Columbia University Warns Of Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Earthquakes May Endanger New York More Than Thought, Says Study
A study by a group of prominent seismologists suggests that a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed. Among other things, they say that the controversial Indian Point nuclear power plants, 24 miles north of the city, sit astride the previously unidentified intersection of two active seismic zones. The paper appears in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.
Many faults and a few mostly modest quakes have long been known around New York City, but the research casts them in a new light. The scientists say the insight comes from sophisticated analysis of past quakes, plus 34 years of new data on tremors, most of them perceptible only by modern seismic instruments. The evidence charts unseen but potentially powerful structures whose layout and dynamics are only now coming clearer, say the scientists. All are based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which runs the network of seismometers that monitors most of the northeastern United States.
Lead author Lynn R. Sykes said the data show that large quakes are infrequent around New Yorkcompared to more active areas like California and Japan, but that the risk is high, because of the overwhelming concentration of people and infrastructure. “The research raises the perception both of how common these events are, and, specifically, where they may occur,” he said. “It’s an extremely populated area with very large assets.” Sykes, who has studied the region for four decades, is known for his early role in establishing the global theory of plate tectonics.
The authors compiled a catalog of all 383 known earthquakes from 1677 to 2007 in a 15,000-square-mile area around New York City. Coauthor John Armbruster estimated sizes and locations of dozens of events before 1930 by combing newspaper accounts and other records. The researchers say magnitude 5 quakes—strong enough to cause damage–occurred in 1737, 1783 and 1884. There was little settlement around to be hurt by the first two quakes, whose locations are vague due to a lack of good accounts; but the last, thought to be centered under the seabed somewhere between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook, toppled chimneys across the city and New Jersey, and panicked bathers at Coney Island. Based on this, the researchers say such quakes should be routinely expected, on average, about every 100 years. “Today, with so many more buildings and people, a magnitude 5 centered below the city would be extremely attention-getting,” said Armbruster. “We’d see billions in damage, with some brick buildings falling. People would probably be killed.”
Starting in the early 1970s Lamont began collecting data on quakes from dozens of newly deployed seismometers; these have revealed further potential, including distinct zones where earthquakes concentrate, and where larger ones could come. The Lamont network, now led by coauthor Won-Young Kim, has located hundreds of small events, including a magnitude 3 every few years, which can be felt by people at the surface, but is unlikely to cause damage. These small quakes tend to cluster along a series of small, old faults in harder rocks across the region. Many of the faults were discovered decades ago when subways, water tunnels and other excavations intersected them, but conventional wisdom said they were inactive remnants of continental collisions and rifting hundreds of millions of years ago. The results clearly show that they are active, and quite capable of generating damaging quakes, said Sykes.
One major previously known feature, the Ramapo Seismic Zone, runs from eastern Pennsylvania to the mid-Hudson Valley, passing within a mile or two northwest of Indian Point. The researchers found that this system is not so much a single fracture as a braid of smaller ones, where quakes emanate from a set of still ill-defined faults. East and south of the Ramapo zone—and possibly more significant in terms of hazard–is a set of nearly parallel northwest-southeast faults. These include Manhattan’s 125th Street fault, which seems to have generated two small 1981 quakes, and could have been the source of the big 1737 quake; the Dyckman Street fault, which carried a magnitude 2 in 1989; the Mosholu Parkway fault; and the Dobbs Ferry fault in suburban Westchester, which generated the largest recent shock, a surprising magnitude 4.1, in 1985. Fortunately, it did no damage. Given the pattern, Sykes says the big 1884 quake may have hit on a yet-undetected member of this parallel family further south.
The researchers say that frequent small quakes occur in predictable ratios to larger ones, and so can be used to project a rough time scale for damaging events. Based on the lengths of the faults, the detected tremors, and calculations of how stresses build in the crust, the researchers say that magnitude 6 quakes, or even 7—respectively 10 and 100 times bigger than magnitude 5–are quite possible on the active faults they describe. They calculate that magnitude 6 quakes take place in the area about every 670 years, and sevens, every 3,400 years. The corresponding probabilities of occurrence in any 50-year period would be 7% and 1.5%. After less specific hints of these possibilities appeared in previous research, a 2003 analysis by The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation put the cost of quakes this size in the metro New York area at $39 billion to $197 billion. A separate 2001 analysis for northern New Jersey’s Bergen County estimates that a magnitude 7 would destroy 14,000 buildings and damage 180,000 in that area alone. The researchers point out that no one knows when the last such events occurred, and say no one can predict when they next might come.
“We need to step backward from the simple old model, where you worry about one large, obvious fault, like they do in California,” said coauthor Leonardo Seeber. “The problem here comes from many subtle faults. We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought. We need to take a very close look.” Seeber says that because the faults are mostly invisible at the surface and move infrequently, a big quake could easily hit one not yet identified. “The probability is not zero, and the damage could be great,” he said. “It could be like something out of a Greek myth.”
The researchers found concrete evidence for one significant previously unknown structure: an active seismic zone running at least 25 miles from Stamford, Conn., to the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, N.Y., where it passes less than a mile north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The Stamford-Peekskill line stands out sharply on the researchers’ earthquake map, with small events clustered along its length, and to its immediate southwest. Just to the north, there are no quakes, indicating that it represents some kind of underground boundary. It is parallel to the other faults beginning at 125th Street, so the researchers believe it is a fault in the same family. Like the others, they say it is probably capable of producing at least a magnitude 6 quake. Furthermore, a mile or so on, it intersects the Ramapo seismic zone.
Sykes said the existence of the Stamford-Peekskill line had been suggested before, because the Hudson takes a sudden unexplained bend just ot the north of Indian Point, and definite traces of an old fault can be along the north side of the bend. The seismic evidence confirms it, he said. “Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident,” says the paper. “This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.”
The findings comes at a time when Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, is trying to relicense the two operating plants for an additional 20 years—a move being fought by surrounding communities and the New York State Attorney General. Last fall the attorney general, alerted to the then-unpublished Lamont data, told a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel in a filing: “New data developed in the last 20 years disclose a substantially higher likelihood of significant earthquake activity in the vicinity of [Indian Point] that could exceed the earthquake design for the facility.” The state alleges that Entergy has not presented new data on earthquakes past 1979. However, in a little-noticed decision this July 31, the panel rejected the argument on procedural grounds. A source at the attorney general’s office said the state is considering its options.
The characteristics of New York’s geology and human footprint may increase the problem. Unlike in California, many New York quakes occur near the surface—in the upper mile or so—and they occur not in the broken-up, more malleable formations common where quakes are frequent, but rather in the extremely hard, rigid rocks underlying Manhattan and much of the lower Hudson Valley. Such rocks can build large stresses, then suddenly and efficiently transmit energy over long distances. “It’s like putting a hard rock in a vise,” said Seeber. “Nothing happens for a while. Then it goes with a bang.” Earthquake-resistant building codes were not introduced to New York City until 1995, and are not in effect at all in many other communities. Sinuous skyscrapers and bridges might get by with minimal damage, said Sykes, but many older, unreinforced three- to six-story brick buildings could crumble.
Art Lerner-Lam, associate director of Lamont for seismology, geology and tectonophysics, pointed out that the region’s major highways including the New York State Thruway, commuter and long-distance rail lines, and the main gas, oil and power transmission lines all cross the parallel active faults, making them particularly vulnerable to being cut. Lerner-Lam, who was not involved in the research, said that the identification of the seismic line near Indian Point “is a major substantiation of a feature that bears on the long-term earthquake risk of the northeastern United States.” He called for policymakers to develop more information on the region’s vulnerability, to take a closer look at land use and development, and to make investments to strengthen critical infrastructure.
“This is a landmark study in many ways,” said Lerner-Lam. “It gives us the best possible evidence that we have an earthquake hazard here that should be a factor in any planning decision. It crystallizes the argument that this hazard is not random. There is a structure to the location and timing of the earthquakes. This enables us to contemplate risk in an entirely different way. And since we are able to do that, we should be required to do that.”
New York Earthquake Briefs and Quotes:
Existing U.S. Geological Survey seismic hazard maps show New York City as facing more hazard than many other eastern U.S. areas. Three areas are somewhat more active—northernmost New York State, New Hampshire and South Carolina—but they have much lower populations and fewer structures. The wider forces at work include pressure exerted from continuing expansion of the mid-Atlantic Ridge thousands of miles to the east; slow westward migration of the North American continent; and the area’s intricate labyrinth of old faults, sutures and zones of weakness caused by past collisions and rifting.
Due to New York’s past history, population density and fragile, interdependent infrastructure, a 2001 analysis by the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranks it the 11th most at-risk U.S. city for earthquake damage. Among those ahead: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Behind: Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Anchorage.
New York’s first seismic station was set up at Fordham University in the 1920s. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, N.Y., has operated stations since 1949, and now coordinates a network of about 40.
Dozens of small quakes have been felt in the New York area. A Jan. 17, 2001 magnitude 2.4, centered  in the Upper East Side—the first ever detected in Manhattan itself–may have originated on the 125th Street fault. Some people thought it was an explosion, but no one was harmed.
The most recent felt quake, a magnitude 2.1 on July 28, 2008, was centered near Milford, N.J. Houses shook and a woman at St. Edward’s Church said she felt the building rise up under her feet—but no damage was done.
Questions about the seismic safety of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which lies amid a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people, were raised in previous scientific papers in 1978 and 1985.
Because the hard rocks under much of New York can build up a lot strain before breaking, researchers believe that modest faults as short as 1 to 10 kilometers can cause magnitude 5 or 6 quakes.
In general, magnitude 3 quakes occur about 10 times more often than magnitude fours; 100 times more than magnitude fives; and so on. This principle is called the Gutenberg-Richter relationship.

