All posts in “ICBM”

The Missiles of Spring: 2012 Edition

Stick around any job long enough and pretty soon you’ll find a pattern of repetition or cycles will emerge.  When on active duty, it was inexorably tied to the CVW turnaround training cycle.  This year we are now on the threshold of the 3rd North Korean space launch vehicle (SLV) attempt since 2006 and the 4th overall since 1998 and my third participation in one form or another thereof (for the record, they are batting .000 with an Oh-for-3 record since 1998 – kind of like how the Red Sox and Yankees started the year, eh?).  At least this time they had the good grace not to screw with a 4-day holiday weekend.  Given this Northeast Asian 21st century meme, I thought we might take a moment and breakdown aspects of the launch and the SLV as it will provide a basis for comparison with the next in the series on the Atlas – our first ICBM and workhorse SLV from almost a half-century ago.

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Flightdeck Friday – On Atlas’ Mighty Shoulders (Part I)

Earlier this week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight, marking our full entry into the space race with the Soviets.  Signatory of the mission was our first use of an ICBM to launch Glenn into orbit — the previous missions had been suborbital and used the Redstone missile, itself an SRBM (operational range: 323 km) and not altogether too far removed from the V-2 (as well as a kissing cousin to the SCUD-series SRBMs).  Modified SRBMs were all well and good for tossing “grapefruits” (as Krushchev dismissively referred to the Vanguard satellite) into orbit, but to lift a nearly 4,000 lb space capsule (gross launch weight off the Mercury capsule w/escape tower) off the launch pad into orbit would require something much more powerful – and already designed to loft  a nuclear warhead and RV weighing over 3,000 lb on a 5,500 mile trajectory as an ICBM.  That missile was the SM-65 Atlas (and specifically for Project Mercury, the SM-65D), America’s first ICBM.

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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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“Доверяй, но проверяй” (“Trust But Verify”)

Votkinsk Machine Building Plant.

Located about 8.5 km to the east of the birthplace of Pytor Illyich Tchaikovsky, in the Russian Federation Republic of  Udmurtia, is an industrial facility whose name, in typical Soviet fashion, obscures the products made there.   It is a name unfamiliar to most outside of the arms control, intelligence or strategic planning communities, yet promises to figure prominently in the upcoming finalization and ratification of the START I follow-on treaty.


Because up until December 2009 (expiration of START I) the US maintained a relatively robust inspection and verification outpost at the portal to the facility. At one time or currently in production at this facility were/are the:

  • Pioneer (INF: RSD-10 DoD/NATO: SS-20 Sabre) mobile IRBM,
  • RT-2PM Topol (START: RS-22   DoD/NATO: SS-25 Sickle) road mobile ICBM,
  • RT-2PM2 Topol-M (START: RS-12M2 DoD/NATO: SS-27) and
  • the 9K720 Iskander-M (DoD/NATO: SS-26 Stone) SRBM

All solid-fuel, mobile missiles designed by the Moscow Thermotechnical Institute for production at Votkinsk.

Mobile Missiles and Inspection Regimes

As part of the INF Treaty and later, START I, an intrusive inspection regime was established to provide and facilitate onsite inspection of production facilities and deployments by both the US and the Soviet Union (later Russian Federation).   Given Votkinsk’s central role in producing the most difficult missiles to monitor for treaty “breakout” reasons, the US established a monitoring facility manned by Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) employees and contractors to monitor missile production via inspection of production units passing through the portal.   Perimeter inspection, via a concrete road around the perimeter of the facility, was also conducted to ensure portal inspection wasn’t being thwarted.   Indeed, inspection under the INF Treaty included passing units through a cargo inspection facility to be x-rayed to ensure that the banned SS-20 was not being hidden in the mobile launch canisters used for the SS-25.   Upon the completion of destruction of the last SS-20, that facility was decommissioned.

Where mobile missiles are concerned, a rigorous, verifiable inspection regime is a must.   It has been said that a long-term collection effort to create a sound intelligence base and target familiarity is essential for missile monitoring in peace or targeting during war1 — hard experience learned by the US following SCUD-hunting in Desert Storm.   An example of that kind of rigor is found in the Mobile ICBM provision (Article VI) of START I:

1. Deployed road-mobile launchers of ICBMs and their associated missiles shall be based only in restricted areas. A restricted area shall not exceed five square kilometers in size and shall not overlap another restricted area. No more than ten deployed road-mobile launchers of ICBMs and their associated missiles may be based or located in a restricted area. A restricted area shall not contain deployed ICBMs for road-mobile launchers of ICBMs of more than one type of ICBM.

