Cablegate: Update Concerning Conversion of Space Launch


DE RUEHC #1892 2731958
P 301938Z SEP 09

S E C R E T STATE 101892


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/30/2034

Classified By: ISN/MTR Director Pam Durham.
Reasons: 1.4 (B), (D), (H).

1. (U) This is an action request. Please see paragraph 2.

2. (C) ACTION REQUEST: Department requests Embassy Paris
provide the interagency cleared paper "Update Concerning
Conversion of Space Launch Vehicles to Ballistic Missiles" in
paragraph 3 below to the French Missile Technology Control
Regime (MTCR) Point of Contact (POC) for distribution to all
Partners. Info addressees also may provide to host government
officials as appropriate. In delivering paper, posts should
indicate that the U.S. is sharing this paper as part of our
preparation for the Information Exchange that will be held in
conjunction with the MTCR Plenary in Rio, November 9-13, 2009.
NOTE: Additional IE papers will be provided via septels.



Update Concerning Conversion of Space Launch Vehicles to
Ballistic Missiles


The MTCR has consistently recognized proliferation
concerns associated with the shared technology and
interchangeable components of Space Launch Vehicles (SLVs) and
ballistic missiles. Nearly identical fabrication methods and
common subsystems result in development and production efforts
that are essentially indistinguishable from one another. The
previous several decades are replete with examples of
ballistic missile conversions to SLVs, such as the Atlas or
Soyuz, and ballistic missile capability resulting from SLV
development, such as India,s Agni missile. In 2009, Iran and
North Korea both conducted launches that - although portrayed
peaceful space launches - indicate these countries are making
progress in their ability to develop long-range ballistic

The fundamental technologies used in SLVs are the same
the technologies used in ballistic missiles. Historically,
countries have developed long-range missiles and SLVs nearly
simultaneously in order to capitalize on their investment in
these interchangeable technologies. The use of existing
ballistic missile hardware to develop major components of an
SLV is typical. This is especially true for major subsystems,
such as propulsion, thrust vector controls, and guidance and
navigation. Not only does this provide for an added level of
reliability in newly-designed systems, it provides a testing
ground to further refine and advance the existing ballistic
missile technologies. Additionally, new technologies and
components that are integral to ballistic missile programs can
be developed and tested in an SLV program. Of particular
concern are the development and testing of technologies
associated with staging, upper-stage engine development, post-
boost control systems, and advanced guidance, navigation, and
control systems. This combination of refining existing
technologies and developing new capabilities under the
auspices of an SLV program provides a direct opportunity to
transfer components and knowledge into a viable long-range
ballistic missile program.


On February 2, 2009, Iran successfully used the Safir
SLV, in only its second launch of this system, to place the
Omid satellite into orbit. Like its historic predecessors,
the Safir program was the beneficiary of Iran,s longstanding
ballistic missile development. Its successful launch almost
certainly advanced Tehran,s ability to develop longer-range
ballistic missiles. Based on the significant details made
public concerning the Safir, including photographs of the
complete vehicle and various components, Iran has clearly
capitalized on existing ballistic missile hardware in
designing and building its SLV.

It is apparent from the photos that the first stage of
the Safir is based on Iran,s Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic
missile (MRBM). Furthermore, the second-stage of the Safir
utilizes steering engines that are almost certainly derived
from the Soviet-era SS-N-6 (Soviet designation: R-27 or RSM-
25) submarine-launched ballistic missile. Iran could have
acquired this technology from North Korea,s probable transfer
of the BM-25 MRBM, which is a variant of Pyongyang,s SS-N-6-
derived Musudan IRBM. In addition to the successful staging
of these two main boosters, it is likely that Iran made
progress with the use of high performance hypergolic (self-
igniting) propellants in the SS-N-6-derived second stage. The
adaptation of this propellant technology to missile systems
could significantly enhance Tehran,s ability to develop a new
generation of more-advanced ballistic missiles. Finally, the
Safir successfully demonstrated the use of two-axis gimbaled
engines for steering in the second stage. All of these
technologies, demonstrated in the Safir SLV, are critical to
the development of long-range ballistic missiles and highlight
the possibility of Iran using the Safir as a platform to
further its ballistic missile development.

North Korea

On April 5, 2009, North Korea conducted its second
attempted launch of the Taepo Dong 2 (TD-2). Although the TD-
2 failed to place a satellite into orbit, it demonstrated that
North Korea is making progress in developing technology that
can directly contribute to the production of long-range
ballistic missiles. From the video of the TD-2 launch
publicly released by North Korea, it is apparent that the TD-2
first stage makes use of hydrocarbon-based propellants. The
system likely uses a first stage that incorporates a
clustered-engine design of main engines and steering (vernier)

The linkage of short-range ballistic missile technology
adaptation to long-range ballistic missiles is evident in
North Korea,s TD-2 program. The mass of the TD-2 and the
relatively low thrust of Scud engines make it likely that the
TD-2,s first stage was comprised of more than Scud-based
engines. North Korea,s No Dong missiles, derived from Scud-B
technologies, almost certainly utilize the same mix of
hydrocarbon-based propellants as the original Soviet Scud-B.
It therefore appears logical that the TD-2,s first-stage
have been comprised of a clustered set of the higher-
performing No Dong engines. While the details of the exact
TD-2 launch configuration are unclear, it is logical to
presume North Korea is following the time-tested concept of
incorporating proven systems with newly developed technology
to mitigate risk and speed development of longer-range

While systems such as the Safir and TD-2 provide fertile
ground for the development and testing of long-range ballistic
missile technologies, there are still significant hurdles to
overcome. In addition to more precise guidance and
navigation, advanced thrust vector control systems, and
sophisticated staging and separation systems, reentry systems
pose unique challenges. The design and manufacture of
warheads able to survive ICBM-range reentries is non-trivial
and would require testing to validate the design and
production process.

There should be no doubt that both the Safir and the
programs have advanced each country,s ballistic missile
capabilities. While major technological hurdles still exist,
the development times for long-range ballistic missiles can be
greatly reduced by leveraging the technological advancements
achieved with these two systems. These events of 2009
underscore the importance of continuing to recognize the fact
that any rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit is
inherently capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction
against surface targets. This recognition, coupled with the
virtually identical and interchangeable technologies of SLVs
and ballistic missiles, confirms the imperative for rigorous
MTCR nonproliferation efforts.


4. (U) Please slug any reporting on this or other MTCR
issues for ISN/MTR. A word version of this document will be
posted at

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