Thursday, July 31, 2008

Better late...

... than never. Back last month, on June 17, the United States Navy conducted a flight test of its Tomahawk Block IV Missile. Somehow I missed it. You can read about the test over at the Space War site (it also took them over a month to report about this test, so I am not the only slacker).

More to come on the weekend. إن شاء الله

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Indian snakes at snail's pace

Almost 22 years after it was first conceived, the Nag anti-tank guided missile will have its "final developmental flight trials" at Pokhran on July 27-28. Over 60 developmental trials of the Nag have been conducted over the years but recurring problems in the guidance systems, especially in the "imaging infra-red (IIR) sensor-based seeker", has meant the missile is still to become fully operational. For that reason the upcoming tests are anticipated with expectations. Seven missiles will be fired against static and moving targets. These tests will be followed by the "user-trials" in mid-September. The third-generation Nag missile will have a four-km strike range.

Missile Defense - quick and dirty

The United States successfully tracked a simulated enemy ballistic missile on last Friday, July 18, and relayed its course to a Ground-based Midcourse Defense firing system in Colorado. According to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the tracking of the long-range target, which incorporated evasive signaling, was the most rigorous test so far of U.S. missile defense control systems. The test “successfully demonstrated the integration of [Raytheon-build] missile defense sensors required to support an interceptor engagement," said Pete Franklin, vice president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems National & Theater Security Programs.

As you might remember, the United States and Poland already reached an agreement in principle and a tentative deal. Both were so incredibly long-lasting that the parties are still making progress in their negotiations: according to the Warsaw Business Journal the parties are – once again – closer in their efforts in negotiating a deal to place anti-missile defense on Polish soil after a Monday meeting. I am really eager to see how the next breakthrough will be praised.

Just a side note, as reported on The Moscow Times: “Meanwhile, in a coincidence that defies all odds, the Russian supply of oil to the Czech Republic experienced mysterious technical problems.”

There are also some developments in the missile defense field on a smaller scale: Japan scheduled its first PAC-3 test for the week of September 15 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. So far Japan possesses four PAC-3 systems which have been installed around Tokyo. Additional Japanese bases are expected to receive PAC-3 systems by March 2011.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


The recent days have been quite busy here. This will not change before mid next week. Therefore I will provide you today only with a reading list instead of longer posts. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Great Prophets, hedgehogs and Photoshop

Iran has sent a Great Prophet into battle. In its military exercises dubbed Payambar-e Azam 3 (Great Prophet 3), the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps test-fired on Wednesday, July 9, several missiles, in between the Shahab-3. The missile was equipped with a one-ton conventional warhead.

The tests occurred at a time of increased tension between Iran and Israel over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The Iranian government contributed to the stand-off by stressing that the Shahab-3 is capable of reaching Israel. The Shahab-3 has a range of 2,000 km and parts of western Iran are within 1,050 km of Tel Aviv. One expert said that the general range of the Shahab-3 is 1,300 km. It is possible to extend it to 2,000 km but only in combination with a warhead that is much lighter than one ton. This lead to the comment: "This is typical of Iran to exaggerate the accomplishments of the missiles and its nuclear program."

According to a report by the Iranian television there might have been two Shahabs lifting off within seconds of each other. Historically, there have always been single launches.

The Shahab was not the only missile that was launched on Tuesday. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reports:

Nine highly advanced missiles with improved accuracy were simultaneously tested, including the Zelzal and Fateh missiles with ranges of 400 km and 170 km respectively.
It seems that Iran tried to increase its deterrence potential by making use of state of the art technology: Photoshop! A misleading photo of four missiles being launched at once during the test, instead of the correct three, made its way to the front pages of several major newspapers. The four-missile image was obtained from the website of Sepah News, the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that Iran doctored the photo to cover up what apparently was a misfiring of one of the missiles.

Today, on July 10, a second test launch was carried out during the night hours.

This second test raised some concerns. Wallace Witkowski wrote for the Market Watch:
A senior U.S. military official disputed reports that Iran carried out a second day of new missile tests on Thursday, according to CNN. The unnamed source told CNN the U.S. believes Iran fired seven short- to medium-range missiles on Wednesday, and that a missile that was fired the following day was one that had failed on launch on Wednesday.
This analysis does not provide any information about the deviation in the total number of launched missiles. Seven missiles yesterday and one latecomer today do not sum up to nine.
Meanwhile rumors spread that there will be a third test. There has been no information to substantiate these rumors.

In addition to the demonstration of military might the maneuvers was – naturally – paired with verbal flexing of muscles. Iran blamed the United States’ and Israel’s warmongering behavior and the stressed that the aim of the war games was to demonstrate "just how strong-willed the Islamic Republic is in defending its sovereignty against any challenges”. The first test came one day after a senior Iranian official warned of an immediate retaliation should Israel or the US attack the country.

The New York Times wrote:
Some saw the tests as essentially deterrent in nature. A senior American intelligence official said the missile tests, together with belligerent comments by Iranian officials, seemed part of a strategy to warn Iran’s neighbors of its “capacity to inflict pain.”
According to this official Iran pursues a hedgehog strategy: mess with me and you’ll get stuck.
The United States said on Wednesday Iran should immediately halt development of ballistic missiles and stop conducting tests if it wanted to gain the trust of the world. This would doubtlessly be a wonderful thing to achieve. But this call contains a major flaw: when will the United States learn that it is not possible to set the desired end-result as a precondition for negotiations? We have the same problem in the nuclear field where the ceasing of enrichment activities was made a precondition for talks. But it is the P5+1 who wants to talk to Iran not the other way round.

