World Naval Developments

By Norman Friedman

U.S. intelligence agencies have been familiar with the two-stage Taepo-Dong for some time, but several academicians suspected that the rocket actually was a dummy. They argued that the design chosen was quite inefficient, and that surely the North Koreans could do better if they were serious. They were wrong; the rocket is exactly what intelligence officers thought it was. There is an interesting parallel, because there always is a possibility that intelligence will misinterpret some foreign device. Therefore technical intelligence is generally subjected to analysis: do the specifications really make sense? Often, the procedure prevents embarrassment. Sometimes, however, it obscures important developments. For example: U.S. naval intelligence discovered the existence of the Japanese Navy's 24-inch oxygen torpedo (the famous "Long Lance") before World War II. The reports describing it were passed to the then-Bureau of Ordnance—whose torpedo specialists dismissed them as fantasies. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many have argued that U.S. intelligence during the Cold War was far too anxious to see the threat, and far too unwilling to see signs of Soviet collapse. Soviet super-weapons seemed to be everywhere—until their specifications were revealed after 1991. The North Korean test may be a corrective to the feeling that intelligence is far too self-serving.

The satellite-launcher may be a peaceful experiment, but its implications are anything but peaceful. To launch the satellite, the North Koreans placed a third, solid-fuel stage atop the two stage liquid-fuel Taepo-Dong . Until now, it had seemed that they were unable to develop modern solid-fueled missiles; now that is far less certain. It seems possible that the new technology came from China, which does build long-range solid-fueled ballistic missiles. The failure of the third stage doomed the new satellite, so presumably North Korean expertise in this field is still incomplete.

More important, the mere ability to launch a satellite implies a certain level of missile expertise. In 1957, the Soviets claimed that they had launched a successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). That was enormously important to the United States, because at the time the bulk of U.S. strategic weapons were carried by U.S. Air Force bombers based in the United States, and it seemed unlikely that these aircraft could be launched quickly enough to escape being destroyed by an incoming ballistic missile that would fly from the Soviet Union to its target in about 30 minutes. Moreover, the United States lacked any sort of long-range warning radar capable of detecting the missile.

Then came Sputnik. To most people, it was a startling demonstration that Soviet technology was quite advanced—a demonstration underlined when the American satellite launcher, Vanguard, failed dramatically a few months later. To officials in the know, however, Sputnik was horrifying for a different reason. Its success proved that the Soviets had developed the sort of rocket needed for an ICBM. It had to be assumed that the Soviets soon would deploy the devastating weapon that the U.S. government had feared since 1954—and they had developed it well before American intelligence had predicted.

Thus, the North Korean test is an announcement that all of Japan may soon lie within missile range. It may have the reach to hit Alaska, thus missile defense is now a much more urgent issue for the United States. We can, perhaps, take a little comfort from some further historical details. We now know that the Sputnik launcher was not a fully developed ICBM. The Russians took several more years to reach the ranges required for mass attacks, and their missiles could not be used for surprise strikes—they took far too long to set up. Yet a few could have reached U.S. territory. Moreover, the expertise developed to launch the satellite did lead to a really massive threat.

In the case of North Korea, the threat is not limited to East Asia. Exports seem inevitable. When the North Korean test was announced, a Russian newspaper saw it as the end of the U.S. government's attempt to control the spread of long-range missile technology. The South Koreans immediately demanded that the United States sanction development of their own longer range missiles. (All of South Korea is within North Korean missile range, but the United States has tried to restrict South Korea to missiles with ranges of less than 200 kilometers.) The South Koreans argue that a 500-kilometer missile, comparable to a Scud, could cover most of North Korea. They believe they already have the necessary technology. Almost certainly the U.S. veto has been used to keep South Korea from developing weapons that might threaten Japan, a traditional bitter enemy, and that might, thereby, cause the Japanese to remilitarize.

As it is, the North Korean test led the Japanese to reverse their position against buying a U.S. antimissile system. More interestingly, it led some Japanese to change their position on their country's own military strategy. The famous Japanese peace constitution virtually prohibits any armed action outside Japan; it can even be read as abandoning the right of self-defense. Now that self-defense is taken for granted, some Japanese have argued that the country has a right not only to attack North Korea (in the event of a missile strike), but even to attack preemptively. For the moment, the Japanese merely have cut off promised credits to North Korea, on the ground that the missile launch was a hostile act. The sense of Japanese vulnerability, however, now must be profound. The credibility of the U.S. shield, which justified Japanese self-defense policies, has now been seriously damaged. Again, if it is in U.S. interests to avoid Japanese re-militarization, then some form of global missile defense becomes a very important U.S. capability.

