All posts in “North Korea”

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.

Continue Reading…

Concerning Missile Defense, Deterrence and North Korea

1_28_nk450Writing in today’s Japan Times Online, columnist Michael Richardson raises several, hoary arguments as to the possible effectiveness of missile defense vs. massive retaliation as a form of deterrence vis-à-vis the DPRK’s l’enfant terrible and the latest brewing crisis on the Korean peninsula.  We say “hoary” because true to the definition, the arguments are the same tired arguments dragged out of the closet by those opposed to missile defense.  Our purpose here is to provide the facts that refute those arguments inform the debate at the same time.

1.  “… neither the interceptors in silos in Alaska and California, nor the THAAD batteries, have been tested in combat. Nor have the 32 standard missile interceptors aboard 18 U.S. Navy Aegis ballistic missile defense warships.”

Of course the missiles listed have not been “combat-tested” – and neither have the Minutemen missiles in their midwestern silos, yet we don’t hear of anyone discounting their deterrent capability because not a single one has been fired under real, operational conditions from those silos.  Yet there is a long and well-documented test record that would support a strong degree of confidence that the missiles will successfully launch guide and reach their targets when called upon.  Periodically, a missile is selected at random, pulled from the silo and the nuclear warhead removed and replaced by telemetry one that is identical to the war shot, save the physics package.  It is then transported to Vandenberg and launched, using a crew randomly drawn from the field for the test. This is the surety phase of testing a mature system, like the Minuteman.
In the developmental phase, where all three of the systems above are located (some, like the SM-3 further along than others like the THAAD), one builds a program of increasingly complex conditions and objectives.  At first, you just test the airframe – will it launch and stage as designed?  Then you step it up and add a kill vehicle and repeat.  Then a target is added – a simple one at first.  Does the kill vehicle separate from the booster, locate and guide on the target, ultimately intercepting it?  Are the mechanics sufficient to execute a kill as predicted?  Complexity is added – decoys, more targets in flight, and shots near the edge of engage-ability rather than in the heart of the envelope.  Along the way previously determined knowledge points are either met or not.  If not, the deficiencies are addressed, corrections made and re-tests conducted.  Eventually you end up testing in as nearly an operationally real environment as possible under the auspices of OSD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.  In fact, one of the systems identified above, Aegis BMD has passed DOT&E testing.   THAAD has been tested against multiple targets and the GBI tests have taken place in a geographical context that mimics a shot into Alaska and will be tested in a more roust fashion on a larger range against a complex target.

2.  “In the last two years, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, which is responsible for testing and integrating the ballistic missile shield, has reported eight significant flight test delays, four target failures out of 18 target launches, and one interceptor failure in flight.”

Nice cherry picking.  Here’s the full story, available to everyone, warts and all, at

Using the author’s “last two years” we will go from March 2007-March 2009 (latest fact sheet on MDA’s site):

  • SM-3:
    • 26-Apr-07 FTM-11 Event 4 (successful)
    • 22-Jun-07 FTM-12 (successful)
    • 31-Aug-07 FTM-11a (successful)
    • 6-Nov-07 FTM-13* (dual intercept – both successful)
    • 17-Dec-07 JFTM-1 (successful)
    • 1-Nov-08 Pacific Blitz (One target was intercepted, another was missed; all interceptors were version Block I missiles that had exceeded their service; no Block I’s are operationally deployed)
    • 19-Nov-08 JFTM-2 (failed – interceptor flew normally until final seconds; cause not yet determined)
  • SM-2 Blk4:
    • 5-Jun-08 FTM-14
    • 26-Mar-09 Stellar Daggers
    • Sea-based tally 2007-2009: 9 of 11 successful since Mar 07 (17 of 21 since the program began in 2002)
  • Ground-Based Mid-Course Defense (GBI’s)
    • 25-May-07 FTG-03 (FTG-03 was a “no test” because the target malfunctioned after launch and interceptor was not launched)
    • 28-Sep-07 FTG-03a (successful)
    • 5-Dec-08 FTG-05 (successful)
    • GBI tally 2007-2009: 2 of 2 or 2 of 3 successful (depending on how one counts a failed target) – since the program began in 1999: 8 of 13 including 3 of 3 using operationally configured interceptors.
  • THAAD:
    • 5-Apr-07 FTT-07 (successful)
    • 27-Oct-07 FTT-08 (successful)
    • 25-Jun-08 FTT-09 (successful)
    • 17-Sep-08 FTT-10 (No-test – target malfunctioned after launch)
    • 17-Mar-09 FTT-10A (successful)
    • THAAD tally 2007-2009: 4 for 4 successful (5 for 5 if you count FTT-06 in Jan 07 which was successful).  Since the current test program began in 2006 – 6 of 6 successful with 2 “no tests” because of target failures.

