Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Iran’s new Ashoura missile – a new piece of magic?

On Tuesday Iran once again claimed to have a new superior weapon system. This time it is the Ashoura missile. The name refers to the day of the holy mourning ceremony marking the martyrdom of Shiite Imam Hossein.

Iran claims that the Ashoura missile matches the range of the Shahab-3, which has previously been viewed as the country’s longest range missile. However, the Iranian Defense Minister, Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, did not say how the two missiles differ from each other.

According to Reuters, Mark Fitzpatrick, a weapons expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the Ashoura was probably a longer range version of the Shahab-3 and said, since 2005, there had been evidence Iran was working on a new model. "I think it's a pretty strong likelihood that Iran has received technology that has extended the range of their missiles, and maybe the development of a whole new missile with a longer range," he said.

Western intelligence sources, as reported by Jane’s, consider the Ashoura to be a new, indigenously developed two-stage ballistic missile. Its body is identical to that of the Shahab-3, and therefore the Ashoura could utilize the Shahab launchers and infrastructure. In contrast to the liquid-fueled Shahab-type missiles, however, the Ashoura is solid-fueled which gives it a major time advantage.

Some weapons Iran says are home-made are based on equipment supplied by China and North Korea or modifications of U.S. arms bought before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Western experts say. Jane’s reports further that the situation with the Ashoura is different: it bears no resemblance to any of the DPRK’s missiles.

Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh boasts that now Iran does not only threaten Israel, but European capitals and Moscow as well. France also expressed concerns:“This news is a cause of concern for us, and it illustrates the need to be extremely vigilant with regard to Iran's actions and intentions,” said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani. Others are not fully convinced by the threat level: "Iran likes to make declarations on its new rockets that are invisible, make no detectable sounds and cannot be detected by any means. They have done it many times. Tehran is giving a magnificent gift to the Americans who are using them to justify the deployment of their missile defense system in Europe," Alexander Khramchikhin, head of the analytical department in the Russian Political and Military Analysis Institute told the Interfax News Agency.

The introduction of the Ashoura missile adds additional confusion to questions about the Iranian missile arsenal: the Shahab-3 was initially assumed to have a range of 2,000 km, some even expect it to range as far as 2,500 km. Yet during an Iranian military parade in September this year it was said to have only a 1,300-kilometer range. AFP reports, that at the same parade, Iran unveiled the Ghadr-1 (Power), which was said to have a range of 1,800 kilometers. AFP continues:

Some Western military experts claimed that the Ghadr-1 was no more than a Shahab-3 under a different name. It has the "baby bottle" style nose for extra aerodynamic efficiency seen on versions of the Shahab-3. […]

[Minister of Defense] Najjar added to the confusion on Tuesday by saying Iran was developing Ghadr missiles that would also have a range of 2,000 kilometres.

The NTI Newswire reports on conflicting information and comes up with different figures: Military officials first said the Shahab-3 missile had a 1,800-kilometer range, but it was said to have only a 1,300-kilometer range when it shown off at the parade in September.

Stratfor has a very handy map showing the range of the Shahab-3 and the Ashoura missiles:


The Ashoura would indeed significantly increase Iran’s missile capabilities, both in terms of range and reduced launch-time. However, only the missile tests will show, whether it again falls under the category “magic”, that was described by Alexander Khramchikhin described as invisible, non-detectible and non-audible, or if it is really able to significantly impact the security of the region and beyond.

Top image © AFP

Missile flight path

I just found an illustration of the flight paths of ICBMs launched from Iran and DPRK in direction of the USA. The fact that these countries do not possess ICBMs is ignored, but it is nonetheless a nice picture.
© Stratfor

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Progress on the air-launched version of the BrahMos

India and Russia cooperate on the development of various types of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. India has already deployed a sea-based and a land-based version. Today the Indian government announced that the re-design and development of the air-launched version of the BrahMos cruise missile has been completed and that it is ready for testing. A suitable universal launcher for different types of aircraft has also been designed. Tests are planned for 2009.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Follow-up on Poland

The EUobserver has today an interesting article about new developments in Poland:

Poland offers talks on US missile shield

US ambitions to place parts of a missile defence shield in Poland is no longer an exclusive bilateral issue between Washington and Warsaw, but will be put up for a broader discussion, the new Polish leadership has indicated.
"We will be ready to conduct further negotiations on the issue after a series of consultations with NATO and some of our neighbours", prime minister Donald Tusk said in his first policy speech to the country's parliament on Friday (23 November).
This falls in line with the Ellen Tauscher's call to "NATO-ize" the missile defense. This is only an addition to Defense Minister Klich's statement on the deployment of U.S. Patriot and THAAD systems, not a deviation:
Mr Tusk added that he was "aware of the political and military importance of the initiative", although he was also set "to convince the US of the need to strengthen Poland's own defences".

