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BMD Watch: Nuke SCUD Threat To U.S.

File photo of a scud missile in North Korea.
By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Nov 08, 2005
Lockheed Martin is developing a warning system to detect nuclear-armed SCUD missiles that could potentially be launched from small ships off the U.S. coast.

"They don't need intercontinental ballistic missile to attack us. An enemy could put a SCUD on a tramp steamer and launch it off the coast," said David Kier, Vice-President of Lockheed Martin's Protection Division.

Because of that non-theoretical threat Lockheed Martin has been investing its own money to develop a system called Passive Coherent Locator (PCL) that could detect such a ship-launched missile and feed accurate tracking information into the existing national missile defense command-and-control system for a response, the Night Watch Information Service reported.

The PCL system involves a network of sensors that could be operational from Washington to Boston within two years of government funding and along the entire U.S. coastline some years later.

Some 75 percent of the total U.S. population of 290 million people and 75 percent of its military bases are within 200 miles of the coast. The number of potential launch platforms is immense, with 130,000 registered merchant ships in 195 countries, NWIS said.

Thousands of SCUDs and other inexpensive short-range ballistic missiles have been dispersed, sold worldwide with some in countries where terrorist groups operate openly.

Iran test-launched a tactical ballistic missile from a ship last year and the threat has become much worse with the rapid proliferation of cruise missiles. China has already supplied many to Iran.

Some 70 countries already possess an estimated 75,000 anti-ship cruise missiles and many of them could be easily converted to land-attack weapons. At least 10 nations already have land-attack cruise missiles and their number is increasing, NWIS said.

A report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments stated, "While the Defense Department has numerous programs to address threats to forward-deployed ground and naval forces, it has devoted much less attention to cruise missile threats to the homeland.

"Even the relatively large Seersucker (Russian-built anti-ship cruise missile) can be hidden and launched from a standard 12-meter shipping container," the CSBA report said. "The balance between cruise missiles and defenses currently favor the offense."

During congressional testimony early this year, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he was "concerned about" the potential for a ship-launched missile attack on the United States.

"There is a difference of opinion in terms of whether that constitutes a real threat, but that's something I'm personally concerned about. So we're working on it."

More recently, Obering told reporters: "We launched a SCUD off an ocean-going platform ... It was very easy to do."

Cruise-missile defense, however, is not part of MDA's responsibility. That responsibility is shared by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and the Joint Theater Air and Missile Organization, NWIS said.

Lockheed Martin's PCL has received some assistance in system verification from the government, including defense agencies and NASA, Kier said.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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