Jeffrey LewisCruise Missile Proliferation

At the moment, the cruise missiles on everyone’s mind are spinning up in the Mediterranean.  But a few weeks ago, I wrote a little piece on the new National Air Space Intelligence Center on ballistic and cruise missile threat that I had intended to publish in Foreign Policy.  But neither Peter nor I could get it together, then the news window closed.

So, here it is, much delayed:

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center has released a new glossy pub — a “slickee” – detailing the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat.  NASIC, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, publishes this report about every few years – pervious editions in 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009.

Now, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat reflects the view of one part of the intelligence community.  It is not unusual to find slight deviations between this report and other intelligence community products.  But report is fairly comprehensive and well done.  And the fact that NASIC has produced it on a fairly regular schedule makes it one of the more useful and anticipated released for people like me.  It’s wonkporn, Playboy for arms control wonks.  Well, maybe Hustler.  I read Playboy for the articles.

As always, the report contains a number of interesting revelations.  It is always a challenged to decide whether to write a “grab bag” or try to choose a notable theme.   Others have chosen China, Iran, North or in fit of straight paranoia all of the above.  (Here’s a hint: On the cover this year is a North Korean missile.  Last time it was an Iranian one.) Some commented on process, noting the political implications (“Missile-defense advocates in Congress are sure to use the report to bolster their case”) or the fat that the report is a “cut and paste job” from previous years. I had hoped the local paper would opt for a human interest story on the working at NASIC, but – nope – the Dayton Daily News opted for the Iran angle.

Let’s come back to the issue of the “cut and paste job.”  One of the virtues of an annual report is precisely that it does repeat language from year to year, unless there is a good reason to change it.  From an analytic perspective that’s a useful function.  One can infer a fair bit from simply watching how assessments evolve over time.  Now, one can read a little too much into such changes.

The most interesting changes – and omissions – occur in the section relating to cruise missiles. It isn’t necessarily that there is more text devoted to cruise missiles — Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat has always been forward looking when it comes to giving cruise missiles their fair share of attention.

This year repeats the same boilerplate from last edition (and the edition before that, and the edition before that),  ending with the time honored warning: “At least nine foreign countries will be involved in LACM production during the next decade, and several of the LACM producers will make their missiles  available for export.”

Then the report drops these nuggets:

  •  The CJ-10 (DH-10) is the first of the Chinese Changjian series of long-range missiles and LACMs. It made its public debut during a military parade in 2009 and is currently deployed with the Second Artillery Corps.
  • Iran recently announced the development of the 2,000-km range Meshkat cruise missile, with plans to deploy the system on air-, land-, and sea-based platforms.
  • The Club-K cruise missile “container launcher” weapons system, produced and marketed by a Russian firm, looks like a standard shipping container. The company claims the system can launch cruise missiles from cargo ships, trains, or commercial trucks.
  • The first flight test of the Brahmos, jointly developed by India and Russia, took place in June 2001. India plans to install Brahmos on a number of platforms, including destroyers, frigates, submarines, maritime patrol aircraft, and fighters. Russia and India are also working on a followup missile, the Brahmos 2, which was flight-tested in 2012.
  • Pakistan continues to develop the Babur (Hatf-VII) and the air-launched Ra’ad (Hatf-VIII). Each missile was flight tested in 2012.

Now all of these events have been previously reported (Here, here, here, and here.).  We’ve paid special attention to the Club K missile container system, which eager exporters are only too happy to advertise as wreaking death and destruction on troublesome neighbors all to the beat of Russian techno.  Real sales slogan: “Every State Has A Right To Independence”*

(*Offer may have limited availability in the Near Abroad, please check with your local Club K Sales Representative for details.  Okay, I made up the disclaimer. But that really is the sales pitch!)

Taken together, however, these developments are signs of what my friend Dennis Gormley calls “missile contagion” in his excellent book of the same name.  (Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security, Praeger, 2008). Gormley has long been puzzled by both the relative slow proliferation of cruise missiles, as well as the “second class” status of the cruise missile threat in US policymaking circles.  These are both interesting questions, although I turn to the latter first.

Our policy toward the spread of cruise missile is a total mess.  Let me just give you a handful of examples:

* Although Russia does not consider cruise missiles to be “tactical” nuclear weapons, nor are they covered under any of the “strategic” arms control treaties including New START. New START treaty counts each bomber as “1” nuclear weapon no matter how many air-launched cruise missiles it can, or does, carry. And then there are the sea-launched cruise missiles or SLCMs: The US and Russia never agreed to count nuclear-armed SLCMs (slick-ums) under START, although they did reach a side-agreement to at least declare the number of deployed missiles on an annual basis. That agreement expired along with START.  I’ve encouraged the Administration to try to resume SLCM data exchanges but have gotten the usual response: Thank you for your interest in national security.  The Russians just announced an intention to deploy 30 times as many air- and sea-cruise missiles, so, you know, things are really looking up on the bilateral arms control front.

