Friday, June 27, 2008

THAAD test and the necessity of the Eastern European GMD bases

The United States successfully conducted an interceptor test of their Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. In contrast to the Patriot system, which was tested earlier this month, the THAAD is not designed to hit the incoming warheads just before impact but operates on a longer range. It acts as the upper tier of a basic two-tiered defense against ballistic missiles that intercepts missiles during late mid-course or final stage flight.

The test on Wednesday was brought closer to real-life situations than it was the case during earlier launches:

To add realism to the test, personnel operating the THAAD system were not told when the target would be launched. They also for the first time used a semiautomatic mode to manually fire on the warhead.

Six minutes after the simulated missile launch, the mobile THAAD firing battery fired an interceptor from the Pacific Missile Range Facility near the island of Kauai. The interceptor successfully locked onto the target, traced its path and performed a “hit-to-kill” interception, destroying the mock missile with the force of its impact.

Maybe the need to get THAAD closer to real-life situation will increase even more. The Aviation Week writes that Capitol Hill denizens are increasingly debating whether the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) should alter its research and spending priorities to better address more immediate concerns than defending against a long-range strike. According to these plans theater-based missile defenses provided by the THAAD and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems would be emphasized while the ground-based midcourse defense in Europe would be de-emphasized.

Speaking of GMD: I had the chance to attend a very interesting two-day conference titled “Missile Defense, Russia and the Middle East – Coping with Transatlantic Divergence – Exploring Common Solutions” organized by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt. During the presentations one especially interesting point was made: according to non-quotable sources, MDA officials acknowledged that their GMD radar in Adak, Alaska, could deal with a hypothetical Iranian ICBM-threat! A certain upgrade would be necessary but no insurmountable obstacles exist. In other words: the radar base the United States hopes to set up in Brdy, Czech Republic is NOT necessary to track missiles that Iran might fly in some distant future across the Big Pond. So the question arises why does the United States insist on the construction of the base? Coincidentally, the next conference speaker used a map depicting five Russian missile bases that are in range of the interceptors that are planned to be based in Poland (or Lithuania)… Is the roaring Russian bear in the end right with its concerns that the European bases are intended to keep Russia in check?

We will have some time to gather more information on this issue. The NTI Newswire reported on Monday that the interceptor base faces a possible delay. The interceptors intended to be deployed would use two-stage booster rockets while the U.S.-based rockets have three stages. That difference means previous testing is required. Officials speak of at least three tests. MDA hopes to finish the tests before the beginning of 2011 which is a very ambitious aim. Washington had set a 2013 deadline to finish the whole system. Some defense experts expect that Pentagon will miss that date by up to five years.

Another delay looms: Czech opposition has gathered over 100,000 signatures in support of a proposal to hold a national referendum on the placement of the U.S. early-warning radar in the Czech Republic, an opposition spokesperson said on Thursday. Over 60% of the Czech population oppose the radar plans.

Andrew Thompson wrote for the Zurich ISN a commentary titled “Under the Radar”. He provides a great summary of the critical issues and the Czech Republic’s internal debate. Thompson brings up a very interesting point, which I have not read anywhere else:
One such scenario entails the suggested provision of Social-Democratic support for radar in exchange for approval of the EU Treaty of Lisbon by the Euroskeptic Civic Democrats. The political viability and realistic feasibility of such a complex deal and compromise package, however, is far from certain and already faces many questions.
A saying goes that NATO was founded to “Keep the Americans in, Soviets out and Germans down”. So what is this Czech Lisbon-radar deal about? Keeping the EU afloat, letting the Americans in and keeping Iranians / Russians down? However, it remains highly questionable if U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who is scheduled to come to Prague on the morning of Tuesday, July 8, will be able to sign a deal on the radar base – a base that is not required to counter a potential future Iranian threat!

Upcoming RS-24 tests

Yuri Solomonov, the chief designer of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, said in a recent interview to the VPK newspaper that the next test flights of the RS-24 (MIRVed Topol-M) are scheduled for the last quarter of 2008. If the tests are successful, the first RS-24 missiles will be operationally deployed in 2009. Pavel Podvig sees Solomonov’s comments in the light that they are good case against MIRVing Topol-M.

