All posts in “Nuclear weapons”


What We’re Reading – And Why

The Current "Stack of Shame"

A quick look at the sidebar will reveal a variety and number of books read over the course of the past year, oft times engendering discussions off-site as to selections and purpose.  Looking at the current working stack on my desk, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to why these particular selections.

My first read of Kissinger’s book got me thinking about deterrence theories that emerged during the Cold War, how they were put on the shelf 20 years ago when the Soviet Union disappeared and now, how some folks think we can just pull them off the shelf and apply them to China.  Problem is, not only do I think those theories may not apply, they may in fact, carry us down avenues with results quite different than we intended.  Part of my studies and work on theater nuclear forces was grounded in a better understanding of Russian culture as applied to Soviet deterrence practices across a range of operations, theaters and levels of war.  That I ended up disagreeing with the prevailing (at the time) school of thought shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers here – and neither should my initial thoughts laid out above vis-a-vis China.  This isn’t just in the nuclear arena, but even more so conventional as we look at the array of advanced anti-access/area denial forces being fielded by China, employable outside of a conflict over Taiwan.  So – I’m taking a historical perspective/approach looking at China’s actions in a conventional realm versus near peer (conventional) powers and major nuclear power.  There is a pattern that points to an offensive deterrence that, during a confrontation, has led to fairly aggressive actions that incurred substantive losses on the other party’s account, followed by a rapid withdrawal from overrun territory by Chinese forces to show occupation wasn’t their intent.  A noteworthy element of these actions though, and one that must be factored into the analysis is that these case histories stem from Mao’s reign and a PLA that was short on technology and long on manpower (ground forces) which runs counter to the decade-long modernization and overhaul in doctrine and operations (epitomized, for example, by the development and wide deployment of a range of conventional ballistic missiles).  Additionally, while most of the Party leadership were veterans of the Long March and Korea and as such, had experience with military operations, today’s Party leadership has at best, passing acquaintance with military operations and requirements.  In such a scenario, will there be more deference given plan and COAs sourced from the military — IOW, a tendency to accept at face value n the part of Party leadership?  As I delve into this issue, these are some of the questions I am asking myself and which form the entering argument with the publications above.

  • Russia, NATO BMD and the INF Treaty:
Nervov, RSVN (Strategic Missile Troops) Missile Complexes Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; Text and Annexes National Defense University, Case Studies: U.S. Withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Stav, The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East

When the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, there was a varied response from Russia, ranging from Putin’s non-committal “do what you must” to statements from the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff that Russia would investigate dropping out of the INF Treaty.  In the intervening years since, this threat was rolled out on various occasions when the Russians wanted to highlight their concern over various aspects of the US efforts to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense.  Since the initial announcement of the European Initiative in 2007  (basing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, supported by an X-band radar in the Czech Republic) it has become a recurring theme, in concert with “other military-technical means.”  This begs a couple of questions – namely, what are the real motivations behind the rhetoric, what real benefits would Russia accrue in stepping away from the first bi-lateral nuclear treaty that banned an entire class of weapons and set the stage for the START treaties on strategic nuclear forces and, in an age of growing numbers of ballistic missiles, nuclear and conventional, inhabiting the 500-5500km range (essentially longer ranged SRBM, MRBM and IRBMs as well as ground-launched cruise missiles), is the INF Treaty still relevant?  Part of the investigation includes a deep dive into the developmental history of Russian ballistic missiles with particular attention being paid to one of my old haunts — the period 1976-1987 and the impetus behind the development and deployment behind the SS-20/Pioneer IRBM.  As noteworthy as the political, military and engineering decision-making behind Pioneer’s development and controversial deployment was, there were two other programs – Skorost (“Speed”) and Kuryer (“Courier”) which bear investigation.  Each program was the result of a deliberate decision to respond to the Pershing II/GLCM deployment (itself a response to the SS-20 deployment) with new ballistic missile systems (or in the Russian vernacular, missile complexes), derived from (then) new mobile strategic systems like the SS-25 and aimed specifically at the systems the US was deploying to strengthen the nuclear guarantee to NATO.  The impetus behind this is to see if there are parallels between then and now that may predict or explain certain behaviors and statements from Russian leadership in the current dispute over the US-led European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense against the Iranian ballistic missile threat.

It is popular to talk about the “global economy” in referential terms as if it is a late-20th Century/21st Century phenomena.  In actuality, beginning with the return of Columbus from the 1492 expedition, profound ecological and economic wheels were put into motion – almost all of which had unforeseen consequences.  Mann’s work is a masterful, scientific review of the “Colombian Exchange” and later, the impact the founding of Manila some 80 years later by the Spanish explorer Legazpi would have on not only Europe, but the American and African continents that stretch into today.  Economist Miller (author of “War Plan Orange”) turns to recently declassified documents to take another look at attempts by the US to dissuade Japan from its aggression in China in the run-up to Pearl Harbor.  Building on his experience in international trade while working for a major mining company, he brings new perspectives on the role international finance had in influencing Japanese decision-making and actions — and in the process spurred a branches & sequels process that led to the Pacific war.  While far from finished with Bankrupting the Enemy, I think those who would argue for a trade war/currency war today with China would be well advised to consider Miller’s work and a look at the unintended consequences (as well as what a bureaucracy can do to thwart Presidential initiatives) that may result.  Both authors have a compelling writing style that addresses head on, complex ideas and concepts, placing them in a thoroughly comprehensible context – something, unfortunately, that cannot be said about some the preceding texts which can verge on the turgidly pedagogical….

And finally, there is reading just for the simple pleasure of a story well told, even if it is of an event that has been as widely dissected and told as that of Midway.  One of the vehicles used under such conditions is historical fiction and a new entry in that genre is Vengeance Strikes the Blow, written by G. Alvin Simons and published by Cripple Creek Press:

 Excerpt from the book:

    Kusaka staggered a few steps as Akagi turned toward the approaching enemy aircraft presenting a smaller target. He watched as three of the battered, tattered medium bombers continued winging toward the carriers intent on launching their torpedoes. Frantic Zeroes, having retreated earlier from the tremendous volume of friendly gunfire belching forth from the screening vessels, now ignored the threat. They dove in, blasting away at the deadly intruders.

    The deep Pacific waters already littered with destroyed enemy aircraft, Kusaka wondered at the Americans’ tenacity. We slaughter them with ease, yet still they come, he thought. Seemingly oblivious to the certain death awaiting them. Almost contemptuous in their disregard for our defense. Are they arrogant? Stubborn? Fools? What kind of men are these?

The lead aircraft closed to within a thousand meters before releasing its torpedo. It splashed down and disappeared from view, running toward its intended target. The unburdened plane skittered away across the wave tops with enraged Zeroes hounding its tail. Kusaka’s eyesight remained locked in place, waiting for the weapon to reappear when it neared Akagi.
    The huge ship made another hard turn, veering away from the oncoming torpedo. Kusaka lurched sideways into Genda, releasing a groan of pain from the young officer. The torpedo chugged past, missing the carrier and leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake. Cheers and clapping drifted on the combat-torn wind, falling silent as the second enemy plane bore in. The defensive gunfire increased in volume. A mountain of shot and steel sought to destroy the attacking aircraft. Amidst the panicked frenzy and close quarters, friendly fire struck neighboring vessels. Kusaka winced at the number of stray rounds zipping between the ships. This is utter madness, he thought. We could be wounded or killed at the hands of our fellow countrymen.