2. Each Party shall limit the number of fixed structures for road-mobile launchers of ICBMs within each restricted area so that these structures shall not be capable of containing more road-mobile launchers of ICBMs than the number of road-mobile launchers of ICBMs specified for that restricted area.

3. Each restricted area shall be located within a deployment area. A deployment area shall not exceed 125,000 square kilometers in size and shall not overlap another deployment area. A deployment area shall contain no more than one ICBM base for road-mobile launchers of ICBMs.

4. Deployed rail-mobile launchers of ICBMs and their associated missiles shall be based only in rail garrisons. Each Party shall have no more than seven rail garrisons. No point on a portion of track located inside a rail garrison shall be more than 20 kilometers from any entrance/exit for that rail garrison. This distance shall be measured along the tracks. A rail garrison shall not overlap another rail garrison. (more)

and Article XI (Inspections):

14. Each Party shall have the right to conduct continuous monitoring activities at production facilities for ICBMs for mobile launchers of ICBMs to confirm the number of ICBMs for mobile launchers of ICBMs produced. (emphasis added)

Concern, however is growing that the above provision (continuous monitoring) may not be part of the START follow-on treaty currently being finalized between US and Russian negotiators.

Follow-on Verification?

Late in 2009 hints about a major concession on the part of the US began to emerge, both in the general press and in the arms control blogsphere.   In essence, in Nov 2008 the bush Administration presented a proposal to Russia (one year out form expiration of START) that rolled back the verification regime under START I to a more informal one that dropped monitoring while allowing verification visits to “START sites.”   The rationale behind this approach evidently lays in a change in focus — away from launchers and towards deployed warheads themselves.   It appears some form of this approach has been accepted by the Obama Administration now if the following item from a Ria Novosti from earlier this month:

Russia will submit new ballistic-missile test data in exchange for a U.S. agreement not to monitor mobile missile production. Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko and negotiators claim that while technical discrepancies remain, the document could be signed in March or April.

A White House spokesperson said Russia had agreed to provide telemetry data on new intercontinental ballistic missile tests under the new treaty, and that the START-I Treaty which expired in December 2009 included a similar clause. The United States undertakes not to monitor production of ballistic missiles at the Votkinsk Engineering Plant in the Republic of Udmurtia, Russia. U.S. inspectors were permanently based at the plant under the START-I Treaty.

So — in order to get an agreement, negotiators agreed to a Russia providing something that was already part of START I (telemetry data) while foregoing a critical means of monitoring mobile missile production?   Some will argue that 15+ years of data collection alleviates the need for maintaining the portal monitoring.   The article goes on to note that while a signing may be set for Prague sometime in the spring (ignoring the irony of linking Prague and spring) the really difficult part will be getting ratification in the US Senate.

Indeed, that nut may be a tough one to crack, but not for the necessarily obvious reasons.   Jeffery Lewis, over at ArmsControlWonk has some interesting analysis based on Senator Lugar’s comments at the Strategic Weapons in the 21st Century conference.   In essence, Lugar, who has been an important presence and force in the post-Cold War arms control world, has weighed in with his concern:

I have been a strong advocate for extending START I verification procedures. Unfortunately, a choice was made to informally act in the spirit of the treaty after its expiration on December 5, 2009, rather than to extend it by formal agreement. I am hopeful that a successor for START I will be successfully concluded in the coming months and that it will contain strong verification procedures.

Lugar, a moderate, is generally not regarded as a partisan firebrand, but the gist of his remarks had better give the Administration pause to consider its approach to ratification of a START follow-on treaty.   On the one hand, refusal to ratify the treaty (and here I note that again, we have not seen the final draft) would play into the Russian’s hands as they clearly wanted the intrusive monitoring stopped.   A post-START world absent a follow-on treaty would enable the Russians to pursue a changes to their land-mobile force without having to provide the US telemetry on new or modified missiles (e.g., the RS-24 a MIRV’d Topol-M).

