Maxim V. Tarasenko


Declined commitment to national space programs and drastic cuts in ICBM demand create a strong economy-driven trend to proliferate missile and space-related technologies to new markets. Potential markets include: extended international space programs, national missile and space programs of new space-faring countries and new domestic ICBM programs. To ensure a non-proliferation option on this crossroad, a two-fold approach is recommended:

  • to increase international space cooperation between leading powers to divert their unemployed capabilities from missile technology proliferation, and
  • to establish a regime to provide space launch services to potential proliferators as an incentive against development of rocket launch capabilities of their own.

The former direction is being developed. The latter could be achieved by transforming the Missile Technology Control Regime into more global and equal regime, similar to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime. On this way leading space powers would face a challenge of admitting practical freedom for all the countries to pursue a commonly accepted spectrum of space activities.



1. Subject of research

An inherent relevance of ICBM and space launch vehicle technologies provides a challenge to ICBM nonproliferation efforts in a post-Cold War environment, where missile- and space-related capabilities of leading rocket powers have become unemployed, while more Third World countries starts a pursuit of space exploration or applications. Figuring out realistic ways of assuring development of new space programs without relinguishing an ICBM proliferation is an issue this study addresses.

2. Analysis

With the end of the Cold War extensive capabilities of the major nuclear powers, established for developing, manifacturing and operating massive ICBM forces proved excessive.

Drastic cuts of internal demand for ICBMs created an explicable economy-driven trend to promote available missile and space-related technologies to new markets.

Outline of missile capabilities of leading powers.

The Soviet Union was the top world power in terms of missiles. It was predetermined by the circumstance, that back in 1950s ICBMs provided the only feasible option for the Soviet Union to retaliate the United States.

Therefore, ICBMs became a focus of the Soviet attempts to create a counterforce against a perceived American threat. (This historical note is important, as it is the very same reasoning which is used by modern proliferators)

Over the course of 40 years the Soviet Union developed about 20 types of ICBMs and IRBMs and nearly 10 types of SLBMs. Up to 1600 ICBM and up to 1000 SLBM launchers were deployed during the peak period of mid-70s.1

More important in terms of current proliferation concerns, that an inductrial infrastructure was developed, capable of producing more than 100 ICBMs a year.

The United States were less interested in ICBMs, as they have more impressive bomber force and associated forward bases. As a result of more balanced composition of nuclear forces.the United States never had such a quantity of missiles, deploying maximum of 1200 ICBMs and less than 600 SLBMs.2

France started ballistic missiles development after the WWII and deployed first IRBM in 1957. Since then it established a force of several dosens ground based ICBMs and some SLBMs, considered enough for a national defense.

China initiated development of ballistic missiles in 1957, starting from the Soviet expertise and hardware and contunuing later on its own. 12 types of ballistic missiles has been developed since then, including an IRBM DF-4, ground based ICBM DF-5 and yet to be completed universal sea-launched/ground mobile JL-1/DF-21 and ground-based DF-41 intercontinental missiles.


1. Thomas B. Cochran et al."Soviet Nuclear Weapons" Nuclear WeaponsDatabook, v.4, Harper & Row, 1989, p. 100.
2. "US Nuclear Forces and Capabilities" Nuclear Weapons Databook, v.1, Ballinger, 1984, p.101,102.

What happens to those capabilities with a demise of the Cold War?

Let us demonstrate this at an example of the former Soviet Union.

It was the FSU, which had to experience the most drastic cuts in ICBMs as a matter of started strategic arms reduction, because of its heavy reliance on ICBM component for a strategic deterrence.

The Soviet ICBM force has been reduced from maximum 1600 to 1400 before START and more than 400 SS-20 mobile IRBM were destroyed under INF treaty.

With START-1 and START-2 treaties implemented, yet more significant cuts are underway, which would result in about 500 ICBMs.

More important, programs for ICBM development and modernization were also cut, leaving associated industry underemlpoyed, if at all. Of three ICBM modernization programs started before break-up of the USSR - that of the SS-18, SS-24 and SS-25 - the first two were Canceled. The SLBM development program was limited to the modernization of one missile, the SS-N-20.