Haven’t had much of a chance to get too far in, but what I have read so far I like and it is getting good reviews in important venues like the Battle of Midway Roundtable; definitely a recommended buy (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions).

So that’s were the end of 2011 and the (near) start to 2012 finds us — some of the research will find its way here, but the bulk is for other venues.  I will be interested to see what is in the offering for the new year (book-wise) and am interested in what you are reading as well as why – let’s hear what’s on your Stack of Shame!

w/r, SJS

Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)

7 Feb 1950: In a demonstration of carrier long-range attack capabilities, a P2V-3C Neptune, with Commander Thomas Robinson in command, took off from Franklin D. Roosevelt off Jacksonville, Fla., and flew over Charleston, S.C., the Bahamas, the Panama Canal, up the coast of Central America and over Mexico to land next day at the Municipal Airport, San Francisco, Calif. The flight, which covered 5,060 miles in 25 hours, 59 minutes, was the longest ever made from a carrier deck. (Naval Aviation Chronology 1950-1953, Naval History Center)

To set the scene – the immediate post-war environment called for substantial cuts in conventional forces based on the idea that future aggressors would be deterred, or fought, at arms length with the advent of long-range bombers and the atomic bomb, both the sole province of the newly formed USAF. The Navy, despite the success and critical role played by its fast carrier battle groups in the Pacific War found itself in a bureaucratic knife fight over roles/missions and ultimately, funding that turned on this critical capability. Writing in his biography, Bluejacket Admiral, ADM Hayward noted:

Still, persuading Forrestal and CNO Nimitz didn’t make it (the super-carrier United States) a done deal. In the psychological warfare called “the budgeting process,” their fiscal year 1947 (1 July 1946 to 30 June 1947) funding request already was before Congress, and their “Ships” plan for FY1948 already included a call for funds to modify our largest carriers, the forty-five-thousand-ton (sixty-two thousand, fully loaded) Coral Sea, Midway and Franklin Delano Roosevelt for nuclear operations. The supercarrier couldn’t get into the cycle until FY1949. Amending the FY1948 plan to put it in might have been justified by a crisis, but the only one evident at the time was the attack at home on naval aviation. (Largely because of an assault on Berlin begun by Moscow in mid-1948, Congress in late 1948 voted to build the supercarrier, a small victory, we thought, against the “anti-navy” onslaught.)
In any case, from 1946 on, building the carrier-based big-bomber force evolved along two parallel, interactive lines. One focused on hardware; the other on hiring able people. In both, we were ‘pushing the envelope,”as pilots say. In hardware, getting big carriers left the question of what plane to put aboard

Recognizing this need, in 1946 Navy contracted with North American Aviation to build the AJ Savage, a carrier-based, long-range bomber capable of hauling the 10,000lb+ Mk4 atomic weapon off a carrier, delivering it and returning to an arrested landing. A complex undertaking, the AJ would not be available until 1950 and in the meantime, an alternate “gap-filler” needed to be found. Looking at its inventory, Lockheed’s shore-based P2V Neptune seemed to provide a solution. It certainly had the range (as demonstrated by the flight of the Truculent Turtle in 1946 from Australia to Ohio, over 11,000 nm unrefueled) and with some modifications, could be adapted for one-time flights off the larger Midway-class CVBs.

A P2V-2C (BuNo 122449) was diverted and modified for testing in what would become the P2V-3C configuration. The central features included reduced crewing, increased internal fuel and attachment points for JATO (Jet Assisted take-Off) rockets (8 total – four to the side) as well as changes to accommodate carriage of the Mk1 atomic weapon modeled on the “Little Boy” uranium gun-type device which was substantially less bulky than the plutonium-based Mk5 weapon based on the “Fat Man.”

JATO was necessary as the hydraulic catapults of the time could not provide the necessary assist to get a 70,000+ gross weight aircraft airborne. With JATO and a 28 knot headwind, a fully loaded P2V could punch the JATO assist midway down a 900 ft deck run and instantly reach a required 150 knot airspeed (with the starboard wing clearing the carrier’s island by about 10 feet). Initially, the modification also included a tailhook and some 128 field arrested landings were conducted at Lockheed’s Burbank plant and NAS Patuxent River with then-CAPT Hayward, future CO of VC-5, at the controls. Shipboard trials consisted of pattern work and touch-and-goes onboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt – but no arrested landings. Carrier landings, however, would not be part of the P2V-3C’s portfolio – airframe deformities (stretching in the fuselage) were discovered following the field arrestments, not entirely unsurprising as the P2V, rugged as it was, was not designed for carrier ops (likewise, the P-51, found to be quite capable round the carrier, suffered from rear bulkhead weaknesses after its carrier trials). Operations for the P2V then would mean it had to be craned aboard (giving away intentions) and following its launch and delivery, either return and ditch alongside the carrier or land at a friendly airfield should any remain – in essence, a one-time use weapon system. Under the circumstances, however, it was considered sufficient. Little time was wasted from the 1948 trials – eleven aircraft (BuNos 122924, 122927, 122930, 122933, 122936, 122942, 122947, 122951, 122966, 122969 and 122971) were procured under the P2V-3C configuration (12 total counting BuNo 122449, “NB41″ which was the prototype and still serving) and assigned to VC-5 (stood up in Sept 1948) and later VC-6 (stood up in Jan 1950). Special weapons units, based at Kirtland AFB, NM would store and service the weapons on each of the three Midway-class carriers configured for nuclear weapons.

With 1949, the Navy began an aggressive series of demonstrations, starting in March with the load aboard of three P2V’s on Coral Sea. Weighing in at 70, 65 and 55,000lbs respectively, all three launched sequentially off Coral Sea using their JATO assist. Later, in September, the capability was demonstrated to members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with CAPT Hayward flying off Midway with Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, flying in the right seat. Interestingly enough, this came a few months after Johnson had canceled the United States. CAPT Hayward’s XO, Dan Ashworth, launched on a long-range mission totaling a little over 4800 nm from the Midway, operating off Norfolk and recovering onboard Moffet field – by way of the Caribbean and Panama. And then in early 1950, CDR Robinson extended that even further with a flight of over 5,000 nm (for reference, the range from a mid-Mediterranean Sea launch to Moscow and recovery at Aviano Capodichino AB, outside Naples, Italy was about half that distance — 2500 nm).

The first deployment for VC-5 came in 1951 when six AJ-1s (newly delivered and problem beset) deployed with three P2Vs to Port Lyautey, Morocco. The Savages periodically operated off the Midway and FDR (the Midway-class carriers were not deployed to Korea as they had the only nuclear capability and were reserved for the nuclear mission in the Med). In a relatively short time, the P2V and AJ would be replaced and the carrier-based nuclear delivery mission would be assumed first by the A3D Skywarrior (contracted for in 1949) and as weapon sizes grew smaller (and yields increased) the AD4 Skyhawk and AD Skyraider. Most of the P2V-3Cs were re-configured to -3B with the AS-1B bombing system added and sent to the Heavy Attack Training Units (HATU) as trainers.