Iron Dome Delays

Israel scheduled to test-launch the Tamir interceptor as a part of the Iron Dome more than two weeks ago. Defense officials now acknowledged that the system has encountered an unexpected delay and that the launch was postponed until next month. The Jerusalem Post writes:

The launch test was cancelled at the last minute due to a technical malfunction at the test site in southern Israel, near the Ramon Air Force Base. The malfunction was not connected to the Iron Dome, officials said. The test had already been rescheduled several times, and officials said Tuesday it would not be conducted until the middle of July.
However, the officials are optimistic that the operational deadline of 2010 can be met – this stands in contrast to the perception of some skeptics who regard 2016 to be a more realistic timeline.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sea, land and now air - BrahMos everywhere

Back in March I wrote that the air-to air version of the BrahMos is in its finishing stages. This stage is now over. RIA Novosti writes:

"For the airborne version...we had to reduce the mass of the missile and to ensure aerodynamic stability after its separation from the aircraft. The air-launched platform has its own initial speed during the launch of the missile, so we have reduced the size of the booster. Now the missile is ready," Sivathanu Pillai told RIA Novosti in an exclusive interview.

The BrahMos missile has a range of 180 miles (290 kms) and can carry a conventional warhead of up to 660 pounds. It can hit surface targets while flying at an altitude as low as 10 meters (30 feet) and at a speed of Mach 2.8, which is about three times faster than the U.S.-made subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile.
India has chosen the Sukhoi-30MKI Flanker-H as platform for the BrahMos. Plans exist to produce at least 140 of these aircrafts by 2014 under a Russian license with full technology transfer.

RIA continues:
Experts estimate that India might purchase up to 1,000 BrahMos missiles for its Armed Forces in the next decade, and export 2,000 to third countries during the same period.
While earlier statements indicated that the airborne version for BrahMos is expected to be tested in 2009, the latest information did not contain any information in this direction.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New best buddy

It seems that Reuters read my post on alternative candidates to host the GMD interceptors. Yesterday afternoon they brought a story in which they informed that Washington has started negotiations with Lithuania on hosting the interceptor base. U.S. officials tried to play it down by calling these talks "general conversations". Obviously the U.S. government tries to increase the pressure on Warsaw hoping that the Poles will reduce the price for hosting the base in Poland, which is currently set to US$20bn.

A source in Warsaw close to the Polish negotiations said Washington had set no formal deadline for Warsaw, but added that late July would likely be the last chance for Prime Minister Donald Tusk's centre-right government to agree a deal.

If the United States is going to shift the focus from Poland to Lithuania one can expect to hear the roaring of the Russian bear even louder. Lithuania was a republic of the Soviet Union and is even closer to the Russian mainland than the Polish Gorsko.

Upcoming tests in Israel

Israel was expected to launch the Tamir interceptor last week. The Tamir is designed to kill artillery shells and short-range rockets and to be part of the Iron Dome. However, so far I could not find a confirmation that the interceptor test was carried out. This is not the only delay:

Aside from its high cost - $100,000 compared with $60-80,000 for fabricating a primitive Qassam - some experts doubt whether the Iron Dome can be operational by its target date of 2010. They think 2016 is the more realistic timeline.
DEBKAfile underlines another weak point of the Tamir:
Furthermore, according to Western defense experts, the air speed of a Palestinian missile fired from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza is 200 meters per second; it covers the 1,800 meters from Beit Hanoun to the edge of Sderot in 9 seconds, whereas the Iron Dome’s interceptor needs 15 seconds to locate, determine the flight path; it could engage the incoming Qassam missile only 6 seconds after it explodes on target.
The Tamir is not the only missile that is scheduled to be tested. The Financial Express reports that a long-range surface to air missile (LRSAM), which is jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and India’s Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad, is ready to go for launch test to Tel Aviv. Currently the missile parts are being delivered to Israel. Sources said the test is scheduled to take place in the end of June and early next month. A control and navigation test will follow later this year.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nuclear blackmailing and frustrated foreign ministers

General Campbell, the Commander of the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Alabama said there is “a sprint to longer range missiles” by U.S. adversaries, particularly Iran, Syria and North Korea. This sprint made it imperative that an interceptor site in Europe be quickly constructed. Campbell continued by describing ballistic missiles in Iranian hands as leverage for blackmail. This reminded me of the board game “Risk”: your mission is to liberate X countries of your choice, the words "occupy" or "invade" are not used. The bad guys use their missiles for blackmailing, the own arsenal serves purely defensive purposes. Why bother trying to see the problem from the other's perspective?