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Poland's new approach to missile defence

The new Polish government headed by Donald Tusk takes a more rational approach to the country’s foreign and security agenda. The policy is refocused in a more pro-European direction after the strongly pro-US tilt under Tusk’s predecessor, Jarosław Kaczyński. This shift also includes a review of the consideration whether Poland will host ten U.S. anti-missile interceptors. The new Defense Minister Bogdan Klich stressed that his country must weigh the benefits and costs of this project for Poland. This statement has to be seen against the background that Russian officials repeatedly have warned that the U.S. deployment of interceptors in Poland could trigger a new arms race. This would pose a greater threat to Poland compared to the current situation and the possible future threat from the so called rogue-states. Therefore he puts the obligation to defend the country on the United States.

The NTI Newswire reports:

Klich said the United States must be ready to protect Polish air space if it wants the European nation to house its missile interceptors, the Financial Times reported. The interceptors might make Poland a target for aggression that could be offset by Patriot or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense systems, according to the government.

The Polish Defense Minister correctly acknowledged that Moscow’s problem was not the base itself but “the institutionalised presence of the US in central Europe”, which would mark the final end of Russia’s attempts to exert influence in a region it had historically controlled. This demise of Russian military influence in its former satellite countries is non-reversible and Moscow is very reluctant to accept this. In contrast to that its economic leverage has significantly increased and it has not shied away to use this leverage. The interruption of natural gas supplies to Western Europe and the ban on Polish meat serve as examples.

However, these means are perceived to be less prestigious and not fully equal to the military power. This is especially true as Russia is still grappling to accept that it is no longer the superpower it used to be during the Cold War. The deployment of U.S. Patriot or THAAD systems on Polish territory in addition to the interceptors will rub Russia’s nose in it. These two systems might help to protect Poland from short- and medium-range missiles that Russia might deploy in the future. At the same time this would also show Russia quite plainly that it only plays second fiddle in terms of strategic security. This would certainly not sooth Russian concerns over the system but rather lift the mutual suspicions to a higher level.

Poland should carefully consider, if this really would serve its interests or if it only aggravates the problem – a problem that would not exist without the deployment of U.S. interceptor base.

Picture: Bogdan Kilich, © Office for a Democratic Belarus

Bulava test history

A small addendum to the Bulava test: Pavel Podvig posted on his site a handy table with the Bulava test history:




Pop-up test of a mockup of the missile.




Pop-up test.




First flight test. Launch from a surfaced submarine. Reports about failure of the third stage.




First launch from a submerged submarine.




Launch from a submerged submarine. The first stage failed shortly after launch.




Launch from a submerged submarine. Failure of the first stage.




From a surfaced submarine. Problems with the third stage.




Unconfirmed reports about problems with one of the warheads.




The first stage failed shortly after launch.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another Bulava failure?

Pavel Podvig reports in his blog Russian strategic nuclear forces on another Bulava (SS-NX-30) test:

There is no official confirmaiton of this, but it appears that Russia conducted a test of the Bulava missile a few days ago. The missile reportedly failed shortly after launch. If this information is correct, then Bulava is back to the unlucky days of 2006, when it failed in three tests in a row - on September 7, 2006, October 25, 2006, and December 24, 2006. One fight test that was conducted after that, on June 28, 2007, was reported to be successful (although there were some doubts about that too).

A couple of days ago, I posted on Russian plans to conduct five launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles by the end of 2007. One of these launches was the test of a RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) on October 29. Russia furthermore specified the testing of three other missiles: a RS-12M (SS-25 Sickle), a missile interceptor and a heavy RS-20 (SS-18 Satan). Assuming that Pavel Podvig's information is correct, the Bulava test was the fifth test launch of the series that was not specified.

Contradictory information came up in an interview with the Russian Admiral Vladimir Masorin, who said in early August that Russia would hold two more test launches of the Bulava missile in 2007 and would complete tests in 2008.

