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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
More States Step Up Anti-Missile Work
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Wade Boese

As the United States struggles to establish a toehold for long-range ballistic missile interceptors in Europe, countries in other regions are showing greater interest in shorter-range anti-missile systems. Japan and India recently reported successful tests of separate systems, and two Persian Gulf states are on the verge of spending billions of dollars on U.S. systems.

On Dec. 17, Japan, which has partnered with the United States on missile defense research since 1999, carried out its first intercept of a ballistic missile target using the U.S.-developed Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system. Designed to counter ballistic missiles with ranges of less than 5,500 kilometers, the Aegis system involves a ship-fired interceptor that releases a kill vehicle meant to seek out and collide with a target. With Aegis, the United States has scored 11 hits in 13 test attempts, the most recent of which occurred last November.

In the December experiment, a Japanese destroyer, the JS KONGO, detected and tracked a target missile launched from Hawaii for about three minutes before firing a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor. Approximately three minutes later, the interceptor’s kill vehicle struck the target roughly 160 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean. Rick Lehner, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, told Arms Control Today Jan. 2 that another U.S.-Japanese intercept test could occur before the end of this year.

Japanese plans call for a fleet of four Aegis-armed destroyers, and Tokyo is currently teaming with Washington to develop a more powerful version of the SM-3 interceptor. (See ACT, April 2006.) Japan’s interest in anti-missile capabilities is primarily a reaction to North Korea’s ballistic missile developments, including an August 1998 missile flight over Japanese territory.

India also claimed a recent successful missile defense test. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) reported Dec. 6 that a single-stage missile “intercepted” a ballistic missile target at an altitude of 15 kilometers. A video of the experiment, however, appears to show the interceptor and the target missile trajectories continuing after they crossed, suggesting the target was not destroyed.

Uzi Rubin, who headed Israel’s anti-missile program for several years, told Arms Control Today Jan. 8 that it appeared from the DRDO video that the test was a “flyby intercept, not a kill intercept.” He stated such practices are common early in developmental programs and that if the flyby was within “the designed miss distance” and generated data for the Indian program to continue, then it could be counted as a “success regardless of the nonkill of the target.”

The DRDO has not provided much information about the interceptor missile, such as whether it is a hit-to-kill system or carries a warhead of some type that explodes near its intended target. The interceptor reportedly was tested once previously against a simulated target.

India media reports quote V. K. Saraswat, the head of the anti-missile project, as predicting a fully operational system within four years. The system apparently would be intended to protect against short- and medium-range ballistic missile attacks by China or Pakistan. Pakistani officials have previously warned that India’s acquisition of missile defense capabilities would upset the military balance in the region. (See ACT, April 2003. )

Washington has engaged New Delhi in missile defense discussions for several years. As part of those talks, the United States unsuccessfully has urged India to acquire U.S. short- and medium-range Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) systems.

The United States has sold earlier Patriot models to Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Taiwan. Last fall, the U.S. PAC-3 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., delivered its first batch of the interceptors to a foreign country, the Netherlands. Japan also is on tap to receive PAC-3 interceptors.

In addition, the Pentagon notified Congress in December of potential sales of PAC-3 systems to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Lawmakers did not block the proposed deals during a 30-day review period. Therefore, Kuwait is now cleared for a $1.36 billion purchase of up to 80 PAC-3 missiles, and the UAE is slated to acquire up to 288 PAC-3 interceptors and nine firing units worth $9 billion.


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