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt take a completely different position. He said that the threat emanating for the United States from ballistic missiles from “rogue states” has been decreasing during the last 20 years. He explained furhter that

[…] today, the world has fewer missiles than 20 years ago; fewer states are carrying out missile programs, and there are fewer enemy missiles targeted at the United States. He emphasized that fewer countries are developing long-range ballistic missiles than 20 years ago, and they are technically inferior. This fully applies to Iran.
A RIA Novosti report on the difficulties connected to the establishment of the European GMD bases concludes that it is becoming obvious that the United States will not start the deployment of its missile defense system under President Bush. Indicatively, this issue was not on the agenda of his farewell trip to Europe.

Meanwhile the Czech Foreign Karel Schwarzenberg connected his political future with the ratification of the deployment agreement. He said in an interview with Reuters, that if the deal does not go ahead, "I would have to go to the prime minister and hand in my resignation." Schwarzenberg seems also to be disappointed that the negotiations with Poland are bogged down. On June 11 he said that the interceptors could be installed elsewhere, for example “on a ship in the Baltic or the Northern Sea. They could be in one of the Baltic countries.” It is highly unlikely that the United States are in a position to not only start from scratch but rather conclude negotiations with a Baltic country during the lame duck phase. It will be interesting to see if Schwarzenberg sticks to his word and resigns if there will be no progress until the end of the year.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

China makes a Big Wave

I just read on the Russian Navy Blog that China tested on May 29 its newest SLBM. While the author refers to the missile as Tszyuylan-2 (Big Wave), I assume that it is the JL-2, the Ju Lang-2 (Giant Wave).

The former Russian Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Viktor Kravchenko comments:

“In the last few years, China has added to the experience and has amassed enough economic potential to accelerate the development of the maritime component of its nuclear forces”.
According to Japanese sources Project 094 submarines will be equipped with this missile that has an intercontinental range of flight and will thus be able to hit targets in Europe and the US from its pier. Russian TV Zvezda describes the missile to have a range of 8,000 km. This also supports the assumption that it was a JL-2 that has been tested.

AEGIS BMD test

On Thursday, June 5, the United States successfully conducted a flight test of the sea-based AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) element. This test was undertaken jointly by the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. Two interceptor missiles were used to take down the Scud-like SRBM in the final phase of its flight.

To increase the reality-level the crew of the USS Lake Erie, that was tasked to intercept the missile, was told only that the target missile would be fired sometime in the morning. The successful outcome made the skipper say: “I am suffering from post-shot euphoria.” We have to wait for the next test to see if he can be equally euphoric if only one interceptor is used to take down one missile.

The success was seen as a proof that Navy ships are capable of shooting down short-range targets in their last phase of flight using modified missiles the service already has, the military said. Originally the AEGIS system was designed as the sea-based midcourse component of the BMD systems. In 2006, the program's role was expanded to include a sea-based terminal defense effort. Rear Admiral Hicks, director of the AEGIS BMD program, said that over the next 20 months, the military plans to install terminal-phase missile interception capability on all 18 Navy ships equipped with AEGIS BMD.

Here is a brief summary for those of you who love PentagonTV:



In case you are not satisfied with the information provided there, then take a look at CBC’s Rick Mercer explaining “Ballistic Missile Defense in 30 seconds”.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cross-blogging: service life of Russian missiles

Pavel Podvig posted an update on Russian missile service lives. He writes that the service life of the Topol is 21 years, SS-19 Stiletto (UR-100NUTTH)- 31 years, both extended by one year. The SS-18 Satan (R-36MUTTH and R-36M2) will now be kept in service for 25 and 20 years, respectively.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Iran and Syria sign missile pact - UPDATED

Some brief cross-posting: UPI wrote yesterday that Iran and Syria signed a missile pact.

Under the agreement, Syria's missile units would come under the new Iranian missile section and their operations would be fully coordinated with Tehran.
Iranian officers are to be attached to Syrian units, while Syrian officers are posted to the Iranian command.
This move is expected to have a major inlfuence on the missile balance in the region. According to military sources quoted by UPI, Iran's control of four hostile missile fronts would virtually neutralize the American and Israeli anti-missile defense systems in the region.