Russia has already made the decision to start the serial production of the Bulava. In 2006 the former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov stated: "We are fairly certain that the [Bulava] missile system, and a new submarine to be equipped with it, will be deployed by our navy in 2008". Given the lack of success of the test launches, it will be interesting to hear some comments of his successor on a deployment date.

© picture:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Iskander deployment in Belarus

Today’s news agencies report that Russia might re-equip its forces with Iskander missiles (SS-26 Stone) and it also contemplates to deploy them in neighboring Belarus. The development of the tactical short-range missile started in the early 1970’s and it is in service since 1998.

The missile is regarded to be of high combat effectiveness. The former director of Israel's Missile Defence Agency, Uzi Rubin, concluded that the Iskander is “is the first ballistic missile ever to include built-in countermeasures against the West's growing range of deployed theatre missile defence [TMD] systems”. These countermeasures include:
· Boost phase maneuvering;
· Depressed trajectory (apogee of 50 km);
· Low radar signature, achieved by "a special composite"; and
· Terminal phase maneuvering.

The Iskander missile system is in between designed to engage air and missile defense facilities.

Currently only one missile battalion in Russia is fully equipped with Iskander missiles. Another one will follow in 2008. Until 2015 the number is scheduled to increase to five. In addition to that, Russia and Belarus have been in talks for several years on the delivery of Iskander-E complexes to equip at least one Belarus missile brigade by 2015. Other sources mention 2020. The situation is a bit blurry: while a Belarussian defense ministry spokesman said there had been no discussion of any such deployment, another spokesperson said in Minsk that Belarus planned to purchase and incorporate the Iskander in one of its missile brigades by 2020 under its military program.

Leaving the date aside, the Commander of Russian Armed Forces Missile Troops and Artillery Col. Gen. Vladimir Zaritsky called the deployment of the Iskander in Belarus an asymmetrical response by Russia to the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in Europe. He was further quoted that “"Any action must have a counter-action“. But this reaction is literally falling short. There are two versions of the Iskander missile. The first version is deployed by the Russian army and has a range of 400km and a payload of 480kg. A second version, the Iskander-E, was especially designed to meet the MTCR restrictions, so it can be exported. This E-version has a range of 280km (i.e. below the MTCR’s 300km range limit) and a payload of 415kg. This is the type Belarus would receive. Even if the country were to deploy the Iskander-E in the utmost Western part of its territory, the missiles could by no means reach the potential future U.S. missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Redzikowo, the potential site for the interceptor base, is located roughly 450km away from the Belarussian border and Brdy in the Czech Republic, which is under discussion to host the radar, is even further away, roughly 720km. Even the Russian non-export version could not reach the bases.

This would be indeed an asymmetrical response. Stay tuned for the next episode of “The big sabre-rattling”.

© picture: RIA Novosti

Friday, November 9, 2007

David's Sling update

A brief update on David's Sling: In an earlier post I wrote that in May this year it was announced that the United States would provide $45 million for this project. Today’s NTI Newswire reports that U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday allocated additional $155 million for the development of the Israeli David’s Sling missile interceptor. This underlines the United States' strong interest build-up of defense capabilites against short-range missiles in the region. The system is expected to be operational within four years.

Let’s NATO-ize!

In an interview on November 8, Ellen Tauscher, the Chairwoman of U.S. House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, strongly criticized the current plans of the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system and its developments. The Missile Defense Agency should focus on the existing threats like the 600 Iranian short-range and medium-range missiles rather than prioritizing “science projects” such as the European missile defense site which would not become effective until 2012.

The Congresswoman suggested to take a strategic pause, get the rhetoric right and NATO-ize it the missile defense plans. The U.S. should work with all of its 26 NATO partners on these plans — instead of working bilaterally with just two — and also try to win cooperation from Russia. Tauscher specifically named NATO's Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense program - which could include the PAC-3, THAAD, and Aegis BMD systems - which is awaiting a February 2008 study on its potential for pairing with U.S. GMD. She stressed that the NATO-system, when deployed in southeastern Europe, has clear advantages over the currently planned U.S. system. The NATO-option would leave no gap in missile defense coverage because it could engage shorter-range missiles launched from the Middle East.