Hamas wants an Islamist state outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

‘Hamas wants an Islamist state in the West Bank’

An interview with Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, the IDF’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

By Yoav Limor

(March 15, 2021 / Israel Hayom)

Kamil Abu Rokon receives the rank of major general from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, and Abu Rokon’s wife in a ceremony at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 29, 2018. Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s office.

In November 2020, many months after cutting all ties with Israel, and with the declaration of Israeli sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria off the table, the Palestinian Authority agreed to renew security and defense cooperation with the Jewish state. The formal announcement came after lengthy behind-the-scenes contacts. The person behind those talks, which went on even when ties between Jerusalem and Ramallah were severed, was the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), IDF Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon.

In April, Abu Rokon is slated to finish a stormy three-year term as head of COGAT. For 42 years he has been following every twist and turn of the Palestinian system, and it’s doubtful that anyone else in Israel is as familiar with it as he is.

“I’ve been here since the attempt to transition to a civil administration following the Camp David accords, the attempt to find an alternative to the PLO through village organizations, and after that the First Intifada, the peace agreements, the Second Intifada, and everything after that,” he said.

“But the last few years have been more complicated and problematic than anything I remember from the past,” he added.

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‘Aid helps security’ 

The COVID-19 pandemic has piggybacked on the pre-existing crises in Gaza. Currently, unemployment in the coastal enclave is 45 percent. Electricity is available an average of 12 hours a day (16 in some areas)—a dramatic improvement compared to the four hours it had in the past.

Abu Rokon was a key partner in the process that led to this development, as the person who put together an agreement that stipulated that $8 million of the Qatari aid money sent to Gaza each month would go directly to pay Israeli energy companies that supply the diesel fuel to run the P.A.’s power plant.

According to Abu Rokon, the aid money is divided into three parts.

“$8 million goes to keep the power plant running; $10 million goes to help needy families, which get $100 each based on a list we approved; and the other $7 million goes to pay salaries of the civil servants who keep the public infrastructure in the Gaza Strip running,” he said.

Palestinians receive financial aid from Qatar at a post office in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Oct. 6, 2020. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Despite this aid, however, Abu Rokon describes the situation in the Strip as “a serious but stable humanitarian crisis.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, for example, feeds 1.3 million people in Gaza a day, supplies schools for 300,000 children and employs 20,000 adults. Abu Rokon says that after the United States slashed funding for UNRWA, the organization was forced to “beg,” as he put it, for an extension for its payments and other commitments.

Abu Rokon has been fighting to increase Gaza’s fishing zone to allow the residents a way to make a living, and he is also battling to have Gazan laborers allowed into Israel.

Palestinian fishermen prepare their nets in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sept. 2, 2020. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

“When I took over the role, 1,800 merchants would leave Gaza for Israel every day, and by the time COVID hit that number was up to 7,000. I thought we should let more in. I said, ‘Let me bring in 10,000 laborers a day, and I’ll get you a deal with Gaza.’ That didn’t happen because of COVID, but also because the Shin Bet [security agency] objected to it out of concern that Israel allowing in workers would be exploited to carry out terrorist attacks from Gaza.”

According to Abu Rokon, Gaza has been weathering the pandemic quite well in terms of public health, something he attributes to stricter discipline there.

“To everyone’s surprise, the situation there is fantastic. There are almost no fatalities, and there is very little spread,” he said.

Palestinian security services deployed to enforce a COVID-19 curfew in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Dec. 25, 2020. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

“Gaza isn’t Judea and Samaria. In Judea and Samaria, the Palestinians behave like people do in Israel—they walk around, come and go, have parties. In Gaza, there is strict discipline, so they have a very low COVID rate,” he added.

Asked whether a deal could nevertheless be cut with Hamas to exchange vaccines for the return of Israeli civilians and the bodies of Israeli soldiers being held by the terror group, Abu Rokon said that while in his opinion Hamas would agree to link the two things, doing so would not be advisable.

“It’s a very sensitive issue,” he said.

Friends of late Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin wear masks portraying them as they protest for the release of their bodies, which are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, outside the Knesset on July 1, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel should make humanitarian aid to Gaza conditional upon a solution to the problem of its missing and captive citizens, he said. He quoted former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot, who said that Israel should freely help the Gazans in five basic areas: electricity, water, sewage, food and health care.

“I think that this aid also helps our security,” he said, adding, “The protests at the border fence started because of the distress in Gaza, and our role is also to keep southern Israel calm.”

Palestinians take part in riots on the Gaza border, slinging stones at Israeli security forces. Photo by Hassan Jedi/Flash90.

