Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Russian missile-test salvo

On Saturday I posted that Russia plans to conduct five more ICBM launches this year. The first of these announced tests was conducted on Monday. A RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) missile was successfully launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan and its simulated warhead has reached the Kura testing site on the Kamchatka peninsula. The RS-18 missiles are in operation since 29 years. Due to the successful test their service life will be extend by two years. Two previous tests launches were conducted on November 9, 2006 and October 20, 2005.

Russia began manufacturing the silo-based RS-18 missiles in the 1970s. Each missile carries six 550-kiloton warheads and has a launch-weight of 105 tons. As usual, the numbers on how many missiles of this type are in service are varying, they range from 160 over 123 to over 100.

A small follow-up occurred on the next day: Russia tested on October 30 an interceptor missile of its Moscow missile defense system. The purpose of this launch was also to test the performance characteristics and extend the service life of the interceptor. It was already the 43rd launch of this type of missile.

The next short-range missile tests are already scheduled. The NTI Newswire reports:

Russia announced Thursday that it plans to flight-test two Tochka ballistic missiles between Nov. 13 and 17 from a site in southern Russia, RIA Novosti reported (see GSN, Oct. 18).

Also called the SS-21 Scarab, the short-range, single-warhead missile can be fired from a mobile launcher to hit targets within 45 miles. Russia has maintained the weapon in its arsenal since 1976, but it ultimately is to be replaced by the multiple-warhead Iskander-M missile.

“The missile units will conduct missile firing practices (at the Kapustin Yar testing site in the Astrakhan Region) and will test launch two Tochka tactical missiles,” said Col. Igor Konashenkov.The Russian Ground Forces successfully tested 12 Tochka missiles in 2007, Konashenkov said, noting that the November launches would be carried out by a Siberian missile brigade.

©RIA Novosti

Russia's "grandiose" modernization plans

Again some cross-blogging: Jeff from Nukes of Hazard posted yesterday an article on Russia's "grandiose" modernization plans. He highlights the importance of reading the news carefully: missiles are not warheads!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I know what you did last Friday...

The U.S military conducted its fourth successful Ground Based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) test in a row (for a factual summary of the earlier tests see the Missile Defense Agency’s website). As Reuters reports, the test conducted late Friday evening was designed to show how the radar, launcher, fire control equipment and procedures of the system worked together, as well as the interceptor detecting and destroying the target using only the force of the collision.

During this test the target missile was intercepted outside the Earth's atmosphere. The THAAD system is designed to defend troops, population centers and critical facilities against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles. These missiles can be destroyed during late mid-course or final stage flight, flying at high altitudes within and even outside the atmosphere. With this capability, THAAD is able to protect a significant wider area than the Patriot missile defense systems could. The THAAD missile has a range of 200km and can intercept in altitudes of up to 150km - the equivalent Patriot figures are 70 and 24+ km, respectively. For more facts on the THAAD system take a look at this site.

The Pentagon Channel had also a brief clip on the test.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

GMD test

The last interceptor test of the US Ground-based Midcourse Defense occurred on September 28. Even though this was already one month ago, I discovered today The Pentagon Channel. They have clip on the missile test which I think is worth sharing. It shows a Pentagon Briefing with Missile Defense Agency director Lieutenant General Henry Obering.

Those of you, who are looking only for a brief summary, might want to read this factual note.

The video contains some information I have not found elsewhere, neither in the official press release nor in analyzes like one by Vinod Kumar at IDSA. One of them is that for the first time Russian observers attended such a test. Efforts to reduce tensions and disperse the concerns of Russians side but as rhetoric of the last weeks show, it is still a long way to go. Furthermore General Obering mentioned that the next test will be the first in which the target missile will be equipped with counter-measures like decoys. Finally. He also spoke of “volume kill”: future interceptors might have more than one kill-vehicle. They are intended to increase the chance that not only a decoy is intercepted while the warhead continues its path.

The next test will be conducted at earliest in February 2008.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Russian sabre-rattling

The head of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov told a news conference yesterday that Russia will conduct five launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles by the end of 2007. The launches will include a RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto), a RS-12M (SS-25 Sickle), a missile interceptor and a heavy RS-20 (SS-18 Satan). During the course of the year Russia has already conducted seven missile tests, the latest test launch occurred on October 18.

