Sunday, March 30, 2008

A political test-flight

DPRK tested on Friday morning three short-range KN-02 missiles. The latest test firing of these missiles with a 120km range occurred three times in May - June, 2007.

The current test is regarded to be a show of anger over the hard-line stance of the new conservative government in the southern part of the peninsula. This tougher stand is exemplified by the voting behavior of South Korea in the United Nations. Seoul voted in favor of a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council that condemned human rights abuses in North Korea.

Probably to the dismay of the Kim Jong Il’s regime, the reaction of the South was – at least for the public – calm: "The government regards North Korea's missile firing as merely a part of its ordinary military training," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan told Yonhap News Agency. A similar calm statement was made by Japan. Its ministry said in a written statement shortly after the missile launches were reported that Japan does not believe that there is an emergency significantly affecting the country's national security.

However, experts believe that North Korea conducted the test in an attempt to worsen the South-North relations ten days ahead of the general parliamentary elections on April 9.

This test was not only aimed to impact the North-South relationship but also to impress the United States. DPRK threatened on the same day to halt the process of disabling its nuclear facilities unless the U.S. drops its "unreasonable demand" over the communist state's suspected uranium enrichment program. An unidentified spokesman for the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement:

"Explicitly speaking, the DPRK has never enriched uranium nor rendered nuclear cooperation to any other country. It has never dreamed of such things. […] Such
things will not happen in the future, too."
The White House has a more critical perspective. On Friday Washington criticized the missile launches:
"North Korea should focus on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and deliver a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear weapons programs, and nuclear proliferation activities and to complete the agreed disablement."
Against the background of the troubled relationship between DPRK and its neighbors and United States one can expect that we will see more political test-launches in the future.

For a detailed analysis of DPRK’s ballistic missile program read the paper by Daniel Pinkston published by the Strategic Studies Institute.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cross-blogging: Now Where Did I Put Those ICBM Parts?

Jeff Lindemyer commented on the delivery of ICBM fuses to Taiwan. Make sure to read it and please pay extra attention when you check your mail. To use a quote from Forrest Gump: "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

2 + 2 = 0

On Monday and Tuesday this week the United States and Russia met on a 2 + 2 level: Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates met their Russian counterparts Sergej Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov. They discussed – you certainly already guessed it – the issue of the missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The four failed to reach an agreement but expressed their will to continue their discussions. During the talks both sides adopted a strikingly moderate tone after a long period of rancor between the two countries.

On the second day of the meeting, the United States made a proposal according to which Russian military inspectors would have access to sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the system would not be activated until there was demonstrable evidence that Iran had tested missiles capable of reaching the United States or its allies in Western Europe.

Lavrov described the U.S. proposals as "important and useful for the minimization of our concerns." However, the Russian Defense Minister was more critical and cautioned that "the positions of our two sides have not changed." Probably his memories of the last round of talks between the four ministers in October 2007 are still vivid. At that meeting the U.S. sent written proposals that Russia said contradicted the agreements reached at the discussions. Condoleezza Rice takes a different viewpoint on this issue: “Things get lost in translation”. Pavel Podvig comments on this issue: U.S. officials admitted that they "tweaked" the original proposal, but they are too shy to say exactly how (and reporters are too shy to ask). However, this time the proposal was submitted in writing on the following day and was identical with the one that was presented orally the day before.

The Washington Post reports on the current proposal:

Gates said the Bush administration expects an answer "reasonably quickly" after it submits its written offer, but some news reports here suggested that Moscow might be playing for time, knowing that a new administration in Washington could take a different position on the necessity of missile defense.
It is not necessarily only a playing for time. Several concerns still exist on the Russian side:

Sources in the Russian defense ministry are very dubious about the new U.S. proposals. Off the record, they insist that all proposals brought by Rice and Gates to Moscow this time do not change the gist of the problem. Their aim is to alleviate Russia's grievances and show their European allies that it is impossible to come to terms with "those Russians" […] The same sources argue that Washington has not reduced Russia's concerns about the threat of a U.S. missile shield to the Russian nuclear deterrent in the European part, where Russia keeps about one third of its counterforce potential.
One special point of concern on the Russian side is the United States is not going to sign a legally binding document, i.e. Washington can retarget the radar and make missiles operational whenever it deems it appropriate without being in breach with any legally binding obligations.

This meeting was definitely no breakthrough – which no-one expected it to be – but definitely a step in the right direction. However, many more are needed.

Another issue that was under discussion at the meeting but did not receive due attention is the successor treaty for START-I:

Lavrov also said the negotiators had failed to agree on the future of nuclear arms reduction after the START-I treaty expires in December 2009, but pledged to work on a legally binding document in the sphere. "A lot needs to be done to draft this document," he admitted.