VC-5 History:
History of the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Lockheed Neptune prototypes and special project P2Vs:
US Navy and US Marine Corps BuNos: Third Series (120341 to 126256)(last revised 31 July 2010):
Aerofiles: Lockheed K to Lockheed-Martin:
P2V In Action:
Bluejacket Admiral: the Navy Career of Chick Hayward By John T. Hayward, Carl W. Borklund
STRIKE FROM THE SEA: U.S. Navy Attack Aircraft From Skyraider to Super Hornet 1948-Present, By Tommy H. Thomason

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors


On 13 April 2010, the Presidents of the United States and Russia signed the collection of agreements and protocols which aggregated have been popularly called “New START,” following on the heels of the first START treaty, signed by President Bush and Secretary Gorbachev in July 1991, and the Moscow, signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in May 2002. To recap those treaties:

I.  START (START I)(full text):

Treaty Structure: The Treaty consists of 19 articles; 38 agreed statements; seven protocols; numerous associated documents (such as letters and other correspondence); 47 Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission (JCIC) agreements; 36 joint statements; 19 ‘S’ series joint statements; a definitions annex; and annexes to the Inspection Protocol and MOU.

Treaty Objectives: The START Treaty calls for reductions in the strategic nuclear arsenals of the Parties such that, no later than 84 months after entry into force of the Treaty, each Party’s strategic offensive arms (SOA) do not exceed: 1,600 for deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers (including a limit of 154 on deployed heavy ICBMs); 6,000 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, including: 4,900 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, 1100 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs on mobile launchers on ICBMS, and 1540 for warheads attributed to deployed heavy ICBMs. The Treaty also requires each Party to limit the aggregate throw-weight of its deployed ICBMs and SLBMs so that seven years after entry into force of the Treaty and thereafter such aggregate throw-weight does not exceed 3600 metric tons.

II.  Moscow Treaty (full text):

Treaty Structure: The Moscow Treaty consists of five paragraphs. The first preambular paragraph designates the United States and Russia as “the Parties” to obviate the use of their full names throughout the Treaty. The second, third and fourth preambular paragraphs set forth the Parties’ shared commitment to conducting their relations in the new century on a fundamentally different and more cooperative basis than had characterized their relations in the past. The fifth paragraph reaffirms the Parties’ general, longstanding commitment to implementing significant reductions in strategic offensive arms.

Treaty Objectives: The Treaty requires the United States and Russia to reduce and limit their strategic nuclear warheads to 1700–2200 each by December 31, 2012, a reduction of nearly two-thirds below current levels. The United States intends to implement the Treaty by reducing its operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1700–2200 through removal of warheads from missiles in their launchers and from heavy bomber bases, and by removing some missiles, launchers, and bombers from operational service.

Before the signing of START I, the strategic nuclear landscape looked like this (Reference Date:1 September 1990):

Deployed ICBMs and Their Associated Launchers, Deployed SLBMs and Their Associated Launchers, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs, Deployed SLBMs, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs Throw-weight of Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs (MT)
USSR 2,500 10,271 9,416 6,626.3
US 2,246 10,563 8,210 2,361.3

Note that while the numbers in the first two columns, reflecting total Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles (SNDVs) and warheads are relatively comparable, the final column, throweight, is skewed in the Soviet’s favor because of the fact that a substantial portion of the Strategic Rocket Force was comprised of so-called “heavy” ICBMs like the SS-18/R-36M (NATO: “SATAN”) with up to 18 x MiRVs (500KT-1.5MT yield) or a single 20-25MT warhead, and the SS-19/UR100N (NATO: “STILLETO”) with 6 x 550KT MiRVs or a single 2.5 – 5 MT warhead, whereas the US was heavily dependant on SLBMs and ALCMs with a smaller land-based ICBM force.  By 1 July 2009 those numbers stood as follows:

Deployed ICBMs and Their Associated Launchers, Deployed SLBMs and Their Associated Launchers, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs, Deployed SLBMs, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs Throw-weight of Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs (MT)
809 3,897 3,289

Besides the reductions in SNDVs and warheads, START I instituted a regime of intrusive, on-site inspections following the example established by the INF Treaty which eliminated an entire class of weapons for the first time (at least between the US and Russia/FSU – not the rest of the world). This is the background against which New START (START II) was negotiated.

The START I Treaty expired in Dec 2009, and while neither side is necessarily bound to continue to observe treaty provisions, the US and Russia have agreed to proceed in the “spirit” of the treaty.  Nevertheless, certain functional areas have ceased – chief of which is verification for both onsite inspection and access to telemetry from tests.

III.  New START (full text):

The Numbers: Under the new Treaty, limits would be as follow (Article II (1a-c):

  • 1,550 “accountable strategic warheads,” i.e., warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers (Article II(b));
  • 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles – deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers (Article II(a));
  • 800 deployed and non-deployed “strategic launchers” – (e.g., a “deployed launcher of ICBMs” means an ICBM launcher that contains an ICBM and is not an ICBM test launcher, an ICBM training launcher or an ICBM launcher located at a space launch facility (Treaty Protocols – Part One (14/66))

Force Structure/Composition: The US and Russia shall have the right to self-determine the composition and structure of its strategic offensive arms (Article II(2)) – meaning the US will retain it’s traditional Triad of bombers, SLBMs and land-based ICBMs.  Modernization and replacement will be permitted (Article V).

Verification: Under the new Treaty verification will return through several means – access to telemetry from tests, on site visits (up to 18 per year), and delivery every 6 months of an extensive accounting of all number, type and location of all the strategic offensive forces under the treaty. Additionally, a unique identifying number will be assigned to each missile and bomber, which will allow the US to follow that item through its life, especially important given the emphasis Russia is placing on land-mobile ICBMs.

Missile Defense: The treaty acknowledges, in preambular language (language found in the Treaty Preamble – see page 2 of the English-language text) that a relationship exists between offense and defense:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties. . .(emphasis added)

and missiles developed and tested solely as interceptors (e.g., the US ground-based interceptors located at Ft. Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg AFB, CA) are not counted:

(a) A missile of a type developed and tested solely to intercept and counter objects not located on the surface of the Earth shall not be considered to be a ballistic missile to which the provisions of this Treaty apply. (Article II 7(a))

as well as further language in the Protocols exempting the converted silos in Vandenberg from being counted.