On the other hand, agreeing to dropping the intrusive inspection and monitoring at the chief production facility for mobile ICBMs and SRBMs may have been the price the Administration was willing to pay to keep the Russians from arguing a quid-pro-quo between providing ballistic missile telemetry and the US providing telemetry from its missile defense tests.   This item has been particularly a complaint on Putin’s part for the better part of the past half-year.   The assertion lacks substance though when one considers the handful of GBIs that constitute the BMDS vs. even the new lower limits of 1100 launchers per side reportedly agreed to under the new format.   The only other interceptor with an counter-ICBM capability, the SM-3 Blk IIb is a paper design only and won’t see IOC until mch later in the decade.

It remains then to see (a) what the final wording of the new treaty offers and more importantly, (b) how the Administration justifies the negotiating position it took if the START I monitoring provisions are not included.   If it isn’t included, and if there are no apparent provisions that balance the lack of that monitoring (and clear delineation from the Administration why), then mustering 67 votes for ratification may well be a bridge too far.

Not like we haven’t been down that road before either…

1 Jermano, Jill L. and Springer, Susan E. Monitoring Road-Mobile Missiles Under START: Lessons From the Gulf War. Parameters 23:70-80 Spring ’93

Iran Announces New Space Launch Vehicle (SLV)


We are about one-third of the way through Iran’s annual “Ten Days of Dawn” observation which celebrates the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.  The occasion serves as a platform for Iran to boast about progress under the Islamic Republic and demonstrate military, scientific and technical prowess.  This, despite the West’s attempts to limit technology transfer in key areas, such as missile technology.

    Day 3 of the celebration is set-aside as “Space Day” and yesterday, Iran’s President Ahmedenejad had three items of note/accomplishment to announce that:

  •  Iran had launched a payload of animal specimens (a mouse, turtles and worms) into space and recovered them on a new research rocket named Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3);
  •  Three new satellites were unveiled: the Tolou (Sunrise), the Mesbah 2 (Lantern 2), and the Navid (Promising Sign) and
  • A new space launch vehicle, Simorgh-3, which will serve as the launch vehicle for those satellites.

Kavoshgar-3 ("Explorer-3")

Simorgh SLV


Of these announcements, the last is the most interesting and perhaps, troubling.  With the ability to loft 220 lbs into a 310 mile earth orbit (if it indeed works), that would move Iran into a new capability category with a nascent ICBM.  The implications for the US and allies would be the impact on the European PAA and near term planning for the global BMDS, all of which (along with the BMDR) were predicated on a slower timeline for Iran to develop an ICBM capability, 2015 or ‘mid-decade.’  Tied with Iran’s continued intransigence on the nuclear front (aided and abetted by China’s continued refusal to support a sanctions regime) this is one announcement that has little upside to it.   Russia, at least, is coming into alignment with the US:

“Mutual understanding between Russia and its international partners on additional sanctions has clearly improved,” Kosachyov said in an interview with state broadcaster Rossiya 24 today. “The situation is beginning to alarm us increasingly.”

 A successful launch will likely bring pressure to bear on the US to step up the rate of deployment and development of both the sea- and land-based elements of the European PAA, leveraging increased deployment time on units that are already HDLD in nature and turning up the burner on the SM-3 Blk IIa program.  It may also cause a reassessment of the plans for the ground-based BMD system to see if it still serves as a hedge in its current configuration as per the BMDR. 

The continued advancement of Iran’s missile programs stands in defiance of the MTCR, a voluntary consortium of 39 countries regarding the export controls on technologies central to missile development.  Of course, neither China nor North Korea are members and they are among the worst of the serial proliferators, North Korea especially so in the case of cooperative ventures with Iran.   Also neither China, North Korea or Iran are parties to the follow-on regime, the  International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.  The enablement of this unholy alliance of proliferators brings us to the Simorgh.  Below are two images, one of the boost stage of the Safir-2,  which placed a small satellite into earth orbit last year.  The second image is what is presumed to be the business end of the Simorgh’s first stage — a cluster of four liquid-propelled rockets.   

Safir 1st stage (Feb 2009)

Simorgh booster engines (Feb 2010)

 Again, clearly it seems the Iran’s indigenous program is well underway in spite of these regimes. 

 The leading question then becomes, given the historical record of cooperative effort between North Korea and Iran, how related is/will be the Simorgh to the TD-2:

TD-2 Safir comparison (2009)
TD-2 Safir Comparison (2009)

 . . . and that, as the saying goes, is the $64,000 question.

