Tuesday, January 30, 2007

North Korea and Iran are cooperating in developing long-range missiles, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said yesterday.

Army Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly said during a speech that North Korea test fired a long-range Taepodong missile in July, and Iran is working on a space launcher that would help develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the U.S.

“Not only North Korea, but Iran has shown some significant developments in their [own] missile systems,” Gen. O’Reilly said in a speech to the George C. Marshall Institute.

“They are working in concert with the North Koreans,” he said. “They have made a claim that they are working towards developing a space launch capability, which also would give them an ICBM capability.”

The Pentagon believes Iran has a “new intermediate-range ballistic missile or space launch vehicle [SLV] in development,” a Missile Defense Agency briefing slide stated.

The Iranians are “likely to develop an ICBM/SLV [and] could have an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. before 2015,” according to the briefing chart.

One of the new missiles would be solid-fueled, making it capable of being launched rapidly, and have a range of 1,240 miles, enough to hit targets throughout Europe from Iran.

The speech marked the first time the Pentagon publicly disclosed the missile cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran.

The North Koreans test fired a Taepodong-2 on July 4 but the missile failed 40 seconds after launch, Gen. O’Reilly said. The two-stage version has a range of 6,200 miles and the three-stage version can travel 9,300 miles.

“But the indications are clear that they are continuing to strive to expand their ballistic missile capability,” he said.

The U.S. missile defense system was made operational before the North Korean tests and the forces involved “performed very well,” Gen. O’Reilly said. Another briefing chart used during the speech stated that if the Taepodong-2 had threatened the United States, “we are confident the ballistic missile defense system would have operated as designed.”

Another briefing chart revealed for the first time that North Korea is developing a new intermediate-range missile with a range of about 2,000 miles that was described as “a qualitative improvement in performance” from earlier missile systems. North Korea’s July tests — seven missiles were fired — included two 806-mile range Nodong missiles, he said.

Gen. O’Reilly said the U.S. missile defense system, which includes a network of long-, medium- and short-range interceptors and sensors, is designed to counter missiles from “rogue states” targeted at the U.S., its allies and forces overseas.

The system can defend against short-range Iranian missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and North Korean strikes on Japan, as well as an Iranian missile strike on London or North Korean missile attacks on the United States, an MDA briefing slide stated.

North Korea uses its missiles as “geopolitical leverage” over the United States and its allies and also to raise money by selling them abroad, Gen. O’Reilly said. Iran is building missiles for “both asymmetric threats and conventional threats” to U.S. and allied forces, he noted.

Gen. O’Reilly also stated that Hezbollah’s short-range rockets and missiles, used in last year’s fighting in Lebanon, were a threat to Israeli forces and that more than 4,500 were fired.

“They had small ball bearings, about 300, in their warhead, and they were very effective at shutting down a lot of the maneuvering capability of the Israeli army and also shutting down over 70 percent of the commerce in northern Israel during that period of time,” he said. “And that was significant from both non-state actors and other countries that have committed to using rockets as terror weapons.”

Asked whether the Pentagon can counter China’s anti-satellite weapon, which was tested recently, Gen. O’Reilly said countering space weapons currently is not a mission for the Missile Defense Agency but could be done.

“We have tremendous kinematic capability with our missiles; we have the sensors and the battle management, so that work would be straightforward if we were … given that guidance and mandate to do,” he said.

The Pentagon also is developing a “multiple kill vehicle” that will greatly boost the power of current interceptors by adding more non-explosive warheads that can hit 10 or more enemy warheads from a single booster, he said.

The current missile interceptors deployed at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California can protect the United States from North Korean missiles and afford “partial protection” from Middle Eastern missiles. Upgraded defenses will provide full defense from both North Korean and Middle Eastern missiles, Gen. O’Reilly said.

By 2011, the Pentagon plans to have up to 44 interceptors deployed in the United States and the first 10 interceptors in Europe; a large radar in Europe; 18 Aegis missile defense ships; 48 ground-based THAAD interceptors; two new surveillance and tracking satellites; and a battle management and integrated global fire system for the Middle East and Southwest Asian missile threats.

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