* For all the new information it does contain, the most interesting aspect of the NASIC report may be its omissions. NASIC omits two very interesting countries from the table of countries with cruise missiles: Saudi Arabia and South Korea.  The report does not mention that the United Kingdom sold Saudi Arabia Storm Shadow cruise missiles, almost certainly in contravention of the Missile Technology Control Regime.  Nor does the report mention that South Korea has developed Hyonmu series of land-attack cruise missiles, including the Hyonmu 3c that can deliver a payload up to 1500 km away. As I’ve written before, the US has looked the other other way with regard to friendly foreign cruise missile programs as part of a disturbing tendency to make exceptions to the MTCR for our friends that we’ll later come to regret.  Not surprisingly, the Japanese would now like their own toys too – and who can blame them? I am sure we’ll be delighted once the Russians and Indians start marketing long-range BrahMos variants to their friends.

* Finally, our missiles defense efforts pay far too little attention to the threat from cruise missiles relative to ballistic missiles.  The Missile Defense Agency evolved from something called the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Although the name has changed, the missions remains: “to develop, test, and field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight.”  Emphasis added.  Although placing cruise missile defense efforts into the bumbling hands of the Missile Defense Agency is no one’s idea of solution, cruise missile defenses remain a preserve of service autonomy because policymakers don’t seem to care. Consider the most prominent cruise missile defense program – the Army’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The program suffered a delay after one of its aerostats was destroyed after being struck by another airship from an unrelated program.  Now, although the President’s Budget Request includes $98 million in FY2014, the program will be further delayed by a $15 million cut from sequestration. Fifteen million dollars! Compare that to the $214 million spent on last week’s failed ground-based midcourse defense test against a ballistic missile.

So, basically we ignore cruise missiles in bilateral arms control with the Russians, are happy to blow giant holes in the MTCR for our friends (which will later be used by our enemies) and then don’t even bother to fund proper missile defense efforts to defend against the massive proliferation problem we’re fueling.  I can’t possibly see how this might go wrong.

The good news is that people have been warning about the threat of cruise missile proliferation for two decades – but it’s only just starting now.  (Pride of place in this regard goes to Seth Carus’s 1992 book, Cruise Missile Proliferation in the 1990s. Despite the obvious spread of underlying technologies, for some reason the cruise missile threat never quite materialized.  Gormley’s argument, [DG1] which I find very compelling, is that cruise missile proliferation lagged behind the spread of supporting technologies for number of reasons, including importance of tacit knowledge. (Gormley also points to two other factors: Iraq’s use of cruise missiles in 2003 and decidedly weak norms against the spread of cruise missiles relative to those against ballistic missiles..)

“Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.” At least that’s what Wikipedia says.  The example Dennis uses is riding a bicycle.  You learn and never forget — but only learn by doing it.  You can’t learn by reading a manual or listening lecture.  The good news is that our total indifference to the spread of these technologies was relatively harmless as long as other countries didn’t spend the time and effort to acquire the necessary tacit knowledge.

Now, the bad news: the growing number of countries developing cruise missiles suggests we are running out of time.  Many countries are acquiring the knowledge to manufacture very capable cruise missiles.  As Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat devotes more glossy paperstock to the subject of cruise missiles, evidence of Dennis calls “contagion” is accumulating.

Dennis’s hope has always been that we’ll figure correct our policy before the bad guys do, putting in place a set of international agreements and defenses that anticipate a threat. Because, you know, he’s an optimist.


  1. George William Herbert (History)

    I would generalize a bit – the first uses of proper precision guided weapons against US forces, installations, or civilians are going to be a nasty shock, no matter whether they’re tactical, theater, or strategic.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Well, I think we’re in for a rude shock when people come to grips with the fact that the Russians are patrolling nuclear-armed SLCMs up and down the East Coast.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Russian SLCM anything would be not significantly faster than their ICBMs, which we can’t significantly shoot down now (BMD has nowhere near enough ammo). Nor higher yield. Not really harder to ID on launch, either; we have sonar to track the subs and orbital assets will see the launch signature of the rockets used to get the cruise missile out of the water.

      It’s marginally annoying to mildly destabilizing, but not giving them a capability they lack now in terms of speed, deniability, or throw weight. They either have properly robust command and control restraints on use or they do not; if they have them for ICBMs and SLBMs but not nuclear SLCMs then that would be somewhat annoying, but they seem to take that seriously in the last couple of decades.

