15:58 GMT12 May 2021
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    The United States resumed its work on a missile defence shield in the early 2000s after withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. Moscow responded by financing the creation of its hypersonic missile programme, meant to guarantee Russia’s ability to respond to any potential large-scale aggression.

    The Pentagon plans to spend nearly $18 billion for the development, production and maintenance of a new class of missile interceptors to defend the United States against North Korean and Iranian missiles, Bloomberg has reported, citing defence contractor figures.

    The contract – the largest of its kind to date by the Biden administration, promises defence giants Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman up to $13.1 billion for the design of the anti-missile missile –known as the ‘Next Generation Interceptor’. The anti-missile missiles are expected to operate by slamming into enemy missiles at high speeds to take them down.

    The winner of the contract to build the missiles will be selected after a “critical design review” by the military, and is expected to build up to 31 of the new interceptor missiles, including 10 for testing purposes, for a total price tag of about $498 million apiece. The review is expected to be completed by 2026.

    Production of the interceptors is expected to run another $2.3 billion, with $2.3 billion more on top of that to be spent on “long-term support costs.”

    The missiles are expected to be stationed in Alaska and used by the Missile Defence Agency when fielding begins in 2028.

    The interceptor contract follows the termination of a related programme – known as the ‘Redesigned Kill Vehicle’, in August 2019, due to “technical design problems” after over $1.2 billion was already poured into the project. That programme, led by Boeing and Raytheon, was expected to be completed and fielded by 2020, although the deadline was pushed back repeatedly before the programme was canceled entirely.

    Iran and North Korea are known to be armed with a range of long-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Late last year, Pyongyang showed off a mystery new intercontinental ballistic missile at a parade, with its predecessor, the Hwasong-15, reportedly capable of reaching any point in the continental United States in the event of war. Earlier this month, a pair of US and South Korean think tanks warned that North Korea could amass up to 242 nuclear warheads and several dozen ICBMs by 2027.

    Iran does not have a nuclear programme, and its longest-range missile is the Khorramshar, a liquid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile with a range of up to 2,000 km and a 1,800 kg warhead. The Islamic Republic depends on the size and variety of its missile arsenal to guarantee defence, amassing an arsenal of thousands of short, medium and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking both US allies and the many US bases dotting the Middle East.

    The size of North Korea’s military budget is unknown. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institution, Iran spent about $15.8 billion on defence in 2020, i.e. about two percent of what the US did during the same year.

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