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Technology That Undercuts Missile Defense Should Face Tighter Export Controls, Report Says

A ground-based interceptor lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2008.

A ground-based interceptor lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2008. // Defense Department file photo

A new U.S.-funded report calls for tightening international export controls on the sale of technologies that could be used to skirt ballistic-missile defenses.

The policy paper -- produced by the RAND Corp. think tank for the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency -- recommends the international Missile Technology Control Regime adopt new rules for members on the sale of 19 types of so-called "penetration aids." These are technologies that can be incorporated into an offensive missile and used to "saturate, confuse, evade, or suppress" an attempted missile-defense interception.

The report calls for "the tightest controls" on three specific classes of penetration aid-related technologies: boost-glide vehicles; subsystems of dummy missiles used in intercept tests; and complete, integrated-countermeasure subsystems.

Boost-glide vehicles are designed to use aerodynamic forces to control their flight path after they have been released from their carrier missile or bomber. Because they do not adhere to a ballistic trajectory, these hypersonic gliders are more difficult to monitor and intercept, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the target missiles used in intercept tests employ technology that can be interchangeable with -- or even indistinguishable from -- some kinds of penetration aids. Because of this, nations could use the manufacture of such dummy missiles as a cover for developing antimissile countermeasures.

"It's like nuclear weapons and peaceful nuclear explosives," RAND report co-author Richard Speier told Global Security Newswire in noting the minimal technical differences between dummy ballistic missiles and certain types of penetration aids.

The third category for tightest control involves subsystems that are fully developed and essentially ready for "plug-and-play," Speier said in a Friday phone interview. These integrated countermeasures include decoys designed to mimic the movements of re-entry vehicles; maneuvering re-entry vehicles; and electronic countermeasures that may or may not be connected to the re-entry vehicle.

RAND carried out the DTRA research to help U.S. agencies devise policy ideas for preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missiles that can deliver them. The report notes the deterrence benefits of missile defense "will be lost or reduced if proliferators can acquire effective countermeasures."

The 34 member countries of the voluntary Missile Technology Control Regime agree to follow the same export-control rules on a list of mutually agreed-upon items that are divided into Category 1 and Category 2 technologies. Regime members agree that more-sensitive Category 1 items will be subjected to a presumption of denial, while Category 2 items can be considered for export on a case-by-case basis.

"There may be a reluctance to widen the strict restrictions of Category 1 to a large number of additional items," the paper states. "For that reason, it may be better to place certain items under the case-by-case review provisions of Category 2."

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