Nuclear Missile Testing Galore

By December 22, 2006

(Updated January 3, 2007)

North Korea may have gotten all the attention, but all the nuclear weapon states were busy flight-testing ballistic missiles for their nuclear weapons during 2006. According to a preliminary count, eight countries launched more than 28 ballistic missiles of 23 types in 26 different events.

Unlike the failed North Korean Taepo Dong 2 launch, most other ballistic missile tests were successful. Russia and India also experienced missile failures, but the United States demonstrated a very reliable capability including the 117th consecutive successful launch of the Trident II D5 sea-launched ballistic missile.

The busy ballistic missile flight testing represents yet another double standard in international security, and suggests that initiatives are needed to limit not only proliferating countries from developing ballistic missiles but also find ways to curtail the programs of the existing nuclear powers.

The ballistic missile flight tests involved weapons ranging from 10-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles down to single-warhead short-range ballistic missiles. Most of the flight tests, however, involved long-range ballistic missiles and the United States, Russia and France also launched sea-launched ballistic missiles (see table below).

Ballistic Missile Tests
2006*

Date Missile Remarks
China
5 Sep 1 DF-31
ICBM
From Wuzhai, impact in Takla Makan Desert.
France
9 Nov 1 M51 SLBM From
Biscarosse (CELM facility), impact in South Atlantic.
India
13 Jun 1 Prithvi
I SRBM
From
Chandipur, impact in Indian Ocean.
9 Jul 1 Agni III
IRBM
From
Chandipur. Failed.
20 Nov 1 Prithvi
I SRBM
From
Chandipur, impact in Indian Ocean.
Iran**
23 May 1 Shahab
3D MRBM
From
Emamshahr.
3 Nov 1 Shahab 3
MRBM, as well as “dozens” of Shahab 2, Scud B and other SRBMs
Part of
the Great Prophet 2 exercise.
North Korea***
4 Jul 1 Taepo
Dong 2 ICBM and 6 Scud C and Rodong SRBMs
From
Musudan-ri near Kalmo. ICBM failed.
Pakistan
16 Nov 1 Ghauri
MRBM
From Tilla?
29 Nov 1 Hatf-4 (Shaheen-I)
SRBM
Part of
Strategic Missile Group exercise.
9 Dec 1 Haft-3 (Ghaznavi)
SRBM
Part of
Strategic Missile Group exercise.
Russia
28 Jul 1 SS-18 ICBM Attempt to launch satellite, but technically an SS-18 flight test (see comments below).
3 Aug 1 Topol
(SS-25) ICBM
From
Plesetsk, impact on Kura range.
7 Sep 1 Bulava
SLBM
From
Dmitry Donskoy (Typhoon) in White Sea. Failed.
9 Sep 1 SS-N-23
SLBM
From K-84
(Delta IV) at North Pole, impact on Kizha range.
10 Sep 1 SS-N-18
SLBM
From Delta
III in Pacific, impact on Kizha range.
25 Oct 1 Bulava
SLBM
From
Dmitry Donskoy (Typhoon) in White Sea. Failed.
9 Nov 1 SS-19
ICBM
From Silo
in Baykonur, impact on Kura range.
21 Dec 1 SS-18
ICBM
From
Orenburg, impact on Kura range.
24 Dec 1 Bulava
SLBM
From
White Sea. Third stage failed.
United States
16 Feb 1
Minuteman III ICBM
From
Vandenberg AFB, impact Kwajalein. Final W87/Mk-21 SERV test flight.
Mar/Apr 2 Trident
II D5 SLBMs
From SSBN.
4 Apr 1
Minuteman III ICBM
From
Vandenberg AFB, impact near Guam. Extended-range, single-warhead
flight test.
14 Jun 1
Minuteman III ICBM
From
Vandenberg AFB, impact Kwajalein. Three-warhead payload.
20 Jul 1
Minuteman III ICBM
From
Vandenberg AFB, impact Kwajalein. Three-warhead flight test.
Launched by E-6B TACAMO airborne command post.
21 Nov 2 Trident
II D5 SLBMs
From USS
Maryland (SSBN-738) off Florida, impact in South Atlantic.
* Unreported events may add to the list.
** Iran
does not have nuclear weapons but is suspected of pursuing nuclear
weapons capability.
*** It is unknown if North Korea has developed a nuclear reentry
vehicle for its ballistic missiles.

The Putin government’s reaffirmation of the importance of strategic nuclear forces to Russian national security was tainted by the failure of three consecutive launches of the new Bulava missile, but tests of five other missile types shows that Russia still has effective missile forces.

Along with China, Russia’s efforts continue to have an important influence on U.S. nuclear planning, and the eight Minuteman III and Trident II missiles launched in 2006 were intended to ensure a nuclear capability second to none. The first ICBM flight-test signaled the start of the deployment of the W87 warhead on the Minuteman III force.

China’s launch of the (very) long-awaited DF-31 ICBM and India’s attempts to test launch the Agni III raised new concerns because of the role the weapons likely will play in the two countries’ targeting of each other. But during a visit to India in June 2006, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, downplayed at least the Indian issue saying other countries in the region also have tested missiles. In a statement that North Korea would probably find useful to use, Gen. Pace explained that “the fact that a country is testing something like a missile is not destabilizing” as long as it is “designed for defense, and then are intended for use for defense, and they have competence in their ability to use those weapons for defense, it is a stabilizing event.”

But since all “defensive” ballistic missiles have very offensive capabilities, and since no nation plans it defense based on intentions and statements anyway but on the offensive capabilities of potential adversaries, Gen. Pace’s explanation seemed disingenuous and out of sync with the warnings about North Korean, Iranian and Chinese ballistic missile developments.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) seeks to limit the proliferation of ballistic missiles, but that vision seems undercut by the busy ballistic missile launch schedule demonstrated by the nuclear weapon states in 2006. Some MTCR member countries have launched the International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation initiative in an attempt to establish a norm against ballistic missiles, and have called on all countries to show greater restraint in their own development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction and to reduce their existing missile arsenals if possible.

All the nuclear weapons states portray their own nuclear ballistic missile developments as stabalizing and fully in compliance with their pledge under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith. But fast-flying ballistic missiles are inherently destablizing because of their vulnerability to attack may trigger use early on in a conflict. And the busy missile testing in 2006 suggests that the “good faith” is wearing a little thin.

Categories: China, India, Nuclear Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States