April 02, 2016
Suddenly, in Russia....
The Russians now appear set to perhaps double the number of nuclear warheads that they have deployed. This seems unpossible U.S and R.F warhead totals are limited to 1550 each by a treaty which has all the binding power of....
It gets worse. While the State Department disputes this, the article is reporting that...
Officials said that in addition to adding warheads to the new missiles, Russian officials have sought to prevent U.S. weapons inspectors from checking warheads as part of the 2010 treaty.
Russia also enjoys a strong civil defense system and some years ago constructed 5000 blast/fallout shelters around Moscow alone. They've recently begun an inventory and inspection of them, you know, just because.
Puchkov said on August 14 that his ministry has its "fixed attention" on making sure Russia's bomb shelters are "ready to use for their intended purposes."
Russia is also increasing its ties to China which, likewise, is greatly increasing its warhead numbers, and MIRVing its missiles.
While all that's going on, the U.S. is going in rather the opposite direction.
March 26, 2016
Hey! They Got The Scale Right! The Dumpy Despot of the DPRK has released a new propaganda video, which exhibits his typical subtle and nuanced approach to foreign relations.
Interestingly, the size of the blast and mushroom cloud are not wild exaggerations, but rather, given its size in comparison to the Lincoln Memorial, it's about what one would expect from a 10 to 15 kiloton blast. Given the quality of the video's FX, especially that business around the 24 second mark, this level of verisimilitude is...surprising.
Sadly, they missed an opportunity, given that if they'd set the detonation for this weekend, they'd have been able to show apocalyptic cherry blossoms flying everywhere. Of course they probably don't appreciate that.
March 20, 2016
Meanwhile, In, Over and Underneath the DPRK In the course of discussing the recent photo-op involving Kim Jong Un and a nuclear warhead mock-up, Jeffery Lewis makes the following observation...
One of the big questions about North Korea’s nuclear program is whether or not North Korea can design a reentry vehicle that will protect the warhead during its journey from launch to target. The KN-08 missiles that North Korea paraded in 2012 and 2013 were almost certainly mock-ups. Although the quality of the mock-ups improved between parades, the nosecones were particularly unconvincing. North Korea has now shown a reentry body that looks like early US and Soviet ones. The reentry body still hasn’t been tested, but this is the first credible reentry vehicle design that North Korea has displayed.
Well, that last sentence may need to be amended now ...
Now that the doughy despot has announced further missile and warhead tests (at least one of which appears imminent), there is some speculation that one of the upcoming tests might be a combined affair. That is, there is concern that the North Koreans might launch an ICBM with a live warhead on it against a test range in the DPRK resulting in an above ground nuclear test.
Such a test would crank the violation of international propriety up to 11 and would, no doubt, result in very harshly worded letter written by the most august of calligraphers and transcribed onto gold leafed bond paper. However, it would give the Norks a rock solid credibility to their small deterrent. Even in the days when the U.S. was conducting over 900 above ground nuclear tests, America only conducted one such test. There were some small antiaircraft missile tests, a single shot fired from a cannon and a handful of ballistic missile tests where the target point was almost directly overhead, but only one long range ballistic missile fired with a live nuclear warhead.. That was shot Frigate Bird of Operation Dominic which involved firing a Polaris missile from a submerged submarine at the ever hapless Johnston Island. Interestingly, the Chinese only conducted one such test as well. Thus one can assume that such a test would be rather challenging.
It's unclear how much of this concern is based in actual intel rather than prattle, but given that North Korea's missile program has a checkered history, such an endeavor has the potential for truly spectacular bedlam.
March 13, 2016
A Few ISIS Links ISIS has had some reversals in Iraq recently but it is still a large and formidable entity in that region with considerable potential. At the very least, it is adding to the dreadful suffering of the area and is continuing to accelerate the phenomenon of more middle aged Muslim men trekking into Europe.
This paper, by the Institute for The Study of War notes that there is the real possibility of an alliance and merger between iSIS and another Islamic terror group, the Jabhat Al Nursa. This is an Al-Quaeda group and as such has a different focus from ISIS. They, being Al-Quaeda, have tended to focus on highly trained operatives who act like special forces, doing precision strikes on one hand but also organizing local partisans. ISIS by contrast has its unconventional wing but is, in many ways a much more conventional military force. The two groups have been at odds, but Jabhat Al Nursa now seems to be seeking some common ground with ISIS. One of J.A.N's group specific, goals is to establish an Emirate run by its leaders. This has been a long term goal in conjunction with A-lQuaeda's eventual Caliphate, but ISIS, one will note has an operational caliphate right now. Note that there are considerable strategic and eschatological differences between the two groups. However, if the two groups combine their efforts to any great extent it will be a major boon to ISIS, since Jabhat Al Nursa has, while no formally claimed territory, a considerable area of operations and influence in the area and a set of capabilities that complement ISIS nicely. Their organization also is quite focused on the precise sort of terror operations and terror cell logistics that ISIS is trying to develop in Europe to take advantage of the vast numbers of disaffected military aged men they are sending there. It should be remembered, that ISIS was initially an Al-Quaeda affiliate with much the same position in that organisation as the Al Nursa Front has today.
Further afield, as International Business Times notes. ISIS has been quite active in Libya. Their operations there are, in fact considerably more than a flags and footprints mission. This map (also by The Institute For the Study of War) shows that pretty much the entire coastline of Libya east of Tripoli has been attacked at one point or another during ISIS's recent offensive.