    • Cameron (History)

      As bad a shock as exocet was to the RN in the Falklands, or worse?

    • Another George (History)

      Related to Mr. Herbert’s observation, what do all of you think are the chances that the Syrian Yakhont batteries will pose a realistic danger to any USN or other allied ships? (Well, those batteries that are left after the IAF Latakia strike anyway.) Especially if provided accurate targeting data by a third party? Is there a difference between the motors used by the export version and the “Oniks”, and if so, is it likely that domestic motors were on the exported missiles? I had thought, but am probably misremembering or conflating with various BrahMos versions, that the Oniks motor had extended range compared to the Yakhont but was not exported due to the MTCR.

      Or, in your opinion, is the combination of AWACS and AEGIS enough to satisfactorily counter the threat?

    • John Schilling (History)

      The Syrians have I believe seventy-two Yakhont missiles, less however many the Israelis destroyed a few months ago. As a single salvo on a low-altitude flight profile, that would threaten to overmatch the defenses of a USN carrier or amphibious battle group, though probably not to the extent of actually sinking capital ships.

      The Yakhont has a maximum range of just over a hundred kilometers as a pure sea-skimmer, and there really isn’t any good reason for any US warship to get that close to the Syrian coast in the opening stages of any conflict. If the missile climbs to high altitude, it’s Aegis bait. And then there is that pesky targeting problem – are we imagining that Russia is going to directly support a war against the United States?

      More generally, cruise missiles are fundamentally different from ballistic missiles in that the United States can presently and effectively defend itself against any plausible cruise missle attack that doesn’t have a return address of Moscow or Beijing and isn’t a bolt-from-the-blue surprise. A minor or emerging power’s ballistic missiles enable them to threaten the United States in a way that the US can’t reliably stop, which is something new and different.

  2. j_kies (History)

    Jeffrey; first a nit “On the cover this year is a North Korean missile” you forgot the ‘paper mache mockup’ term that belongs between ‘Korean’ and ‘missile’ Markus has a good point you know.

    Second; this is the US military, we have great ‘allies’ in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, LACM’s inspire less personal threats to us due to those allies and the US Navy. The historic isolationists were somewhat reflective on the reality of dragging things over here before people get to attack us.

    Third; George we have been subjected to precision guided weapons against our military and civilians, just to date its organically guided instead of the silicon brained stand-ins for our killer robot overlords. I saw rivets on 9/11 as the plane went over my head on its way into the Pentagon. That was a nasty shock indeed.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      While I respect Markus tremendously and agree that what we saw the first time have the same chance of flying that I do, the rivets on the last set of missiles suggests to me these were not the same mockups just repainted.

    • j_kies (History)

      I haven’t crawled into the details of the photos of the ‘silvery’ parade mockups (expectation not analysis yet) but the photo from NASIC glossy was the previous parade shot sir.

      I can reiterate the basic comment as to the mythical nature of untested long range missiles if you desire. Still the paraded items represent what my engineering views consider badly designed IRBM’s bordering on very badly designed MRBM’s.

  3. George William Herbert (History)

    j_kies wrote:
    “Third; George we have been subjected to precision guided weapons against our military and civilians, just to date its organically guided instead of the silicon brained stand-ins for our killer robot overlords. I saw rivets on 9/11 as the plane went over my head on its way into the Pentagon. That was a nasty shock indeed.”

    That’s rather disturbing, but not a PGM in the modern sense of the word. Very Large Kamikaze to be sure.

    • SJPONeill (History)

      Well, no…it’s not a PGM as we would like to think of one but it pretty much meets the definition otherwise just as Ohka et al did. The main difference is that the guidance system is probably cheaper but smarter than your average western perception of a PGM. The sole redeeming feature of a human PGM is that it will have a minimum size that may make it easier to detect and engage…

    • Moe DeLaun (History)

      Kamikaze indeed — we know what a large-scale extended precision strike against a combined-arms assault force looks like: Okinawa 1945. You can draw a line from the shaking of American resolve under that bombardment, to the nuclear attacks on Japan.

      On another note, I’m not sure that IRBM’s (i.e. DF-21D) or SLBM’s modified for *horizontal flight* are covered by arms-control measures.

    • j_kies (History)

      Truth, and they lacked guidance system (pilot) feedback on the control authority problems and lacked damage assessment or C2 for coordinating the strikes. Consider all of those would have been multipliers for the effectiveness.

