Friday, December 14, 2007

Pre-Christmas hiatus

A few days ago I learned that I have to move to Berlin before January 1. Therefore I have thousand other things to do and will not find the time to write new entries in the next days. That is the reason this blog is put to a pre-Christmas hiatus.

I take this chance to wish everyone a happy seasons greetings, be it a Merry Christmas, Eid ul-Adha or whatever you may or may not celebrate and a Happy and Joyous New Year.

I hope to see you back in the next year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ashoura missile test?

Contradictory statements exist on whether the new Iranian Ashoura missile was tested or not.

One of the firsts to report on the Ashoura test was Jane’s. According to its information – as of November 26 - Iran is preparing to test-launch the Ashoura. At one can read that the Ashoura tests were already conducted and timed to coincide with the Annapolis conference. The New Delhi IPCS published a few days later on December 5 an article on the implications of Iran’s Ashoura test. The article starts off by saying that “Iran claimed to have carried out a successful test of its long-range missile”. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS is more cautious. It reported on December 7 that Russia has no data to confirm reports by Iranian leaders that Teheran has tested a new long-range ballistic missile Ashoura.

These reports provide no information on the sources on which their statements on the test-launch are based on.

The Iranian news agencies contain no reference to a missile test. The Fars News Agency writes that the Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar did not give details about the missiles besides stating that Iran has built the Ashoura. The same is true for the Alalam News. Even the AP refers to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, and reports that the Defense Minister “did not say whether Iran had test fired the Ashoura or had plans to do so”.

Iran is not known for being modest in reporting about its achievements in the military field. For that reason it can be assumed that a test-launch of the Ashoura would have been publicized widely. Even if it ended in a failure the officials would have come up with a creative way to celebrate the “partial success”.

Due to the lack of such announcements it can be assumed we still have to wait a while, before the missile reaches the testing level. But it is a nice way to see that the propaganda works.

Cross-blogging: The Future of US Missile Defense in Poland

Yesterday the Strategic Security Blog posted a good article on the view of the various Polish fractions on the missile defense issue. In summary the author aruges that the situation is complex and no prediction can be made in which direction things will develop. President Lech Kaczyński, being the biological and ideological twin of his brother, Poland's ousted ex-Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, continues to wield significant influence on the country's foreign and security policy. He has already announced that he will give the new Prime Minister, Mr. Donald Tusk, a hard time. Therefore, so the author,

the future of US missile defense components on Polish territory remains unclear, although on balance, the election of the Civic Platform has reduced the probability of the deployment taking place, at least in the short term.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

NIE - The final nail in the coffin of the BMD?

On December 3 the new U.S. National Intelligence Report on Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities was released. It finds with “high confidence” that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” Some analysts regard the report's impact to "be more limited than the current tumult indicates" and consider a fundamental policy shift to be unlikely. In contrast to that, other sources conclude that the NIE report will most likely deal a death blow to the Bush administration's already-beleaguered plans to build an anti-ballistic missile base in Poland.
This is rather questionable. Proponents of the U.S. missile defense system argue that the European components are not intended to counter a current Iranian threat, but rather a potential future one. In the NIE the intelligence community also finds that "with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame." The U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley already proved that it is possible to use the NIE's findings in a way that they (allegedly)support the official line. He said that the report "confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons".
The NIE certainly caused a major shake up, but it is not the final nail into the coffin of the BMD.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Indian Air Force reaches out for the Sky

At the end of last month the Indian Air Force finally approved the introduction of the Akash (Sanskrit for Sky) missile. The Akash has been under development since 1983 as part of India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) undertaken by the state-owned Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO). The IGMDP comprises the strategic Agni ballistic missile, the tactical Prithvi ballistic missile, the Akash surface-to-air missiles (SAM), the Nag anti-tank guided missile and their derivatives. Until 2006 it also included the Trishul SAM, whose research and development was stopped. The IGMDP aims at achieving self-sufficiency in missile development and production. The Akash missile is intended to replace aging Russian air defense systems.

India Defence elaborates on the characteristics of the missile:

Akash is a medium-range surface-to-air missile with an intercept range of 30km. It has a launch weight of 720 kg, a diameter of 35 cm and a length of 5.8 metres. Akash flies at supersonic speed, reaching around 2.5 Mach. It can reach an altitude of 18 km. A digital proximity fuze is coupled with a 55kg pre-fragmented warhead, while the safety arming and detonation mechanism enables a controlled detonation sequence.