Looking Into the New Year (II) – What Does Russia Want Now?

Part I here.

29 December 2009.  In the US, the games of the season are underway, whether it be the NCAA college football bowls or the intramural finger-pointing inside the beltway over the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.  Parts of the US were buried under a new winter storm while other parts continued digging out from the last. Slipped in amongst those bits of news and other stories typical for the time of year was this missive, originating from Vladivostok:

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin said Tuesday that the main obstacle to replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, is Washington’s plan to build a missile defense system, which he said endangered the cold war-era balance of power.

“If we don’t develop a missile defense system, a danger arises for us that with an umbrella protecting our partners from offensive weapons, they will feel completely safe,” Mr. Putin told journalists during a working visit to Vladivostok. “The balance will be disrupted, and then they will do whatever they want, and aggressiveness will immediately arise both in real politics and economics.”

To preserve the balance, he said, Russia must develop new offensive weapons to counter the missile shield — or the United States must provide Russia with data on its missile defense plans in exchange for data on Russian weapons development. (NY Times, 29 Dec 2009)

To most Americans, this item registered little if any concern. To those concerned with matters of foreign policy and security planning, those few words signaled a troubling portent regarding the forthcoming sessions on negotiating a follow-on to the now expired START I Treaty (ed: The treaty expired 5 December 2009, but currently remains in force indefinitely pending agreement on a successor, since Russia and the United States failed to reach agreement on a new pact until the deadline. – SJS).  With negotiations set to resume mid-month, Putin’s comments appear to throw a wrench into expectations of progress at those talks.  How so?

Russia and the US are on very different paths insofar as their strategic systems are concerned (more so for the US, one expects, after release of the new NPR).  At present, with about 2500 deployable nuclear warheads today, Russia is carrying out a modernization program of its land- and sea-based forces, with the bulk going to sea-based forces, most notably construction of the Project 955/Dolgorukiy-class SSBN and development of the Bulava SLBM to replace the Delta III and Typhoon SSBNs.  On land, retirement of the 30 year old SS-19 is underway (current silo-based missiles were extended to a 33-year life) while a MIRVed version of the SS-27/Topol-M is believed to be ready for deployment.  Modernization of the Long Range Aviation involves upgrades to Tu-160 Blackjack’s and Tu-95ms Bear’s produced during the 1980’s.  The actual pace of modernization has been quite problematic however – the very public failures of the Bulava being the most visible.  As a result, plans have to be made to continue overhaul of the Delta IV SSBNs to enable an extension of the SS-N-18 Sineva, which the Bulava was supposed to be replacing (the Project 955 subs can only carry the Bulava).  Despite this program (or perhaps because of), Russia appears to be on a glide path to around 1500-1700 deployable warheads by 2015 (Pavel).  Under the provisions of START I all parties need to share information about new strategic offensive missiles under development.  Currently, the US only plans safety and longevity upgrades to the Minuteman ICBM and Trident SLBM, though there has been discussion of a follow-on SLBM, subject to the directives of the NPR.  Under this regime then, the Russians would be the only ones sharing information on missile development, which when viewed with a domestic lens, be construed to be a one-way condition.  Indeed, the launch of a SS-25/Topol from Kapustin Yar was the first that Russia was under no obligation to share telemetry from with the US.  One supposition then regarding Putin’s remarks might be an attempt at a quid-pro-quo where the US would be compelled to share information on its defensive missiles where Russia shares that of its offensive missiles.

While nice for domestic haymaking, that point fails on two accords — the US under the Treaty and the extension is not compelled to do so and secondly, it has already voluntarily shared much directly with Russia and Putin in particular.  In the course of a Q and A session this past October at the Atlantic Council, Lieutenant General O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, had occasion to comment on this subject directly regarding the European site, which Russia has objected to since its unveiling under the Bush Administration:

MR. KEMPE:  Questions?  Let me throw out one of my own.  Will Russia view this ICBM capability as more or less threatening to its deterrent than the nuclear deterrent than the Bush administration’s?  On the one hand, it seems – we have heard that this doesn’t have anything to do with Russia.  But on the other hand, certainly Russia has not looked at it that way.  And I am just wondering how they will view this.