In the meantime, the Gazans have started receiving vaccines from other sources, some of which come from the quota Israel delivered to the P.A., and some from donations from the rest of the world. Mohammad Dahlan, a rival to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, sent them 25,000 vaccine doses, and the World Health Organization intends to send them 40,000 more. Abu Rokon does not think that Israel needs to vaccinate everyone in Gaza, but does support a vaccine initiative for everyone in Judea and Samaria.

A shipment of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine sent by the United Arab Emirates arrives in the Gaza Strip, on Feb. 21, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Q: Explain that. 

A: The Gaza Strip is closed off, but Israel and Judea and Samaria are one epidemiological unit. Therefore, we started vaccinating the Palestinians who work in Israel. By the way, we aren’t paying for those vaccines, the money comes from part of the taxes their employers pay on their behalf. But we made it clear to the Palestinians that it was their responsibility to get vaccinated.

Q: Why? 

A: Because we don’t need the world to come down on us. We don’t control them. They’re an independent entity.

An uprising in Gaza? No chance.

“A year and a half ago, there was an attempt to challenge them [Hamas], and Hamas really gave it to them. Hamas is very powerful, and people don’t dare stick their necks out. I don’t think it will happen,” said Abu Rokon regarding the possibility of a popular revolt in Gaza.

Last week, Gaza held another round of Hamas elections, that resulted in Yahya Sinwar beating Nizar Awadallah in a close race.

“The old guard united against the existing system and put up a fight. I’m just reminding you that Awadallah was behind the Gilad Schalit incident,” said Abu Rokon.

Senior Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar speaks during a conference in Gaza City on Nov. 4, 2019. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Q: Which of them would have been better for Israel? 

A: Neither. They’re a terrorist organization, and that’s how they should be treated. It’s imprinted on their brains.

Q: Does Hamas want a long-term ceasefire deal with Israel? 

A: I don’t think it’s an option. First, the problem of the missing and captives has to be solved, then they need to acknowledge existing agreements and say they reject terrorism. At the moment, they won’t accept these terms, so they’re a terrorist organization.

Q: It won’t happen? 

A: In my opinion, no. They are motivated by hardline Islamist ideology. Their main goal right now is to take control of Judea and Samaria and establish an Islamist state there.

Members of the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 27, 2020. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Q: In the meantime, they are screwing over their own citizens. 

A: There are quite a few projects that could move ahead. A gas pipeline to Gaza, industrial zones. We’ve made it clear to them and every possible player that these won’t happen until the matter of our missing and captives is resolved.

Q: And what is their answer? 

A: They don’t answer. They’re stuck in their ideology. Why do they take money and dig attack tunnels rather than investing in hospitals?

Palestinian elections

For now, the main challenge he foresees is the upcoming Palestinian general election, set for May 22.

“Hamas really wants these elections, so they’re going along with things that they could have insisted on having their own way, like legal oversight, because their goal is to get into Judea and Samaria. They’ll cooperate with anything that can lead them there,” he said.

The current expectation is that Hamas will win some 40 percent of the vote, with 60 percent going to Fatah, he said. He noted that the results of the 2006 election defied expectations and said, “There could be a surprise this time, too.”

Palestinian Central Election Commission workers register citizens in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in preparation for the May elections, Feb. 10, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Such a surprise, he explained, would not occur because of popular support for Hamas, but because of the Palestinian public’s alienation from the P.A., internal rifts in Fatah and Hamas’s well-oiled political machine.

“They [Hamas] don’t’ have a majority among the population, but they are very well organized and they have a goal,” he said.

Abu Rukun says that Israel is not intervening in the internal Palestinian matter, but he does not envision a situation in which Israel would continue to abide by agreements made with the P.A. if it were under the leadership of Hamas.

“If that happens, automatically there would be no … security coordination, so we would have to ask ourselves what the agreements were still worth,” he said.

Q: And Abbas doesn’t understand that? 

A: Abbas is 86, and he doesn’t want to be remembered as the one who split the Palestinians and lost the Gaza Strip. He is busy with his legacy. He also wants to keep all the factions in the Palestinian political system, and apparently [to] curry favor with the new U.S. administration, which supports democratic processes. Other than that, he’s a little detached. It reminds me of what happened to [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak before the Arab Spring.

Q: Explain. 

A: The people who bring things to him and issue things in his name don’t understand the alienation between them and the Palestinian population.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, Aug, 18, 2020. Photo by Flash90.

Q: But the population in Judea and Samaria wants to live in freedom, not under a radical Islamist regime like in Gaza. 

A: That’s true, but most people are busy with their day-to-day lives. I assume that most of them don’t really believe that Hamas would take over. They’re busy with themselves.

Q: If Hamas wins the elections, what should Israel do? 

A: We’re preparing for every scenario, including the possibility of a rise in terrorism. I remind you that even when the P.A. cut ties with us last year, we continued to function and provided solutions.

Q: Whom do you expect will succeed Abbas as P.A. leader? 

A: I am betting on Nasser al-Kidwa [Yasser Arafat’s nephew, who represented the Palestinians in the United Nations and was the P.A.’s former foreign minister].”

Q: Not Mohammad Dahlan? 

A: I don’t see any chance of that. Hamas is letting him bring people into Gaza and toss money around there, but they aren’t suckers, and he has almost no traction in Judea and Samaria.

‘The Palestinians are like us’ 

Abu Rokon, 62, lives in Isfiya, a Druze-majority town in the Haifa region. He has three children and three grandchildren (“one of them named Kamil, after me”). April will mark his third departure from the IDF, and he hasn’t yet decided what he will do next.

“At the moment, I don’t think I’ll hold another public position,” he said.

He enjoys very good relations with the top P.A. brass.

“When Naftali Bennett was defense minister, he told me they loved me. I said that was right, and that I used it for the sake of Israel’s security interests.”

He tells his staff that their job is to prevent a humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians, “Because it would reach us.”

According to Abu Rokon, the Palestinians—after an initial angry response—accepted the Abraham Accords and are now expecting them to result in aid for themselves. But anyone who thinks that they will demonstrate flexibility and become willing to make political concessions, he said, should think again.

“Unfortunately, they are losing time. Soon it won’t be possible to do anything,” he says.

Q: Is it solvable? Is there willingness? 

A: Where, with us or with them?

Q: You handle “them.” 

A: Yes. I think that they really want to make progress.

Q: Their actions don’t indicate that. Look at how they went to The Hague. 

A: They did that because of the impasse, and because they wanted to shake up the system and exert some influence. I have no doubt that our military is the most moral in the world, and if The Hague has any questions about it, they should look into what [Syrian President Bashar] Assad did or what they’re doing in Iran, and then get back to us.

Q: Do they take an interest in our election? Are they involved in our elections? 

A: At every meeting, they take care to say that Israel’s elections are an Israeli matter. There is Muhammad al-Madani, Abbas’s adviser on Israeli society. In my opinion, he is in touch with the Israeli side, but I don’t think they’re really involved.

Q: What does the average Israeli reading this interview not know about the Palestinians? 

A: They are an educated people, similar to us. It’s not Jordan or Egypt. We live close to one another, work with each other. The Palestinians aren’t the devil. Most of them are good people, who just want to live. The young generation wants to be left alone. They want rights. They want to live like any other young people in the West. They want economic security. I was in Hebron two weeks ago. Everything there is broken—the markets, the shopping malls. All the display windows. It’s like Istanbul.