On the same day Solovstov warned that Moscow could restart at short notice production of short- and medium-range missiles:

“If a political decision is taken on creating such a class of missiles, obviously Russia will build them quickly. We have everything needed to do this.”

This is just another warning sign directed towards the United States that is related to the row over the missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. Just yesterday President Putin made a comparison between the U.S. missile shield and the Cuban Missile crisis.
However, the threats to restart the production of short- and medium-range missiles will not cause major concerns or fears on the other side of the Atlantic, because it is obvious that it is only a fight with words. Russia is not in a position to jumpstart its missile production. As UPI reported earlier this year:

Redevelopment and redeployment of intermediate-range missiles for use against NATO also presents several logistical problems. Russia's primary ballistic missile assembly plant at Votkinsk is only capable of a historical peak production capacity of approximately 80 missiles per year.

Since the actual rate of production has been closer to the minimum rate -- 12-15 per year for more than a decade -- Votkinsk's optimal production capacity is likely to have fallen closer to 30 missiles per year as unused production lines have been shut down.

Like in several earlier occasions the statement made by Colonel General Solovstov has not to be seen as a credible threat, but rather as some sabre-rattling and a call for attention. Russia does not want to be ignored and side-lined.

Photo: © RIA Novosti

Thursday, October 25, 2007

European bases of the U.S. Missile Defense

President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that a planned missile shield in Europe is vital to protect against an "emerging Iranian threat". He described the threat as real and urgent: "Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them." According to U.S. intelligence estimates Iran could be capable of striking European countries with IBCMs before 2015. Therefore the aim is to have both missile defense sites ready for limited operation by 2011 and fully operational by 2013.

However, the people that President Bush wants to protect perceive the situation differently. It almost seems that they do not want to be “protected”, at least not in the proposed way. A poll that was conducted earlier this year in Germany hints that 48 percent of Germans believe that the United States is a bigger threat to world security than Iran and 72 percent are against missile defense. Only 31 percent perceive Iran as the bigger threat.

The online journal WMDInsights had a special report on the perceptions in European countries on the missile defense system. Some findings for the two potential host countries are:

According to a survey conducted in Poland in early February [2007], 55 percent of the Polish people oppose the deployment while only 28 percent support it. A subsequent poll by the CBOS agency, a leading Polish public opinion research organization, confirmed this opposition, with 56 percent responding negatively to a question on their views regarding hosting U.S. BMD interceptors. The most recent poll, published on March 19, 2007, found that 51 percent of the respondents definitely oppose the base and 28 percent would prefer not to host it. Only 30 percent support the proposed deployment of the BMD interceptors, with a mere 8 percent “definitely” backing it.
The opposition is even more obvious in the Czech Republic:

In the Czech Republic, concern about the possibility of losing a referendum on the U.S. radar base led the government parties in mid-March to vote in the Czech legislature against holding a ballot on the BMD issue. An early March poll by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) found that 61 percent of the respondents opposed the proposed U.S. BMD radar base and 73 percent wanted the government to hold a referendum on the issue. Another early March survey conducted by the STEM agency, a second respected Czech polling firm, found that 70 percent of Czech respondents objected to the radar.
Naturally, also here the saying “Do not trust any statistics you have not faked yourself” applies. A poll that was conducted by the U.S. Opinion Research Corporation and sponsored by the non-profit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA) comes to completely different results:

While 58 percent of Pole respondents in a recent poll supported the BMD plan, in the neighboring Czech Republic, 51 percent of the poll's respondents said they were against it.
A small annotation: the mission statement of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance starts off with: “The Mission of MDAA is to help make the world safer by encouraging the development of missile defense which would protect against all types of missiles during all times.” A slight bias towards a certain direction might be given. Any poll contains a certain error probability but it comes to a surprise to see an increase of 30 percent even when one takes into consideration that the polls mentioned in WMDInsights were conducted in February and March and the one mentioned by the MDAA in September. The developments in the recent months in the countries’ national politics do not indicate that such a major change has taken place. The recent Polish elections have brought to an end the Kaczynski-government that was a staunch supporter of the missile defense system. Donald Tusk, the politician expected to become the next Polish prime minister after elections this week, is said to have taken a tougher stand than the outgoing government on talks with the United States about a missile site. The parliamentary elections can also to a certain degree be seen as a poll on the question of missile defense. It remains to be seen in how far the new Polish government will take a different approach to the issue and how this will impact the overall negotiations.

