Anti-Missile Defence Analysis: Part 1/2

This is an article published in our June/July 2018 Issue.

The launch in June 2017 of a new North Korean 'precision-guided' ballistic missile was reported in the country's state-owned Rodong Sinmun daily. (KYODO)

With US President Trump due to begin talks with North Korea’s President Kim Jong-un over denuclearisation, Asian Military Review presents two perspectives on anti-tactical and anti-ballistic missile systems.

Defending the civilian population, national infrastructure, and specific fixed and mobile military targets (including deployed forces) against air and missile attack is becoming an increasingly complex, expensive and difficult task, and one that requires new and innovative solutions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Asia. In the Far East the Republic of Korea and Japan are urgently building state of the art defences against the North Korean ballistic missile threat to augment the existing defensive systems that they have deployed to counter more conventional air threats.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the UAE is leading Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) efforts to build anti-missile defences in the Gulf region, while Saudi Arabia has experienced missile attacks from neighbouring Yemen’s Houthi insurgents. In all regions, the air and missile threat is a broad one, encompassing land-, sea- and air-launched threats, manned and unmanned, simple and sophisticated, and following every possible variation in flightpath and trajectory.

Conventional air defences have long been layered, with SHORAD (short range air defence) provided by point defence surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), and with manned fighters and longer ranged missiles taking care of threats further out from the target. But the development of higher speed bombers and attack aircraft, with sophisticated electronic warfare capabilities, often equipped with stand off weapons (including cruise missiles) and sometimes incorporating Low Observable (LO) technology has made it necessary to detect and engage targets at ever longer range, sometimes far beyond friendly borders.

Intercepting hostile aircraft and missiles far enough out to prevent the launch of long range stand-off weapons can require the use of airborne early warning aircraft to provide early enough detection, and may sometimes prevent air forces from reactively scrambling fighters, instead forcing them to maintain standing patrols.

The task of air defence commanders has been further complicated by the emergence of new types of threat. In recent times, non-state actors, including terrorist groups, have demonstrated a willingness to use hijacked aircraft (from light aircraft to jet airliners), as well as small drones and captured missile systems, to attack a wide variety of targets.

If the bomber threat is difficult to defend against, then the missile presents an even greater problem for air defence commanders.

Ballistic missiles are notoriously hard to intercept. Even if the launch is detected, a ballistic missile’s trajectory will rapidly take it into the upper reaches of the atmosphere (or even out of it altogether). Such a missile is quickly out of range of conventional air defences, and into the realms of exo-atmospheric intercept systems that are unaffordable for many nations, before plunging down onto its target in a very fast terminal phase during which it is again difficult to hit. And that is without multiple re-entry vehicles, decoys, and other systems designed to further complicate the job of the defender.

There has been a proliferation of ballistic missiles and missile technology since the end of the Cold War, with a number of former Soviet client states gaining arsenals of redundant ballistic missiles – primarily Korolyev R-17/R-300 (SS-1B ‘Scud-B’) tactical ballistic missiles. Used in anger in Afghanistan, Yemen, Chechenya, Libya, and Syria and by Egypt, Iraq, Iran, the ‘Scud’ has formed the basis of a series of longer-range and more effective derivatives produced by North Korea, Iran and Pakistan.

North Korea acquired a small number of Scud-B missiles, support equipment and technology in about 1980, probably from Egypt, and immediately set about producing an indigenous copy, based on reverse engineering. By 1986 this had resulted in the 300 kilometre (186 mile) range Hwasong-5, while the 1,500km (930 mile) range No Dong 1 followed in 1994, the 5,000km (3,100 mile) Taepodong 1 in 1998 and the 10,000km (6,200 mile) Taepodong 2 in 2006.

North Korean missile developments have blurred the line between traditionally short to intermediate range non-nuclear tactical and longer-ranged often nuclear tipped strategic ballistic missiles, and have provided a major stimulus to the development of integrated air and missile defence systems in the wider region. North Korean Scud derivatives have also been widely exported, sometimes to nations that have further developed and improved them.

Pakistan’s Hatf-5 (also known as the Ghauri I) missile is understood to use technology from the North Korean No Dong 1 and Rodong 1 (Hwasong-7) missiles, apparently traded for Pakistani help with uranium enrichment. The missile is understood to be in service with the Pakistan Army’s Strategic Forces Command, and apparently gives Pakistan an ability to strike most of India.

Iran has similarly developed its own derivatives of the North Korean-supplied No Dong, producing the Shahab-1 in 1987, the Shahab-2 in 1997, and the 1,290km (800 mile) Shahab-3 in 1997-98. The newer Ghadr, revealed in 2007, has a 1,950km (1,210 mile) range and is claimed to have been designed to carry a nuclear payload, when available.

The solid-fuelled Sajjil-2 and the liquid-fuelled Qiam have the same distinctively shaped nosecone and may also have been designed for the delivery of a nuclear warhead, while the Emad has a newly designed re-entry vehicle with a more advanced precision guidance and control system.

Though it has been denied by Iran, there has been widespread speculation that the ballistic missiles fired by Houthi forces in Yemen against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE were supplied by the Iranians.

Integrated Air Defence

The best solution to the ballistic missile threat, whether it comes from a peer adversary or a non-state group, is an integrated air and missile defence system. Such a system will ideally integrate air defence systems across different domains, including ground-based and sea-based systems, and will incorporate dedicated sensors and weapons. In the future these will no doubt include directed energy weapons, as well as new missile systems and advanced sensors.

