Missile Defense Briefing Report: No. 330

Related Categories: Europe; South Asia

It has been almost two years since North Korea launched a satellite utilizing the Unha-3 space launch vehicle from its Sohae satellite launching station in the western region of Tongchang-ri. That event was widely regarded as a missile test, and it may soon be repeated. Recent satellite imagery suggests that the Sohae launch site will soon have the ability to launch even longer-range rockets with heavier payloads. According to the U.S.-Korea Institute, the imagery also showed what appeared to be storage tanks near a propellant storage area for the first time since the December 2012 launch. "Should a decision be made soon to do so in Pyongyang — and we have no evidence that one has — a rocket could be launched by the end of 2014," the Institute concludes in a new study. (New York Times, October 2, 2014)

Amid dithering in Washington over how best to protect the U.S. homeland from intercontinental ballistic missiles, Beijing is actively moving forward with upgrades to its long-range strategic capabilities. China's military has reportedly carried out the first flight test of a new version of the Dong Feng road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile at a test range in central China. The missile, dubbed the DF-31B, is one of six road-mobile ICBMs currently in service in the People's Liberation Army.

The development, analysts say, should be a wake-up call for Washington. It "places greater pressure on Washington to proceed with modernizing America’s nuclear deterrent," argues China expert Rick Fisher. (Washington Free Beacon, October 2, 2014)

China is not the only Asian power focused on its strategic arsenal, however. Pakistan appears to be moving toward a sea-based missile capability, and has increased its interest in the development of tactical nuclear warheads - capabilities that would give it "second strike" potential in the event of a nuclear exchange with regional rival India. The developments have alarmed Pakistan watchers, who worry about the "safety" of Pakistan’s nuclear program. But they could also be just the beginning; experts say they are part of a larger multi-year strategy on the part of Islamabad that is focused on the maritime deployment of nuclear warheads in the Indian Ocean. (Washington Post, September 21, 2014)

Despite strident objections from Moscow, Poland is moving ahead with its participation in NATO's emerging missile defense architecture. The Eastern European nation is tapped to host components of the nascent system, and its leaders have reiterated their commitment to do so despite intimidation from Russia and the Kremlin's recent aggression against Ukraine. "Poland is determined to build its missile shield and air defence system - it's important not only for Poland - and we uphold our obligations for the U.S. portion of this project," Polish President Bronislaw Kormorowski has confirmed. The NATO shield is currently on track for completion in 2020, while Poland plans to spend a further $33.6 billion to erect its own national missile and air defense system as a complement. (Agence France Presse, October 6, 2014)

Saudi Arabia could end up being rewarded for aiding in the fight against Islamists in Syria with new missile defense capabilities. The Kingdom is interested in procuring some 202 units of the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-3 anti-missile system in a deal worth approximately $1.75 billion. The contract, long under consideration within the U.S. government, has now been green-lighted by the State Department.

The rationale for the sale is both local and regional. The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notes that, aside from some Patriot missiles already in its arsenal, Saudi Arabia’s current capabilities are "becoming obsolete and difficult to sustain due to age and the limited availability of repair parts" - making the new systems important for Saudi security. But the sale is also desirable because it would allow the Kingdom to integrate its air defenses with other Gulf States to better counter Iran's offensive missile capabilities. (Defense News, October 1, 2014)