GEN. O’REILLY:  I can tell you in all the deliberations I was in that wasn’t one of the issues – criteria that was used.  However, if you want a verifiable capability, as we go back to START and others, the more readily verify and transparent it is, the better the system is as far as providing confidence and assurance to the other party.  And in the case of Russia, they would look at the size of this interceptor.  They are very good at developing missiles.  They have the capability to understand that a one-ton missile with less than a 30-kilogram payload – much less than that – they can calculate the range of that missile.  And that range of that missile, even the more advanced missile that we said at the end is nowhere near the range necessary to even get close to any of their missile fields.  So on very first principles of physics, it becomes obvious. This is a capability that if you are within a range of that missile and that is what we are developing, it is highly capable to destroy missiles of all ranges.  But there is literally a zone that if you are outside that zone, we have no capability. (Atlantic Council transcript)

Additionally, Lt. Gen. O’Reilly and his predecessor as MDA Director, LtGen Obering had occasion for discussions with Russia re. the BMD system, particularly during their cooperative tour of the Gabala radar and discussions about the use of the Armavir radar as well. (NPR and 16 June 2009 Testimony to Senate Armed Services Committee).  The more one peels back the layers on the Russian protestations, the less credible it becomes.  The BMD system supporting the missiles in Alaska and California was never intended to counter Russian ICBMs.  With the planned final version of the system having somewhere between 18-25 operational GBIs, each with a single, non-nuclear kinetic interceptor per GBI, a single SS-18 could overwhelm the system with its 10 warheads supported by up to forty penetration aids.  As for the Phase Adaptive Approach for European defense, the SM-3 Blk1A and -1B has no capability against an ICBM, nor will they be positioned near Russian ICBM fields.  Additionally, should a unit be placed in Poland as part of the next phase of development (Aegis BMD Ashore), it will still employ the SM-3 Blk-1B and still have no capability against Russian ICBMs.

So what is it that Russia, or more particularly, Putin, hope to gain by this sudden intransigence?

The new treaty will contain a provision regarding the relationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms (8 July 09 Joint Understanding).  Is it instead a reflection of his (Putin’s) views that anti-Russian (nee’ -Soviet) elements are too deeply entrenched in Washington to expect to see long term changes that benefit Russia?  If so, paradoxically, then must a harder line must be taken up front to take advantage of an Administration seen to be anxious to hit the “reset” button on relations with Russia?

The answer, as is the case with most things dealing with Russia, is more complex than that.  It begins with the complicated relationship between what appears to be a hard-line Putin who steps into the public discourse when a more conciliatory Medvedev approaches points that are difficult to reconcile.  Fold in the reaction to expansion of NATO (and by extension, the US in particular) into former WTO members, US bases in former Soviet Republics and statements from legislators, analysts and policy makers, about Russia’s demographic decline (GPO for Library of Congress; counterveiling view here) or the ‘natural decline‘ of Russia’s strategic forces.  There may be an additional dynamic at work here – namely an early signal of an intent to step away from the INF Treaty.

The INF Treaty eliminated an entire category of missiles (ranged 500-5500 km) – between the US and Russia.  Unfortunately, it does not apply nor hold say over China, North Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan or other nations and as such, the just passed decade saw an aggressive expansion of MR/IRBM development and proliferation.  It is, indeed, a growth industry.  Russia would very much like to get in on the action, but because of the INF Treaty, can only offer up its Iskandar SRBM while the likes of China can shop the likes of the CSS-6 Mod 2 (550+ km) and CSS-5 (1100+ km), Iran the Shahab 3 (800 – 1200+ km) and North Korea the No Dong (800 km).  Russia’s reputation for rocket design and rugged, mobile systems would be a major force to be reckoned with in the international sales front, MTCR limits notwithstanding.

For now, the real import of Putin’s remarks probably won’t be fully evident until the talks resume in mid-January.  Hopefully, the above has provided some context to view that setting and the discussions that follow.

Next – Iran: Nuclearization or Implosion in 2010?