On the same day, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a fiscal 2008 defense spending bill that includes $8.7 billion for missile defense programs, about 2 percent less than requested by President Bush. As laid out by, the bill cuts $85 million for construction of the third ballistic missile defense site in Poland, but retains funding for the radar in the Czech Republic. Congress would bless defense budget reprogramming in 2008 once Czech and Polish legislatures formally bless agreements to hosts the bases, Tauscher said. However, she does not expect that to happen. This makes a NATO-ized option even more attractive.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dual AEGIS test

In the early evening (Hawaii Standard Time) of November 6 the U.S. Navy conducted its latest AEGIS test. For the first time two missiles were intercepted – simultaneously. For details read the MDA’s News Release. This is celebrated as a major success. Especially since the Navy recognized that “[t]he adversary may not shoot one ballistic missile at us or an ally at a time” shooting down more than one missile becomes handy. But I do not understand the flurry about this. The Navy has already shown that it can handle the AEGIS system: the two missiles of this week marked the tenth and eleventh successful intercepts. The only change that was made in this test is that instead of aiming with one interceptor at one target the numbers were doubled. It is not like hitting two birds with one stone. There was also no change in the sophistication of the incoming missiles. Like in all previous tests, also in the intercepts on Tuesday the mock enemy targets were “non-separating”, meaning that the targets’ warheads did not separate from their booster rockets. This would be a step closer to real-life situations.

The THAAD system takes the steps in a different order. Until now it also has only intercepted non-separating targets. But this is going to change in the near future. Due to the success of the recent THAAD-test MDA plans to move the simulation closer to reality: in spring 2008 THAAD operators plan to attempt to destroy a separating target inside earth’s atmosphere. THAAD program manager and vice president at Lochkheed Martin qualified this as “a big milestone for the program.” In a next step later 2008, the THAAD system will follow the AEGIS test path and destroy two varying target types.

Picture ©

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Russian conspiracy theories

The Russian press, in this case the Pravda, was today once more active in its field of specialty: conspiracy theory. From the beginning of the discussions on the missile defense system Russian officials and the country’s press expressed fears that the system is directed against Russia. The Pravda took today another step and claimed that the United States plans to “encircle Russia with missile systems and radars”. According to the article, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency intends to add a mobile radar station in the Caspian region. The Vedemosti is more precise and identifies the radar as and X-band radar. The alleged reason for deploying such radar in the region is

“to track the launches of non-existent long-range Iranian missiles and monitor Russian test grounds in the Astrakhan Region and Kazakhstan, where new weapon systems are tested“.

The speculations continue that the U.S. radars are also being installed in the Far East and Mongolia. However, one point is omitted: not only is a part of the Russian landmass located in that region, but also China and DPRK. It might run counter to the Russian self-perception, but the Cold War is over and so is the bipolarity. Russia is no longer of the same preeminent strategic importance for the United States’ strategic planning as it used to be. Other actors have evolved – and they are located close to the Russian borders.
If the United States deploys the mentioned radars, tracking Russian launches might be a welcomed side-effect, but not the sole purpose. Instead re-activating Cold War rhetoric and habits Russia and the United States should work constructively on the issue.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Poland Creates Secret Missile Defense Office

Polish Minister of Defense, Aleksander Szczygło © Rzeczpospolita

I have not seen this message anywhere else, so here comes again the full-text from the NTI Newswire:

Poland’s Defense Ministry is not releasing any details regarding the operations or staffing of a missile defense office created last week, the Poland Business Newswire reported (see GSN, Oct. 4).

The document establishing the office was dated Oct. 22, but Polish defense officials have revealed little about its classified activities, the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported yesterday.

The office’s establishment does not reflect a decision by Poland to allow a U.S. missile interceptor base to be built on its territory, said Deputy Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, Poland’s top negotiator with the United States. However, the office could streamline communications between Polish and U.S. officials as well as Polish defense strategists and Foreign Ministry lawyers, he added.

Piotr Pacholski, who has overseen missile defense issues at the ministry, was named to head the new office. It is expected to coordinate the deployment of U.S. missile defenses if Warsaw signs off on the installation, according to Rzeczpospolita (Poland Business Newswire, Oct. 30).

The Polish-speaking readers can find the Rzeczpospolita article here.

It seems as if someone wanted to create a fait accompli – maybe even before leaving office. There is no sense in creating a Missile Defense Office if you do not want to have a certain
missile defense capabilities. While it can be expected that a Polish government led by Donald Tusk will still accept to host the U.S. interceptor base - much to the annoyance of Moscow - it is likely to push for a harder bargain from the Americans. With a Missile Defense Office already established, it will be more difficult to take this tougher stand, this means that the final deal will contain a larger Kaczyński-era component.