There is more on this here. Note that the actual areas under ISIS control, are very close to Italy and Malta and, as per the map above, the Caliphate has already made its presence in the area felt at sea with some very small scale maritime attacks. Raids on Italy are certainly a possibility, but are, while scary, not a strategic threat at this time. The real danger here beyond the ISIS access to the oil fields is that they use this staging area for smuggling in weapons and leadership cadres for a more sustained campaign of terror. The muslim areas of the Balkans are not much farther and a more troubling destination long term. While ships from ISIS controlled ports would be easy to stop, it should be remembered that ISIS has contacts with others, that, while in no way aligned with them, are perfectly willing to sell them expertise in how to,with limited infrastructure take measures to complicate the targeting problem.
Note too that the Balkans are much closer to Libya than the U.S. is to Columbia.
That bears watching.
February 17, 2016
Compare and Contrast We mentioned yesterday that it looks like the Chinese may be putting their nuclear force on hair-trigger alert.
According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Beijing is considering a small but scary change to the way it stores its nuclear weapons. China may be reversing its decades-old nuclear policy and putting its nuclear weapons on permanent high alert. This would make China's nuclear deterrent more credible, but also heighten the possibility of accidental nuclear war.The full report from the Union of Concerned Scientists is here. As is typical for them their suggestions all involve the U.S. coming off of a strike on warning status. Of course they also think that GMO foods should be banned so take their suggestions with a grain of (iodized) salt.
What is clear, is that China is engaged in a massive modernization of its nuclear forces. Little in the way of specifics is available, but this excerpt of a report from last year gives a good idea of what's in the works. Note that we have NO arms control treaties with China and no joint inspection agreements unlike those we have with Russia, so there is a LOT of room for surprises, particularly on numbers of warheads.
Meanwhile in the U.S.A. It is unclear if this is the hope or the change, but it does seem consequential whichever it might be.
Even before the 10-warhead mega-missile retired, plans were hatched for the Air Force to retrofit MX-like accuracy into remaining land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, called ICBMs.But that never happened. Somewhat amazingly, nearly nobody's noticed.
The Minuteman 3 is about 50 percent less accurate than the less old Peacekeeper missiles which were retired some years ago. The minuteman originally compensated for this by having a 1.2 MEGATON warhead. This was, later supplemented by other missiles with 3 smaller warheads, first the W-62, then the W-78. All the Minuteman missiles with the single Big warhead were retired some years ago and when the Peacekeeper missiles were retired, their mid yield warheads (the fairly modern and much safer W-87) were transferred to the much older Minuteman missiles.
However. The Minuteman missiles were reduced from 3 warheads to 1 each so that they now have about a third the yield of the original Minuteman 1 (and obviously a third the yield they had before the "upgrade"). More significantly, they were supposed to be retrofitted with the much more accurate guidance package of the Peacekeeper missile to compensate for this. However, the Obama administration nixed this along wth several other upgrades to the nuclear arsenal. Thus the ability of these smaller and fewer warheads to deal decisively with a large nation's military is significantly reduced. This is because that while nuclear warheads are very powerful, they still require precise placement to take out a hardened bunker or missile silo, this is especially true with the much fewer and smaller warheads currently deployed.
It gets worse:
Ironically, Carter and the nation's commander in chief, President Obama, may be unaware that the U.S. arsenal cannot actually accomplish what's enshrined in the nuclear-contingency blueprints they've approved, according to defense sources. The promise of greater accuracy for the land-based missiles reportedly helped lay the groundwork for reductions in the 2011 New START agreement between Washington and Moscow, and many have assumed the precision now exists.
It's conceivable, strangely enough, that the Kremlin has already taken stock of the U.S. targeting deficiency. Considerable data about the capabilities of U.S. Air Force and Navy ballistic missiles can be found in open sources and online.
I suspect that neither the word "Ironically", nor the phrase "strangely enough" is being used properly in that quote.
Note that one of the many hurdles to rectifying this is fears of civil service job security.
But the ICBM program headquarters at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, also stands to lose jobs and clout if the advanced accuracy technology is adopted. Repair personnel based at Hill keep busy maintaining the old Minuteman 3 mechanical guidance units, which break down once every three years on average.
By contrast, solid state uses fewer moving parts and can run for 20 years between breakdowns, according to Air Force Research Laboratory data.
Oh...what EVER would we do with a reliable deterrent that didn't break down every three years? Perhaps not reducing our 400 single warhead missiles to...less at any given time.
Of course, it is possible that the old '60s era guidance system is less prone to EMP and hacking and doesn't use the GPS satellites that would be knocked out swiftly in any nuclear attack, so perhaps commercial off the shelf upgrades are not actually the panacea that the article suggests. The blue-screen of ATOMIC death should be limited to Cherenkov radiation on a CCTV.
An extensive overview of hypothesized scenarios and effects involved in a China-U.S. Nuclear exchange can be found here. Note that this study is from a few years ago and does not take into recent Chinese developments and assumes that the U.S. actually upgraded the Minuteman guidance to render it effective against hardened targets.
The calculus in these matters for a totalitarian dictatorship or oligarchy is vastly different than a representative republic. The possibility that a large nation which places a low value on human life might think that they can "take the hit" and deal a death blow to an adversary should not be ignored, especially since the vastly reduced numbers of active nukes in the world mean that a nuclear war today would not be a global extinction event. This, ironically could increase the possibility of these terrible weapons use. As such our deterrent should be as robust and credible as possible.
UPDATE: And in other nuclear news...
UPDATE: And in other nuclear news...
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