Like it was the case with its northern neighbor, also the government of the Czech Republic in the recent time firmly favored hosting a U.S. missile defense site but a senior Czech official said on Tuesday that Prague believes it will take longer to negotiate a deal than U.S. officials had hoped. He also mentioned that his government takes little stock in public opinion polls that show a majority of Czechs oppose having a U.S. missile defense site on their territory. However, with a new Polish government in place that does not equally firmly support the missile system the Czech Republic might feel singled out and the comment about the need for more time could be seen as a first cautious hint for a weakening governmental support.

Against this background the U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced yesterday that the United States might delay activating its planned East European missile defense sites until Iran took some concrete action, such as testing its own missiles. Such a condition appears to be very vague because also throughout 2006 and 2007 Iran has continued with the development and testing of its missile systems. Therefore the only question is “when” the next missile test will occur and not “if” it will occur at all. In so far the delay of which Secretary Gates spoke was probably not a way to soothe Russian concerns over the system but rather a way of acknowledging that original time-table of finalizing the deals with the two potential host countries by the end of the year is off the table.

The cartoon was taken from: The Economist, A few interceptors, a big gap

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Russia scraps more Topol ICBMs

Russia has announced that it has dismantled another nine of its Topol mobile missile systems under the START I agreement. Earlier this year – in March, May and August – already 27 Topol systems were scrapped. This brings down Russia’s arsenal of this type of ICBM to 207 from 243 in January 2007. The pace of dismantling increased in comparison to 2006, where only 16 mobile Topol ICBMs were dismantled under monitoring by U.S. inspectors.

© Капустин Яр

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Russia test-launches Topol ICBM

Russia conducted on October 18 a test launch of its RS-12M Topol intercontinental ballistic missile, NATO codename SS-25 Sickle, from the Plesetsk Space Center. The Topol is a three-stage missile fired from a mobile launcher and is similar in size to the US Minuteman ICBM. It can carry a single 550kt nuclear warhead. 80 Topol missiles have been launched from the Plesetsk Space Center so far; 50 of those have been combat training launches.

The missile headed from the space center in the northwestern part of Russia, roughly 800 km northward of Moscow, toward the Kura impact range in the Kamchatka Peninsula where it hit its test target. A space center source told Interfax: "The launch has been carried out under a program for extending the service life of this type of missiles. Based upon its results, the service life of Topol missiles at the [Russian Strategic Rocket Forces] may be extended to 21 years". Other sources report on a possible extension of up to 23 years. The missile was first deployed in 1988 and had an original service life of 10 years.

The missile will be progressively retired over the next years and is being replaced by a mobile version of the Topol-M (SS-27) missile, which can carry up to six nuclear warheads.

© Первый канал, archive

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bahrain prepares against Patriot attacks

Defense Industry Daily announced that Bahrain receives the AN/TPS-59(V)3B ballistic missile defense radar system. The sale was initiated in May 2004 when a US$43.6 million contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin. The system is designed to operate with Patriot or Hawk missile batteries.

On a not too serious note: Bahrain is in dire need of such a missile defense radar. Hopefully the system will not only operate with Patriot batteries but also protect the Kingdom from those missiles: earlier this week a Patriot missile was accidentally fired from a US military base in Qatar. Luckily no one was hurt during this incident; the missile only ploughed some nearby farmland. With its range of over 80 km Bahrain is well in the range of the Patriot missiles deployed in Qatar. But not all hope is lost: Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged that “[t]hose things are not supposed to accidentally discharge" and that "[i]t was not supposed to happen". Hooray! So neither Bahrain nor Qatar were exposed to a deliberate attack. The old Russian proverb, which is attributed to Lenin, applies also here: доверяй, но поверяй (trust, but verify).