Note, that after break-up of the USSR in 1991 essentially two rocket powers appeared instead - Russia and Ukraine. Although Russia became a formal successor to the USSR on nuclear weapons issues, Ukraine possess significant capbilities including production facilities for the SS-24 and SS-18 ICBMs as well as for space launchers and guidance systems.

Thus, after restructuring theex-Soviet ICBM force, only two Russian dedicated missile manufacturers - Nadiradze Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, which built the SS-25, and Makeev State Rocket Center, solely responsible for SLBMs, retained governmental orders for that business. Other traditional manifacturers of ICBMs - Russian KB Salyut of Moscow and Ukrainian KB Yuznoye of Dniepropetrovsk - got out of missile orders and had to search for other application to their capabilities.

A first natural alternative is to apply an idle missile capacity to national space programs. This trend is yet more apparent, because in all leading missile and space powers, but perhaps the United States, missile and space industries are inseparably tied and ICBMs and SLVs are mostly manufatured by the same enterprises.

What promise do national space programs of leading rocket powers hold?

National space programs of leading rocket powers hold a little promise to employing additional capabilities.

  • Government-funded space efforts are being trimmed and space budgets are being cut by basically all leadingspace powers, as high-profile prestigeous space projects lose political backing in a post-Cold War environment.

In the United States, NASA faces first real-figures cut of its budget for 20 years since the Apollo program. European Space Agency lost 10% of its $3 billions annual budget in 1993 and have to trim $4 billion more from its spendings before the end of the decade.

Budget fugures for Russia and Ukraine bear little sense because of high inflation rates and irregularity of funding availability. However, difficult times the Russian space program has can be easily seen from a sharp decline in space launches since 1991.

  • commercial sector has not developed to such a great extent as it was hoped some time ago. Moreover, allegedly lucrative market of space technology just marginally relates to missile technology. Basically, only space launch services could employ idle missile capabilities. Note, however, that in terms of global space market revenues this sector accounts for only 1/10.

The annual amount of commercial space launches does not exceed 15-20. The worse, this slice of a pie is already shared by existing providers of space launch services

Nevertheless, it is this narrow sector, which is targeted by all missile manifactures and owners of surplus ballistic missiles.

In the FSU basically all now-operational ICBMs and SLBMs are considered for space launch aplications:

  • The SS-19 two-stage ICBM is being equipped with a new third stage to make a so called Rokot space launcher;
  • The Makeev's SS-N-6 and the SS-N-8 single- and two-stage SLBMs are tested in suborbital microgravity research mode in 1991-1992;
  • The Start series of launch vehicle is developed on the basis of the SS-25 mobile ICBM (first test occured on March 25, 1993);
  • The Ukrainian industry suggests a development of a series of modular space launchers from standard stages of the SS-24 ICBM. A launcher, called "Space Clipper" is supposed to be fired from a container dropped from the An-124 transport plane;
  • The Ukrainian-built SS-18 heavy ICBMs are also considered as a potential space launchers;
  • Makeev Design Bureau proposes its newest SLBM. the SS-N-23 (Shtil'), for air-drop launch from the II-76 cargo plane. It also designs a four-stage "Surf" launch vehicle, composed of the first stage of the SS-N-20 and the complete SS-N-23 and to be launched from a sea-floating launch facility.

Similar activity is underway in the United States, where the MX first stage is modified for use in new commercial space launch vehicles (Taurus, Conestoga) and use of surplus Minuteman ICBMs is considered.

However, the amount of surplus ICBMs completely overwhelms any real demand.

For example, in the FSU a total amount of potentially available surplus missiles include about 300 of the SS-18s. up to 300 of the SS-19s. and about 200 SS-N-23s.

In the U.S. there are more than 300 Posidon C-3, about 400 MInutemans and about 50 both Peacekeepers (MX) and Titans.

Not, surprisingly, from a variety of ex-Soviet proposals for conversion of ICBMs into sa[ce launchers only one has a governmental customer - the Rokot, ordered by the Space Forces, and this is the only project which is completed with the launcher tested and commissioned for operation. The Start project, which from its origin was funded by commercial companies has now run into financial troubles and its second launch is delayed, the Surf project is supported by the US Sea Launch Investors group, but an original stage is to be funded by Russians on their own and that project is also delayed.

Yet less of a surprise, an advent of new suppliers to already overssuplied narrow market draws severe criticism from established space launch services suppliers and accusations of "subsidized" services, based on ICBMs, as an "unfair competition".