So let’s look at those numbers again – March 2007 to March 2009, dates of Mr. Richardson’s picking: 15 of 18 tests that ended in a successful intercept where the target was destroyed.  Paints a little different picture, eh?

A word about targets is necessary.  The threat range for the variety of interceptors to be tested against range from SRBMs to intercontinental – 300 km to over 7000km.  Unlike using old aircraft for drones, which typically are plentiful and generally reliable even in the late stages of life, target missiles for testing are usually former US battlefield missiles, like the Lance, specially constructed and instrumented targets that nearly mimic the threat (because after all, as cash-strapped as Kim is, North Korea isn’t likely to sell us a TD-2 to use as a target vehicle – and with more than 180 successful flights since 1993, ours have been a bit more successful…) and occasionally, actual threat missiles like the widely proliferated SCUD.  Unlike, say the QF-4 drone, some ballistic missile targets are restricted by international treaty, specifically the INF treaty signed by the US and Russia which prohibits construction of ground-based ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 1000km and less than 5500km.  Specifically, Article VI, which states

1. Upon entry into force of this Treaty and thereafter, neither Party shall:
(a) produce or flight-test any intermediate-range missiles or produce any stages of such missiles or any launchers of such missiles; or
(b) produce, flight-test or launch any shorter-range missiles or produce any stages of such missiles or any launchers of such missiles.
2. Notwithstanding paragraph 1 of this Article, each Party shall have the right to produce a type of GLBM not limited by this Treaty which uses a stage which is outwardly similar to, but not interchangeable with, a stage of an existing type of intermediate-range GLBM having more than one stage, providing that that Party does not produce any other stage which is outwardly similar to, but not interchangeable with, any other stage of an existing type of intermediate-range GLBM.

So – in a nutshell those are just some of the challenges faced in just building the target missile, much less surrogate warheads and decoys.

3. “It is also far from certain whether U.S. rockets designed to shoot down longer-range missiles can distinguish between decoys and the real things.”

GBI tests were successful against countermeasures of increasing complexity in tests conducted from 1999-2002 (IFT-3, IFT-6, IFT-7, IFT-8, IFT-9) and as the BMDS matures, testing will continue to push the limits of system performance in modeling and simulation and increasingly complex flight tests – implementing a crawl, walk, run approach to testing.  For more see the latest publication listing all missile defense programs currently extant below:
2009 Missile Defense Agency Programs

4.  “By the end of 2009, there are scheduled to be a total of 864 interceptors in the U.S.-led missile shield. However, the U.S. military calculates that there has been an increase of more than 1,200 additional ballistic missiles in the past five years, bringing the total outside the U.S., NATO, Russia and China to over 5,900. Short-range missiles (150-799 km) make up 93 percent of this total while medium-range missiles (800-2,399 km) comprise six percent.”

OK – on this we can agree.  Ballistic missiles have been a growth industry since the end of the Cold War.  And at present, the greatest threat is to our deployed forces and the homelands of our friends, allies and partners in many regions across the globe, but especially in the Middle and Far East. In fact, here is the latest NASIC publication on the foreign missile threat:

Foreign Ballistic Missile Capabilities

So – yes, our interceptor numbers lag the threat but the FY2010 budget significantly ramps up SM-3 and THAAD production (almost doubling original procurement numbers) and as most any air/missile defense planner will tell you, active defenses are but one of three legs of missile defense — the other two being passive defense (like dispersal, deception, and hardening) and offensive operations (e.g., disruption of C2 circuits by cyber attack, SCUD-busting, etc.).

