Friday, November 28, 2008

Russia tests RS-24

Just quick and dirty: Russia successfully test-launched on Wednesday, November 26, for the third time its RS-24 ICBM. Read Pavel Podvig’s postings here and here for more information.

Yesterday's news...

Nothing is older than yesterday's news. The upper chamber of the Czech Parliament dared to outdate my post at the same time I wrote it: the Czech Senate approved both missile treaties involved in the deal — the main bilateral treaty allowing the United States to build a radar base at Brdy near Prague and the second, ‘complementary,’ treaty that deals with the legal status of U.S. soldiers to be deployed at the base (you can find some legal considerations concerning the SOFA treaty here). 49 senators voted in favor and 31 voted against, one abstained.

However, the lower chamber of the Czech Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, still has to ratify the agreements. As laid out yesterday, it is far from being certain that an equal majority can be achieved there. There is no date yet for the vote in the Chamber of Deputies.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Waiting selflessly

Earlier this month it was celebrated (by some) as a major breakthrough that Washington and Prague signed a framework agreement outlining terms for deploying a planned missile-tracking radar station on Czech territory. I already mentioned in earlier postings that the deployment agreements still have to be ratified despite by the Czech Parliament which faces resistance from the parliamentarians. This was confirmed by the speaker of the lower house of the Czech parliament, Miloslav Vlcek, who said last Friday, November 21, that he is certain that the U.S. missile defense radar would be deployed in the Czech Republic. Vlcek elucidated that the Social Democratic Party and the Communists, which hold 96 of the 200 seats in the lower chamber, and also some members of the ruling Civic Democratic Party would vote against the deployment of the U.S. radar. The ruling Civic Democratic Party of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has only 81 seats.

The situation does not look any better northward (taking a U.S. administration’s perspective). Poland's Foreign Minister RadosÅ‚aw Sikorski said that his country will wait for the Obama administration to make up its mind on basing missile defense interceptors in his country and will not lobby to have the project proceed. He also explained how selflessly that the Warsaw government is – it only agreed ‘out of friendship’. Right, and the U.S. government finances only out of friendship the reinforcement of the Polish air defenses like the 96 Patriots that will be dispatched in Poland next year. It is always good to have such friends.

If you take the recent statements of French President Nicolas Sarkozy on this matter it seems that it is time to rename the French Fries into Freedom Fries again: On November 14 Sarkozy questioned the value of U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, but later appeared to step back from his criticism, the Associated Press reported. Initially he said that the ‘deployment of a missile defense system would bring nothing to security in Europe ... it would complicate things, and would make them move backward’. He was joined by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini who suggested in La Republica that the Obama administration should sacrifice the location of the missile defense shield in Poland and the CzechRepublic for the sake of good relations with Russia.

In his article for MWCNews Jacob Hornberger makes a similar point. He dreams of a speech of President-elect Obama in which he extends the change also to the missile defense policy:

'The missile interceptors will not be installed in Eastern Europe. I can understand why the Russian regime would consider this a provocative act. If Russia were installing the same type of system in Cuba or in Mexico along the U.S. border, that would concern us. Such a project will accomplish nothing more than to increase tensions unnecessarily between our two countries, which it is already succeeding in doing. It’s time we reduced such tensions, […]'
However, NATO reaffirmed on November 17 its backing for a planned missile shield in Europe. NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance's position had not changed. During its last summit in Bucharest in April NATO leaders agreed upon that the missile shield makes ‘substantial contribution to the protection of allies’.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

India improves second-strike capability

Iran is not the only country that is into s-names for missiles. On November 12 India tested a SRBM that was named Shourya / Shaurya (Valor). The surface-to-surface missile has a range of 600 km and is capable of carrying a one-ton conventional or nuclear warhead. According to the Ministry of Defense, one of the missile's main characteristics is its high maneuverability which makes it less vulnerable to available anti-missile defense systems.

The missile is silo-based. The Times of India touts the Shourya as a significant step towards boosting India’s second-strike capabilities. However, it also acknowledges the current limits:

Defence scientists admit that given Shaurya's limited range at present, either the silos will have to be constructed closer to India's borders or longer-range canisterised missiles will have to be developed.
DRDO expects the missile to become fully operational in two to three years.
Initially there was some confusion because an official reported that the tested missile was a nuclear-capable 700km-range SLBM K-15 Sagarika missile. This information was later on refuted by DRDO sources.

© Picture:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Missile Alliteration

Iran tested on November 10 a new (allegedly) domestically-designed and manufactured missile. So far, no further details have been disclosed but the name: Samen.