Q: You’re basically saying that what the accords didn’t do, economics will. 

A: If I were a Palestinian, I probably wouldn’t say that, because they have national aspirations, but the economy is definitely the major thing. In 2030, 3 million people will be living in the Gaza Strip. We need to think two steps ahead. The economy leads to stable security, and our job is to give the political echelon the flexibility and the freedom to work. I think that there is an opportunity right now to move toward bigger things with the Palestinians.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom. 

Iran was NOT responsible for Iraq attacks

Iran tells UN it was not behind attacks on US interests in Iraq

Several rockets hit a military base in Erbil, northern Iraq last month, killing a foreign civilian contractor.

Maziar Motamedi15 Mar 2021

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Guterres, the country’s UN envoy Majid Takht-Ravanchi ‘decisively’ rejects claims against Tehran [File: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Iran has told the United Nations that claims of its role in attacks on United States interests in Iraq are “completely baseless and lacking legal credibility”.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the country’s UN envoy Majid Takht-Ravanchi “decisively” rejected claims that Iran-backed paramilitary forces were behind recent attacks against the US.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has not had any involvement, directly or indirectly, in any armed attacks by any entities or individuals against the United States in Iraq,” he wrote, according to parts of the letter’s text published by state-run IRNA news on Monday.

Last month, several rockets hit a military base inside the airport in Erbil, northern Iraq, which killed one foreign civilian contractor and wounded at least nine others, including an American soldier.

Foreign troops deployed as part of the US-led coalition that helped Iraq fight the ISIL (ISIS) armed group since 2014 are stationed at the site.

A shadowy group calling itself Awliya al-Dam – or the Guardians of the Blood – claimed responsibility for the attack and said it would continue to target “occupation” American forces in Iraq.

Several other rocket attacks were launched against US interests in Iraq in the following weeks.

Most recently, several rockets landed in the Ain al-Asad base in early March.

In January 2020, shortly after the US assassinated Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired more than a dozen rockets at the base in an attack that bore no casualties.

Biden orders military operation

In response to the recent attacks, US President Joe Biden launched the first military operation of his administration, ordering an air attack on facilities in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq, which the US said are used by Iran-backed militias.

The air attack, which Biden said was “proportionate” and aimed at creating “deterrence”, killed 22 people, according to war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In his letter, Iran’s envoy to the UN condemned the air attack, calling it “illegal”.

The US attacks amount to a “violation of the sovereignty of the region’s countries and a clear symbol of the gross violation of international rights and the UN Charter”, Takht-Ravanchi said.

The representative also said the US moves only destabilise the region further and serve to advance the interests of “terrorist groups”.

He requested the letter be formally recognised as a UN Security Council document.

In late February, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, in Tehran that the recent rocket attacks against US positions in Iraq are “suspicious” and the perpetrators must be identified.

The regional conflicts have escalated as Iran and the US continue to be at a standstill over restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The Changing Nuclear Horns: Daniel

Today’s D Brief: Coasties vs. China; UK to add nukes?; Iran’s ‘missile city’; Norway’s civilian defenders; And a bit more.

Ben WatsonMarch 15, 2021 10:30 AM ET

The U.S. Coast Guard is working 6,600 miles off the U.S. coast and about 2,700 miles off the Chinese coast, and its mission is “helping counter China’s growing naval power in the Pacific,” the Wall Street Journal reports this morning — starting with a December operation near the Pacific island nation of Palau.

• The Coast Guard’s extended reach will be nothing new to our podcast listeners, who may have heard CG Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz mention as much in our conversation last June.

There are, however, several new elements that have developed since that late spring chat, according to the Journal’s Lucy Craymer and Ben Kesling: “In the past few months, [the USCG has] based two of its most advanced new cutters in the U.S. territory of Guam, nearly 4,000 miles closer to Shanghai than it is to San Francisco. One more is due to arrive in the coming months.”

And that’s not all: “For the first time, the Coast Guard has an attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia, and another attaché will move to Singapore next year…The Coast Guard is also investigating stationing a ship in American Samoa.” What’s more, “The Coast Guard is investing more than $19 billion in at least eight national-security cutters, 25 offshore-patrol cutters, and 58 fast-response cutters,” Craymer and Kesling write. If all goes to plan this year, at least eight of those ships will be deployed in a position to counter China.”

One reason to bring this all up: SecDef Lloyd Austin is in the region this week for his first overseas trip as Pentagon chief.

ICYMI: Four ways U.S. naval forces could be more “assertive” in the Western Pacific without being “aggressive,” as suggested by U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Francis, a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations,. Read that, here.

Related hearings on the Hill this week could include:

• The House’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations, which is hearing about “Disinformation in the Gray Zone: Opportunities, Limitations, and Challenges” at 11 a.m. on Tuesday;

• “Strategic Competition with China” is the focus of Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing;

• And China could come up during Thursday’s House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces hearing all about the U.S. Navy’s many unmanned systems.

This afternoon on the Hill (but in a closed hearing), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is assessing “the Policy and Legal Rationale of U.S. Airstrikes in Syria” featuring Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dana Stroul; Army Lt. Gen. James Mingus of the Joint Staff; and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood. A bit more here.

How Norway Is Folding Civilians into National Defense // Elisabeth Braw: Not even the U.S. military can be everywhere, so whole-of-society defense is gaining in importance.

The New ICBM Is a Legacy System, And Should Be Cancelled // William D. Hartung: Antiquated strategic thinking must not be allowed to drain funding that could be put toward more pressing threats.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Biden’s flat defense budget; Lockheed on the F-35 defensive; $549M for faulty Afghan planes, and more.

How Special Ops Became the Solution to Everything // Mark Bowden, The Atlantic: They’ve become a major military player—and maybe a substitute for strategic thinking.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day 10 years ago, the Syrian civil war began after nearly a dozen children were arrested and tortured for leaving graffitti that read “The people want the fall of the regime” in the southern city of Dera’a.

When it comes to Libya, “The empty logic of military escalation has failed,” President Biden’s national security advisor said Friday after Libyan lawmakers established a Government of National Unity late last week, capping 10 years of unrest since the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East. “The new government replaces two rival administrations — one based in the East and another in the West — that have been ruling Libya since 2014,” Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported Wednesday.

“It is long past time for foreign countries sending mercenaries and weapons that harm innocent Libyans to begin their withdrawal and respect the resounding Libyan calls for a peaceful political transition,” NSA Jack Sullivan said in his White House statement on Friday. “The United States stands with all those committed to elections and, in support of United Nations mediation and together with our international partners, we will promote accountability for any parties that seek to undermine the electoral roadmap Libyans have established.”

At least five Chinese companies pose a national security threat to U.S. communications networks, the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau announced in a statement Friday. The five companies include:

• Huawei Technologies Co.;

• ZTE Corp.;

• Hytera Communications Corp.;

• Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co.;

• And Dahua Technology Co.

Why this matters: “This list provides meaningful guidance that will ensure that as next-generation networks are built across the country, they do not repeat the mistakes of the past or use equipment or services that will pose a threat to U.S. national security or the security and safety of Americans,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. More on the announcement from Reuters, here.

UK may add sub-launched nuclear warheads for first time since Cold War. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s forthcoming review of defense and foreign policy is expected to halt the decline to a cap of 180 warheads, then raise that cap, The Guardian reports.