Another aspect of missile defense: some of the actors of the 2+2 meetings are likely to change once the new Russian government – probably headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – assumes office in May. The United States has already now a (not so) new face in the missile defense arena: Major General Patrick O’Reilly steps in for Lt. General Henry Obering. The NTI Newswire reports:

The White House has tapped a senior Army official with extensive experience in missile defense programs to succeed Lt. Gen. Henry Obering as head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the Army Times reported today (see GSN, April 9, 2004).

Maj. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly has served as director of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program and as product manager for the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missile interceptor and the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense system. He also oversaw directed energy programs that include the Airborne Laser project.

Obering, who became agency director in 2004, has not announced if he plans to retire or seek a new post, according to MDA spokesman Rick Lehner (Michael Hoffman, Army Times, March 19).
pictures: Gates, Rice, Lavrov © RIA Novosti, AFP, O’Reilly: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty

BrahMos 1-0 Barak

India’s activity in the missile field justifies putting up another piece on the developments in the country: A. Sivathanu Pillai, who is in charge of the BrahMos program at DRDO, announced that the next two stages of the missile program would be completed by 2009.

Currently the involved companies work on a universal launch platform. Pillai said that it could be a platform supported by a submarine or it would have to be a portable platform, to be built, carried and submerged at a pre-determined location. The first test of a BrahMos launched from underwater is scheduled for later this year.

The air-to air version of the BrahMos is also in its finishing stages. Pillai confirmed the earlier announced timeframe for the testing of this type of the missile, which is expected to take place in 2009. Before this will happen, the weight of the booster engines still needs to be reduced.
These two stages will add to India’s ship-to-shore, ship-to-ship, land-to-ship and surface-to-surface versions of the multi-role missiles.

Let’s shift from the BrahMos to another missile: the Barak-8. In February the first test-launch of this surface-to-air missile, which is being developed jointly by Israel and India, was announced for 2009. The two countries started in 2006 the development of the supersonic, vertically launched Barak-8, or BarakNG (New Generation). Now the Indian government has put in cold storage this massive joint venture.

The Daily News & Analysis reports:

The Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared the [joint venture] on July 12, 2007, but sources have now indicated that the government is cautious about giving the final administrative clearance for this project. If cleared, this would be the biggest military [joint venture] of India with any other country.
The volume of the deal is Rs 10,000 crore, i.e. roughly US$ 2.47bn. This move came as the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested arms agent Suresh Nanda and others. The CBI has accused Nanda of receiving almost US$ 100 million in kickbacks after a US$ 275 million deal to purchase earlier versions of the Barak was signed during the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance regime in the year 2000.

NDTV has a short news clip on this issue. Watch it here.

It remains to be seen whether the ongoing investigations will cause a major delay of the introduction of this weapon system. India especially decided to buy the Barak after DRDO failed to develop the indigenous system Trishul. Now it seems that a quick mending is not always the ideal choice.

© picture: The Hindu

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Agni resources

I just came across the Agni page of the Bharat Rakshak, the Consortium of Indian Military Websites. I contains a wealth of information. In between they have handy graphics like the one below.

In mid-February another test of the Agni-III was announced. The test is scheduled to "be conducted as soon as the weather clears up". This has not been the case so far.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

ICBM history lesson

United Press International published last week a short article on the history of the Soviet RT-23 (SS-24 Scapel) rail-based missile system (part 1, part 2). A nice primer.

The author first provides some background information on the RT-23 before he turns to the decision to scrap the missiles. He raises concerns about the favoring of an extension of the service life of the SS-18 Satan and the SS-19 Stiletto and the production of the Topol-M over keeping the RT-23.

He concludes wistfully, that the RT-23 has at least a better fate than that of the Buran multiple-use booster, which has been turned into an entertainment and restaurant complex: Russia's last rail missile system stands in the central museum of the Oktyabrskaya Railway at St. Petersburg's Warsaw Terminal.

Cross-blogging: Highlights of House Hearing on Missile Defense

Jeff Lindemeyer wrote earlier this week on the highlights of House Hearing on Missile Defense. The meeting was held on March 5 and the consensus opinion of the witnesses was that:

  • The ballistic missile threat has been wildly inflated.
  • The U.S. is far more likely to be attacked with WMD transferred via non-missile means such as a dirty bomb than by ICBMs.
  • The opportunity costs of spending roughly $10 billion a year on missile defense are enormous.
  • The Missile Defense Agency should not be exempted from normal acquisition, testing and reporting requirements.
  • The United States needs a comprehensive assessment of the threat posed by ballistic missiles in relation to other threats, such as threats to the homeland transferred via non-missile means.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lord of War

Today only some cross-blogging: Matt Schroder postet at the FAS Strategic Security Blog a piece on Victor Bout's proliferation activities. During the sting operation he offered the presumably FARC representatives 100 Igla anti-aircraft missiles and that were supposedly “available immediately” to him. Read the full article here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

From Russia with Love

I would like to refer you to three recent posts by Pavel Podvig on the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces. The first one is about the Topol-M deployment in 2008 in which Pavel writes that the number will reach 65 by the end of the year. A second post lays out the rocket launch plans for 2008. Russia plans to conduct 11 missile launches this year, including two tests of the “new” RS-24, before this ICBM will enter service in 2009. Lastly, he reports on his Russiansforces blog that the Russian Military-Industrial Commission decided to continue the Bulava project as there are no alternatives to it.