It seems that Iran is not only the wonderland of missile developments but that it also has a favor for S-missiles: AFP reported that Teheran test-fired two days later, on November 12, a new generation of ground-to-ground missile that was named Sajil (some sources also spell it Sejil). Little official statements are available about the missile’s specifics. The Iranian Defence Minister only mentioned that it is a two-stage missile that runs on solid fuel and has a range of 2,000 km. Iranian state television showed footage of a missile similar in size to the medium-range Shahab-3 being fired. Jane’s reported:

However, the Sajil's diameter appears greater than the 1.25 m of the Shahab. Intelligence sources consider the Sajil to be a new name for Iran's Ashura MRBM, which failed to deploy its second stage in an unsuccessful launch in November 2007.
The following video shows that Iranian experts are either not only good in photoshoping but also in video-editing or that the missile indeed lifted off.

Picture © AFP

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Asterixian wars

It is great to see that not only cartoons depict reality, sometimes it is also the other way round: I just felt reminded of the "Asterixian Wars". At the end of ‘Asterix and the Goths’ all clans of the Goths are allied with each other in various opaque configurations and they also fight each other. It is a huge mess and nobody knows who started it.

One can get a similar impression from the current debate about the use or nonsense of the current missile deployments and defense systems by reading the headlines of the recent days. NATO is concerned over Russia’s missile plan to station Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. Russia picks up this ‘blame your eastern neighbor’-game: Lavrov expressed his worries over Asian missile programs. One of his addressees – China – strikes back by announcing that global missile defense systems do not aid world stability. Moscow takes the same line by calling the alleged Iranian missile threat a ‘fairy tale’. At the same time Russia made the tremendously generous offer that it would not rush to deploy its tactical missiles near the Polish border if Washington scrapped plans to station a missile shield in east Europe (oddly enough Reuters speaks of ’a softer stand’). It should come to no surprise that the U.S. rejected these proposals. A MDA spokesperson counters that the Russians know that the missile shield is no threat.
So who was blamed by whom and why? Let’s hope this mess finds a different end that that in the Asterix cartoon.

Sorry for the long pause. I will write again on Tuesday.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

another treaty-signature and a strange congratulation

Right before the presidential elections there were are major news in to report on: last Friday the United States and the Czech Republic signed a framework agreement outlining terms for deploying a planned missile-tracking radar station on Czech territory.

The signed agreement does not come for free: U.S. Missile Defense Agency chief Henry Obering announced that the United States would provide $600,000 for Czech scientific research in exchange for agreeing to host the station – a sum that reminds of fire sale prices. It is a far cry from the $20bn that the Polish neighbors originally demanded.

The treaty still awaits parliamentary ratification which should – according to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek be put off until the next U.S. administration. So it sounds more like: “Okay, you get your signature but we will wait until the next president comes into office. Then we will (quietly) renegotiate.”

AFP reports:

"We want a delay to make sure about the attitude of the new American administration," said Topolanek. Initially, the Czechs were planning to ratify the missile shield agreements without waiting for the US presidential election results.
Some have no doubts about Obama’s attitude: Czech unsuccessful presidential candidate Jan Svejnar told the press that the missile shield project will go on despite the financial crisis even during the term of President Barack Obama. Poland shares this expectation.

In the meantime the Czech opposition Social Democratic Party demanded on November 3 that the Constitutional Court examines the legality of two deployment-agreements.

Faced with all these uncertainties the United States’ Missile Defense Agency is not getting tired to reiterating one of its old threats in order to increase the pressure on Warsaw and Prague. MDA Chieftain Trey Obering said that the United States has a fall-back plan for its European missile defense project should either Poland or the Czech Republic choose not to house key installations. However, he did not elaborate on this mysterious Plan B.

General Obering mentioned already last week that he is worried that delays in Poland's ratification could upset a tight timetable for deploying American missiles here to ward off attacks from so-called rogue states. He expects that interceptor base to be in operation in 2013 or 2014. The original deadline was set to 2012. Given the progress – or the lack of it – in the Czech Republic, it will not take long before we can hear a similar MBA addressing Prague.

The Russian President Medvedev came up with his own form of congratulating the newly elected U.S. President: he ordered the deployment of short-range missile systems in the Kaliningrad region on the EU's eastern border to counter the planned US missile defense installations in Eastern Europe.
"There will also be radio-electronic neutralisation of the new US missile defence installations from the Kaliningrad region," he added.
The idea of deploying Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad oblast is not new. Russia has been threatening to move Iskander missiles to Kalinigrad since April last year, but until now no specific order had been given.

We will see if Medvedev really lives up to his announcement or if this just an attempt to deviate the Russian public's attention from the difficulties caused by the financial crisis by providing them with an option be proud of the wannabe-strong and in military terms powerful country.