IV.  Criticisms

Criticisms of the Treaty have focused on three areas: Tactical weapons (especially Russia’s) are not addressed, Verification is not what START I permitted and US’ missile defense will be limited.  Additionally, a fourth issue arose a few months back with Senator Kyl’s (R-Az) objection over NNSA funding.  Rather than repeat a very detailed review of that criticism, I would instead recommend reading “New START at a Crossroads” by Jeffrey Lewis over at

Tactical weapons: Tactical weapons are a problem – always have been and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  From the time they were introduced in the 1950′s, they have vexed planners, operational commanders and arms control negotiators alike.  Able to be deployed with conventional forces and from conventional platforms (e.g., fighter-bombers), they are exceptionally difficult to verify in terms of location, numbers, capabilities and when governments begin to break down, as was the case when the Soviet Union dissolved, their very portability makes them a threat for proliferation and transfer to third-party state and non-state actors.  The US has consistently kept tactical nuclear weapons separate from strategic offensive arms dialogue – in part because of the verification difficulties, but also because of our nuclear guarantee to NATO being backed, in large measure, by forward deployed nuclear forces and our desire to keep the dialogue in a bilateral forum. Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs)  – unilateral declarations by the US and Russia/FSU in 1991 and 1992 respectively, were attempts to remove tactical nuclear weapons from deployed positions (at sea and ashore), but since these were unilateral declarations, each side chose which to count, which not to, pace of withdrawal and decommission, and there are no formal verification protocols in place.  In time, this led to several accusations and minor disputes, the latest being over Russian deployments of the SS-26 Iskander SRBM in the Kaliningrad district as a presumed response to the US announcement of European-based BMD (originally in response to the Poland-based GBI’s under President Bush’s initiative).  Bottom-line — while there is a need for formally addressing tactical nuclear weapons, it should be a separate forum and most likely a multi-lateral one at that.  START is for strategic offensive weapons systems and the current iterations in keeping with the precedence set beginning with SALT I in 1972.

Verification: The biggest change, and in some corners, shortcoming in New START is that it doesn’t provide for the same kind of in-residence, on-site inspectors like we had under START I (e.g., at Votkinsk).  When examined in detail, however, the verification regime for New START is very comprehensive and acknowledges the changes since START I.  For example, under START I we did not have actual data about warhead loading on Russian ICBMs and bombers (viz. SS-18 with 1-18 MiRVs).  RV shrouds could be partially lifted – but only enough to show that yes, there were RV’s under that shroud — actual numbers, not so.  We will have the ability to track individual missiles from birth to death and in so doing, verify active and inactive stockpiles.  We will still have the ability to put boots on the ground — but at times and places of choosing, rather than via a static portal.  Telemetry – detailed telemetry must be provided along with the means to enable reading it. Since December 2009, Russia has carried out several ICBM/SLBM tests – all without having to provide said telemetry.  The longer we wait, the further we get away form our baseline understanding of the weapons and the more uncertainty is injected into decision-making.  Verification is better than no verification and what we are getting with New START appears to provide the granularity needed for current and future needs.
Missile Defense: Probably the most vociferous critiques of the Treaty have come from those saying it will prevent us from developing our missile defenses.  There is nothing in the Treaty that specifically limits our development, current and planned, of missile defense – whether it is the GMD providing limited defense of a threat from NE Asia or the Phased Adaptive Approach for regional and theater defenses, where the threat is very real and rapidly growing in capacity and capability — conventional and nuclear.  The acknowledgement of a linkage between offense and defense in the preambular text again has roots back to the beginning of nuclear arms control talks with the Russians/Soviets and reiterated as recently as the 2002 Moscow Treaty in a Joint Statement by President Bush and President Putin:

The United States and Russia acknowledge that today’s security environment is fundamentally different than during the Cold War.

In this connection, the United States and Russia have agreed to implement a number of steps aimed at strengthening confidence and increasing transparency in the area of missile defense, including the exchange of information on missile defense programs and tests in this area, reciprocal visits to observe missile defense tests, and observation aimed at familiarization with missile defense systems. They also intend to take the steps necessary to bring a joint center for the exchange of data from early warning systems into operation.

The United States and Russia have also agreed to study possible areas for missile defense cooperation, including the expansion of joint exercises related to missile defense, and the exploration of potential programs for the joint research and development of missile defense technologies, bearing in mind the importance of the mutual protection of classified information and the safeguarding of intellectual property rights.

The United States and Russia will, within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, explore opportunities for intensified practical cooperation on missile defense for Europe.

In the context of the recently completed Lisbon Conference (Nov 2010) and the NATO-Russia Council that preceded, as well as ongoing bilateral talks with Russia, we continue to work towards cooperative missile defense as outlined above.  To be sure, Russia did release a unilateral declaration about missile defense:

The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms signed at Prague on April 8, 2010, may be effective and viable only in conditions where there is no qualitative or quantitative build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America. Consequently, the extraordinary events referred to in Article XIV of the Treaty also include a build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America such that it would give rise to a threat to the strategic nuclear force potential of the Russian Federation.

The subject Treaty article referred to above is the “national soveriegnty” clause and states:

3. Each Party shall,in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests. It shall give notice of its decision to the other Party. Such notice shall contain a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying Party regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests. This Treaty shall terminate three months from the date of receipt by the other Party of the aforementioned notice, unless the notice specifies a later date.

Same language as in the Moscow Treaty and all the way back to the ABM/SALT I Treaties.  In fact, only the US has exercised this type-option when it stepped away from the 1972 ABM Treaty to pursue a conventional missile defense system.  The fact of the matter is that neither the CONUS-based GMD system nor anything envisioned for the European PAA will constitute a threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent in either capacity or capability, the Russians know this and the statement was made as much for domestic Russian political consumption as anything else; and US missile defense development and deployment will continue apace.

One may argue a treaty, any treaty is better than none.  SALT I pretty much disproved that and from that experience, with confidence building measures inherited from the INF Treaty, START I and the Moscow Treaty, we have a new nuclear arms control treaty that while not perfect, is still an improvement over the predecessors, works towards reducing the risks of nuclear war and proliferation and aims to keep a potentially ruinous nuclear arms race in check.  There is little to be gained in delaying or defeating ratification and much to be lost.  I have read in detail the Treaty and its supporting Protocols and in my estimation, believe it is in our interests that the Senate ratify the New START Treaty.

Iran, Venezuela and MRBMs

According to some reports from various locations (I’ll begin with Hudson Institute’s as that is where I first read it with a h/t to Xformed for his heads-up) it would appear that back in October, Iran and Venezuela signed an agreement that, among other things, would establish a joint base in Venezuela as well as jointly developing and deploying ballistic missiles of varying ranges, up to and including the SHAHAB-3 with a nominal range of 1500-1800km. Reaction in the blog-sphere was limited, but along expected lines with many comparisons being made to the Soviet’s foray into Cuba and followed with demands for actions ranging from blockades to offensive operations.

Let’s step back for a minute and try and examine this from a couple of standpoints, beginning with the political, followed by an assessment of the threat missiles and then a little historical compare and contrast. We’ll wrap with a a short discussion on extant conventions and declarations that have bearing on this case and which may offer some avenues of approach and action.  

1. Political.  

   Iran is increasingly economically and politically isolated as a direct result of its nuclear program.  Yet Iran is still able to link with other states also finding themselves on the list of international pariahs (e.g., Syria, North Korea) and in so doing, looks for ways to export energy while importing the technical, scientific and engineering knowledge (and cash) needed to finance that nuclear program as well as others – such as its very active ballistic missile program.  Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez, has managed to antagonize a long list of neighbors and regional powers, including Colombia, Brazil and the US.  His appeal to and support from radicalized elements in Venezuelan society deepens the enmity and suspicions as to his true intents and purpose.  Like Iran, Chavez too is looking for aid and assistance in developing the domestic gas and oil industry, suffering in the wake of his nationalization that sent so much expertise home.  To this end, Iran and Venezuela have already launched joint ventures (e.g., agriculture, manufacturing, housing, and infrastructure) beginning with a finalization in 2007 of a $2 billion joint-fund for their numerous projects. As a major investor in the Ayacucho oil field joint project ($4 billion), Iran has agreed in 2008 to invest an additional $760 million in Venezuela’s energy sector and in 2009 and Venezuela agreed to invest $760 million in Iran’s South Pars gas field. In late October 2010, Venezuela offered an additional $800 million investment package in Iran’s Pars Field gas sector. Iran has also invested in Venezuela’s uranium mining industry – a necessary move on their part given the paucity of native uranium. Left unsaid, but not unnoticed, is the manner in which these large investments may be used to cover and facilitate the flow of cash, arms and people potentially used to promote and support “revolutionary” aims. Venezuela is one of the few countries permitting direct flights to/from Iran, which in itself increases the degree of difficulty in tracking persons of interest.