To avoid those accusations, the US government currently limits use of surplus ICBMs to governmental contracts only. However, until now all users for such services ARE governmental.

Taking into account the abovementioned status of the national spaceactivities in the leading rocket powers, one can judge, that national governments of the leading rocket powers are able to consume an excessive capabilities internally.

What can be done to employ that capabilities, other than proliferating missile technology to other countries?

An obvious general answer - increase the market.3

Expansion can be sought either inside of the established arena or outside of it. On an internal arena, hopes for growth of demand for launchers are associated with advances in lightweight satellite technology (which would bring more satellite within a payload capability of ICBM-derived launchers) and for a success of proposed low-orbit personal communications satellite project, which would demand a large amount of launches.4

However, an outcome of those trends remain highly uncertain at least for nearest years. Because of this uncertainty, right now this option (which could be called Option 0) does not have any influence on missile proliferation issues, nor there is any practical way to influence execution of that Option.


3. There is also another principal option - to destroy (reconfigure) excessive capabilities. This option is not considered here. Although it is in principle, capable of removing an excessive internal supply, it is inconclusive in terms of proliferation concerns, as there is still an issue of demand for missile technology from an outside proliferators.
4. The Iridium global cellular phone system envisions 66 low-orbiting satellites with an design lifetime of 5 years. A proposal was put forward recently to establish a personal communications satellite network, using as unbelievably many as 840 satellites.

3. Suggestions

Two other options has been identified.

Option 1. An apparent option to increase demand for space-related technology in a near term is to expand cooperation between established space powers, as an alternative to previous competition between them, which is no longer considered as worth money spent on it.

The trend to expanding an international cooperation develops and an important milestone was reached in 1993 with a decision to include Russia as a full-scale partner into the International Space Station program.

There are problems, associated with this way, but they are addressed by the author elsewhere5 and we won't discuss them in detail).

Noteworthy here is that while there are plans to use Ukrainian-built Zenit lauchers to supply the International Space Station, Ukraine's claims to be directly included into the project have not ben accepted yet.

Another, less obvious and more controversial option - is to look at space programs of new countries.

National space programs have several basic reasonings:

  • first, it is a matter of an international prestige,
  • second, it is a way to solve some domestic needs, like communications, disaster warning. Earth resourses monitoring, etc.; and
  • third, it is one rail of a track towards development of an ICBM capability. An ICBM capability itself is a combination of a symbol of national prestige and of a tool of deterrence against a perceived threat from an outside world.

The history of major powers shows, that space capabilities in both USSR, the U.S., France and China appeared as an outgrown of missile capabilities, with an issue of an international prestige as a primary reason behind them.

Note, that while an indigenous space launch capability is essential both for being treated as a truly space-faring nation and for acquiring ballistic missile expertise. At the same time, it has just marginal relevance to an issue of space applications for domestic needs. For that task, space launch vehicles are just means of delivery of an applications spacecraft into an operational location.

This distinction allows to propose an option, which would promote utilization of the outer space by new space powers, while deterring those power from developing ICBM-related capabilities.

Option 2 is to establish an international regime, which would provide new space-faring nations with access to space through capabilities of established space powers in exchange of non-acqusition of missile-related capabilities by those new nations.

Eventual formula of the new regime would be to provide space launch services from established space powers for implementation of national or international space programs of new space-faring nations in exchange of the latters complete renunciation of indigenous rocket developments.

Space launch services, provided to countries adhered to the new regime, would be performed on the basis of space launch infrastructure of the established space powers. Operational control of the launch vehicle would remain in hands of the powers, which provides a service. However, eligibility of new countries for such a support in their national space programs and basic principles of its provision should be judged internationally.

To ease acceptance of the new regime by both established space powers and new space-faring nations, it could be implemented in two phases.

At a first phase, the new regime could be implemented in a "weak" form, which would include established space powers providing with discount or free space launch services for eligible projects of new space powers in order to deprive those powers of interest in creating launch vehicles of their own.

Decommissioned ICBMs seems the best choice for this kind of services. Such an approach offers political benefits and also eases tensions with commercial launch services suppliers. Under the proposed scenario, ICBM-derived launchers, which include substantial governmental pre-investment, would be offered to clients who, can not pay regular space market prices.