5.  “Ultimately, the only deterrent likely to prevent Pyongyang using missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction is the knowledge that the counter-strike from the U.S. and its Asian allies would annihilate the North Korean regime.”

I’ve always found it curious that the most ardent opponents to missile defense are blind to the conundrum they construct by the all-or-nothing approach of relying on massive retaliation as a deterrent.  Missile defense is but one piece in a larger program of deterrence aimed at a broad range of threats.  The lack of missile defense plays into the hands of those who would employ the concept of minimal deterrence and gain an upper hand in escalation dominance.  Consider the above again – suppose North Korea in some final Götterdämmerung-esque lashing out launches the handful of WMD armed missiles it could have in the near future at South Korea, Japan and say, Hawaii or even LA.  Please explain how it is in someway better that we have no means to intercept those missiles and instead turn the North into a smoking, radiating ruin after thirty minutes – with all the tragedy of consequence management from both strikes?  And suppose it is just a single launch against LA, or San Diego if the LA-ites among us are feeling a bit paranoid, do South Korea and Japan attempt to dissuade the US from either a massive or even “proportional” nuclear response because of those self-same fears of long-term effects of fallout in the region?  Surely China would have something to say about that too.

It seems to make sense to have all the tools necessary to handle the wide range of threats across the spectrum and missile defense – credible, effective theater, regional and global ballistic missile defenses are just such an effective tool in a range of options to be employed to prevent or when necessary, win war…

Preventing war is preferable to fighting wars . . . Maritime ballistic missile defense will enhance deterrence by providing an umbrella of protection to forward-deployed forces and friends and allies, while contributing to the larger architecture planned for defense of the United States.

– A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, October 2007

“When all else fails—when all the negotiations have broken down, when there is a missile in the air—you have to have the ability to destroy it, because the only other ability that you would have would be to apologize to those that have died.”

– Lieutenant General Henry ‘Trey’ Obering, USAF (retired)

080508-N-1038M-081Missile Defense Testcobradaneift101

North Korea: Here We Go Again – Part II

09broad190As if the 29 April statement from the DPRK Foreign Ministry wasn’t provocative enough, comes the latest missive dated 29 May (full statement here):

As long as the UNSC fails to respond to the DPRK’s just demand, the DPRK will not recognize any resolution and decision of the UNSC in the future, too.

Third, if the UNSC will make further provocative actions, this will inevitably lead to the DPRK’s approach towards adopting stronger self-defensive counter-measures.

The end of the Cold War worldwide works only between big powers, but a Cold War still persists on the Korean Peninsula.

The UNSC-crafted UN Command itself is a signatory to the Korean Armistice Agreement.

Any hostile act by the UNSC immediately means the abrogation of the Armistice Agreement.

The world will soon find out how the army and people of the DPRK will stand up against the high-handed and get-it-alone approach of the UNSC in defending its dignity and sovereignty.

The U.S. is keen on using a catchphrase “Carrot and stick.”

It would be better for the “Donkey” of the U.S. Democratic Party to lick the carrot.

Well.  What next Alphonse?

Some have said another strong statement from the UNSC would do the trick and if the Russians or Chinese don’t join in it won’t matter – though in light of the above we are hard-pressed to see how this would work.  Others argue that it’s time to effect kinetic solutions on the DPRK homeland, to which we respond – ‘done a count of tube artillery in the hills outside of Seoul recently?’  Clearly those two COAs represent the extremes of the range of operations (assuming ‘do nothing’ isn’t an option).  Reflecting some of the rising frustration on this issue, a commenter on another site remarked –“I hear a lot of frustration from pretty much everyone I talk to about this. But what does anyone actually think we should do?“  Actually – there is a good bit we can do short of direct, kinetic effects.  A couple, for example might be:

1. Step up rigorous enforcement of the Proliferation Security Initiative. Every nK flagged vessel is suspect of carrying materials for their ballistic missile and/or nuke program and hence gets stopped, wherever they are, and searched. Any problems with manifests, logs, etc. and the ship is impounded and the crew interred or sent back to nK, minus the ship.