But economics isn’t the whole of it — in the run-up to the NATO Summit in Lisbon back in November, there was considerable effort on the part of the US to elevate discussions on missile defense to assume a major role in the conference with a desired outcome of the European partners agreeing to the necessity for missile defense in general, and regional defense in particular, something they had been studying for the better part of a half-decade. Until the eve of the conference, the basis of the discussion was focused on the threat presented by the growing numbers of Iranian medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and the threat they constituted to peace and stability in the Middle East as well as the threat to many cities in Eastern Europe. I say until the eve of the conference, because in a move to get Turkish buy-in to the concept of regional defense, specific language referring to Iran was removed from the table and substituted with more generic wording about the general threat presented by ballistic missiles, assuaging Turkey’s concerns about singling out Iran. How does this tie-in with Venezuela? Just as Syria provides a kind of diplomatic/military/economic breakout for Iran (of albeit limited means), so too does a feint with Venezuela. On the one hand, there is the opportunity it provides for domestic agendas and consumption — ongoing defiance of the US-dominated West and associated institutions, for example, continuing to trade on the one-sidedness of UN sanctions. Coming on the eve of the Lisbon Summit it was seen as an opportunity to preempt the NTO minister’s regional missile defense announcement with a bit of strategic tit-for-tat as well. On the other is the opportunity for the aforementioned hard currency.  

2. The Threat.


What type of threat set then would be presented by deployment of ballistic missiles to Venezuela? Primarily, they will serve to heighten tensions in the region, but chiefly with Venzuela’s immediate neighbors – Colombia and Brazil. There are long standing disagreements between Venzuela and Colombia over border areas and Colombia’s assertion that Chavez is providing assistance to rebel forces in the shared border regions. The majority of the missiles mentioned as part of the deal will have ranges of 600 km or less and thus, be of principal interest to states immediately bordering Venezuela. Among these are the Fateh 110 and ZelZal solid fuel, mobile rockets (up to 400 km range), SCUD C (up to 600 km range) and SHAHAB 3 (up to 1500 – 2000 km range though most estimates focus on the 1500-1800 km range).

 By far and way, the most attention has been focused though on the SHAHAB 3. The SHAHAB (derived from Persian: شهاب-Û³, meaning “Meteor”) is a domestically produced and modified, liquid-fueled SR/MRBM derived from the SCUD B, first obtained from Libya during the Iran Iraq war. Over time, the Iranians have modified the basic SCUD to improve range and accuracy with new or modified airframes, tankage, up-rated engines and most notably, changes in the nosecone shape for dealing with aerodynamic loading and heat dissipation. The longer-range variants (over 1000km) were alleged to have been tested in 2008 as part of the Great Prophet II wargames, though some subsequent test claims have been disputed. Nevertheless, Iran is moving towards a larger MRBM force as a strategic deterrent to Israel and the US (primarily) and as a means for coercion in the region. The missile is transportable, though the continued use of liquid fuel (and extremely toxic fuel at that) impacts the ability of the missile to be a truly mobile deterrent.

In view of these characteristics, Iran appears to be following a dual track approach for deployments using on the one hand, underground storage with dispersal to pre-surveyed sites as tensions increase and a presumably smaller cohort based in semi-hardened shelters (similar to the early Atlas deployments) for a more rapid response. With a range of 1500-1800km, the SHAHAB 3 is able to cover Israel from northern/central Iran as well as US and allied forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the better part of the region. Because the missiles are presumed to armed with conventional explosives only (Iran is a long way from producing a nuclear device, much less one that will fit in the RV of a SHAHAB 3) and have a pretty large Circular Error Probable (CEP), a preemptive or response launch would entail large numbers of mssiles to both overwhelm defenses as well as offsetting their poor accuracy and would be limited primarily to countervalue-type targets (so-called “soft” targets). All this sets the stage to examine the real threat potentially posed by these missiles. Presuming the SHAHAB is deployed to Venezuela (and there are indicators it won’t), the credibility of the threat is negligeable considering the extreme range required to reach the continental US (and southeast Florida in particular) and the amount of damage potentially to inflicted vs the guaranteed response by US, if not a combined US-regional force. Absent a nuclear or other WMD-type warhead, and with the limited numbers likely to be deployed (more token than credible deterrent) this threat, unlike that of the nuclear armed SS-4s and FROGs in Cuba would have little if any credible deterrence. In that case, there was a potential threat set that provided nuclear coverage of most of the southeastern US and incorporated short flight times (less than 15 minutes) enabling a decapitating first strike, substantially delaying or preventing a response.

3.  Options

As alluded to above, there is every likelihood that this agreement will not proceed beyond mere tokenism – Venezuelan VIPs at Iranian launches, a drawn out site construction process, etc. There may even be delivery of a certain number of the shorter-range missiles (e.g., Fateh 110) though we have not seen export of these except to Syria and possibly to Hezbollah forces in northern Lebanon . Nevertheless, assuming deployments proceed, there are a range of options under the DIME (DIplomatic/Military/Economic) umbrella to work with. Two venues are of particular note where ballistic missiles are involved – the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and applicable UNSCR resolutions.  The MTCR is:

“(A)n informal and voluntary association of countries which share the goals of non-proliferation of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, and which seek to coordinate national export licensing efforts aimed at preventing their proliferation. The MTCR was originally established in 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Since that time, the number of MTCR partners has increased to a total of thirty-four countries, all of which have equal standing within the Regime.
The MTCR was initiated partly in response to the increasing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The risk of proliferation of WMD is well recognized as a threat to international peace and security, including by the UN Security Council in its Summit Meeting Declaration of January 31, 1992. While concern has traditionally focussed on state proliferators, after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, it became evident that more also has to be done to decrease the risk of WMD delivery systems falling into the hands of terrorist groups and individuals. One way to counter this threat is to maintain vigilance over the transfer of missile equipment, material, and related technologies usable for systems capable of delivering WMD.
The MTCR rests on adherence to common export policy guidelines (the MTCR Guidelines) applied to an integral common list of controlled items (the MTCR Equipment, Software and Technology Annex). All MTCR decisions are taken by consensus, and MTCR partners regularly exchange information about relevant national export licensing issues.
National export licensing measures on these technologies make the task of countries seeking to achieve capability to acquire and produce unmanned means of WMD delivery much more difficult. As a result, many countries, including all MTCR partners, have chosen voluntarily to introduce export licensing measures on rocket and other unmanned air vehicle delivery systems or related equipment, material and technology.”