This stage would serve to create a favorable environment for extension of a regime to a "stage B".

The Phase 1 could be established by a consensus of established rocket powers, which by now all adhered to the common set of MTCR guidelines. This starting point allows to go ahead and modify the MTCR to a new missile non-proliferation regime, which would include incentives to new space-faring nations in form of subsidised or donated launch services in exchange of their complete renunciation of acquiring rocket technology.

The transition to Phase 2 would demand extension of formal participation in a new regime to include users, as well as suppliers. As soon as a complete renunciation of nation space programs would be in question, and issue of verification would appear.

One (though not the only) feasible and potent tool to assure compliance with the new regime could be a discussed Missile flight test ban. If agreed sometime in a future, it could be an appropriate sticking point to proceed from the first phase of the regime to the second.



5. Maxim Tarasenko "From Confrontation to Competition and Cooperation: Roadblocks and Bypasses" - IAA-94-IAA-3.2.637 - Report for the 45th IAF Congress, 9 - 14 October 1994.


Gains and losses

Let us consider the gains, losses and concerns, associated with implementation of the above proposal.


Established space powers, by providing space launch service to new space powers, would get a new employment opportunity for their excessive launch capabilities.

New spacefaring nation would get subsidised or even donated launch services (at Phase 1) and assured access to space (at Phase 2) without carrying a burden of developing indigenous launch capability.

On a global scale, new regime would erode all reasonings behind indigenous launch vehicle development, except a plain desire to possess an ICBM, whereever, available, and would provide much better tool against proliferation of missile technology, than currently available.6

The primary concern associated with this proposal is:

  • what would be an effectiveness of diverting the new space-faring countries countries from indigenousdevelopment of launch vehicles;

Related specific concerns with established rocket powers would be:

  • what would guarantee compliance of the new space-faring countries with their pledge ofnonproliferation, and,

with new space-faring nations:

  • how sure could they be about access to space, provided by established space powers.

To address those concerns consider perceived losses, resulting from the proposal.

A primary objection from established space powers against assisting new states to enter space, will be that, given an access to space, new countries could develop space systems for military applications and threaten the national security of other powers, including established space powers involved.

Currently only the United States and Russia possess a full range of space systems for surveillance, communication and control. Those systems are widely used to increase the efficiency of military operations and their importance to the leading space powers will continue to grow. At the same time, both the United States and Russia are clearly unwilling to widen the circle of countries having similar capabilities. Russia's unwillingness was clearly illustrated by a reluctance of the Russian Ministry of Defense to provide access to operational military space communication systems to other former Soviet republics. American military officials also not once declared necessity "to ensure hardly won US superiority in space" and claimed necessary an ability to deny operations of space systems undesirable to the United States.7

One can envision that the proposal to provide other countries with space launch services would immediately raise demand from Russia and the United States to restrict missions of satellites from the third countries to non-military purposes and to introduce exhaustive verification measures to control that.

Such a provision would be logical and acceptable at the first phase, of the regime, when third countries are offered launch service benefits as a good-will advance, before fully adhering to a new regime.

However, if the space superpowers would try to freeze current unequity and legitimize it in the Phase 2 of the regime, the regime could not produce any positive effect. Under such a condition new space powers definitely would not give up the development of independent space launch capabilities.

This was clearly proven by the Western Europe, which for two decades kept a strong commitment to developing independent space launch capabilities, even though only commercial satellite applications were at stake, rather than a military confrontation with the United States.

To effectively deter new countries from national launch vehicle development, it is imperative to agree, that all space-faring nations has equal rights to perform all permitted kinds of activities in the outer space.

Unless a list of space systems, allowed for development and deployment is universal for all countries, attempts to restrain development of national launch capabilities by offering international space launch services or by any other means would be fruitless.

Such a list definitely must include systems for surveillance, communications and control, of the sort that Russia and the US already possess and would not give up in any case. Note that services, very similar to those provided by dedicated military systems are already provided by commercial communications and remote sensing satellite systems, accessible by the countries, which do not have national space programs at all. Moreover, the margin between capabilities of dedicated military and available civil space systems quickly diffuses. To realize that, note, that the US Department of Defense itself became a largest buyer of high resolution imagery from commercial European Spot satellites. That imagery is used by the DoD for its own military missions planning. With a recent decision of U.S. Government to permit sales of 1 -meter ground resolution satellite imagery, a margin between military and civil applications of those systems becomes negligible.

