Return to

April 19, 2018
Notes from the Pentagon

Pentagon: Missile threats increasing
Senior Pentagon and military officials this week outlined the growing array of missile threats facing the United States from China, Russia and other states, including maneuvering hypersonic weapons.

John Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, told a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing that the threat posed by advanced missiles is increasing.

“The United States, allies and partners confront a security environment that is more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory,” Mr. Rood told the subcommittee on strategic forces, in a likely preview of the Pentagon’s forthcoming Ballistic Missile Review, a major study that will highlight missile threats and the Trump administration’s plan for a multilayered missile defense network to counter them.

Adversaries including China, Russia, North Korea and Iran are expanding their missile forces in three ways, Mr. Rood said. They include increasing the capabilities of current missile forces; adding new and unprecedented types of missiles to their arsenals; and better integrating missiles into foreign states’ use of coercive threats, military exercises and war planning.

North Korea’s intercontinental-range missile program rapidly accelerated in recent years, and Iran is extending the range of its missiles with the goal of building intercontinental missiles, he said. Russia’s modern missiles are “a central element of Russia’s frequent and explicit coercive nuclear threats to U.S. allies and partners,” he added.

“For example, Russia is developing a new generation of advanced, regional ballistic and cruise missiles that support its anti-access/area denial strategy intended to defeat U.S. and allied will and capability in regional crises or conflicts,” Mr. Rood stated.

China is modernizing its short- and medium-range missiles, including anti-ship ballistic missiles that “pose a direct threat to U.S. aircraft carriers,” he added. “Russia and China are also developing advanced sea- and air-launched cruise missiles and hypersonic missile capabilities that can travel at exceptional speeds with unpredictable flight paths.”

The Pentagon added $400 million to the budget for missile defenses in September in response to the increased North Korean threat. The money will be used to build an additional 20 anti-missile interceptors along with the 44 long-range interceptors now deployed in Alaska and California.

The fiscal 2019 budget request calls for $12.9 billion for missile defenses. The money will go toward new warheads for ground-based interceptors, new missile and tracking sensors in Alaska and a new space-based kill assessment capability.

The kill assessment system will be a network of small sensors on commercial satellites that will collect data on the impact of missile defense interceptors and enemy warheads. Use of the system will reduce the number of interceptors needed to knock out incoming missile warheads.

“It’s clear potential adversaries are modernizing and expanding their missile capabilities,” Mr. Rood said. “We must ensure that our missile defense investment strategy and priorities enable us to meet the most dangerous missile threats today, while also enabling us to counter future missile threats as they expand.”

Air Force. Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the missile threat is advancing rapidly. Missile defenses need to be built up rapidly to meet the challenge, he said.

Gen. Greaves outlined three priorities: increasing the reliability of anti-missile systems; increasing the number of fielded interceptors along with better sensors to track and kill missiles; and preparing to counter advanced threats like hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missiles using directed energy weapons and other “potentially game-changing capabilities.”

The general said hypersonic weapons pose the greatest threat. “We are executing the planning, and I expect to see a significant increase in the amount of time and resources that we will spend in that area,” he said.

The three-star general said adversaries like China and Russia are building missiles designed to defeat missile defenses, including supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles launched atop ballistic missiles.

“The combination of high speed, maneuverability and relatively low altitude makes them challenging targets for missile defense systems,” he said.

Army Lt. Gen. James H. Dickinson, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, the Strategic Command unit that plans and executes missile defense actions, also warned that missile threats are increasing.

“Current global trends indicate ballistic and cruise missiles are becoming more capable, due in part to the proliferation of advanced technologies, resulting in systems with global reach, increasing speed, and greater accuracy,” Gen. Dickinson said.

“Additionally, many foreign ballistic and cruise missile systems are progressively incorporating advanced countermeasures including maneuverable re-entry vehicles, multiple independent re-entry vehicles and electromagnetic jamming, all intended to defeat our missile defense capabilities,” he added.

The numbers of ballistic and cruise missile types also are increasing, and many are mobile systems that make them more difficult to detect, track and knock out the weapons prior to launch, he said.

In the future, missile defenses will be targeted in cyber and other electronic attacks as part of missile launches, Gen. Dickinson said.

Chinese state media revealed this week that China is developing precision strike weapons as part of its military buildup.

“Precision strike capacity is a key of modern war,” Song Zhongping, a military expert, told the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times on Monday. “It controls the scale of battles and avoids secondary victimization.”

Mr. Song stated that while the United States leads in precision strike capability, both China and Russia are advancing the accuracy of their strike capabilities rapidly.

“The precision strike capabilities that the U.S. owns are also possessed by China,” Mr. Song said. “Some Chinese capabilities could even equal those of the U.S.”

However, China’s weapons lack real battleground testing, and once China conducts an “exam” using its arms in a real-world battle, its capabilities will increase, he said.

China’s precision strike capabilities require global reconnaissance and early-warning systems, effective command and control and navigation systems — all systems that China is developing.

“Whether a country can build a whole system is a big test for modern information-based wars,” a Chinese military expert told the newspaper.

China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system could be used for the precision strike weapons, the expert said.

China and Russia are exploiting the openness of democratic societies using “sharp power” to undermine the United States and other democratic countries, according to a report by the National Endowment for Democracy.

The goal is to promote authoritarian influence abroad while denying basic freedoms within both China and Russia, the report states.

China and Russia have spent billions of dollars in the past decade to shape public opinion and perceptions in support of authoritarian police states that have employed thousands of people-to-people exchanges, cultural activities, educational programs and media outlets and information initiatives with global reach, the report says.

Beijing and Moscow are not seeking to win hearts and minds with the “sharp power” approach.

“These ambitious authoritarian regimes, which systematically suppress political pluralism and free expression at home, are increasingly seeking to apply similar principles internationally to secure their interests,” the report said, noting that the efforts are not “soft power” but “sharp power” manipulation.

The operations are driven by “an ideological model that privileges state power over individual liberty and is fundamentally hostile to free expression, open debate and independent thought.”

The report, “Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence,” urges exposing the disinformation and influence operations of China and Russia and building up internal defenses within democratic countries against the influence activities.

“Moscow and Beijing aim to get inside democratic systems in order to win supporters and to neutralize criticism of their authoritarian regimes,” the report said.

Democratic leaders need to speak out forcefully in support of democratic ideals, and journalists, think tank analysts and other policy elites “need to recognize authoritarian influence efforts in the realm of ideas for what they are: corrosive and subversive ‘sharp power’ instruments that do real damage to the targeted democratic societies,” the report said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to