Jeffrey LewisPENAID Control & the MTCR

Richard H. Speier, K. Scott McMahon and George Nacouzi have a new RAND monograph out entitled Penaid Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of Countermeasures Against Ballistic Missile Defenses.

The report is very simple, which is not to say simplistic. Speier et al believe the MTCR should be expanded to cover Penetration Aids (PENAIDS), which seems eminently reasonable to me.

PENAIDs are an important technology associated only with the sort of ballistic missiles captured under the MTCR. If one hopes that missile defense investments will deter, rather than spur, missile proliferation, the PENAID control is a must.  I have long thought that countermeasures are a serious challenge to the viability of missile defenses.  If we are serious about providing even limited defenses, we need to substantially revise current missile defense programs and start thinking about PENAID control.

The bulk of Speier et al report — and the part worth arguing about — concerns what subsystems the MTCR ought to control.  That’s a conversation worth having in the comments, I think.

In case you’d like a refresher on PENAIDS, or just like historical materials, here is a nice late-1980s USAF video.


  1. Cthippo (History)

    So in order to make our, um, limited capability missile defenses more useful we should try to outlaw countermeasures that could defeat it? I can’t see that flying with the non-aligned states who are now major producers of ballistic missile technology.

    The states that have effective ICBM system, including penetration aids, aren’t going to give them up the the states that are seeking ballistic missile technology in response to a perceived threat don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to buy or develop the same toys the big boys have. Especially when you add the BMD argument into it, this concept comes off as very self serving for the US in that we’re not going to give up what we have but we’re going to try to get others to forgo it in order to make out missile defense system more effective.

    I’m skeptical of the value of the MTCR overall. A ballistic missile without a nuclear warhead is a really inefficient way to deliver a ton or two of HE. Sure, chemical weapons are scary, but as experiences in Syria have shown the fear factor is much greater than the actual destruction. I feel that while the MTCR is perhaps not a bad idea, it’s really not where we should be focusing. WMDs are fairly well under control and there are significant international norms against their use, so instead of worrying about the supply of long range missiles I think it would be better to try to regulate to flow of conventional small arms and artillery.

  2. JO (History)

    Clear problem here is the shading from countermeasures into vehicle improvements.

    The Agni-II for example, MARV aeromanouvering plus a mid-course throttled stage that I’m guessing can be lit just as easily in terminal phase. Non-ballistic trajectories – hypersonic glide insertion is the future. Hardened vehicle or just strengthened vehicle for aero/thermal/G loading?

    Where does wake reduction shade into energy retention? How and when can signature reduction be flagged as “specific countermeasures” rather than general measures?

    A line could perhaps be drawn with the separate object countermeasures. Extension to the MIRV numeric limits could treat decoy objects similar to MIRVS. But terminal guidance for ballistic AShMs may require accompanying “hang back” sensors – these would be a sticking point.

  3. j_kies (History)

    A dissenting view – Penaids – we don’t actually care

    Missiles especially reliable long range ballistic ones are items that come about as a result of dedicated industrial capabilities coupled with research, development and test efforts to refine the designs, materials and processes to lead to a viable system. Current worldwide competition for resources prefers that military or other relative measures of power between nations change gradually and visibly. Nation states prefer to have the means to threaten other nation states within their national monopoly on means of violence. Missiles are the preferred means to threaten your friends and neighbors at a price far below building an airforce that can effectively hold the same targets at risk. Hence we come to the concept of the MTCR where we restrict the transfer of missiles and components from those that can build them to a limited set of ‘acceptable’ recipients.

    Penaids unlike the basic missile componentry are explicitly designed against defensive measures and to be effective they must not preclude the basic missile from functioning nor soak up a disproportional payload fraction. I am in the ‘don’t care’ category as to the vast majority of material within the Rand report. My rationale for the ‘don’t care’ viewpoint: 1) Penaids are specifically designed to defeat some aspect of a missile defense system; unless the technical characteristics of the missile defense system are known to the developers, effectiveness cannot expected and the Penaids makes the offense less effective due to loss of payload. 2) The only credible penaids are those that have held significant flight tests and have known and repeatable behaviors. 3) While missiles are large scale manufacturing issues; Penaids are hugely weight-driven, come from different sources than missile components, and are essentially hand-crafted even from the first-world programs. Given the reactive / tuned nature of Penaids and their specificity to the missile defenses they are intended to penetrate, they are an extremely unlikely export candidate from Nations that can build missiles controlled under the MTCR as selling a system designed against some particular MD system may be construed as Casus Belli.

  4. Mark Gubrud (History)

    The message of the Countermeasures report, which you cite, is that (contrary to the assertions of j_kies) there are simple countermeasures which can defeat all known and practical sensor technologies for midcourse interception, and which are certainly within the reach of any state which can put a nuclear warhead on top of a long range ballistic missile. This makes attempting to restrict countermeasures seem futile.

    We should think about what is robust in technology and in strategy. Simple things are robust. Nuclear abolition would be robust. It could come undone, but that would only bring us back to deterrence, which is also robust, but ultimately brittle. Ballistic missile defense is very weak, countermeasures are robust, and if you try to shore up BMD with a countermeasures ban, you will get something that is extremely brittle.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I think it is an open question how hard countermeasures are likely to be. We have only the Chinese and UK experience as a relatively comparable data points, but these are difficult to assess for a variety of reasons.

    • j_kies (History)

      Mark; lest this become a quasi-religious invocation of unsupported statements, I accept that you believe that Countermeasures are some sovereign card that trumps BMD. I submit that neither the USAF nor the UK Royal Navy believe that Countermeasures as discussed in the report are worth the payload mass based on their open publications. Decades of research and assessments are behind the decisions by those organizations.

      If UCS/others really wanted to show how trivial and effective Countermeasures are; its a couple of million all in to obtain a Black Brant rocket stack and flight test all the concepts you might care to do. Just make sure to do the test with sufficient instrumentation to observe both the CM’s and the RV surrogate at sufficient fidelity to establish that the CMs are effective. You can likely resource that engineering demonstration via Kickstarter or grants from Plowshares etc.

  5. David Wright (History)

    It’s worth keeping in mind that the video shows endo decoys that are supposed to be credible relatively deep into the atmosphere. That means the decoys require small rocket motors to make up for the air drag that would slow them more than the heavier RVs. For exo decoys, which is what is needed against the GMD interceptors, the decoys can be much lighter, so the mass penalty is lower.