Update: The Jerusalem based open source military intelligence website DEBKAfile.com elaborates on this by quoting military experts according to which the Arrow and the Patriot missile interceptors of the United States and Israel could handle incoming missiles from one or maybe two directions – but not four. A third Arrow battery has repeatedly experienced holdups and its is also highly unlikely that the Iron Dome system will be ready for operational testing against short-range missiles in the next year or two.

DPRK's missile test

Last Friday, on May 30, North Korea conducted three missile tests. According to a military source, the missiles were either the same type as the Soviet-made Styx surface-to-surface missile with a 40 kilometer-range launched in March or short-range missiles of a similar sort. Other sources identify the missiles as ship-to-ship missiles and to be of a variety of a former type made by the Soviet Union. Reportedly two of the three missiles have misfired.

It is assumed that the launches were part of a routine training and were not intended to provoke the south, since the missiles were fired well away from contested wasters off the western coast.

An ease of tension can also be observed a bit westward at the Taiwan Strait. Chinese leaders told Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party they would reduce the number of missiles aimed at the self-ruled island it sees as its own, a party official said on Monday in another sign of d├ętente. China did not set a timeline or estimate how many of its about 1,300 cruise missiles and SRBMs might be removed.

Picture © Alaskareport.com

Monday, June 2, 2008

Another summary

Because the last week was quite busy, I will only summarize the events of the recent days.

Let’s start off with a brief follow-up of my latest post on the Prithvi-II test-launch on May 23. I referred to the domain-b comment on the confusion about the designation of the missile because of the range of 350km. The answer is quite simple: the three military branches have their own types of the Prithvi. The Air Force version of the Prithvi-II which was inducted in 2004 has a range of 250km. In 2006 the Army got its version, originally with the same range. The missile that was launched now was an Army version with an extended range of up to 350km and capable of carrying a payload of 1,000kg. A DRDO press note said the missile was launched with an improved ‘Aided Inertial Navigation’ and achieved single-digit accuracy reaching close to zero CEP (Circular Error Probable). Newstrack India writes that the Prithvi-III is apparently the naval version of the Prithvi-II missile having 350 km range with a payload of 500kg.

The Business Standard provides some additional information on the latest member of the Agni-family:

The missiles that will run on these technologies will only be announced after the technologies are perfected. Saraswat admits he is working on a 5,000-kilometre range Agni-5 missile, with multiple warheads (MIRVs) that can manoeuvre and send out decoys to confuse enemy anti-missile defences. But the DRDO, he says, will only announce that programme, and ask the government for funding, when all the technologies are in place.
It comes to no surprise that during the course of the last week there were also some news related to the European components of the U.S. missile shield: Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President seems to be weary of too many nice words and diplomacy to soothe Russian concerns. He rather became very bossy and told the Washington Post that the Czech government will make its own decision on the U.S. missile defense shield, based on the country's interests, not on how Russia feels about the matter.

One senior Polish official expressed his view that President George Bush's hopes of sealing agreement to site parts of the Pentagon's missile shield in central Europe before he leaves office are fading fast. He was quoted saying that “Bush promised us a package, but the US is not delivering”. The same official also indicated that Warsaw had decided to wait until a new U.S. administration is installed in January in the hope that would produce a better deal. Poland’s Defense Minister Bogdan Klich mentioned that the United States should grant Poland the same level of aid to modernize its armed forces as it does to other key allies if it wants to site part of its missile defense shield there. Mr. Klich had Pakistan and Egypt in mind. These countries receive major sums in military aid. According to Reuters, U.S. has granted Pakistan US$10 billion since 2001 and Egypt will receive some $200 million this year. Contrasting with these figures, U.S. President George W Bush recently asked Congress for only US$20 million to modernize Poland's armed forces.

Russia came up with its usual barking. Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky told reporters that Russia was thinking about "asymmetrical" steps if the United States deploys missile defense elements in Europe. During his visit to Beijing, President Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu took issue with U.S. missile sites in the Czech Republic and Poland in a joint statement, saying such measures "do not support strategic balance and stability, and harm international efforts to control arms and the nonproliferation process." On the other hand, Moscow expressed its readiness to continue comprehensive consultations with the United States.

At the end two short pieces from the illegal arms trade: a Russian news agency says five men have been convicted of trying to illegally sell anti-aircraft missiles and related weaponry. U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley has announced that four countries in February last year prevented Syria from receiving equipment that could be used to test ballistic missile component. It seems that PSI works – sometimes.