2. Crack down on the backdoor hard currency exchanges that only serve to keep the leadership elite in power and do nothing to aid the people. We started doing this back in ‘06-07 and it hurt them so much they agreed to come back to the 6-party talks. Do it again and this time keep the pressure up.

And work on regional confidence building measures with our allies in Australia (yes, Australia – look at yesterday’s chart and plot out a southerly trajectory to 4,000 nm/7500 km, roughly the same distance to Hawaii and you are in the heart of Australia), South Korea and Japan.  Things like strengthening theater and regional defenses to include missile defense, for example.

Because every carrot needs a stick.

This Date in Naval Aviation History: 15 Apr 1969 – Deep Sea 129


The weak can be rash. The powerful must be restrained.– Secretary of State William Rogers, April 1969


For most of these past several weeks, international attention has been focused on the activities taking place near a peninsula on the north-east coast of Korea.   There, despite protests and warnings from around the world, the North Koreans attempted to duplicate the success of another pariah state, Iran, and place a satellite in orbit atop a missile that also had ICBM capability.   That effort failed in its stated intent, with the payload finding a watery grave in the broad ocean area of the Pacific, but the fact that the North Koreans defiantly carried out their intent should not have come as a surprise to international community. Indeed, roughly 100 nm east-north-east of the launch site is the site, unmarked, of another North Korean action undertaken in contravention of international norms.   That spot is the terminus of Deep Sea 129’s final flight, now forty years ago this April 15th (Korea time, April 14th US).
slide13Deep Sea 129 was a Navy EC-121 Warning Star operated by VQ-1.   With a crew of 31 (8 officers and 23 enlisted), the flight launched from NAS Atsugi, Japan on what was known as a BEGGAR SHADOW mission to collect ELINT information off the Soviet port of Vladivostok.   The big four-engined aircraft was originally designed and built as a land-based AEW follow-on to Project CADILLAC II’s PB-1W’s with a capability to haul a significantly larger and more powerful radar aloft, remain onstation much longer and carry a larger crew to support the expanded mission and endurance.   All of those characteristics made it an ideal platform to modified for the PARPRO mission.   PARPRO, the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance PROgram, covered the variety of airborne missions flown by US Army, Navy and Air Force crews near what was termed “denied territory” which constituted hostile nations such as the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea among others.   These missions gathered information on radar and other electronic equipment (signals intelligence or SIGINT), communications such as those found at regional or sector air defense centers (communications intelligence or COMINT), photography of critical facilities or geographic features (PHOTOINT which later became imagery intelligence or IMINT) or a combination of COMINT and SIGNINT – ELINT.   The program began shortly after WWII when it became apparent the Soviet Union had designs on expanding its reach in to western Europe, the Mediterranean and Far East.   As an Iron Curtain was reigned down on the Soviet perimeter, the need for intelligence collection grew on the capabilities of Soviet forces.   With the acquisition of the atomic bomb by the Soviets in 1949, the urgency of that requirement grew.   Surprises, like the appearance of   the MiG-15 jet fighter and China’s ground incursion during the Korean War underscored the importance of intelligence collection and the need for expanded coverage from the air and sea.
Most of the PARPRO missions were flown in international airspace – electronic signals don’t obey national borders, but some were flown immediately adjacent to and at times, across those same borders.   Sometimes, the effort was safely completed, all too frequently it wasn’t.   And sometimes, despite the fact the aircraft, or ships (viz. USS Liberty) were operating in international airspace or waters and clearly marked with US colors, they were still attacked.   Some survived and were rescued or captured and disappeared into the Gulag – many never came back.   That was Deep Sea 129’s lot.
