WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- 2007 was a year when major industrial nations divided into tortoises and hares in their policies towards ballistic missile defense.
The United States led the hares, with a banner year in progress on its many BMD programs. With much less publicity but solid achievement, Russia quietly moved at the very least into second place. The first battery of S-400 anti-ballistic missile interceptors, Moscow's state-of-the-art weapon, was deployed operationally around Moscow over the summer. Russia also sold Iran its formidable Tor-M1 system, which some analysts have claimed is up to 80 percent effective against sub-sonic U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Israel stepped up its already formidable anti-ballistic missile program, directed primarily against potential threats from Iran and Syria. A new hard-charging defense minister, Ehud Barak, moved rapidly to clean up the administrative chaos he inherited from his clownish and much-criticized predecessor Amir Peretz.
Israel's highly successful existing Arrow-3 ABM interceptor chalked up more impressive test interceptions against target missiles targeted to behave like Iranian Shehad-3 intermediate range ballistic missiles. In addition to the Arrow-3s and the U.S.-built Patriot PAC-3s that have been purchased in addition to defend Tel Aviv and the Jewish state's densely populated coastal strip, Barak also pushed ahead boldly on the visionary new "Iron Dome" project to create new effective defenses against very-short-range ballistic missile threats.
These range from the amateurish but still potentially lethal very-short-range Qassam rockets being lobbed into the Sderot development town from neighboring Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, to the much more formidable threat of the 9,000 to 11,000 massed Russian-manufactured multiple launch rocket systems, or Katyushas, assembled by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Party of God, in southern Lebanon.
Asia was filled with "hare" nations racing fast to develop their own ballistic missile defenses against very concrete local and regional threats. Japan led the way. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe boldly expanded the scale of the impressive programs he inherited from his hard-driving predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.
Abe proved no Koizumi in terms of domestic credibility, however, and he was toppled after only a year to be replaced by 71-year-old Yasuo Fukuda, the very epitome of the famous cautious "gray men" of the Liberal Democratic Party establishment. But even Fukuda made no move to cut back or slow down the fast-developing programs launched by Koizumi and accelerated by Abe.
In Japan, as in the United States, rapid BMD development and deployment has reached consensus status in domestic politics. Before the end of the year, a Japanese destroyer equipped with U.S.-made Standard Missile-3s and the Aegis radar system shot down an intermediate range ballistic missile target in flight. It was a dramatic achievement for the Japanese program.
That was the case in equally democratic India, where the centrist Congress-UPA-led coalition government that took power in 2004 continued to green light the rapid development of the nation's indigenously made anti-ballistic missile system. On Dec. 2, an AAD01 anti-ballistic missile interceptor hit a simulated electronic ballistic missile at a height of 15,000 feet over the Bay of Bengal.
The test resulted in an endo-atmospheric, or inside-the-atmosphere, interception against an electronic target. Indian scientists said the procedure had confirmed the interceptor's capability to change direction, or maneuver, at high speeds within the atmosphere, or under endo-atmospheric conditions.
Indian news reports described the AAD as a single-stage solid-fuel missile guided by an inertial navigation system, a high-speed computer and an electro-mechanical activator. The report said the interceptor reached an altitude of 18 miles and traveled nearly 80 miles in all during its flight.
China was perhaps the most unexpected member of the hare category. Back in January 2007, Beijing astonished the world by carrying out and then publicly proclaiming a successful test interception and destruction of one of its own Earth-orbiting satellites. That achievement meant China now had the operational capability to destroy key U.S. assets in space including surveillance satellites essential for early warning in ballistic missile defense.
But for every "hare" nation pushing ahead boldly with its BMD programs, 2007 also saw its share of "tortoises" that fell out of the race or were determined never to join it.
(Next: Slow or complacent on BMD)