The Patriot missile that was accidentally launched. (c) Al Jazeera

Friday, October 19, 2007

Iron Dome

Israel is making progress on the lowest level of its four-tiered anti-missile system. This tier is dubbed Iron Dome. The other elements of the system for countering ballistic threats are on the second level David’s Sling on which I reported earlier and Patriot missile batteries. The air force is currently considering upgrading the batteries to the newer PAC-3 model. Israel has a number of U.S.-supplied Patriot PAC-3 left over from the 2003 Iraq war. Levels three and four will be made up by Arrow and Arrow 2 systems, respectively.

According to the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak the country will be able to defend itself against 90 percent of missiles fired against it once all four layers are in place which is expected to happen within a few years. However, none of the systems will be able to stop mortar shells as they are too small and their flight time too short to be intercepted.

The establishment of the first tier, the Iron Dome system, was approved at the beginning of 2007. The costs of this system stand at NIS 1.5 billion (US$375 million), over the course of approximately three years, to be used for development and initial armament to protect Israel's south and north. The interceptor system and the rockets, which will cost US$35-50,000, are being developed by the governmental firm RAFAEL. Notwithstanding that the project was approved less than one year ago, Barak already announced on Wednesday that the Iron Dome is near its completion and if all goes well, in two and a half years first trials can be conducted. He also deems the system to be very lucrative for export where he anticipates international interest in the system. "It will be a first-class export item because use of missiles will be more and more widespread. I think there will be more and more countries that will want to procure such a system," he said.

This system not only raises proliferation concerns, it is has a retarding impact on the peace process in the region. Israel fears that short-range missiles might not only be fired from the Gaza strip but also from the West Bank. In consequence Barak stated that he considers the installment of a missile defense system as a precondition for the withdrawal from the West Bank and its handover to the Palestinians.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Philip Coyle on Proposed Missile Defense Cuts

Jeff at Nukes of Hazard has a great article on the proposed budget cuts to the missile defense sites in Eastern Europe and the Airborne Laser program. Check it out here.

Plans to export BrahMos

India’s Defence Minister A K Antony left for a four-day trip to Moscow. This trip is expected to reinvigorate defence cooperation between both countries - close to 70 percent of India's inventory is directly or indirectly related to Russia. During the meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoliy Serdyukov, discussions will be held on the BrahMos cruise missile.

The BrahMos is a supersonic anti-ship and land attack missile, which can be launched from submarines, ships, aircrafts and land-based Mobile Autonomous Launchers. It has a range of 300 km and can attain a speed of Mach 2.8, which makes it about three times faster than the subsonic U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile and the Pakistani Babur missile, which was deployed in 2005 and reaches a speed of 880 km/h. While BrahMos’ speed and versatility are definitely noteworthy, its true technical prowess still remains to be seen. As it is the case with almost every Russian military product that enters the market, comments were made that it is superior to U.S. products. As always, these comments have to be taken with a grain of salt.

So far India is the only country to have this missile in the arsenals. It tested the missile successfully already in 2004 and deployed a sea-based version in 2006. The land-attack version was put into service in July this year. Air and submarine-launched versions of BrahMos are also in the pipeline for the Indian armed forces. During the visit of Defense Minister Antony to Russia, India is hoping to prepare the ground for Russia to acquire the BrahMos missiles. Even though the missile was jointly developed, Russia has no legal obligations to induce it. However, this would be highly welcomed by the Indian side and seen as a gesture that would strengthen the defense cooperation between the two countries. Furthermore, if not only India, but also Russia, a major military power and arms exporter, had the BrahMos in its arsenal, the trust into this weapon system would increase significantly and so would the chances for exporting it.

