* US says Iran could test ICBM by 2015 with outside help
* Iran missile program drives billions in defense spending
* Report for Congress says Iran may be falling behind goal
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Dec 7 An internal report for the
U.S. Congress has concluded that Iran probably is no longer on
track, if it ever was, to having an ocean-crossing missile as
soon as 2015.
The study casts doubt on a view long held by U.S.
intelligence agencies that Iran could be able to test-fly by
2015 an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, if it
receives "sufficient foreign assistance."
"It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to
achieve an ICBM capability by 2015," said the report by the
non-partisan Congressional Research Service, which works
exclusively for lawmakers.
Iran does not appear to be receiving as much help as would
likely be necessary, notably from China or Russia, to reach that
goal, according to the 66-page report dated Thursday.
It is also increasingly tough for Tehran to obtain certain
critical components and materials because of international
sanctions related to its disputed nuclear program.
In addition, Iran has not demonstrated the kind of flight
test program generally deemed necessary to produce an ICBM, said
the study by Steven Hildreth, a specialist in missile defense
who consulted seven external expert reviewers.
The study appears to be the most detailed unclassified look
yet at Iran's controversial ballistic missile and space
programs. It does not address Tehran's nuclear program, which
has prompted international fears that it could lead to atomic
weapons at short notice.
An effective nuclear-weapons capability requires three
things to work together - enough fissile material, a reliable
weapons device and an effective delivery system, such as a
ballistic missile that can grow out of a space launch program.
Iran's efforts to develop, test and field ballistic missiles
and build a space launch capability have helped drive billions
of dollars of U.S. ballistic missile defense spending, further
destabilized the Middle East and contributed to Israel's push
for pre-emptive action.
Iranian missile threats have also prompted a U.S. drive for
an increasingly capable shield for Europe, largely built by
contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co
, Raytheon Co and Northrop Grumman Corp.
ASSESSING THE ICBM THREAT
The U.S. intelligence community since 1999 has stuck to the
conditional 2015 date, provided Iran gets enough outside help,
for a potential Iranian ICBM capable of reaching the United
States, which is at least 10,000 kilometers away.
An ICBM is generally defined as having a range greater than
5,500 km (3,400 miles). Such missiles from Iran could threaten
targets throughout Europe and the Middle East.
"With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be technically
capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile
by 2015," the Defense Department told Congress in its 2012
annual report on Iranian military power.
Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for the office of the
Director of National Intelligence, which leads the 17
organizations which comprise the U.S. intelligence community,
said views among spy agencies vary on the Iranian ICBM outlook.
He added that the 2015 date cited by the Defense Department
was "heavily caveated."
Iran appears to have a significant space launch effort, not
merely a disguised cover for ICBM development, the Congressional
Research Service report said.
Iran became the ninth country to demonstrate an indigenous
space launch capability on Feb. 2, 2009, when it launched an
Omid satellite from a Safir 2 rocket.
Iran has stated it plans to use future launchers to put
intelligence-gathering satellites in orbit, a capability that is
a decade or so in the future.
Tom Collina, research director of the private Arms Control
Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, said the report
suggests the United States could respond in a more "measured"
way to a potential Iranian long-range missile threat.
"We do not have to deploy missile defenses on the East Coast
by 2015, as some in Congress want, nor do we have to rush
missile defenses into Europe, which makes Russia nervous," he