Why? “The full reasons for the anticipated move are not yet clear but it comes amid speculation it is designed to help persuade the US to co-fund aspects of a Trident replacement warhead for the 2030s.”

The move could violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, said David Cullen, the director of the Nuclear Information Service: “|If they are tearing up decades of progress in reducing numbers, it will be a slap in the face to the 190 other members of the treaty, and will be regarded as a shocking breach of faith.” Read on, here.

Today Iran wants attention on a “missile city” it has created and stocked with cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as “electronic warfare” gear, according to Reuters. Not a lot more to be known just yet from that report, which originated with Iran’s government; but read on at Reuters, here.

The Russian Nuclear Horn 2021:Daniel 7

Nuclear Notebook: Russian nuclear weapons, 2021

By Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, March 15, 2021

John Mecklin

Editor’s note: The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, a research associate with the project. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.

To see all previous Nuclear Notebook columns, click here.

Russia is in the middle of a decades-long modernization of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces to replace Soviet-era weapons with newer systems. In December 2020, President Vladimir Putin reported that modern weapons and equipment now make up 86 percent of Russia’s nuclear triad (Russian Federation 2020a), compared to the previous year’s 82 percent (Russian Federation 2019a). He additionally noted that he expects that number to rise to 88.3 percent in 2021. As in previous years, Putin’s remarks emphasized the need for Russia’s nuclear forces to keep pace with Russia’s competitors: “It is absolutely unacceptable to stand idle. The pace of change in all areas that are critical for the Armed Forces is unusually fast today. It is not even Formula 1 fast—it is supersonic fast. You stop for one second and you start falling behind immediately” (Russian Federation 2020a).

Putin also noted his disappointment with the “deterioration” of the US-Russia arms control regime, and declared that the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Open Skies Treaty under “contrived pretexts.” He also addressed the “uncertainty” around New START: “We have repeatedly stated our readiness to extend the treaty but there has been no response” (Russian Federation 2020a).

Russia’s nuclear modernization programs, combined with an increase in the number and size of military exercises and occasional explicit nuclear threats against other countries, contribute to uncertainty about Russia’s long-term intentions and growing international debate about the nature of its nuclear strategy. These concerns, in turn, stimulate increased defense spending, nuclear modernization programs, and political opposition to further nuclear weapons reductions in Western Europe and the United States.

As of early 2021, we estimate that Russia has a stockpile of roughly 4,460 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces. This number is a little higher than last year due to the addition of the fourth Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) and an increase in non-strategic warheads. At the same time, we have lowered the estimate for strategic bomber weapons to better match the number of operational bombers. Of the stockpiled warheads, approximately 1,630 strategic warheads are deployed: just over 800 on land-based ballistic missiles, about 624 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and 200 at heavy bomber bases. Another 920 strategic warheads are in storage, along with about 1,910 nonstrategic warheads. In addition to the military stockpile for operational forces, a large number—approximately 1,760—of retired but still largely intact warheads await dismantlement, for a total inventory of approximately 6,220 warheads.1 (See Table 1.)

KristensenKorda Russia Table 1

Russia has significantly reduced the number of warheads deployed on its ballistic missiles to meet the New START limit of no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Russia achieved the required reduction by the February 5, 2018 deadline, when it declared 1,444 strategic warheads attributed to 527 launchers (Russian Federation Foreign Affairs Ministry 2018). The most recent data, declared on September 1, 2020, listed Russia with 1,447 deployed warheads attributed to 510 strategic launchers (US State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance 2020a). These numbers differ from the estimates presented in this Nuclear Notebook because the New START counting rules artificially attribute one warhead to each deployed bomber, even though Russian bombers do not carry nuclear weapons under normal circumstances, and because this Nuclear Notebook counts weapons stored at bomber bases that can quickly be loaded onto the aircraft.

If New START were allowed to expire, Russia (like the United States) could upload several hundreds of extra warheads onto their launchers, which means that the treaty has proven useful in keeping a lid on both countries’ deployed warheads. Additionally, if New START expired, then both countries would lose a critical mode of transparency into each other’s nuclear forces: As of December 2020, the United States and Russia have completed a combined 328 on-site inspections and exchanged 21,293 notifications (US State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance 2020b). Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there have been no on-site Type One or Type Two inspections since April 1st, 2020.

Due to New START limitations, Russia appears to have been forced to reduce the warhead loading on some of its missiles to less than maximum capacity. We do not know the breakdown of the loading because Russia, unlike the United States, does not publish an unclassified overview of its strategic forces. However, the most recent reduction may have involved scaling back the number of warheads on each SS-18 and SS-27 Mod 2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), as well as on each SS-N-32 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). This indicates that New START places real constraints on Russia’s deployed strategic forces. The result appears to be an increased reliance on a strategic reserve of non-deployed warheads that can be loaded onto missiles in a crisis to increase the size of the force—a strategy similar to the one the United States has relied on for several decades.

Overall, Russia’s nuclear modernization effort will present the international arms control community with new challenges. Unless a new arms reduction agreement is reached in the near future, the shrinking of Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal that has characterized the past two decades will likely come to an end, with the force leveling out at around 530 launchers with roughly 2,500 assigned warheads. However, Russia’s financial crisis represents a significant challenge to maintaining this force level, as exemplified by delays in production of several major weapon systems such as the Sarmat ICBM (SS-29) and the RS-26 Rubezh, the cancellation of the once highly-touted Barguzin rail-based ICBM, and less expansive upgrades to many of the road-mobile ICBM garrisons.

Russia’s nuclear modernization program is motivated in part by Moscow’s strong desire to maintain overall parity with the United States, but also by the Russian leadership’s apparent conviction that the US ballistic missile defense system constitutes a real future risk to the credibility of Russia’s retaliatory capability. Policy and strategy aside, the development of multiple weapon systems also indicates the strong influence of the military-industrial complex on Russia’s nuclear posture planning.

What is Russia’s nuclear strategy?

The international debate about Russia’s nuclear strategy has reached a new level of intensity, particularly after the Trump administration published its Nuclear Posture Review in February 2018. The Nuclear Posture Review claims that “Russian strategy and doctrine emphasize the potential coercive and military uses of nuclear weapons. It mistakenly assesses that the threat of nuclear escalation or actual first use of nuclear weapons would serve to ‘de-escalate’ a conflict on terms favorable to Russia” (US Defense Department 2018, 8). Specifically, the document claims, “Moscow threatens and exercises limited nuclear first use, suggesting a mistaken expectation that coercive nuclear threats or limited first use could paralyze the United States and NATO and thereby end a conflict on terms favorable to Russia.” This so-called “escalate to de-escalate” doctrine “follows from Moscow’s mistaken assumption of Western capitulation on terms favorable to Moscow” (US Defense Department 2018, 30).

The former head of the US Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten, reacted to “Russia’s destabilizing doctrine on what some call escalate to deescalate” by saying: “I really hate that discussion. I’ve looked at the Russian doctrine. I’ve looked at Russian writings. It’s not escalate to deescalate, it’s escalate to win. Everybody needs to understand that” (Hyten 2017). Some have suggested that Russian leaders are signaling a willingness to use nuclear weapons even before an adversary retaliates against a Russian conventional attack by “employing the threat of selective and limited use of nuclear weapons to forestall opposition to potential aggression” (emphasis added) (Miller 2015). The implication is that Russia would potentially use nuclear weapons first to scare an adversary into not even defending itself.