The Missiles of Winter (I): International Conventions

09broad190If news reports coming from South Korea and echoed through the West are to be believed, North Korea is moving towards another attempt at launching a Taepo Dong – 2 IR/ICBM, ostensibly as a space launch vehicle (SLV).  This would be the third such attempt, with previous attempts in July 2006 and Sept 1998 ending in failure. (Note that the 1998 launch was with what is now considered to be a shorter range variant identified as a Taepo Dong -1).  Most of this is speculation, albeit likely informed speculation based on the gleanings of what few bits of information have fallen through the cracks in the intel world’s wall.  Such speculation – and the concern raised by the DPRK’s typical silence or disinformation campaign, would be alleviated were the DPRK to hew to the collection of five conventions governing the access to and use of outer space and celestial bodies, as acceded to or  ratified by major space-faring nations including the US, Russia, Europe, Japan, China, Indonesia, India and Israel.  Notable by their absence as well is the most recent member of the group of states able to place an object on orbit, Iran.  Given their respective histories of collaboration and lack of transparency to the outside world for their missile and WMD programs, one supposes this should not be surprising.  Unfortunately, it generates needless tension and promotes an atmosphere conducive to misinterpretation and over-reaction where it need not be present.

This need not be the case were the DPRK and Iran to accede to the Outer Space Treaty and the other international conventions regarding space access and use.  The five treaties and agreements constituting this convention on space use include:

These five treaties have established a series of legal precedence whose purpose, similar to those governing the Antarctic continent and the seas, seek to establish a set of rules and principles of behavior for the use of the commons of outer space by all nations and peoples. Specifically, they provide for non-appropriation of outer space by any one country, arms control (e.g., agreement not to place nuclear or other WMD on orbit or on celestial bodies like the Moon), the freedom of exploration, liability for damage caused by space objects, the safety and rescue of spacecraft and astronauts, the prevention of harmful interference with space activities and the environment, the notification and registration of space activities, scientific investigation and the exploitation of natural resources in outer space and the settlement of disputes.
Of particular concern and interest in the current case is that principle of “notification and registration of space activities” as established by the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.  Under that convention, member states are requested to place information on what they are placing into orbit in a public repository.  To date, the US, for example, has over 2005 objects listed – sample documents are here (including the first Vanguard satellite still on orbit) and here (includes Apollo 13) – the searchable database is available here .
All of this serves a couple of purposes.  One, with the information obtained, is to serve to hopefully de-conflict orbits and ensure there are no unintended collisions with subsequent consequence management efforts to mitigate debris. (Alas, as Low Earth Orbit is increasingly populated with active and inactive satellites and “launch debris” (the latter of which could consist of anything from retaining bolts to entire, defunct upper stages) the likelihood of “inadvertent encounters” like the recent one between an inactive Soviet-era store-and-dump COMSAT and an active satellite that was part of the Iridium-constellation, will probably grow more common.)  Another is to bring a measure of transparency into space launch operations thereby ensuring SLV launches are not mistaken for a hostile IR/ICBM launch as in many cases, the SLV may be derivative of the latter.  One will notice while reviewing the documents linked above that the purpose of the vehicle is generalized enough that concerns over inadvertent compromise of classified missions may be mitigated.
While these conventions do not necessarily preclude irresponsible behavior (cf: PRC 2007 ASAT test), for the most part they have provided a beneficial condominium for operations by space-faring nations.  Unfortunately, neither Iran nor DPRK are parties to any of the above and as such, inject uncertainty and concern with their operations, nascent as they maybe.  Where tensions are already high, as is the periodic case on the Korean peninsula, the opportunities for miscalculation are rife.  Consider – during the July 2006 launch attempt, the DPRK also fired a number of short- and medium range missiles within a few minutes of the launch of the TD-2.  Claiming the TD-2 was an SLV launch vice a test of an ICBM in that context, underscores the provocative nature of the evolution, generating mistrust and enforcing concern – leading to heightened states of alert for subsequent evolutions, like the one presumably in the offering. If these two states, generally considered to be poster-children for the prototypical “rogue state” wish improved engagement on the world stage, one step in the right direction would be accession and adherence to these five conventions.  Certainly it would be welcomed as one small step in the direction of normalization of relations each claims to seek.