The end of the Cold War has led to a renewed effort to develop defensive anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. During the Cold War, the ABM Treaty limited the development and deployment of such systems, but with a dramatically reduced threat of all-out nuclear war with Russia or China the US withdrew from the treaty in 2002, citing the need to protect itself from nuclear blackmail by a rogue state. Other states have followed the US lead, commissioning new missile defence systems, and it has been calculated that the value of the air and missile defence market will exceed $35 billion by 2025.

Geographic considerations and very high costs mean that missile defences are probably best tackled at a supranational level. It was the prospect of a ballistic missile threat from the Middle East, in particular, that prompted the deployment of a new US-backed ballistic missile defence (BMD) system by NATO in Europe. This was soon being cited by Russia as evidence that it was a besieged nation, surrounded by hostile powers, all determined to threaten the viability of its own nuclear deterrent and thereby to undermine Russian security. The territorial ballistic missile defence (BMD) capability developed by NATO in the wake of the Lisbon Summit in November 2010 never represented a threat to Russia, however, as the then-NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained at the time.

Geography and physics made it impossible for the NATO system to shoot down Russian intercontinental missiles using the interceptors available for NATO BMD. They were too few in number, and were located too far south or too close to Russia to be able to do so. They were designed to tackle threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. There were some efforts to assuage Russian fears, with joint exercises and attempts to establish a degree of interoperability, but in April 2014, in response to the Ukraine crisis, NATO suspended all co-operation with Russia, including missile defence. Russia had already unilaterally paused discussions on missile defence in October 2013, after a steady deterioration in relations. In 2012, President Dmitry Medvedev had said that Russia would retaliate militarily if it was unable to reach an agreement with the United States and NATO on the missile defense system, while Nikolai Makarov, Russia’s then-Chief of General Staff had threatened to use “destructive force pre-emptively” if the situation worsened.

Despite Russian opposition, NATO has pressed ahead with its ‘purely defensive’ ABM system. This is based on an AEGIS Ashore system, consisting of a collection of sophisticated phased-array radars, fire control directors, computers and missiles which are based in Romania and will soon be deployed in Poland and Turkey. Other NATO assets will be integrated with the system.

In Asia, most new missile defence systems have been national projects, or are the product of joint procurement programmes with the USA.

In the wake of a series of North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile tests, beginning in June 2016, South Korea decided to deploy the US Army THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in response, augmenting the Patriot point defence missile systems and Aegis-equipped destroyers already operated by South Korean forces. The THAAD batteries were deployed to Osan AB on 6 March 2017, on the same day that North Korea test-launched four more missiles, one of which landed in the Sea of Japan, with the other three landing in Japan’s economic zone.

The US Army THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-ballistic missile defense system has been forward deployed in Korea to counter the North Korean missile threat. (US DOD)

Japan’s reaction to the new North Korean missile tests was to purchase two Aegis Ashore systems, using SM-3 Block IIA missiles against ballistic missile targets, and SM-6 missiles against cruise missile targets. These systems augmented PAC-3 Patriot missile batteries operated by the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) and Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF), and a range of other missile systems.

China’s ABM defences rely heavily on versions of the Russian S-300 including the PMU, PMU1 and PMU2 and the navalised S-300FM Rif, which equips the PLAN’s two Type 51C Luzhou air-defence destroyers.

These Russian SAMs are augmented by Chinese-built HQ-9 missiles, and by the derived HQ-19 (an HQ-9 derivative similar in some respects to THAAD), the naval HQ-26, and the HQ-29, which features a modified final stage motor. A number of other indigenous anti-satellite and anti-missile weapons have been successfully tested.

India operates a squadron of Russian-supplied S-300V systems as an ‘anti-tactical ballistic missile screen’, and has looked at the Israeli Arrow system, and at the Almaz design bureau’s S-300 PMU-1/-2 and S-400 and at the Antey design bureau’s Antey 2500/S-300VM. India is also developing its own upper layer ABM capability using the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high-altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception.

The S-300 family of surface to air missiles (known as the SA-10 ‘Grumble’, SA-12 ‘Giant’ and SA-20 ‘Gargoyle’ to NATO) is recognised as being one of the most potent anti-aircraft missile systems in service. This version made up part of the North Korean military display in February 2018. (KYODO)

Phase 1 of India’s Ballistic Missile Defence Programme was completed in May 2012, when it was declared that the system could be deployed to protect two Indian cities (New Delhi and Mumbai).

In order to counter the threat posed by cruise missiles India has made great efforts to deploy AEW and AWACS capabilities, and has developed and deployed the Barak-8 long-range anti-air and anti-missile naval defence system in association with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). A land-based variant is still being developed by IAI and India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).

In the Middle East, the threat posed by Iranian ballistic missiles has led to a sudden growth in missile defence requirements across the region. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Israel has led the way, and now deploys a three-tier missile defence system. This used the Arrow missile system (developed from 1986 and declared fully operational in October 2000) against short- to long-range missiles, and using the David’s Sling system to intercept medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles (fired from distances of 40-300 km), and the Iron Dome system to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from 4-70km (2.5-44 mile) range.

A number of Gulf states are establishing their own air and missile defence capabilities, led by the UAE, which has become the “the first GCC partner to possess an upper tier ballistic missile defense capability, and the first non-US unit in the world to possess the premiere medium-range ballistic missile killer on the planet – the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) weapon system,” according to US Army Brigadier General Donald C. Fryc, commander of the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command.

by Jon Lake