demonstrated—would also have potential against defenses designed to deal with longer-range threats.

Our nation’s ability to anticipate and understand the details of an Iranian or North Korean ICBM (or other missiles) would depend substantially on the extent of their flight testing. While both countries are likely to do some testing—both to confirm the performance of their systems and in the hopes of gaining political advantage by exhibiting their prowess—they are unlikely to follow the extensive testing practices of the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War or those of China.

Although Russia and China will certainly maintain and modernize their strategic nuclear arsenals, U.S. policy states that missile defense is not intended or designed to counter those forces—and any attempt to do so would be an expensive and destabilizing failure. Accordingly, and consistent with its congressional tasking, this study does not consider the ability to defend against Russian or Chinese strategic forces as an evaluation criterion for proposed missile defense systems.

In addition to developing its strategic deterrent, however, China is also very active in developing conventionally armed tactical and theater missile capabilities for “anti-access, area-denial” missions. Such missile systems could pose serious threats to U.S. allies and U.S. power projection forces in the western Pacific. A case of particular concern—though far from the only one—is the development of a much publicized anti-ship ballistic missile, with a maneuvering conventional warhead designed to attack naval forces at sea. Dealing with this potential threat is, in contrast to the strategic force question, very much a potential mission for U.S. missile defense.6


The congressional tasking for this study requested an assessment of the concepts and systems for U.S. boost-phase missile defense in comparison with non-boost ballistic missile alternatives. It calls for attention to the systems for two purposes: (1) countering short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), and IRBM threats from rogue states to the deployed forces of the United States and its allies and (2) defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.7

To provide a context for analysis of present and proposed U.S. boost-phase and non-boost concepts and systems, the committee considered the following to be the missions for ballistic missile defense (BMD): (1) protection of the


6Department of Defense. 2010. Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, Washington, D.C.: February, p. 7.

7The term “systems” is used in place of “concepts and systems” throughout this report, recognizing that the term can be either existing or proposed.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement