut and paste job” from previous years. I had hoped the local paper would opt for a human interest story on the working at NASIC, but – nope – the Dayton Daily News opted for the Iran angle.
Let’s come back to the issue of the “cut and paste job.” One of the virtues of an annual report is precisely that it does repeat language from year to year, unless there is a good reason to change it. From an analytic perspective that’s a useful function. One can infer a fair bit from simply watching how assessments evolve over time. Now, one can read a little too much into such changes.
The most interesting changes – and omissions – occur in the section relating to cruise missiles. It isn’t necessarily that there is more text devoted to cruise missiles — Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat has always been forward looking when it comes to giving cruise missiles their fair share of attention.
This year repeats the same boilerplate from last edition (and the edition before that, and the edition before that), ending with the time honored warning: “At least nine foreign countries will be involved in LACM production during the next decade, and several of the LACM producers will make their missiles available for export.”
Then the report drops these nuggets:
- The CJ-10 (DH-10) is the first of the Chinese Changjian series of long-range missiles and LACMs. It made its public debut during a military parade in 2009 and is currently deployed with the Second Artillery Corps.
- Iran recently announced the development of the 2,000-km range Meshkat cruise missile, with plans to deploy the system on air-, land-, and sea-based platforms.
- The Club-K cruise missile “container launcher” weapons system, produced and marketed by a Russian firm, looks like a standard shipping container. The company claims the system can launch cruise missiles from cargo ships, trains, or commercial trucks.
- The first flight test of the Brahmos, jointly developed by India and Russia, took place in June 2001. India plans to install Brahmos on a number of platforms, including destroyers, frigates, submarines, maritime patrol aircraft, and fighters. Russia and India are also working on a followup missile, the Brahmos 2, which was flight-tested in 2012.
- Pakistan continues to develop the Babur (Hatf-VII) and the air-launched Ra’ad (Hatf-VIII). Each missile was flight tested in 2012.
Now all of these events have been previously reported (Here, here, here, and here.). We’ve paid special attention to the Club K missile container system, which eager exporters are only too happy to advertise as wreaking death and destruction on troublesome neighbors all to the beat of Russian techno. Real sales slogan: “Every State Has A Right To Independence”*
(*Offer may have limited availability in the Near Abroad, please check with your local Club K Sales Representative for details. Okay, I made up the disclaimer. But that really is the sales pitch!)
Taken together, however, these developments are signs of what my friend Dennis Gormley calls “missile contagion” in his excellent book of the same name. (Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security, Praeger, 2008). Gormley has long been puzzled by both the relative slow proliferation of cruise missiles, as well as the “second class” status of the cruise missile threat in US policymaking circles. These are both interesting questions, although I turn to the latter first.
Our policy toward the spread of cruise missile is a total mess. Let me just give you a handful of examples:
* Although Russia does not consider cruise missiles to be “tactical” nuclear weapons, nor are they covered under any of the “strategic” arms control treaties including New START. New START treaty counts each bomber as “1” nuclear weapon no matter how many air-launched cruise missiles it can, or does, carry. And then there are the sea-launched cruise missiles or SLCMs: The US and Russia never agreed to count nuclear-armed SLCMs (slick-ums) under START, although they did reach a side-agreement to at least declare the number of deployed missiles on an annual basis. That agreement expired along with START. I’ve encouraged the Administration to try to resume SLCM data exchanges but have gotten the usual response: Thank you for your interest in national security. The Russians just announced an intention to deploy 30 times as many air- and sea-cruise missiles, so, you know, things are really looking up on the bilateral arms control front.
* For all the new information it does contain, the most interesting aspect of the NASIC report may be its omissions. NASIC omits two very interesting countries from the table of countries with cruise missiles: Saudi Arabia and South Korea. The report does not mention that the United Kingdom sold Saudi Arabia Storm Shadow cruise missiles, almost certainly in contravention of the Missile Technology Control Regime. Nor does the report mention that South Korea has developed Hyonmu series of land-attack cruise missiles, including the Hyonmu 3c that can deliver a payload up to 1500 km away. As I’ve written before, the US has looked the other other way with regard to friendly foreign cruise missile programs as part of a disturbing tendency to make exceptions to the MTCR for our friends that we’ll later come to regret. Not surprisingly, the Japanese would now like their own toys too – and who can blame them? I am sure we’ll be delighted once the Russians and Indians start marketing long-range BrahMos variants to their friends.
* Finally, our missiles defense efforts pay far too little attention to the threat from cruise missiles relative to ballistic missiles. The Missile Defense Agency evolved from something called the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Although the name has changed, the missions remains: “to develop, test, and field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight.” Emphasis added. Although placing cruise missile defense efforts into the bumbling hands of the Missile Defense Agency is no one’s idea of solution, cruise missile defenses remain a preserve of service autonomy because policymakers don’t seem to care. Consider the most prominent cruise missile defense program – the Army’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The program suffered a delay after one of its aerostats was destroyed after being struck by another airship from an unrelated program. Now, although the President’s Budget Request includes $98 million in FY2014, the program will be further delayed by a $15 million cut from sequestration. Fifteen million dollars! Compare that to the $214 million spent on last week’s failed ground-based midcourse defense test against a ballistic missile.
So, basically we ignore cruise missiles in bilateral arms control with the Russians, are happy to blow giant holes in the MTCR for our friends (which will later be used by our enemies) and then don’t even bother to fund proper missile defense efforts to defend against the massive proliferation problem we’re fueling. I can’t possibly see how this might go wrong.
The good news is that people have been warning about the threat of cruise missile proliferation for two decades – but it’s only just starting now. (Pride of place in this regard goes to Seth Carus’s 1992 book, Cruise Missile Proliferation in the 1990s. Despite the obvious spread of underlying technologies, for some reason the cruise missile threat never quite materialized. Gormley’s argument, [DG1] which I find very compelling, is that cruise missile proliferation lagged behind the spread of supporting technologies for number of reasons, including importance of tacit knowledge. (Gormley also points to two other factors: Iraq’s use of cruise missiles in 2003 and decidedly weak norms against the spread of cruise missiles relative to those against ballistic missiles..)
“Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.” At least that’s what Wikipedia says. The example Dennis uses is riding a bicycle. You learn and never forget — but only learn by doing it. You can’t learn by reading a manual or listening lecture. The good news is that our total indifference to the spread of these technologies was relatively harmless as long as other countries didn’t spend the time and effort to acquire the necessary tacit knowledge.
Now, the bad news: the growing number of countries developing cruise missiles suggests we are running out of time. Many countries are acquiring the knowledge to manufacture very capable cruise missiles. As Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat devotes more glossy paperstock to the subject of cruise missiles, evidence of Dennis calls “contagion” is accumulating.
Dennis’s hope has always been that we’ll figure correct our policy before the bad guys do, putting in place a set of international agreements and defenses that anticipate a threat. Because, you know, he’s an optimist.