Some additional news on Russia: the Russian-Indian joint venture BrahMos Aerospace announced another success. On March 6 another test of the sea-based version of the BrahMos cruise missile was conducted off Andamans coast. It was the 15th successive successful launch of the missile, but the first one that was aimed against a ground target. All previous test-launches had solely proven the sea to sea attack capability.

United Press International comments:

As we have noted over the past two years, India continues to forge ahead with its ambitious program to become a major power with its own domestically produced
intercontinental ballistic missile and cruise missile capabilities. India is even pushing ahead with its own ballistic missile defense programs, without buying from the United States the quantity and quality of BMD technology that other democratic nations such as Japan, Taiwan and Israel have all embraced. […]

Having said that, the BrahMos offers a remarkable opportunity for India and the DRDO to break that pattern [of difficulties with the transition from prototype achievements to the steady, reliable production,] because it involves such close association with Russian heavy industry in a field where only the United States can contest Russia globally -- the production of many types of reliable military missiles.

Monday, March 3, 2008

News from the New Europe

The recent days brought some development in the missile defense issue, but certainly nothing that could justifiably be touted as progress.

Jane’s reports:

While US-Polish talks on the details and timing of the ballistic missile site itself are progressing, according to the sources the negotiating parties are in opposition over two other subjects arising from, but not directly linked, to the missile site. These are bilateral US-Polish defence co-operation and the stationing of US troops in Poland via a specific status-of-forces agreement (SOFA).

Not directly linked??? The critical comments made recently by a senior aide to Prime Minister Donald Tusk were quite clear: "the talks with our American friends are aimed at reaching a ... form of agreement that is mutually advantageous".

Last week a U.S. military delegation visited Warsaw to discuss the non-linked issues. Stephen Mull, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, said the two countries "agreed to focus in particular on Poland's air defense, command and control and mobility needs." Poland is pushing for Patriot 3 or THAAD missiles, and has identified 17 areas of its military that the U.S. could help modernize.

The Polish wish-list will certainly be on the agenda during the visit of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Washington during March 8-10.

The news coming from the negotiations with the Polish southern neighbor are also not suited to make MDA cheer.

After a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush last Wednesday, the visiting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the failure was due to environmental reasons. "We want the strictest possible standards to be applied in terms of ensuring and guaranteeing environmental protection," Topolanek told media.

Notwithstanding of these differences, U.S. President George W. Bush and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek shared the view that they were close to agreeing on a deal. We have heard something similar before, deals that were clinched “in principle”. Czech and U.S. negotiators will resume talks this week in Prague about the radar base. So we will see if the Czechs learned from Warsaw and if the environmental concerns will procrastinate the negotiations further.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

India successfully tests its first SLBM

India launched on February 26 a nuclear-capable SLBM off of its southeast coast near the port city of Visakhapatnam, which is home to the navy's Eastern Fleet. The test of the indigenously-developed SLBM with the designation Sagarika (K-15) was announced earlier this month. The nuclear-capable missile has a range of 700km and can carry a 500kg payload.

“This missile is a variant of the Dhanush and an advanced clone of Prithvi's naval version. The difference is that it can only be launched from a submarine,” a source at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) said.

The Sagarika is designed to be integrated with a nuclear-powered submarine that India is building and that is expected to be ready for sea trials by 2009. Since the Indian Navy does not have yet a submarine capable of firing an SLBM, the missile was launched from an underwater platform positioned 50 meters deep in the sea.

Developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization, the missile has at least twice been test-fired but without success as its trajectory deviated while in flight on both occasions. Other sources refer to six previous tests.

A defense ministry spokesperson said that “[t]he test was successful. We are waiting [for] further details.” Once the weapon is deployed, India would join the few other nations – namely United States, Russia, China, and France – capable of firing ballistic missiles from air, sea and land.

Soon after the test, Pakistan’s Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Afzal Tahir warned that the test “is going to start a new arms race in the region”. So far Pakistan possesses in addition to its various land-based ballistic missiles the Babur cruise missile that can be fired from warships, submarines and fighter jets and the Ra'ad ALCM which was tested on August 25, 2007.