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Iran may test missile by 2015

Wright-Patterson report assesses missile threat for Iran, North Korea and Russia.

Iran could develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States by 2015, a missile threat assessment report has warned.

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson released the report Wednesday that assesses short, medium and long-range ballistic and cruise missile threats across the globe, the first public assessment since the agency released a 2009 report.

NASIC analysts reported North Korea has launched a land-based rocket that placed a satellite in orbit last December that if developed into an ICBM could reach the United States. The assessment found Russia has tested a new, mobile ICBM and China has expanded the type and number of missiles it has in its arsenal.

“The new dynamics require that we vigorously pursue a missile defense system capable of protecting the United States citizens,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, a member of both the House Armed Services Committee and the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said Wednesday.

The world has more types and larger numbers of ballistic missiles and improved technology since the agency released its last intelligence findings, said Jeff Gossel, NASIC technical director of space and missiles.

North Korea, for example, has pursued development of the road-mobile Hwasong-13, an ICBM with a range estimated at greater than 5,500 kilometers (more than 3,400 miles), but it has not been tested, the intelligence agency said.

If the reclusive nation deployed an ICBM system, there remains “tremendous uncertainty” of a missile’s reliability, Gossel said. Three previous space launches of the Taepo Dong-2 rocket ended in failure.

Hans M. Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., said the report was a “bright spot” because the U.S. intelligence community has issued fewer assessments of global missile threats in recent years.

“Overall, it’s not like there is a giant warning sign in this report,” he said. “All nuclear weapon states are modernizing. This is a trend that has been going on for the past many decades and it’s continuing.”

The report said Russia and the United States neither produce or retain intermediate range ballistic missiles because the weapons are banned by a treaty between the two nations, but China has deployed the missile type as a regional nuclear deterrence.

The NASIC report, produced with the Defense Intelligence Agency Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the Office of Naval Intelligence, did not mention the number of missiles each nation has, but did list estimates of missile launchers.

The report also didn’t assess a nation’s nuclear weapons capability, but noted many missiles have the capability to carry weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea has reportedly tested atomic weapons and threatened to attack the United States. International observers have said Iran is believed to be pursuing the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran has had multiple successful launches of the Safir space launch vehicle since 2008 and has a two-stage rocket, the Simorgh, that could serve to develop ICBM technology, NASIC reported.

Turner said the Obama administration has been slow to respond to missile threats, viewing the world through a Russia and United States rivalry while other nations pursue advanced missile technologies. Turner renewed his call for an East Coast missile defense site. He said a recent U.S. failure of a key anti-ballistic missile interceptor test over the Pacific Ocean was because the Obama administration has cut missile funding and put the United States “well behind the curve” in missile defense.

The White House would not respond to Turner’s comments.

Under the existing Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, Russia and the United States must limit the total number of nuclear warheads to 1,550 each on land-based and submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bombers. President Barack Obama has proposed cutting the number of U.S. nuclear warheads by a third beyond the START treaty if Russia reciprocates.

Kingston Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, disagreed the U.S. needed an East Coast missile defense site. The anti-ballistic missile interceptor project has “thrown good money after bad” with a record of three successes out of 10 attempts since 2002, he said.

“That might be a good batting average in baseball, but it is not when it comes to having confidence in a system designed to protect the United States against a ballistic missile attack,” he said.

The U.S. has a total of 30 interceptor missiles in Alaska and California and has planned to spend more than $1 billion to add 14 more missiles in Alaska to intercept ICBMs.

The NASIC assessment also concluded China “has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world.” The emerging military power has developed and upgraded short-to-long range missiles and fielded anti-ship ballistic missiles. China could expand the number of ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States by “well over 100 within the next 15 years,” the report said.

NASIC also looked at the missile capabilities of India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia and cruise missile developments among nations in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Read the full report here.

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