As a voluntary association, however, it carries little in the way of ability to enforce sanctions against member states – some of whom have only acceded to part of or earlier provisions of the regieme (e.g., China). Non-member states presumably would be prevented from obtaining the necessary technology and engineering knowledge and equipment – but that presumes an informal alliance between non-member states would gain little. Unfortunately, we are seeing a growing linkage between the programs in Syria, Iran, and North Korea which may be a slower path, is still providing the necessary ingredients for successful programs, especially in the case of Iran. Alternately, the sanctions outlined by UNSCR resolutions provide for actions in the event they are ignored or subverted. In particular, for Iran, this would focus on UNSCR 1737 et al which provide legal ground for actions like interdiction, should we choose to do so:

“7. Decides that Iran shall not export any of the items in documents S/2006/814 and S/2006/815 and that all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran;
“8. Decides that all States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to Iran, from or through their territories or by their nationals or individuals subject to their jurisdiction, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, or related materiel, including spare parts, or items as determined by the Security Council or the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1737 (2006) (“the Committee”), decides further that all States shall prevent the provision to Iran by their nationals or from or through their territories of technical training, financial resources or services, advice, other services or assistance related to the supply, sale, transfer, provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms and related materiel, and, in this context, calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and restraint over the supply, sale, transfer, provision, manufacture and use of all other arms and related materiel;”
“9. Decides that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities;”
“17. Calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and prevent specialized teaching or training of Iranian nationals, within their territories or by their nationals, of disciplines which would contribute to Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities and development of nuclear weapon delivery systems;”

Under similar provisions stipulated for North Korea, the Spanish navy stopped an unflagged merchantman that had been tracked leaving North Korea and bound for Yemen with a load of SCUD parts concealed by bags of concrete.  

 Clearly, Iran would have to undertake a notable effort to ship airframes, support equipment, warheads and personnel to establish and maintain a joint base of operations in Venezuela – one for which it (a) is resource poor but more importantly (b) could rebound decisively against the regime if a growing segment of the populace, increasingly afflicted under sanctions, perceives this as an unnecessary foreign adventure. Likewise, overt moves and measures taken by Chavez utilizing these weapons will equally threaten his government’s survival in a region where suspicions already are elevated over previous purchases from abroad. As much as we tend to paint both leaders as wildly irrational, at their core, self-preservation rules and one expects a certain degree of self-limiting rationality to be imposed.  Unlike the case of the Soviets installing nuclear armed IRBMs in Cuba, this threat is still talk only – affording the US a wider range of options to employ without the urgency of a Cuban Missile Crisis.  And while both parties (Iran and Venezuela) should take the time to thoughtfully reconsider COAs, one party in particular ought to be especially thoughtful about pushing beyond heated rhetoric – because, afterall, there is still the Noriega option if someone in this hemisphere gets too far out of the box.


Russian Tu-95MS Bombers Set Flight Duration Record

Perusing the usual pull from a variety of sources, happened across this item:

Two Russian Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bombers have carried out a record-breaking 40-hour patrol over three oceans, an Air Force spokesman said on Thursday, RIA Novosti reported.

“The Tu-95MS bombers carried out patrols over the Arctic, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and set a new flight duration record of about 40 hours, exceeding the previous record by four hours,” Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said at a news briefing in Moscow.

The crews practiced instrumental flight and carried out four in-flight refuelings from Il-78 aerial tankers,

Tu-95 Flightpath (approximate) click on image to enlarge

the official said.

Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans in August 2007.

All flights are performed in strict compliance with international law on the use of airspace over neutral waters, without intruding the airspace of other countries. (Ria Novosti)

Some other sources noted the distance was in excess of 30,000 km.  Video of the flight was run on Russian TV providing some interesting views:

Rough translations follow:

(Presenter) two Tu-95 strategic bombers have set a new flight time record for this type of aircraft.  They have spent more than 40 hours in the air, to cover a distance of 28,000 km.  During the air patrol, the aircraft refueled in flight from air tankers four times.

(Yevgeniy Semenyuk – crew commander (captioned)) The difficulty was our rendezvous with tanker aircraft.  We had to rendezvous in the clouds.  There was turbulence.  We also had to approach the tanker aircraft.  Everything went off as normal.  We rendezvoused and took on the necessary amount of fuel.  (ed. I’d say he looks like he’s spent 40+ hours aloft – hope the box lunches were decent… – SJS)

(Vladimir Popov, commander of Ukrainka Airbase (captioned)) At first we performed 12-hour flights, during which we refueled once.  Then the duration was increased.  That is to say, we built up for this sortie gradually.  The main objective was to see how the aircraft behaved, that is their bombsight and navigation [corrects self] – flight control and navigation system, the work of the engines and all the other systems.

(Presenter) The Tu-95s left on their combat air patrol from an airbase in Vorkuta.  Their route took them over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Sea of Japan.  Based on the results of the flight, the crews will be rewarded by the command of Long-Range Aviation, according to the spokesman for the Russian Federation Air Force.

For the record, the FAI database shows no entry under “duration” for the C-1q (landplanes with gross weight greater than 150,000 kg and less than 200,000 kg), turboprop subcategory.  The longest duration flight (refueled) was accomplished over the course of 64 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes in a Cessna 172 in 1959.

In the final analysis, while it was an interesting public affairs feat, the true question about the overall capabilties of Long-Range Aviation, like so much of the rest of Russia’s forces, remains to be seen.  Flight hours are falling off again following a rapid rise two years ago and material condition of the force, much less level of training is questionable as well, given how far it had fallen from immediate post-Cold War levels.  Worth noting is that some Canadian defense analysts seized on the occasion of the flight and corresponding CF-18 intercepts as justification for the recent Canadian decision selecting the F-35 as a replacement for their aging CF-18s.

So it remains to be seen if The Bear(tm) is back.  Still, there is a certain familiarity in seeing an old opponent flying again, bringing to mind previous escapades and encounters…

Catching Up: Russia, The PAK-FA and Bulava SLBM

Have been a bit sparing of late on posting here and at USNI, in large part because the day job(s) have been demanding their pound (more like tens of pounds) of flesh.  And developments appear to promise a major surge on one front in the next few weeks, so we’ll take advantage of the relative calm afforded during the next day or two to catch up on some previously reported events.  Today — Russia and some updates on the PAK-FA and Bulava SLBM…

17 июня 2010 года 17:30 | Сергей Турченко 17 June 2010 17:30 | Sergei Turchenko

Putin's Introduction to the PAK-FA (17 June 2010 | (c) Sergei Turchenko)

Russia: Putin Pledges 30 Billion Rubles for Fine-tuning PAK-FA

(Source: Свободная Пресса, 18 June 2010 (translated))

Russia’s fifth generation fighter program began roughly the same time as the US’ effort that yielded the F-22A, according to Russian sources.  Delays stemming from defense and industry reform and economic slowdown in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union drew out the program.  Cul-de-sacs beginning with the Berkut and later the MiG 1-44 added further delay until Sukhoi was back in charge of the project with the PAK-FA proposal.  Taking the occasion during a recent demonstration/test flight (16th since first flight in January?), Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin identified about 90B rubles (руб) (~ US$ 3.3B ) in development funding for the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI), the Aircraft Construction Center at Zhukovsky and the PAK-FA.  60B руб is to go for building three additional tunnels at TsAGI and another 11B руб to the new center to be constructed at Zhukovsky.  The former will be spread out in installments over the next several years, the new center is slated for completion around the end of 2012.  As for the PAK-FA — I think the expression in the photo above bespeaks volumes.  As the US has discovered in the prolonged gestation periods for the F-22 and now the F-35 with commensurate rising production costs, the ticket for entry into the 5th generation fighter program is indeed an expensive one.  Despite happy-talk about the PAK-FA being “two and a half and three times less than of its foreign counterparts” it is still too expensive for the Russian economy.  Over 30B руб has been expended thus far on PAK-FA development and it is still sans the 5th gen engines necessary for all aspect stealth and a good bit of development remains on the weapons system.  Even with the promise of another 30B руб forthcoming, much like the F-35, the PAK-FA will be heavily reliant on outside funding to come close to meeting any kind of production numbers.  India has stepped to the plate, offering cash but also demanding a healthy portion of the early production, demanding 250 aircraft by 2017.  And those are to be two-seaters.