    • j_kies (History)

      Regarding the flight modes issues and arms control; does the Middle Kingdom observe any missile control regimes or participate in any START-like process?

      Its inherently wasteful for booster energy and requires different flight controls to fly ballistic missiles as quasi-aerodynamic systems and easy to break (as DARPA illustrated). However, properly engineered MARVs (from the 1980s) can be repurposed for conventional delivery of HE for a miniscule lethal radius against soft targets, the question would be why would you waste the time effort and funding?

  4. Juuso (History)

    If rumors are true Chinese are going to get their Type 95 SSGN/SSN in sailing condition soon enough, but I would assume it’s more worrying to India and other countries around China.

  5. Juuso (History)

    I’m not sure how credible this site is but they claim that Chinese have manufactured new variant of Type 093 SNN.

  6. P (History)

    South Korean ballistic and cruise missile developments and Saudi Arabian cruise missiles are not the only omissions in the report.

    Israeli, French and UK ballistic missiles are left out. Turkish stated goals to built MRBMs ( ) do not seem to be worth any attention either. I guess that is because they are allies? Though, they are mentioned as countries with LACMs. Except for Turkey of course, which has received 250+km SLAM-ER from the USA (—lojistik-destek-256-muhimmat-257-agm-84k-slam-er—30-agustos-18069.htm )
    and builds its own LACM similar to several mentioned in the LACM list. ( )
    And what about Finland and Australia having firm orders for 370+ km AGM-158 JASSMs (The Best Value of Any Air-to-Surface Missile in Its Class). Which South Korea did not want or could not get and therefore decided to order the 500+ km Taurus LACM this year. But that is of course ok because though 500+km range ( it is still an MTCR category 2 weapon ( ) like the storm shadow. I guess that has to do with its 480 kg warhead… Or is there someone who would disagree with that?
    Not to mention the fact that there is no need the mention the fact that the USA exports 300 km ATACMS Block-1A, Precision Engagement There When the Soldier Needs It. I.e. in the UAE, Bahrain, South Korea and if they cough up the money Qatar and Finland. ‘A full quiver of arrows that work the first time, everytime, capable of engaging all targets.’
    But that’s of course because ATACMS are not LACMS but ballistic and go to allies not rogue states such as India and Pakistan which are listed in the ballistic missile table. Or something.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Yes, I should have said that these were the cruise missile omissions.

  7. Anya L. (History)

    First and, crucially, nice plug. “Missile Contagion” is available in hardback and paperback. :o)

    Second, I wonder what the NASIC report means by “BrahMos 2.” As a point of reference, the 2009 report very conservatively listed only the Su-30MKI-mounted supersonic missile as “BrahMos A” with a 150+ mile range. This report lists “BrahMos 1” and “BrahMos 2” with a variety of launch modes, both in the <300 km range. So, I'm guessing that it's safe to assume that the report is referring to the supersonic and hypersonic versions as 1 and 2, respectively.

    But, if BrahMos 2 indeed refers to the hypersonic version, then this is the first I've heard of it being flight-tested in 2012. Even better, the report lists an IOC of this year (2013+) for this system, which sounds ridiculous. So, unless I'm missing something, what gives?!

    Finally, the switch in this report to reporting maximum ranges in kilometers as opposed to miles as was the case in past reports makes it all the more an exciting read, at least as far as wonkporn goes.

    • P (History)

      The NASIC is not particularly precision guided.

      That Brahmos-2 has been tested in 2012 and IOC in 2013 would certainly be news. They are supposed to be test flown in 2017 (, which in India probably means more likely 2022 or later. May be they mean Brahmos Block-II or Block-III? But these started to be tested before 2012. The air launched version was scheduled to be tested by late 2012, but that was postponed to 2014

      More perplexing is that the report does not mention the 1000 km range Nirbhay cruise missile India has had in development some time and which was tested very publicly earlier this year, nor the Shourya 700km land based ballistic missile with guided warhead which has been tested a few times, nor the K-15 3000+km SLBM programme.

  8. Paralus (History)

    I think we will see a new generation of cruise missiles that will be designed as real drones, not RPV, but capable of patrolling a route and seeking targets.

    I also see the potential for smaller smart munitions being carried by cruise missiles as opposed to ONLY large unitary warheads. With munitions like Small Diameter Bomb or guided mortar rounds, what if cruise missiles could be programmed to passively detect signals or other emissions, then seek out the target and launch a small guided submunition.

    The USAF was looking at LOCAAS to be carried by a Surveilling Miniature Attack Cruise Missile. A cruise missile like a Tomahawk slightly enlarged to carry a Viper Strike, 120mm guided mortar round, BLU-108, etc.