Especially India has been keen to jumpstart the process of exporting BrahMos for some time. The global cruise missile market estimated to be worth around $10 billion in the coming decade, but there has been opposition from some quarters in Russia. In January this year Russia clarified that it was not opposed to selling BrahMos to some "specific third countries". As Stratfor reports, Dr A. Sivathanu Pillai, chief executive officer of BrahMos Aerospace Private Ltd., emphasized in an Oct. 4 interview Malaysia's candidacy to be the first export customer, though he insisted on the use of official channels in setting up the deal. Malaysia has well established arms trade connections with Russia from which it bought already four missile systems. Against this background Malaysia is more likely to buy the missile, if Russia were stressing its contribution to the BrahMos joint venture by acquiring the missile itself.
Malaysia already fields Harpoon, Exocet, Otomat, and Sea Eagle anti-ship cruise missiles. The speed of all these missiles is high subsonic. Being one of the nations bordering the busiest shipping lane in the world - the Strait of Malacca – the modern supersonic BrahMos will significantly increase the stand of the country.

Dangers exist, that this might cause the other countries that neighbor the Strait of Malacca or in the region in general also to upgrade their arsenals. Indonesia, for example, possesses Harpoon and Exocet anti-ship missiles. These systems were already fielded in the 1970’s. They are not only aging, but also have a significantly shorter range and a lower speed than the BrahMos missile. The Exocet missile reaches only up to 70 km and the Harpoon between 120 and 240 km, depending on the type. Especially if one takes into consideration the vast length of the Indonesian coastline, which is over 80,000 km, a significantly greater range and higher speed of a new anti-ship missile could contribute to the Indonesian decision to buy this weapon. The same is true for Thailand, which has besides Harpoon and Exocet missiles the Chinese origin FL-1/-2 and YJ-1/-2 missiles, which have the same speed and range shortcomings as the former missiles.

Talks had also been held so far with Chile, South Africa, Kuwait and UAE in this regard. Overall, BrahMos Aerospace hopes to be able to sell around 1,000 missiles. As The Times of India notes, this will be a big step forward for India, which has so far imported cutting-edge military technology rather than exporting it. This step is certainly big in the sense that it constitutes a major shift in the country's status from being a missile importer to being a missle exporting nation. However, this step is definitely no big event in other terms: the proliferation of anti-ship missile technology will continue. The next steps are already laid out. The Daily India reports about future plans for a hypersonic version of the Brahmos cruise missile:

[These talks] are also expected to take place as efforts are on to make the transition from planning stage to implementation stage. The plan is awaiting a nod from the Indian and the Russian governments. The hypersonic missiles would approximately move five times faster than the present cruise missile, sources in the DRDO said.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

David's Sling

Two days ago Haaretz TV featured a clip on the introduction of David's Sling (known in Israel as Kela David):

(Sorry, it is really annoying that the video starts automatically, but I could not find the command in the iframe source code to turn this off)

David's sling is a co-production between the Israel's RAFAEL (Armaments Development Authority) and the U.S. military contractor Raytheon. In May this year it was announced that the United States would provide $45 million for this project. The system is expected to be ready for operational testing within two years and operational within four years.

The available information about the purpose of this missile are contradictory. The Haaretz clip states that this new missile is designed to intercept Katyusha rockets. Another source reports that the system's purpose is to defend against Fajr missiles. According to this source, a defense against the shorter range Katyusha rockets is not provided. A third source mentions that David's Sling is being developed as a response against missiles with a range of 40-250 km, namely Syrian-made 220mm and 302mm Katyushas and Iranian-made Zilzal missiles.

Let's take a look at the range of these rockets:

(c) BBC News, Hezbollah's rocket force

David's Sling is designed to intercept its targets in the terminal phase of their flight paths. If we take the 40-250 km range of rockets that are seen as potential targets for David's Sling, the system could not take down the first generation of Katyushas, BM-21, which have a range of 20 km. In contrast to that the BM-27 and the Fajr-3, also dubbed as third-generation Katyusha, have a range of 40 and 45 km, respectively, which makes them potential targets. Both Fajr-3 and Zelzal-2 fall also within the operational range of David's Sling.

However, this system still gives Israel no protection against the short-range Kassams which range up to 10 km. During the year 2006 alone, more than 1000 of these rockets were launched against Israel. To counter them, Israel is seperately developing Iron Dome, a system which utilizes a kinetic interceptor to knock down Kassams.

Friday, October 12, 2007

going critical

This is the first entry of the new Missile Monitor blog. This blog will cover recent news, developments and analyses in the field of proliferation and technology of missiles and the latest news in the debate on missile shields. Enjoy.