There were no indications of possible hostile intent on the North Korean’s part when the WV-2 launched on the morning of the 15th, despite the capture of the USS Pueblo a bit over a year ago.   Setting course for the operating area, a point off Musu Point where it would set up 120nm orbits focused on Vladivostok.   Besides the Navy airmen onboard, there were 9 Naval Security Group cryptologists and Russian and Korean linguists onboard, including a Marine.   The mission was under strict orders not to approach the Korean coast any closer than 50 nm and the two hundred-some odd flights in the past three months by USN and USAF aircraft on the BEGGAR SHADOW track had given no foreshadowing of possible action by the Koreans – but then, neither had there been for the Pueblo.
PARPRO missions, since the Gary Powers shootdown over Russia required monitoring and tracking by ground-based sites to serve as both a means of flight following and to provide warning if danger approached.   That day, radar sites in Japan and Korea monitored Deep Sea 129’s mission, and the USAF 6918th Security Squadron at Hakata Air Station, Japan, and Detachment 1, 6922nd Security Wing at Osan Air Base monitored the North Korean reaction by intercepting its air defense search radar transmissions. Additionally, the Army Security Agency communications interception station at Osan listened to North Korean air defense radio traffic, and the Naval Security Group at Kamiseya, which provided the seven of the nine CTs aboard Deep Sea 129, also intercepted Soviet Air Force search radars.   Still, there was no airborne escort and it would take several minutes, long agonizing minutes, for interceptors to be airborne and reach the Warning Star’s OPAREA should it come under attack.   But with nothing showing on the boards that would lead commanders to think otherwise, no alerts were moved up or placed airborne.
It is an axiom of aviation that a problem in the developing stages tends to be slow and stealthy, but in the final stage it reaches completion in a rush.   Thus an incipient icing condition builds slowly, steadily stealing lift until an aviator finds himself in an impossible coffin corner of airspeed, maneuverability and altitude with fatal results.   So too did the final hour of Deep Sea 129’s mission progress.
At 1234 local, radar and listening posts reported the launch of suspected MiG’s in North Korea.   Alerted, the larger monitoring network pricked it’s electronic ears and eyes to attempt and see and hear more. Deep Sea 129 completing a 1300L €œops normal € report to parent squadron VQ-1 and twenty-two minutes later the MiG’s were lost, not being re-acquired until 1337L.   Alerted, VQ-1 passed a €œCondition 3 € report to the Warning Star indicating a possible intercept might be in progress.   LCDR Overstreet, plane an mission commander for the flight, acknowledged the report and instituted abort procedures to terminate the mission.   At 1337L the radar tracks of the MiG’s and Deep Sea 129 merged with radar and radio contact with the EC-121 and its crew lost two minutes later.
No CAP was launched and while a rescue effort was launched later that day, and eventually expanded to include over 20 aircraft, no debris was sighted until the following morning – which just happened to have been recovered by two Soviet destroyers in the area.   When US ships arrived on the scene that evening, the USS Henry W. Tucker (DD 875) recovered a piece of the aircraft, riddled with shrapnel.   The bodies of LTJG Joseph R. Ribar and AT1 Richard E. Sweeney were also recovered, the only ones thus so.     The Soviet ships turned over what wreckage they had recovered to the US ships who then returned to Japan.
North Korea not only acknowledged the shoot down, they loudly and boastfully celebrated their action.   President Nixon suspended PARPRO flights in the Sea of Japan for three days and then allowed them to resume, only with escorts.   No reparations were ever paid to the US or the families of the lost airmen.
And Kim Il-Sung celebrated another birthday (April 15th).
The crew of Deep Sea 129:
LCDR James H. Overstreet,
LT John N. Dzema,
LT Dennis B. Gleason,
LT Peter P. Perrottey,
LT John H. Singer,
LT Robert F. Taylor,
LTJG Joseph R. Ribar,
LTJG Robert J. Sykora,
LTJG Norman E. Wilkerson,
ADRC Marshall H. McNamara,
CTC Frederick A. Randall,
CTC Richard E. Smith,
AT1 Richard E. Sweeney,
AT1 James Leroy Roach,
CT1 John H. Potts,
ADR1 Ballard F. Conners,
AT1 Stephen C. Chartier,
AT1 Bernie J. Colgin,
ADR2 Louis F. Balderman,
ATR2 Dennis J. Horrigan,
ATN2 Richard H. Kincaid,
ATR2 Timothy H. McNeil,
CT2 Stephen J. Tesmer,
ATN3 David M. Willis,
CT3 Philip D. Sundby,
AMS3 Richard T. Prindle,
CT3 John A. Miller,
AEC LaVerne A. Greiner,
ATN3 Gene K. Graham,
CT3 Gary R. DuCharme,
SSGT Hugh M. Lynch,(US Marine Corps).