The current U.S. administration has argued that given the provisions of the treaty, it would be impossible for the United States to deploy any sort of effective missile defense. Opponents have argued that given Third World missile progress, it is totally irresponsible not to revise or even abandon the treaty.

There is a very real possibility that the Russian Duma will reject START II, which the U.S. Congress already has ratified. The situation is ironic. Twenty years ago, Congress rejected the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) because of fears that it would merely reinforce existing Russian strategic superiority. The proponents' argument was that the Russians would do even better if the treaty were not ratified; the treaty restrained them, albeit not sufficiently. Now the new Russian Prime Minister, Evgeniy Primakov, is making essentially the same argument to the Duma. The treaty allows the United States some superiority, but it limits what the Americans can do. It guarantees the Russians at least something like parity—if, of course, they invest sufficiently to maintain treaty mandated strength. Opponents in the Duma argue much as opponents of SALT II argued two decades ago: we are weak now, but the other side is demonstrating its strength on a daily basis. The recent Tomahawk attacks on Afghanistan and the Sudan are seen as proof that the United States is a dangerous superpower. The irony goes farther: those who would reject START II are those who pushed the treaty to its limits, helped propel Ronald Reagan into power to overcome the Soviet lead, forcing Russia to spend itself into exactly the straits in which START II finds it.

Chinese Develop New Air Defense Missile

At Farnborough this month, the Chinese announced development of the FT-2000, a surface-to-air missile (SAM) that is a new kind of weapon: a SAM targeted against airborne radars. The FT-2000 broadly resembles the Russian SA-10, except that it has strake wings running along its body. Its seeker, however, is a broad-band planar array, effective between 1 and 18 gigaHertz. The Chinese claim that it can deal with enemy airborne radars at ranges of 60 nautical miles. The brochure distributed at the show claimed that the missile is intended primarily to destroy escort jammers (such as EA-6Bs), opening up formations to more conventional forms of attack.

It seems more likely, however, that its main target would be U.S. Air Force E-3 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft or Navy E-2Cs. The Gulf War was a particularly dramatic illustration of the extent to which the United States depends on AWACS and other airborne command-andcontrol systems (such as the E-8 joint surveillance-target attack radar system [JSTARS]) for its effectiveness in modern warfare. The Chinese apparently hope to field weapons intended specifically to counter key U.S. systems.

The basic missile uses a track-via-missile guidance system, in effect an amalgam of the earlier command guidance with semiactive guidance. Once the missile picks up the radar energy reflected from the target, it sends data back to its control system on the ground, which interprets what the missile sees, and directs it to the target. This kind of system, also used by the U.S. Army's Patriot, has the advantage that it can exploit a complex radar waveform, which a missile might be unable to use. The antiradiation missile is an obvious extension of this idea. The missile can send radar signature data down to the ground, and it can be directed to concentrate on a particular radar. Also, the missile can be directed into a 'basket' near an expected emitter.

No similar missile variant appears in Russian discussions of its SA-10 (S-300) system, but it seems logical that the new Chinese weapon is somehow related to the SA-10; the obvious inference is that there may be other antiradar SAMs in service. The SA-N-6 is a naval version of the SA-10, thus the Russians may have an antiradiation SAM at sea.

As it happens, the E-2C's radar is outside the frequency range claimed for the missile—the wavelength is probably too long for the missile's relatively small antenna. Regardless, if indeed the FT-2000 is in or nearing service, it is a threat to airborne radar systems. The claimed range is probably still insufficient, but the threat is clear. It supplements the threat announced by the Russians in the form of several air-to-air ARMS, which did have the requisite range, an earlier threat that may explain substantial Air Force interest in radar satellites to supersede AWACS; the U.S. Navy proposed infrared satellites for much the same mission.

Some years ago, it was reported that a prototype of the Navy system had successfully detected stealthy aircraft, presumably embarrassing the Air Force, which could argue that the Navy's proposal would be ineffective against low fliers beneath cloud cover. In any case, the impact of missiles like the FT-2000 would be to encourage the migration of some important U.S. sensors to space, where they would be far more costly.


Norman Friedman is a consultant on global naval strategy, naval trends, and naval warfare. An internationally known military technology analyst and naval historian, he worked for a decade as an advisor to Secretaries of the Navy, and for another 10 years with a leading U.S. think tank. Dr. Friedman travels the world speaking to military and defense industry leaders, and appears frequently appears on television as a guest commentator. He has authored more than 30 books, and has since the 1980s contributed regular columns analyzing world naval developments for Proceedings magazine. His PhD in Physics was earned at Columbia University.

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