Such characterizations conflict with Russia’s publicly stated policy. In June 2020, President Putin approved an update to the “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence,” which notes that “The Russian Federation considers nuclear weapons exclusively as a means of deterrence.” The policy clearly lays out four conditions under which Russia could launch nuclear weapons:

1 “arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

2 use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

3 attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions;

4 aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy” (Russian Federation Foreign Affairs Ministry 2020).

The document’s emphasis on deterrence by punishment, as well as the “defensive” nature of Russia’s nuclear weapons is likely intended to be a response to the aforementioned US claims of a Russian “escalate-to-deescalate” policy. The updated policy is also consistent with remarks that President Putin made to the Valdai Club in October 2018, when he stated that “Our nuclear weapons doctrine does not provide for a pre-emptive strike.” Rather, he went on, “our concept is based on a reciprocal counter strike … This means that we are prepared and will use nuclear weapons only when we know for certain that some potential aggressor is attacking Russia, our territory” (Russian Federation 2018a). This is additionally consistent with previous iterations of Russian nuclear policy, which has largely remained unchanged since President Putin came to power in 2000 (Russian Federation 2014; Russian Federation 2010). Although some initial reports interpreted Putin’s 2018 Valdai Club comments to mean that Russia might be adopting a nuclear no-first-use policy, this does not seem to be the case; his remarks were more likely meant to respond to the US Nuclear Posture Review’s claim that Russia has lowered its threshold for first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict (Stowe-Thurston, Korda, and Kristensen 2018). Because Putin’s comments imply that Russia would only use nuclear weapons in retaliation against an existential threat, independent analysts have challenged the Nuclear Posture Review’s characterization of the Russian strategy as overblown and a misreading of Russia’s nuclear doctrine.2

Whatever Russia’s nuclear strategy is, Moscow seems to be administering it more dynamically and offensively than it did a decade ago. Russian officials have made many statements about nuclear weapons that appear to go beyond the published doctrine, threatening to potentially use them in situations that do not meet the conditions described. For example, officials explicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons against ballistic missile defense facilities, and in regional scenarios that do not threaten Russia’s survival or involve attacks with weapons of mass destruction (The Local 2015).

Moreover, the fact that Russian military planners are pursuing a broad range of existing and new versions of nuclear weapons suggests that the real doctrine goes beyond basic deterrence and toward regional war-fighting strategies, or even weapons aimed at causing terror. One widely-cited example involves the so-called Status-6—known in Russia as “Poseidon” and in the United States as “Kanyon”—a long-range nuclear-powered torpedo that a Russian government document blatantly described as intended to create “areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time” (Podvig 2015). A diagram and description of the proposed weapon, first revealed in a Russian television broadcast, can still be seen on YouTube (YouTube 2015). The weapon, which is under development, appears designed to attack harbors and cities and would cause widespread indiscriminate collateral damage in violation of international law.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Force currently deploys several variants of silo-based and mobile ICBMs. The silo-based ICBMs include the SS-18, SS-19, SS-27 Mod 1, SS-27 Mod 2, and the mobile ICBMs include the SS-25, SS-27 Mod 1, and SS-27 Mod 2. In December 2020, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared that 95 percent of Russia’s strategic missile forces are continuously ready for combat use (Russian Federation 2020a).

Based on what we can observe via satellite images, combined with information published under New START by various US government sources, Russia appears to have approximately 310 deployed ICBMs, which we estimate can carry approximately 1,162 warheads. (See Table 2.) The size of the force that we can observe, however, is difficult to square with statements made by Russian officials. Since 2016, and again most recently in December 2019, the commander of the country’s Strategic Rocket Forces, Col. Gen. Sergei Karakaev, has stated that Russia had approximately 400 ICBMs on combat duty (TASS 2016; Andreyev and Zotov 2017; Karakaev 2019). But since Russia declared 510 deployed strategic launchers in total as of September 2020, a force of 400 ICBMs would mean Russia only deployed 110 SLBMs and bombers, which seems unlikely (US State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance 2020a). It is possible Karakaev is referring to all ICBMs in the inventory, not just those that are deployed. Modernization of the ICBM force also involves equipping upgraded silos with new air-defense systems, and the new Peresvet laser has been deployed with five road-mobile ICBM divisions for the purpose of “covering up their maneuvering operations” (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2019a).

The ICBMs are organized under the Strategic Rocket Forces in three missile armies with a total of 11 divisions consisting of approximately 39 missile regiments (see Table 2). The 40th regiment in the 12th division at Yurya is not nuclear-armed. The ICBM force has been declining in number for three decades, and Russia claims to be 81 percent of the way through a modernization program to replace all Soviet-era missiles with newer types by the early 2020s on a less-than-one-for-one basis (Krasnaya Zvezda 2020a). Currently, the remaining Soviet-era ICBMs include the SS-18, the SS-19, and the SS-25.

KristensenKorda Russia Table 2

The SS-18 (RS-20V or R-36M2 Voevoda) is a silo-based, 10-warhead heavy ICBM first deployed in 1988. It is reaching the end of its service life, with approximately 46 SS-18s with up to 460 warheads remaining in the 13th Missile Division at Dombarovsky and the 62nd Missile Division at Uzhur. We estimate the number of warheads on each SS-18 has been reduced for Russia to meet the New START treaty limit for deployed strategic warheads. The SS-18 is scheduled to begin retiring in the next one or two years, when the SS-29 (Sarmat or RS-28) ICBM will begin to replace it at the Uzhur missile field.

The silo-based, six-warhead SS-19 (RS-18 or UR-100NUTTH) entered service in 1980 and might finally have been retired and replaced by the silo-based SS-27 Mod 2 (RS-24). It is possible that the SS-19 has been retired from combat duty, but two regiments that used to be armed with the missile still show significant activity. A small number of converted SS-19s are being deployed with two regiments of the 13th Missile Division at Dombarovsky as the SS-19 Mod 4 with the new Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles (see below).

Russia continues to retire its SS-25 (RS-12M or Topol) road-mobile missiles at a rate of one or two regiments (nine to 18 missiles) each year, replacing them with the SS-27 Mod 2 (RS-24). There remains some uncertainty about how many SS-25s are fully operational. Base upgrades used to involve significant rebuilding, but satellite images indicate that Russia has started to upgrade the bases by simply replacing the SS-25s with the new SS-27 launchers and their service vehicles, which are maintained under camouflage nets. We estimate that as few as 27 SS-25s remain in the active force.

The new ICBMs include two versions of the SS-27: the Mods 1 and 2. We estimate that these two versions now carry more warheads than all the remaining SS-18s. The SS-27 Mod 1 is a single-warhead missile, known in Russia as Topol-M, that comes in either mobile (RS-12M1) or silo-based (RS-12M2) variants. Deployment of the SS-27 Mod 1 was completed in 2012 with a total of 78 missiles: 60 silo-based missiles with the 60th Missile Division in Tatishchevo, and 18 road-mobile missiles with the 54th Guards Missile Division at Teykovo. Russian officials indicated in 2019 that the Topol-M units eventually will be upgraded to RS-24 Yars as well.