The Missiles of Winter – Part II: Rampant Proliferation

Previous: The Missiles of Winter (I): International Conventions


March 1985.  In the high desert, west of Tehran, an element of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Air Force (IRGC AF) is going about their business in the early morning darkness.  The object of their attention is a SCUD-B SRBM fixed to a MAZ-543P transporter-erector launcher, both brought over from Libya in the preceding few months.  Following intense training by Libyan and Syrian instructors, the IRGC airmen are loading the caustic liquid propellant and oxidizer into the missile, preparatory to opening a new phase in a war that has already lasted nearly five years.

Raised to its firing position, the missile hesitates for a moment, and then in a crescendo of fire and thunder, arcs heavenward on its journey to the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.  In the span of a few short months – four to be exact, Iran has made the transition from a state which could only impotently rage against the indiscriminate missile and rocket attacks launched by Iraq, to one that could now fire back.  That such capability came via secret deals and agreements made between the pariah governments of Iran, Syria and Libya bespoke volumes of the rapid expansion and proliferation of ballistic missiles and associated technology in the coming decades.  This state of conditions came to exist despite the best attempts of a cohort of nations to thwart said proliferation.

Like many things associated with modern ballistic missiles, the proliferation of missiles and technology can be traced back to German efforts prior to and during World War Two.  Virtually ignored at home, the works of pioneering rocket scientist Robert Goddard were closely studied and expanded upon by a group of scientists and engineers in Nazi Germany under Werner von Braun, with almost a straight line being drawn from Goddard’s frail demonstrator to the first vehicle to touch the outer edges of the atmosphere in its destructive journey, the V-2 rocket.  After the war, the first major proliferation event may be said to have occurred when US and Soviet forces rounded up people, missiles and equipment to ship back to their respective territories and forming the core of their ballistic missile programs.  The extent of this effort was subsequently revealed in the ICBM and space exploration programs of each nation, beginning with the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 and culminating in the American moon landing in 1969, while in the background the legions of land- and later, sea-based missiles of all ranges grew exponentially until the first arms limitation treaty, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks treaty (or SALT) was signed in May 1972 (in actuality there were two documents signed – the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement on strategic offensive arms).

Important as the SALT I accords were, they barely scratched the surface in the variety and numbers of ballistic missiles being rapidly developed and deployed, especially on the part of the Soviet Union.  While the West relied on large, well developed and qualitatively superior air forces, the Soviet Union pressed with a wide range of missiles – from unguided battlefield rockets to a particularly lethal and controversial mobile IRBM, the RT-21M Pioneer (NATO: SS-20 SABRE).  While the RT-21M would garner the glare of publicity, center stage in the brewing nuclear missiles controversy in Europe, it was another missile, the SS-1 SCUD that would have implications that would echo down the corridors of decades to come.

So, here is where the plot thickens.  The SS-1 SCUD was the first successful Russian-origin design that ended up being built and widely deployed, both by the (former) Soviet Union and its alliance partners and proxies around the world, with some 7,000-plus alone thought to be of Soviet origin.  In the early 1970’s, Egypt became the first Middle Eastern country to obtain the Scud-B variant and proceeded to use a small number in the 1973 war with Israel. The early 70’s saw the Soviets busily exporting the SS-1 to other countries as well -Syria in 1974 as part of a $2B arms package, and Libya in particular.  These states were key because of the role they would subsequently play.  North Korea gained a small number of SCUD-B’s from Egypt, around 1979 or 1980 and immediately began to reverse-engineer them.  By 1984, the program had progressed to where a small series of tests were conducted on the Hwasong 5 prototype (essentially an ingenuously produced SCUD-A).  During this time frame, a visit in October 1983 by then-Iranian Prime Minister Husayn Musavi and Defense Minister Colonel Mohammad Salimi to P’yongyang presaged future cooperation between the two countries in ballistic missile development.