Despite the acclaim the PAK-FA has received, as an expensive sink-hole in the Russian re-armament program, it has garnered its fair share of domestic criticisms:

Independent analysts give an overall negative forecast for the national rearmament program. The country has virtually wasted the 20 years which have passed since the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Moscow-based Center for Military Forecasts.

Not a single new tank or fixed-wing aircraft has been developed since 1991, with only one helicopter being developed and used. “Fifth-generation planes are very expensive. Comparing total costs, Russia and the United States spend approximately the same amounts on their development and production,” Tsyganok told the paper. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta – translated)

Calvin Coolidge once waspishly commented on the high price of aircraft by asking why not buy one airplane and let pilots take turns flying it.  With the advent of triple-digit million dollar fighters, we may be reaching such a point and it is evident that the US isn’t the only nation happening upon this circumstance.  But, as far as the Russian leadership is concerned, for now at least the PAK-FA is flying, the same cannot be said about an even more vital element in the national defense plan, the Bulava SLBM…

Bulava SLBM to Resume Test Flights in August 2010

  President Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov observe the Borei-class SSBN, Yury Dolgoruky underway for sea trials. 16 July 2010 (c) Sergei Turchenko

(Source: Свободная Пресса, 18 June 2010 (translated))

A recent interview with the former commander of the Soviet and Russian Navies, Admiral Vladimir Chernavin (translated), was revealing on several fronts insofar as the much troubled Bulava is concerned.  Of first note was the fact that it appears testing of the Bulava will resume earlier (August 2010) than previously reported (November 2010 at earliest).  At the time of the previous announcement in May, it was stated that a production run of three identical missiles was required before the next round of tests began – whether the earlier date is a reflection of that requirement being dropped or discovery of the root cause of the series of failures (particularly with the liquid-fueled third stage*) remains to be seen.  Perhaps after having seen the head of the Strategic Missile Forces get sacked after less than a year on the job over probable readiness issues, Navy and industry found renewed enthusiasm for a more aggressive schedule.

The Bulava and its development trials and travails have served as a poster child for a larger view of a Russian defense industry that increasingly is finding it difficult to meet the demands for new forces while adjusting to the post-Soviet era.  Consolidation has struck the industry as hard, if not harder, than its US counterpart.  In his interview, ADM Chernavin pointed to the need for a replacement for the Sineva SLBM (ed: R-29RMU/RSM-54 Sineva/SS-N-23 SKIFF).  The Sineva, while an exceptional missile in service (duration and capability — the last test launch was to its full 11,547 km range) is also a completely liquid-fueled missile, utilizing exceptionally dangerous hypergolics, which present a hazard to the boat and crew as well as demanding special care in materials selection and construction to avoid/contain any leakage.  The drawbacks of hypergolics (ed. research and work on, I would note, have been part of the reason behind the paucity of posts – SJS) are the chief reason all US ICBMs and SLBMs as well as all new Russian ICBMs are solid-fuel.  An earlier attempt at a solid-fuel SLBM, the R-39 (NATO: SS-N-20 Sturgeon) brought forth a 10-warhead missile, but one that was exceptionally heavy, with a launch weight of 90 tons. A follow-on to the R-39, the R-39UTTH “Bark suffered three consecutive failures in its first stage in early testing and was canceled.  The Bulava followed in part, because the institute building it was also building the Topol-M land mobile ICBM and figured to gain efficiencies in development and production by emphasizing commonality between the two.

Chernavin points to the beginning of problems when the Bulava designers learned that, surprise, submarines move whereas the Topol, while a mobile missile, is fixed in place for launch.  Compounding the flawed foundation decision-making was a series of cost- and schedule decisions to speed up the development process and shaving tests.   The lead designer of the missile, Yury Solomonov, points the finger at Russia’s defense industry in general:

“I can say in earnest that none of the design solutions have been changed as a result of the tests. The problems occur in the links of the design-technology-production chain,” Solomonov said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published on Tuesday.

“Sometimes [the problem] is poor-quality materials, sometimes it is the lack of necessary equipment to exclude the ‘human’ factor in production, sometimes it is inefficient quality control,” he said.

The designer complained that the Russian industry is unable to provide Bulava manufacturers with at least 50 of the necessary components for production of the weapon. This forces designers to search for alternative solutions, seriously complicating the testing process.

That and evident quality control problems have led to a test program with between 1 to 5 (depending on whom you are talking to) successes in 12 launch attempts. However, with nothing else even on the drawing boards and a new class of SSBNs designed such that the Bulava is the only missile they can take, the die has been cast.  Chernavin underscores this state of affairs with a verbal shrug and dose of fatalism, noting so much effort has already been spent that eventually “they will force it to fly” (“Но, уверен, «Булаву» все-таки заставят летать”).


* Why a liquid third stage?  That is the post-boost vehicle (PBV) that carries the MIRVs — a liquid-fuel engine allows controlled start/stops to precisely maneuver the PBV as it releases the MIRV payload.

New START Treaty: Text and Missile Defense

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev sign the treaty cutting their nations' nuclear arsenals Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The new START Treaty was signed in Prague today and the text for both the Treaty (17 pages) and the Protocols (165 pages) are available.

On reading the text of the Treaty (still wading through the Protocols) am finding nothing untoward or diverging from what has been said here and elsewhere these past few days. Overall, it is a modest effort at reduction — nothing on the order of the original START reductions. It does re-establish an atmosphere of verification and compliance, though not as intrusive as the previous Treaty and includes use of “national technical means,” on-site visits and exchanges of telemetry data.

In the final months of negotiation there was a lot said on the Russian side about missile defense and linkages to the new Treaty – much more than reported in the Western press, by the way. Of relevance to this part of the discussion is Article III 7(a) which states:

“A missile of a type developed and tested solely to intercept and counter objects not located on the surface of the Earth shall not be considered to be a ballistic missile to which the provisions of this Treaty apply.”

In other words, ABM and ASAT missiles that have been exclusively developed and tested for those purposes (e.g., SM-3 family) are exempt from the Treaty.