Next: International counter-proliferation regimes

Tuesday’s Roll-up of Missile/Nuclear News

Reverberations continue this week over the Chinese ASAT test and allegations of Iranian and North Korean cooperative development of nukes and long range missiles; meanwhile Iran continues to rattle the cage with announcement of another Shahab-3 test and a “new” sub-surface ship killer missile; India announces its intent to establish a dedicated aerospace defense command (don’t call it an Indian NORAD though since they aren’t partnering w/China or Pakistan…); Russia continues to push back hard against deploying ground-based elements of the US’ ballistic missile defense system (BMDS). Lots of stuff to cover – we’ll hit the first two today and follow with the rest tomorrow:< ?xml:namespace prefix = o />

a. ASAT Fallout. The magnitude of the debris issue (as first pointed out in these posts here and here) continues to grow. To bring the esoteric into a framework readily understood, the Center for Space Standards and Innovation has developed a hi-res video here (quicktime variant sans music is also available on the site). What it truly illustrates is (1) the crossing danger to the ISS and other platforms, manned or not, in an equatorial orbit and (later) a sense of the size of the debris field in relation to all the other objects currently on orbit. Arms Control Wonk also has an aptly titled article re. same subject. If you want to roll up your sleeves and get into the mechanics of kinetic kill ASATs, check out this paper .

b. Iran, North Korea; missiles and nukes. A target rich environment, as the saying goes. Towards the end of last weeks’ round of wargames/missile tests, the Iranians tested another Shahab-3 (last test was part of the Noble Prophet round in Nov ’06). A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry indicated this was the final test before handing the missile over to the army for operations. The Shahab has been in development since 1998 and reputedly it or a variant forms the core of a Taepo Dong-like satellite launcher announced by the Iranians last week. According to the article in this week’s Aviation Week & Space Technology (subscription may be required) the payload would be a 44-lb satellite that would be not much more than a radio transmitter – about what Sputnik was. The launcher would most likely consist of a liquid-fueled 1st (Shahab-3 or -3 derived) and 2nd stage (Scud B) and an indigenously developed solid fuel third stage, likely using a Chinese design, possibly with strap-on solid fuel boosters for the first stage. Launch would likely be on a southerly heading from central Iran (site of most of the long-range testing) out over the Indian Ocean. On the ballistic missile front, one of the implications of a successful satellite launch would be further development to loft heavier payloads (and the implications that has for development/deployment of nuclear warheads) and increased complexities for Israel’s Arrow ABM because of the increased speed and steeper angle of re-entry of the warhead. This in turn, would drive Israel to look at either improving its Arrow system or acquiring a US system like THAAD which is oriented to intercepting higher-speed targets in the terminal phase. (ed: Of course the real irony here lies in the criminalization of private ownership of satellite dishes by the great unwashed public whilst the powers-that-be announce their intention to orbit a satellite…)

Over on the nuke front, speculation continues over just what form or line of development an Iranian nuke program might be taking. Essentially, there are two types of devices that can serve as either a weapon in their own right, or as a trigger for a boosted device or thermonuclear device – implosion or gun. The gun design essentially smashes two masses together to cause a critical mass and nuclear detonation. This was used in the “Little Man” bomb dropped on Hiroshima. While simple(r) in design than an implosion device, it still is nonetheless a complex beast, has a smaller yield and drives other design issues that make it less than favorable for the linear acceleration g’s experienced in missile launches. The implosion device, where you have a physics package or “pit” made of a sphere of plutonium or highly enriched uranium, is more amenable to tighter packaging though getting the conventional explosion just right for implosion can be a trick. Also the material used, HeU or Pu will drive the size of the pit and complexity of calculations for explosion. This is why even a failed test (like the North Koreans had in Oct 07) will still provide useful data. See Paul Kerry’s blog for more on this idea. More about nuke weapons design at the Nuclear Weapons archive – scroll down the page and look under “Reference” for comparisons of the two devices mentioned above. Where the nuclear cooperation would come into play would be any lessons learned the North Koreans would pass along to the Iranians (for the right price) from their October test as alleged in an article in the Telegraph . Whether the meetings that the article states began in November of ’05 really took place is a point of dispute with denials by several high-ranking officials of the story’s validity. Secretary of State Rice has gone on the record as saying the report wasn’t based on anything she has seen. Given the cooperation seen in the development of the Iranian missile program, supported by North Korea (and China, and Pakistan and other proliferators…) one is hard pressed to be so dismissive about similar undertakings in the nuclear world, a condition that is aggravated by Iran’s lack of transparency in their nuclear program.

One other, and lesser heralded, event from last week’s round of tests was the demonstration of a surface ship firing a rocket-propelled torpedo at another distant surface target. While boasting (again) of indigenous design, it most likely is an export version of the Russian VA-111 Shkvall (“Squall”) and mirrors an ealier demonstration last spring.