The Threat

Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Countries invest in ballistic missiles because they are a means to project power in regional and strategic contexts, and a capability to launch an attack from a distance.

There has been an increase of over 1,200 additional ballistic missiles over the past five years. The total of ballistic missiles outside the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia, and China has risen over 5,900. Hundreds of launchers and missiles are currently within the range of our deployed forces today.

According to the intelligence community, current trends indicate that proliferation of ballistic missile systems, using advanced liquid- or solid-propellant propulsion technologies, are becoming more mobile, survivable, reliable, accurate and capable of striking targets over longer distances. The proliferation of ballistic missiles is increasing the number of anti-access weapons available to potential regional adversaries. These weapons could be used to reduce military options for combatant commanders and decrease the survivability of regional military assets.

Technology Transfer

Presently, sophisticated ballistic missile technology is available on a wider scale than ever to countries hostile to the U.S. and our allies. As those countries continue to develop and exchange this technology, there is also an increasing threat of those technologies falling into the hands of hostile non-state groups.

Iran could develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015. Since 2008, Iran has conducted multiple successful launches of the two-stage Safir space launch vehicle (SLV) and has also revealed the larger two-stage Simorgh SLV, which could serve as a test bed for developing ICBM technologies. Since 2010, Iran has revealed the Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), the fourth generation Fateh-110 SRBM, and claims to be mass-producing antiship ballistic missiles. Iran has modified its Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) to extend its range and effectiveness and also claims to have deployed the two-stage, solid-propellant Sejjil MRBM.

North Korea has unveiled the new road-mobile Hwasong-13 ICBM while continuing to develop the Taepo Dong-2, which placed a satellite in orbit for the first time in December 2012. An intermediate-range ballistic missile and a new solidpropellant SRBM are also being developed.

An additional concern are North Korea’s and Iran’s repeated demonstrations of salvo launches, indicating large ballistic missile attack raid sizes must be considered in developing the Ballistic Missile Defense System capability.

Syria continues to field updated SRBM systems and acquire Scud-related equipment and materials from North Korea and Iran.


Throughout the years of the Cold War, the U.S. relied significantly on nuclear weapons to deter hostile threats. This concept was centered upon the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)—protecting ourselves with weapons that could destroy any enemies who were aiming to harm or destroy us. However, the world soon rejected the MAD policy of retaliation as concern over nuclear arsenals increased. While the end of the Cold War signaled a reduction in the likelihood of global nuclear conflict, one of the greatest threats facing the world today remains the increasing proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

The increasing technology transfer and missile proliferation could render traditional deterrence and diplomacy ineffective against a future missile attack on the U.S., our deployed forces, or our allies.

Countering the Threat

Through its capabilities for defending critical nodes, military assets, and seats of government, missile defense enhances existing non-proliferation activities. Missile defenses can provide a permanent presence in a region and discourage adversaries from believing they can use ballistic missiles to coerce or intimidate the U.S. or its allies.

Learn More

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center, in partnership with the Defense Intelligence Agency's Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence produced the 2013 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat assessment. Read it here.