Tracking Missile Threats

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand the profound way that rockets, missiles, and other strategic weapons have shaped international security. Yet, the influence of these weapon systems on deterrence, assurance, and stability continues to evolve and grow more complex. For international security professionals, journalists, and the interested public, tracking this changing landscape can be a challenge. To help navigate the wide world of missilery, the CSIS Missile Defense Project recently released a newly upgraded website to track and explain both missile threats and missile defenses alike.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, much of the world’s attention fixated on ballistic missile threats of states like North Korea. In recent years the proliferation of more advanced missiles has accelerated. In both tests and hostile acts, Iran has demonstrated capabilities to strike military targets at range accurately. North Korea has unveiled at least a dozen new missile types, from antiship missiles to intercontinental ballistic missiles. China has fielded advanced weaponry such as hypersonic glide vehicles and rocket-powered drones. Russia is rapidly modernizing its nuclear forces, experimenting with exotic weapons like nuclear-powered cruise missiles and autonomous undersea nuclear delivery vehicles. Each development adds yet another layer of complexity to the military threats facing the United States and its allies.

U.S. partners and allies, too, are expanding their offensive capabilities. South Korea has, for example, developed a sophisticated strike complex of advanced ballistic and cruise missiles. Japan has also begun to acquire long-range strike systems and has joined the club of nations pursuing hypersonic weaponry. Israel and Turkey have started to deploy and export advanced uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are already having a significant impact on conflicts worldwide, from Libya to Yemen to the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. These real-world conflicts illustrate that precision-strike is no longer the sole domain of superpowers, and that nations are scrambling to counter these threats.

Indeed, the international demand for air and missile defenses is on the rise. The number of countries acquiring U.S. defense systems like Patriot, THAAD, and Aegis increases each year. For example, Switzerland recently became the 18th country to acquire the Patriot, and Saudi Arabia became the third nation to field THAAD units. Numerous other indigenous missile defense programs in Europe, India, Israel, China, Russia, South Korea, and others are also shaping the global missile defense scene. Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400, for example, has had major geopolitical implications, muddling Ankara’s security relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United States.

To promote a better understanding of this strategic landscape, CSIS operates the website The CSIS Missile Defense Project launched Missile Threat in 2015 to provide an open, reliable, and accessible source of information, curated news, and analysis on the proliferation of missiles and the defense systems designed to counter them. Missile Threat contains informational pages on over 150 missile systems around the world and entries on more than 30 air and missile defense systems. The new site released last week represents the product of a comprehensive, yearlong upgrade to improve the experience of Missile Threat’s many visitors. These enhancements include newly updated missile maps, updated profiles of countless missile pages, defense budget trackers, and search function improvements.

Beyond “missilepedia,” Missile Threat features numerous other databases, interactives, and analytical products. These include a chronology of North Korea missile and nuclear tests and missile activity in Yemen, as well as dozens of maps, data visualizations, and explanatory videos. Visitors can also find regularly updated trackers of U.S. missile defense budgets throughout the authorization and appropriation process. The site also provides researchers with a convenient library of historical policy, strategy, and budget documents.

The CSIS Missile Defense Project seeks to inform policy and budget decisions by providing resources and forums for high-quality discussion and analysis. Open, dependable resources like Missile Threat are a cornerstone of that effort, and our team looks forward to maintaining this unique resource for years to come.

Ian Williams is the deputy director of the CSIS Missile Defense Project and the managing editor of

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2021 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Ian Williams

Ian Williams

Former Fellow, International Security Program and Deputy Director, Missile Defense Project