In the meantime, Iran was also working on an agreement with Libya that was concluded around November 1984 for the purchase of missiles and transporters.  By March 1985, the Iranians were trained via the services of Libyan and Syrian instructors and opened the first “War of the Cities” with the strike against Kirkuk.  One of the fall-outs of this action was that the Soviet Union, which had given strict instructions to the Libyans about not selling their missiles to another state, cut off further supplies.  Losing this source of supply pointed the Iranians back east and into a cooperative venture with the North Koreans for supply of missiles and assistance in establishing an indigenous production capability.  Of more immediacy though, was the supply of large numbers of North Korean-built missiles that Iran employed in the second “War of the Cities” which ran for almost 2 months in 1988.  At the same time, Egypt was providing significant assistance and support to the Iraqi’s in their indigenous production and development.  Of particularly grave concern to other nations in the region as well as the superpowers was the prospect of WMD warheads being fitted and employed with these weapons.  Iraq had already shown little temerity in employing chemical weapons and Iran was known to be working on development of a chemical weapons and the North Koreans aided in the design of a warhead.

But it wasn’t just the Egyptians, Koreans, Syrians or Libyans who were busy proliferating.  China jumped in with sales of the M-9 and M-11 ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia and, in a move that directly affected stability on the Asian subcontinent, to the Pakistanis as well.  It was clear as the 1980’s progressed and the US and Soviet Union were wrestling over arms control measures aimed at limiting intermediate-range nuclear weapons, that something would have to be done to stem the tide of tactical- and medium-range ballistic missiles whose numbers were spreading like a contagion in the most unstable areas of the world.

From that concern arose the Missile Technology Control Regime – MTCR, which sought to limit transfer of technology, weapons, parts and manufacturing tools.  The success, or failure of this regime will be measured in the next installment.


Next: Proliferation Control – Or Not…

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

Monday’s Roll-up of Nuclear & Missile News

  • North Korea to shutdown nuclear plant by July 2007.  Russia’s Interfax news agency is reporting this AM that North korea will be shutting down and sealing up its controversial nuclear plant by July.  This is the plant  that serves as North Korea’s main nuclear reactor and source for weapons grade plutonium.  The development comes on the heels of the announcement over the weekend that IAEA reps will be invited to watch the shutdown and later to re-visit the site once the reactor is sealed.  The move comes following the release last week of the funds blocked in Macau for almost two years due to suspicions of links to illicit activity by the North.  US nuclear envoy, Chris Hill, in a separate statement is confirming progress this morning as well.
    Continue Reading…

India Joins Arms Sanctions on Iran and North Korea

Quite a backlog of geopolitical news to sort through while YHS was gone this week including a ton on Russia, missile defense, INF and more. Here is a quick one re. India and support for arms sanctions vs. Iran and North Korea…(from New Dehli Zee News Television, 19 Apr)

India has prohibited trade in all arms and related products with Iran and North Korea in compliance with the UN Security Council’s resolution to stop import and export of items which may contribute to strengthening of their nuclear programmes.

The ban, notified in the annual supplement of the Foreign Trade Policy today [19 Apr], comes ahead of the May one visit of North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hyong Jun for three-days to discuss strengthening of bilateral relations.

The government has prohibited direct and indirect export and import of materials, goods and technology which could contribute North Korea’s nuclear-related, ballistic missile related or other weapons of mass destruction related programmes.

It has also prohibited direct or indirect export and import of all items, materials, goods and technology which could contribute to Iran’s enrichment related, reprocessing or heavy water related activities or to development of its nuclear weapons delivery systems.

The meeting between North Korean minister and his Indian counterpart would be the first high level contact between the two countries since the latter conducted nuclear tests last October. The last foreign office consultations were held in Pyongyang in June 2005.

North Korean nuclear issue may also come up for discussion during the meeting in the backdrop of the atomic tests conducted by the communist country on October 9, 2006.

