A report published earlier this summer by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center warns that North Korea, Russia, China and Iran all have nuclear weapons that could be used in an attack on the U.S. homeland in addition to the American military installations all over the world.
The report conveys that nations often at odds with U.S. foreign policy objectives have made massive strides in ballistic missile technology in recent years, so much so that now even missiles not armed with nuclear warheads could pose significant threats to strategic American targets. And even as the U.S. is able to use a carrot or stick approach to quell ballistic missile threats posed by belligerent nation-states, military intelligence officials are warning that current disturbances throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe increase the likelihood the dangerous weapons could fall into the hands of terror organizations.
From the intelligence document:
Ballistic and cruise missiles present a significant threat to US and Allied forces overseas, and to the United States and its territories. Missiles are attractive to many nations because they can be used effectively against an adversary with a formidable air defense system, where an attack with manned aircraft would be impractical or too costly. In addition, missiles can be used as a deterrent or an instrument of coercion. Missiles also have the advantage of fewer maintenance, training, and logistic requirements than manned aircraft. Even limited use of these weapons could have devastating consequences if armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear
The ballistic and cruise missile threat continues to increase with the proliferation of missile technology. Over 20 countries have ballistic missile systems, and missiles likely will be a threat in future conflicts involving US forces. Ballistic missiles have been used in several conflicts over the last 30 years, including the Iran-Iraq war, the Afghan civil war, the war in Yemen, the 1991 and 2003 Persian Gulf conflicts, the Russian military actions in Chechnya and Georgia, and most recently in the conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine. Russia used cruise missiles for the first time during the conflict in Syria.
International interest in testing all types of ballistic missiles has increased over the past decade, as referenced by the chart below:
Most concerning for the U.S. homeland, though, are tests involving long range ballistic missiles (LRBM), which have piqued considerable since the last iteration of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s missile report in 2013.
Currently, Russia, China, and North Korea are most likely to pose a threat via missiles with intercontinental capabilities, according to the military report. The intelligence experts that India and Iran are also likely to develop similar technology within a matter of years.