As long as we can see examples of Photoshop-skills of Iranian officials and strange weight-range combinations of Iranian missile marvels there is still time to calm down, stop the blame-game and start discussing.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tamir follow-up

This morning Haaretz published another article with additional information on the Tamir test. Yesterday's tests involved the launching of a number of Tamir missiles and engineers evaluated its capabilities, in terms of such variables as effective range, command and control from the ground, speed and maneuverability.

Defense sources estimate that by the end of 2008 Iron Dome will be ready to undergo a major test that will evaluate the system's ability to intercept a rocket. The test will include the launch of a rocket, which Tamir will try to intercept.

A crucial aspect of that test will be the ability of a radar system under development by Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, to identify, locate and track the incoming rocket, and guide Tamir to its target.

The recent developments of the Tamir made the developers confident that it will be possible to significantly increase the interceptor's speed. This would allow the interception of the rockets a short while after their launch which would increase the likeliness that the Iron Dome will also be effective against mortar. However, one problem remains: if DEBKAfile's information is correct, the Iron Dome needs 15 seconds to locate the incoming rocket and determine the flight path. Even with increased interceptor speed, mortars will already have hit their target before the Tamir will be launched. We will have to wait for the end of the year if Elta will be able to deal with the problem.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Shield the skies from rocket attacks, now and tomorrow"

"Shield the skies from rocket attacks, now and tomorrow" - that is the slogan that is used to advertise the Iron Dome. The "now" is used vaguely because the latest test of this missile defense system experienced some delays. However, on this Sunday morning the test was conducted. Some commentators were all but modest and wrote that the system passed the test with flying colors. AFP writes that the Iron Dome will not only be able to intercept the military-grade Katyusha rockets used by Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and the cruder Qassam rockets favored by Hamas but that the system will also be effective against mortar fire which has a much smaller window of warning. It was previously believed the system would be ineffective against mortar attacks since mortar shells hit targets within 10 seconds. In contrast to that, Qassams can sometimes reach their target within 20 seconds.

According to a scheme prepared by the Israeli arms manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, who is under contract to produce the Iron Dome, the small kinetic missile interceptor called Tamir will be launched just one second after the rocket itself is fired.

This information stands in stark contrast to what DEBKAfile writes. According to their information the Iron Dome’s interceptor needs 15 seconds to locate, determine the flight path. The glossy Iron Dome two-page brochure is not as precise as the scheme:

The system uses a unique interceptor with a special warhead that detonates any target in the air within seconds.
The Iron Dome system is expected to be fully operational within a year. Meanwhile others already speculate how many missiles will be launched during a potential next war. Major General Ben Eliahu, who was the commander of the Israel Air Force from 1996 to 2000, estimates that in the next war, Syria and Iran might launch between 250 and 300 SRBMs / MRBMs at Israel (Shahab and Scud missiles) and another 5,000 short-range rockets (mainly from Lebanon). The Times specified this information by reporting that Iran has moved ballistic missiles into launch positions, with Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant among the possible targets.

In comparison with Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006, the predicted number of missiles is significantly higher. Two years ago Israel came under sustained attack; more than 4,000 Katyusha rockets were launched at northern Israel in 34 days, sending hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing south.

Friday, July 4, 2008

GMD progress - same content, new wrapping!

A high-level Polish official said on Sunday, June 29, his nation might in a matter of days sign a deal with the United States on hosting 10 U.S. missile interceptors. A few days later it seemed that the breakthrough was achieved. According to Reuters, a senior US State Department official stated on Wednesday, July 2, that the United States and Poland have reached a deal. To be more specific: a tentative deal! Again? In February both sides already announced that they clinched a deal “in principle”. Now the deal is tentative? How will the next deal be titled? Preliminary? Provisional?

Witold Waszczykowski, Poland's chief negotiator, told Reuters that "[t]he last round of negotiations with the Americans has been finalized." However, I am highly skeptical that we can take the “last” literally. The pact was so far only agreed on the working level and still requires final approval from Warsaw. The Polish government announced that it would need time to assess the proposal and that it would not be rushed into a decision.

It seems that I am not the only one who is cautious about the “deal”: Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich revealed that no consensus has been reached. Deutsche Welle quoted him:

"The negotiations have not ended - another round of talks was concluded - for the time being we are not at the finish line. […] We completed an important, a significant, round of talks two days ago but the finish line of talks is still ahead of us.”
This sounds similar to what Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said in February:
"We are not at the end of the road as regards negotiations. We are in the middle of the road."
General Stanislaw Koziej, advisor to Bogdan Klich, added to the confusion. He said that the negotiations are in gridlock. This was on June 30, only one day after the high-level Polish official mentioned in the beginning stated his expectation that the agreement is almost home and dry.

Skeptics and contradictory statements are not limited to the Polish side, they can also be found within the U.S. administration: Daniel Fried, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and a former ambassador to Poland, refused to confirm that an agreement had been reached.

So what is this tohubohu about? In the recent days the Lithuania was named as an alternative to host the base. Polish officials rightfully perceive this to be a hollow threat designed simply to put pressure on Warsaw to bring the negotiations to a conclusion. Therefore one can interpret the “progress” in the U.S.-Polish discussion as a means for Poland to reaffirm its position as the exclusive negotiation partner, keeping the negotiations alive but not giving in. This increases the chances that Poland will in the end be able to sell its consent to host the interceptors for a high price.