A self-destruct device is also integrated. It is propelled by a solid fuelled booster stage. The missile has a terminal guidance system capable of working through electronic countermeasures. Features include capability of attacking multiple targets, and use of ramjet propulsion system that enables maintenance of required speeds without deceleration, unlike the Patriot missiles. The missile is supported by a multi-target and multi-function phased array fire control radar called 'Rajendra' with a range of about 60 km.

Design of the missile is much similar to SA-6 with four long tube ramjet inlet ducts mounted mid-body between wings. For pitch/yaw control four clipped triangular moving wings are mouted on mid-body. For roll control four inline clipped delta fins with ailerons are mounted before the tail.

While the missile meant for the Army can be launched from tracked vehicles such as battle tanks, the Air Force version can take off from wheeled vehicles. Three ready-to-fire Akash missiles can be carried in a battle tank. The missiles can take off in different directions and destroy multiple targets. Akash can be deployed by rail, road or air.
According to Defensenews, Akash was slated to enter the air defense systems of the Air Force and Army as early as the 1990s, but both services rejected the missile on several occasions, claiming it did not meet specifications. While the Missile.Index erroneously reports a deployment since the year 2000, the Indian Air Force has only now ordered two units of the Akash missile for introduction, likely by 2009 – more than 15 years behind schedule.

The Akash's first flight occurred in 1990. By 1998 five flight trials had been conducted. Several more followed in the subsequent years. There were several official statements about successes. On the missile’s website one can read about “repeatedly successful trails”. India’s leading national daily Hindustan Times reports that the Akash has consistently failed all trials conducted by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The newspaper refers to classified documents. An IAF expert describes the Akash missile trials as a "disaster" and states that "out of 20 test trials seen by the IAF expert, the majority of them ended in a failure." He continues:

"In its present status, Project Akash cannot meet the operational requirements of the IAF, due to major design flaws, and if the IAF wanted to use this particular missile system, then it would have to lower its acceptability standards."
The DRDO, however, has strongly defended the missile system, saying that it had an edge over other systems like the U.S. Patriot system due to its multi-target handling capacity, being a fully automatic system. Another reason for fostering the Akash production – in addition to the (alleged) superiority –in spite of the concerns might be the experience with the Trishul missile. This system was scrapped in 2006 after being in the trial stage for 23 years and after conducting at least 50 trials of this missile. DRDO was eager to prove itself as a reliable partner for the IAF and avoid that its client to hunt for alternatives abroad.

The IAF is set to evaluate the Akash in a series of tests in the Rajasthan desert. Additional live firing is planned for December at India’s missile testing range at Balasore. These tests will show whether the Akash can be introduced in 2009 as planned or if the development phase has to be extended even further.

Top picture: © Hindustan Times
Bottom picture: © India Daily

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Polish Missile Defense talks procrastinate further

The NTI Newswire reports that the successful conclusion of the U.S.-Polish Missile Defense talks is not a thing that will be under the U.S. administration’s Christmas tree:

New Polish Prime Minister Donald Turk continues to hold off negotiations with the United States on housing 10 U.S. missile interceptors, the Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 4).

“First we will examine the effects of to-date negotiations. The PM announced consultations — first of all with NATO, secondly with the Czech Republic and also with some neighbors. Only then will be ready to resume negotiations,” said Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

CRS report on Iran's Missile Programs

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published recently a short report titled “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Programs: An Overview”. It is dated November 8, 2007 and updates an earlier report from the year 2004. It addresses the reported or suspected range of Iranian ballistic missile programs. On the downside it has to be noted that it makes no reference to the Ashoura missile.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

U.S. reaction to the Ashoura

As already predicted, it did not take long, before the U.S. reaction to the new Iranian Ashoura missile was made public. MDA Director Lt. General Obering said that the Iran’s unbridled, continuing development of missiles raises concerns and that is why it's important to begin now on a European missile defense. He continued that the Ashoura “is different, that's what surprises us." He qualified the new missile as an qualitative improvement in Iran’s capabilities.

The Aviation Week reports that the Defense Department has long been projecting Iranian ballistic missiles to achieve a range of 2,000 km, but it was expected to be through upgrades of the long-known Shahab-3.

One proposal in the U.S.-Russian dispute over the European sites of the missile defense system is that the sites would not become operational until a clear threat from Iran emerged. One trigger could be flight-testing of an advanced ballistic missile. In this context the Ashoura missile raises an interesting question: does this “surprisingly” new missile already qualify as advanced so that a flight-test would serve as trigger to operationalize the European sites? It would be very interesting to hear official statements on this question.