Under these circumstances, a separation of space activities to "acceptable" and "unacceptable" on a basis of nationality, becomes highly voluntary and provicative.

Practical attempts to deny any kind of space operations to any country would inevitable provoke counteraction. In practical terms, if third countries would be deprived of right to launch military payloads at international launchers, they would develop indigenous launch vehicles, annihilating efforts to stop missile technology proliferation. If leading space powers will try to deny opeartions of "undesired" systems in space, that would eventually result in a race of antisatellite weapons, which is not in interests of those leading space powers, heavily dependent on their space asserts.

For the above reasons, space-based and antisatellite weapons is the kind of space systems, that definitely should be banned.

With that done, all other kinds of space activities, compliant with acting international treaties (Limited Nuclear Test Ban, Outer Space Treaty) should be admitted open for any country.

Given a universal standard of permitted space activity, the problem of enforcing a compliance with that standard becomes the same for every country. Thus, it loses direct relation to a particular regime of providing launch services to third countries. As long as there are no special verification procedures for payloads, launched by established space powers, there would be no need to introduce any special procedures to verify compliance of new space-faring nations. Moreover, compliance with a ban to space-based and anti-satellite weapons could be reliably verified by non-intrusive means, such as remote monitoring to assure that weapons are not tested in space or against space-based objects.

The equal treatment would give new space countries confidence in their freedom of action within commonly accepted limits. Hence, they would indeed lose motives to develop indigenous launchers for space transportation needs, and the nonproliferation regime would have a maximum possible efficiency.


6. An erosion of remaining motivation to acquire ICBM capability on grounds of a national security may occur either if switch to some new means of deterring a perceived threat (say, cruise missiles), or if a perception of threat would be diminished by diplomatic efforts. As to an issue of presige as such, one may note, that just a few countries in the world now develop indigenous aircraft, while few decades ago they were also a primary matter of a national pride. Nowadays most countries buy aircraft, both for civil and military purposes.
7. SAF Chief Calls for Space Defense Upgrades. Space News, 19-25 April 1993, p.1.


4. Challenges and unresolved issues

Of course, the whole idea of a regime, which would tie a missile proliferation and practical support to national space programs is far from being eagerly awaited'by policy-making circles. It has to be worked out in greater details to be promoted to them and it needs carefully orchestrated effort to sell it.

One may expect, that at least in the United States and Russia more influential would be a iewpoint, that superpowers must follow their own way and, in addition to stiffening MTCR controls, just develop more effective military means to counter emerging missile threat, like advanced missile defenses. This way has a neat feature of jooking like a preservation of the status quo in an international arena and making in-home manufacturers of advanced missiles happy for a timp well longer, than a next election campaign.

Another challenge is to pursuade the U.S. and Russian leaders to accept in practical terms a freedom of operation inthe outer space for all the countries and to renounce space-weapons option for themselves.

The United States currently do not possess space weapons and there is an opinion in the Congress, that they don't need them, strong enough to deter the military from new developments. Russia did not test its anti-satellite system for more than a decade, but the Russian military are obviously unwilling to disclaim such an option and the Russian policy makers do not have a qualified opinion about that. Although both countries have an initial political base for pushing a ban on a space weapons, odds seem long for this undertaking.

5. Conclusion

An objective need to employ excessive missile-related capabilities of leading rocket powers, as well as desire of a variety of new countries to acquire such a technology makes a traditional deterrance of missile proliferation ineffective.

To provide an outlet to excessive capabilities in this area an extension of internatioal cooperation between leading space powers is recommended. To inhibit desire of new countries to acquire rocket technology a new regime is promising, which would provide space launch services to new space-faring countries in exchange of their abandonment of indigenous rocket capabilities development.

To make that inhibition effective, established space powers must accept practical and equal rights for all countries to use the outer space for common purposes.

The list of allowed activities should obviously include "force enhancement" systems and ban space-based and anti-satellite weapons.

While an idea of international cooperation between leading space powers has found support, proving advantages of a new missile and space regime to all parties involved, as well as promoting an idea of equal rights for space activity remain as problems to be solved on the way to implementation of this proposal.