The focus of the current and bigger phase of Russia’s modernization is the SS-27 Mod 2, known in Russia as the RS-24 (Yars), which is a modified SS-27 Mod 1 (or Topol-M) that can carry up to four multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). During an interview with Col. Gen. Sergei Karakaev in December 2020, the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV channel declared that approximately 150 mobile and silo-based Yars had been deployed by the Strategic Rocket Force (Zvezda 2020). Following initial deployment from 2010 to 2012 of the first 18 SS-27 Mod 1 missiles in two regiments with the 54th Guards Missile Division at Teykovo, SS-27 Mod 2 upgrades now appear to be complete at the 39th Guards Missile Division at Novosibirsk, the 42nd Missile Division at Nizhny Tagil, the 14th Missile Division at Yoshkar-Ola, and the 29th Guards Missile Division at Irkutsk. According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, three missile regiments were equipped with SS-27 Mod 2 ICBMs in 2020, including the completion of the scheduled upgrade at Irkutsk, which was announced in September 2020 (Russian Federation 2020a; TASS 2020a). Although these divisions now all have been equipped with the SS-27 Mod 2, many of the garrisons are not equipped to accommodate all the vehicles required to support the launchers and will continue to undergo construction for several years.

The next mobile ICBM divisions to be upgraded are the 35th Missile Division at Barnaul and the 7th Missile Division at Vypolsovo. The first regiment at Barnaul (the 479th Guards Missile Regiment) went on preliminary combat alert duty with the Yars in September 2019 and full combat duty in December 2019 (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2019c). The Barnaul division formally accepted its second Yars regiment (the 480th Missile Regiment) in December 2020 (RIA Novosti 2020). The Strategic Rocket Force is expected to put 13 additional Yars and Avangard systems on alert in 2021 (Russian Federation 2020a); it is expected that a portion of these Yars systems will be used to upgrade the third Barnaul regiment, with upgrades to the fourth regiment following a year or two later (Podvig 2020a). The Vypolsovo division started early preparations for the upgrade in 2019 (Tikhonov 2019), and it is possible that one of its two regiments has already stood down its SS-25 launchers. Col. Gen. Karakaev confirmed in December 2020 that neither the Barnaul nor Vypolsovo division had completed their scheduled upgrade to the SS-27 Mod 2 by the end of the year (Krasnaya Zvezda 2020).

RELATED: Nuclear notebook: Chinese nuclear forces, 2020

Col. Gen. Karakaev confirmed in December 2020 that the 28th Guards Missile Division at Kozelsk remains one of only three divisions that have not yet completed their scheduled upgrade to the SS-27 Mod 2 (Krasnaya Zvezda 2020). However, work at Kozelsk proceeds: The first regiment (the 74th Missile Regiment) officially began combat duty with its full complement of 10 missiles in November 2018, after initially being declared operational (likely with just six missiles) in 2015 (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2018b). Satellite pictures show that upgrades are well underway at all the silos of a second regiment (the 168th Missile Regiment). According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, two additional SS-27 Mod 2 missiles were loaded into their silos at Kozelsk in September 2020 (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2020b), and by the end of 2020, Col. Gen. Karakaev declared that “the reequipment of the missile regiment in the Kozelsk missile formation for the silo version of this complex has been completed…” (Tass 2020o). Apart from the missiles themselves, the upgrade involves extensive modification of external fences, internal roads, and facilities. Each site is also receiving a new fixed air-defense system, probably to defend the silo against cruise missiles and drones.

The Russian Defense Ministry says the completion of all preparatory infrastructure for Yars bases across the country is scheduled for completion by 2021 (TASS 2019b), although full completion is likely to take longer than that. The entirety of the Yars upgrade is expected to be completed by 2024 (TASS 2020a). Yet Col. Gen. Karakaev also stated that the military in 2021 will “begin [to] re-equip the next regiment of the Kozelsk missile formation,” apparently the third regiment of the 28th Guards Missile Division (TASS 2020o). This is probably the 214th regiment. Given the time it took to complete the upgrades of the first two regiments at Kozelsk, it seems unlikely that the Yars upgrade can be completed by 2024.

Final development and deployment of a compact SS-27 version, known as Rubezh (Yars-M or RS-26), appears to have been delayed at least until the next armament program in the late 2020s (TASS 2018a). A rail-based version known as Barguzin appears to have been canceled.

Russia is also developing the heavy SS-29, or Sarmat (RS-28), which will begin replacing the SS-18 (RS-20V) at Uzhur in 2021. Three ejection tests were conducted in December 2017, March 2018, and May 2018 at the Plesetsk Space Center, involving cold launch and test firing of the Sarmat’s first stage and booster engine. These tests were originally scheduled for 2016 but were delayed because of difficulties that appeared during the missile’s strength tests. The closing test stages, which will include a test launch with the 62nd Missile Division at Uzhur, was supposed to be completed by the end of 2020; however, this has been delayed, likely due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In December 2020, Defense Minister Shoigu suggested that Sarmat flight tests would take place during the summer of 2021 at the new Severo-Yeniseysky proving ground (Russian Federation 2020a). Following the success of these tests, Sarmat will officially be handed over to the military and serial production will begin. As of March 2020, Sarmat’s industrial production line has apparently completed all the necessary upgrades to prepare for serial production, which is expected to begin in 2021, barring any unforeseen delays (TASS 2020c; Safronov and Nikolsky 2019).

There are many rumors about the SS-29, which some in the media have dubbed the “Son of Satan” because it is a follow-on to the SS-18, which the United States and NATO designated “Satan”—presumably to reflect its extraordinary destructive capability. Rumors that the SS-29 could carry 15 or more MIRV warheads, though, seem exaggerated. We expect that it will carry about the same number as the SS-18 plus penetration aids. It is possible that a small number will be equipped to carry the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, which are currently being installed on a limited number of SS-19 Mod 4 boosters at Dombarovsky. If the SS-29 replaces all current SS-18s, it will be installed in a total of 46 silos of the three regiments at the Dombarovsky missile field and four regiments at the Uzhur missile field (six regiments of six missiles, and one regiment of 10 missiles). In December 2020, Col. Gen. Sergei Karakaev announced that the first Sarmat missiles would be “put on alert” at Uzhur sometime in 2022 (Krasnaya Zvezda 2020).

The new Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle is designed to evade missile defenses and is initially being fitted atop modified SS-19 missiles (SS-19 Mod 4) at Dombarovsky and possibly later on SS-29 missiles at Uzhur. Russia is currently deploying the new weapon at a rate of two per year: the first two missiles at Dombarovsky began combat duty on December 27th, 2019, followed by another two in December 2020 (TASS 2019k; Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2020a). The regiment is expected to receive the next two missiles––thus achieving a full complement of six missiles––by the end of 2021 (TASS 2020b). A second regiment of six missiles will reportedly be added by the end of 2027, to coincide with the completion of the current state armament program (TASS 2018b). The sites that have already been equipped with Avangard at the 621st Missile Regiment still appear to be upgrading with new and different security perimeters, in addition to new buildings for crew and guards. Two more silos are also being upgraded, presumably for the next two Avangard missiles. Similar to the new silos at Kozelsk, the modified Dombarovsky silos appear to have some form of air defense system.