Note also that there is a withdrawal clause for “extraordinary circumstances” (Article XIV Section 3) which is a common clause for treaties of this nature and is not extraordinary for this treaty. In light of the Russian’s unilateral statement on missile defense, it may be highlighted in subsequent discussions. The text of the declaration follow:

“April 8, 2010

Statement by the Russian Federation on Missile Defence

The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms signed in Prague on April 8, 2010, can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.

Consequently, the exceptional circumstances referred to in Article 14 of the Treaty include increasing the capabilities of the United States of America’s missile defence system in such a way that threatens the potential of the strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation.”


Worth keeping an eye on as we move down the pike on the European PAA is the “qualitatively” part of the first sentence. Earlier (March 18) statements by Foreign Minister Lavrov singled out improved capabilities of the EPAA “by 2020″ which coincides with introduction of the SM-3 BlkIIB.

Finally, at the signing ceremony, the President stated:

“President Medvedev and I have also agreed to expand our discussions on missile defense. This will include regular exchanges of information about our threat assessments, as well as the completion of a joint assessment of emerging ballistic missiles. And as these assessments are completed, I look forward to launching a serious dialogue about Russian-American cooperation on missile defense.”

How much this was intended to allay or soften the Russian unilateral statement and the substance of those future talks 9as well as the direction they will take the European PAA and other bi- and multi-lateral missile defense initiatives in various theaters and regions, remains to be seen.

The Prague Treaty: A Quick Overview

Well — they aren’t calling it the Prague Treaty per se — yet.  But the post-START Treaty is scheduled to be signed in Prague later this spring and represents some pretty major changes in the arms control world and respective stockpiles of the US and Russia:

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release    March 26, 2010

Key Facts about the New START Treaty

Treaty Structure: The New START Treaty is organized in three tiers of increasing level of detail.  The first tier is the Treaty text itself.  The second tier consists of a Protocol to the Treaty, which contains additional rights and obligations associated with Treaty provisions.  The basic rights and obligations are contained in these two documents.  The third tier consists of Technical Annexes to the Protocol.  All three tiers will be legally binding.  The Protocol and Annexes will be integral parts of the Treaty and thus submitted to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.

Strategic Offensive Reductions: Under the Treaty, the U.S. and Russia will be limited to significantly fewer strategic arms within seven years from the date the Treaty enters into force.  Each Party has the flexibility to determine for itself the structure of its strategic forces within the aggregate limits of the Treaty.  These limits are based on a rigorous analysis conducted by Department of Defense planners in support of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

Aggregate limits:

  • 1,550 warheads.  Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts as one warhead toward this limit.
    • This limit is 74% lower than the limit of the 1991 START Treaty and 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
  • A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
  • A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
    • This limit is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit of the START Treaty.

Verification and Transparency: The Treaty has a verification regime that combines the appropriate elements of the 1991 START Treaty with new elements tailored to the limitations of the Treaty.  Measures under the Treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the Treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring.   To increase confidence and transparency, the Treaty also provides for the exchange of telemetry.

Treaty Terms: The Treaty’s duration will be ten years, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement.   The Parties may agree to extend the Treaty for a period of no more than five years.  The Treaty includes a withdrawal clause that is standard in arms control agreements.  The 2002 Moscow Treaty terminates upon entry into force of the New START Treaty.  The U.S. Senate and the Russian legislature must approve the Treaty before it can enter into force.

No Constraints on Missile Defense and Conventional Strike: The Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned United States long-range conventional strike capabilities.

I will be the first to admit (along with many others it seems in the arms control community) to still trying to intuitively puzzle out the “separate” and “combined” limits, but bigger picture see somethings of interest:

a) This is a “build-down” treaty, not one designed to forestall future developments (e.g., throw weight breakouts, air launched ballistic missiles, etc.) which speaks volumes to the current and future states of the strategic programs of the US and Russia.

b) For the US — B-1′s, SSGNs , conventional ballistic missiles (aka Prompt Global Strike) and missile defenses (both the ground-based BMDS and the forthcoming PAA) are off the books.  Russia ends up with a less obtrusive inspection/verification regime and a requirement for only 5 telemetry exchanges per year (per SECDEF Gates at the press briefing).

c) Empty launchers apparently won’t be counted – unlike START.  Bombers weight in the overall equation is lessened (as some commentators have pointed out, almost Reagan-esque as his assertion was the slower bombers weren’t as much of a threat as the missiles).

d) Though each bomber counts as one warhead — each bomber also counts as one delivery vehicle, which acts to limit temptation to build a large fleet of bombers armed with cruise missiles (that and the current state of air defenses).  On the future of the bomber force as an element of the traditional nuclear deterrent triad, an interesting and recent paper by the Mitchell Air Power Institute on what shape the deterrent force should take (Triad, Dyad, Monad?) asserts that:

(The) US Department of Defense should pursue an ICBM/SLBM Dyad as it moves to reshape its nuclear force posture at lower warhead levels. Essentially, the US is already moving in this direction: the ICBMs and SLBMs remain robust, with modernization scheduled and funded, but the aging ALCM calls into question the value of the B-52 fleet, while the modernized but very small B-2 force is assuming a niche role. In short, the United States will soon field a de facto nuclear Dyad.

and that for the near term the United States should

leverage the strengths of the ICBM and SLBM forces while minimizing the weaknesses of the nuclear-capable bomber as that leg of the Triad is phased out. Prudent decisions about nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles for the future—under arms control ceilings limiting deployed weapons and launchers—demand deliberation within a framework of deterrent attributes and stabilizing outcomes such as offered here. We believe a Dyad of modernized ICBMs and SLBMs will provide for strategic nuclear deterrence and stability in the years ahead, while allowing and encouraging needed investments in long-range conventional strike.

All of which, along with the release of the NPR and expected forthcoming debate over PGS, should provide interesting fodder for deliberations over the size and shape of the US strategic deterrent force in the coming years.

I’ll continue turning over the whole numerical relationships — and hopefully we’ll have the actual treaty text to review and add insight in the near future.  In the meantime, it is a good sign that Sen Lugar (R-Ind.)  has voiced his approval on the treaty which I hope will be subject to a through, dispassionate review as it goes to ratification this summer More, definitely more, to follow.

Iran’s Long-Range Missile Program: New Launch Facility Revealed

Simorgh SLV/ICBM (Feb 2010)

TD-2/Unha-2 (April 2009)

Last month Iran unveiled a new long-range missile, the Simorgh, as a follow-on to the Safir SLV.  Putatively identified as a space launch vehicle, it bears strong familial ties to the TD-2 prototype SLV/ICBM launched last April (2009).  Since then, some analysts have noted that while the airframe has made an appearance sooner than the NIE’s from 2008/2009 suggested, much still remains to be put in place for the program to reach flight test stage.  Chief among those items would be a launch site as something of this size requires a much larger complex for support than the Safir.

According to press reports over the weekend, it appears that too is well underway and sooner than many had expected:

Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday.  The new launcher, constructed near an existing rocket base in the Semnan province east of Tehran, is visible in satellite imagery, according to the report.  The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.  Both the missile and the launch pad, which according to Jane’s is large enough to accommodate it, point to cooperation from Pyongyang. (Jerusalem Post, 6 March 2010)

Firing up GE, we locate the site fairly quickly:

Semnan Missile R&D Complex

Semnan Missile R&D Complex

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