Tuesday’s Roll-up of Missile News and Notes

Missile and other news and notes from around the ‘sphere:

MANPADs vs Helos

Lots of concern/interest in countering the MANPAD (MAN Portable Air Defense) missiles in the wake of increased helo loses these past couple of weeks. While the CH-46 loss that has gained so much coverage appears to have been mechanical in nature (Update: DoD confirmed on 14 Feb that the CH-46 was in fact, shot down and did not crash due to mechanical failure), open press reporting speculates others have succumbed to a variety of weapons up to and including MANPADs. Most likely what we are seeing are newer missile variants starting to appear in theater. Small arms and RPG fire, while potentially lethal in certain restricted confines, are less likely to be the source in a more open scenario, and doubly so when considering armored attack helos like the Apache.

Older missiles used a proximity fuze for detonation in the vicinity of the target aircraft, a reflection of the relatively lower degree of sophistication and discrimination capabilities (clutter rejection, counter-counter measures, etc.) OTOH, newer missiles use discrimination features that not only are contact fuzed, but seek to impart the most damage in the most vulnerable areas – to the point they can discern between single/multi-engine aircraft and helos and target the vulnerable areas accordingly. The warheads themselves are increasingly complex and lethal, such as sending a dense stream of high-speed projectiles into the target and having secondary fuzing to detonate any fuel cloud resulting from the initial hit.

Yeah, pretty nasty stuff, and all the more reason to hold helo folks who are working/flying down in the weeds in greater esteem.

What would be the insurgent’s CONOPS in stepping up the campaign against helos? Couple of points – recall the morale boost it gave the Afghans to have something they could effectively employ against the Soviet’s Hind helos (aka “Devil’s Chariot”). It forced the Soviets to change their operating procedures and flight heights. A similar effect in the ongoing battle for Baghdad and other urban areas would force (in the insurgent’s eyes) the US to operate its helos in a more circumspective manner and thereby give back the urban roof top environs to the insurgents. Of course that is a pretty simplistic CONOPS and ignores other variables such as persistent ISR from UAVs operating above MANPAD ceilings, deployment of more effective countermeasures and changes in tactics and employment. Bottom-line – while we haven’t seen the last of these losses, my money is still on our helos and their crews prevailing.

Oh, and for reference, the defenses being currently explored for civilian airliner defense are only up to base-Stinger level – technology that is 20+years old…

North Korean Nuclear Agreement?

The United States and four other nations reached a tentative agreement to provide North Korea with roughly $400 million in fuel oil and aid, in return for the North’s starting to disable its nuclear facilities and allowing nuclear inspectors back into the country, according to American officials who have reviewed the proposed text. While the accord sets a 60-day deadline for North Korea to accomplish those first steps toward disarmament, it leaves until an undefined moment in the future — and to another negotiation — the actual removal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the fuel that it has manufactured to produce them. Bush administration officials said they believed that the other nations participating in the talks … would consent to the tentative agreement as soon as Tuesday. … In essence, if the North agrees to the deal, a country that only four months ago conducted its first nuclear test will have traded away its ability to produce new nuclear fuel in return for immediate energy and other aid. It would still hold on to, for now, an arsenal that American intelligence officials believe contains more than a half-dozen nuclear weapons or the fuel that is their essential ingredient. The accord also leaves unaddressed the fate of a second and still-unacknowledged nuclear weapons program that the United States accused North Korea of buying from the Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan in the late 1990s … Negotiations had appeared near collapse on Sunday over North Korea’s demands for huge shipments of fuel oil and electricity. … (source: New York Times, February 13, 2007)

No More Chinese ASAT Tests?

In the wake of the firestorm of protest over last month’s test comes this item:

China’s National Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan says there won’t be a repeat of the Jan. 11 anti-satellite weapon test that scattered more than 900 trackable pieces of debris across the most heavily used satellite orbits in space. (ed: that number continues to grow – some now say over 1140 pieces) Fukushiro Nukaga, the former Japanese minister of state for defense, told reporters in Tokyo that during a meeting in Beijing Cao also repeated past Chinese denials that the test was a hostile act. … (source: Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, February 13, 2007) (ed: Also have to wonder how much internal, um, recalibration has been applied to the armed forces in what appears to have been a test carried out without fully informing senior civilian leadership…)

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.