These two countries' technologies will permit their engineers to plan missiles that will carry warheads capable of dispensing submunitions at a 60-km altitude from the launch site. In such a case, all 100 bomblets will continue their ballistic trajectory and land on the target site in a 20-second-long volley. U.S. Administration officials who deal with arms control have voiced their concern about the intelligence analysis, which contended that China and North Korea will sell blast fragmentation missiles to Middle East countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
The impact of a volley of 100 bomblets filled with chemical warfare agents landing in a densely populated residential area can be easily imagined. In the quite realistic case of 10-15 missiles' landing in the Tel Aviv area, for instance, 1,000 to 1,500 bomblets will disperse over the city, spraying it with 5,000 to 7,900 kg of chemical warfare agents.
Yet even if the submunitions are conventional, rather than chemical, the damage inflicted by the impact of more than 1,000 bomblets (each of which can reach sufficient velocity to penetrate a tall building) is enormous, to say nothing of the psychological effect of such volleys of bomblets.
It is also possible to equip these missiles with cluster-bomb- type bomblets, which contain a large number of lethal metal fragments. Missiles with such blast fragmentation warheads can sow terror very effectively. What renders the U.S. intelligence analysis pertinent for the current developments of antiballistic defense systems is the data on the submunitions' dispense point in the course of the ballistic missile's flight. American intelligence experts assess that the missile's warhead will open at an altitude of 60 km. This means that, if Iraq launches a ballistic missile at Israel, 100 bomblets will disperse in the air some 540 km from the target -- which is also where defense systems, such as the Arrow, are stationed.
The problem is that the defense systems currently under development are designed to intercept the attacking missile in the last stage of its trajectory. The objective is to have the Arrow, for instance, intercept the attacking missile at a distance of about 70 km from the target (Tel Aviv, in this case). This means that a blast-fragmentation- warhead missile equipped with submunitions renders active defense systems, such as the Israeli Arrow or the American THAAD [Theater High Altitude Area Defense] or the ERINT [Exoatmospheric Interceptor], totally ineffective and operationally meaningless. Because any attempt to intercept all or most of each missile's 100 submunitions as they reach the defense system's effective range is both untenable and impractical.
The Syrians, too, will be able to launch such missiles, invalidating the Arrow system's operational capability. The Arrow system will be powerless even against missiles whose range is 300 km, such as the Scud B, if they are equipped with submunition-filled warheads. The submunitions will disperse in the air of about a 240-km area, far beyond the Arrow's operational range. One of the operational solutions that can be developed against this new threat is a weapon that can intercept the attacking ballistic missile during the launch stage -- namely, shortly after it exits the launcher and long before its warhead opens to dispense submunitions. This is the attacking missile's most vulnerable stage. It is very slow before it is accelerated to its terminal velocity by the engine, and it is a large and easily detectable target owing to its large heat signature.
A missile hit at this stage will break down, and since it will still be over the launch area, its breakdown -- and perhaps even a detonation of its warhead -- will cause damage to the enemy who launched the missile. If the enemy decides to launch a nonconventional warhead missile, they will have to account for the possibility that, if the missile is intercepted during the launch stage, the nonconventional agents may strike their own civilians.
A solution of this nature was proposed by Israeli engineers after the Gulf War. They suggested developing a long-endurance RPV [remote-piloted vehicle] equipped with air-to-air missiles that will cruise the launch area. Its thermal sensors will allow it to detect every ballistic missile launch and to abort it with air-to-air missiles shortly after it exits its launchers. The American SDI directors agreed to finance a part of the relevant research, which is carried out by Israel's REFA'EL [Arms Development Authority], and similar plans were simultaneously launched in the United States.
The U.S. Army plans to use a fleet of advanced RPV's for this mission. Under the plan, the RPV's will cruise at an altitude of about 65,000 feet (higher than the effective altitude of most air defense systems); will have the characteristics of a stealth aircraft (one that cannot be detected by radar); and will be equipped with sensors that will detect the launch of attacking ballistic missiles and with two advanced air-to-air missiles, one of which will be launched at the ballistic missiles and the other at the launch vehicle.
The missile-attacking RPV's future is still vague. Several congressmen, who are trying to protect the original SDI plans, are objecting to the allocation of funds for the completion of the RPV's development.
Whatever the outcome of the struggle for the future of the U.S. defense plan, the development of missiles with blast fragmentation warheads calls for a reassessment of the Israeli position. The assumption that such missiles will reach the Middle East in about five years -- probably before the Arrow development is completed -- casts serious doubt on many of the basic premises on which the Arrow system development was originally based.