While the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review anticipated that Russian missile forces will increase over time, that will not necessarily be the case. The US National Air and Space Intelligence Center predicted in 2017 that “the number of missiles in the Russian ICBM force will continue to decrease because of arms control agreements, aging missiles, and resource constraints” (US Air Force 2017, 26). So, unless New START is jeopardized, that trend will likely continue, although the force level will likely level out as the modernization program is completed. The treaty is due to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for five years with approval by the Russian and US presidents.

After previous uncertainty about whether Russia’s new strategic systems would fit into the counting rules under New START, the deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department stated in November 2019 that both Sarmat and Avangard could be “easily included” in the treaty. Regarding Sarmat, he said that it would enter the treaty “as a new type of ICBM, for which there is a special procedure, from the creation of a prototype to its authorization for service.” He further noted that Avangard “will enter the treaty very smoothly” because “it is an optional warhead for an ICBM of the corresponding type, to which the treaty applies, too” (TASS  2019j). Putin declared in December that Russia was prepared to extend New START immediately, “without any preconditions” (Russian Federation 2019b).

Roscosmos director general Dimitry Rogozin suggested in July 2019 that going forward all retired Russian missiles should be “salvaged by launch,” meaning that they would be recycled for civilian purposes like space launches or asteroid deflection. This concept has already seen success with the Dnepr space launch vehicle, which was based on the retiring SS-18, but could soon be scaled up to include other types of retiring ICBMs like the SS-19s and SS-25s (Sputnik 2019).

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, between 2012 and 2020 the Strategic Rocket Force conducted ten Yars launches and five Avangard launches (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2020c, 13). Between 2019 and 2021, the Strategic Rocket Force is expected to conduct nine additional ICBM test launches: two Sarmats, three Yars, and four Topols, although it is possible that the latest scheduled tests will be postponed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (Pravda 2019). The Strategic Rocket Force often test-launches its missiles to the Sary-Shagan test site in Kazakhstan. However, given that Kazakhstan ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in August 2019, it is unclear whether the country will continue to allow Russia to use its test site at Sary-Shagan for its ICBM launches once the treaty enters into force in January 2021. Article 4(2) of the treaty notes that each state party must ensure “the elimination or irreversible conversion of all nuclear-weapons-related facilities.” This would necessarily include Sary-Shagan, which is clearly connected to Russia’s nuclear weapons complex (United Nations 2017). This means that upon entry into force, Kazakhstan will face a tough decision over whether to fully comply with the treaty and risk souring relations with Russia, or whether to dilute its compliance. This potential compliance issue could be the reason why Russia is building a new proving ground for its Sarmat tests at Severo-Yeniseysky, a decision which was announced in December 2020 (Russian Federation 2020a).

Russia is also developing a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile, known as 9M730 Burevestnik (NATO’s designation is SSC-X-9 Skyfall). This missile has faced serious setbacks: according to US military intelligence, it has failed nearly a dozen times since its testing period began in June 2016 (Panda 2019a). In November 2017, a failed test resulted in the missile being lost at sea, which required a substantial recovery effort (Macias 2018). A similar recovery effort in August 2019 resulted in an explosion that killed five scientists and two soldiers at Nenoksa; the explosion’s connection to Skyfall was confirmed by US State Department officials in October 2019 (DiNanno 2019). Due to these setbacks, it is possible that the Burevestnik program has been put on pause; there were no tests of the system in 2020 and, unlike other elements of Russia’s nuclear forces, it was not mentioned in Defense Minister Shoigu’s year-end remarks.

According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, over 950 structures and facilities have been built for the strategic missile forces as of December 2020. He further noted that launch facilities in Kozelsk, Yasnoye, Uzhur, Novosibirsk, and Yoshkar-Ola will be prioritized for completion next year (Russian Federation 2020a).

Submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles

The Russian Navy operates 11 nuclear-powered nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) of three classes: six Delta IV (Project 667BRDM), one Delta III (Project 667BRD), and four Borei (Project 955), one of which is an improved Borei-A (Project 955A).3 Each submarine can carry 16 SLBMs, and each SLBM can carry several MIRVs, for a combined maximum loading of approximately 816 warheads. Only some of these submarines are operational, and the warhead loading on some of the missiles may have been reduced as part of New START implementation, however, so the total number of warheads carried is lower, possibly around 624.

Until the mid 2020s, the mainstay of Russia’s nuclear submarine force will continue to be the six third-generation Delta IVs built between 1985 and 1992, each equipped with 16 SLBMs. All Delta IVs are part of the Northern Fleet and based at Yagelnaya Bay (Gadzhiyevo) on the Kola Peninsula. Russia has upgraded the Delta IVs to carry modified SS-N-23 SLBMs, known as Sinevas, each of which carries up to four warheads. A modified Sineva, known as Layner (or Liner), may carry a modified payload. Normally four to five of the six Delta IVs are operational at any given time, with the other one or two in various stages of maintenance.

Two Delta III nuclear submarines (K-223 Podolsk and K-433 Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets) were reportedly decommissioned in early 2018, leaving one Delta III – Ryazan (K-44) – operational with Russia’s Pacific Fleet on the Kamchatka Peninsula (Podvig 2018b). The remaining submarine is still visible in satellite images but doesn’t appear to sail much, although one. A missile launch in 2019 was partially aborted (Reuters 2019). The Delta III is equipped with 16 SS-N-18 M1 Stingray (RSM-50) SLBMs with three warheads each.

The Delta IIIs and Delta IVs will eventually be replaced by the new class of Borei (Project 955/A) SSBNs. Each boat is armed with 16 SS-N-32 (Bulava) SLBMs that can carry up to six warheads each. It is possible that the missile payload has been lowered to four warheads each to meet the New START treaty limit on deployed strategic warheads. In May 2018, one of the new boats, Yuri Dolgoruki (K-535), salvo-fired four Bulavas as part of a test launch (Russian Federation Defence Ministry 2018a). In December 2020, another Borei, Vladimir Monomakh (K-551), salvo-fired four Bulavas during a test launch from the Sea of Okhotsk––the 35th-38th tests of the Bulava SLBM, and the first Bulava launch from a Pacific Fleet submarine (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2020d; Podvig 2020b). Four Boreis are currently in service, with another four in various stages of construction, and two more to be purchased, for a total of 10 Borei SSBNs. The first boat, Yuri Dolgoruki, is based at Yagelnaya in the Northern Fleet. The second boat, Alexander Nevsky (K-550), arrived at its home base at Rybachiy near Petropavlovsk in September 2015, where it was joined by the third Borei, Vladimir Monomakh (K-551), in September 2016.

The first of the improved Borei-A/II (Project 955A) SSBNs, and the fourth Borei submarine in total, Knyaz Vladimir (K-549), faced delays following its laying down in July 2020, but left dry dock in November 2017 to begin sea trials (Podvig 2018a). Despite previous rumors that the improved Borei class would have 20 missile tubes, satellite images taken of the first unit in 2018 showed only 16 tubes (Kristensen 2018). In October 2019, the Knyaz Vladimir successfully completed a long-awaited test-launch of the Bulava SLBM from a submerged position in the White Sea, a significant milestone during its second round of sea trials (Gady 2019b). The new boat was scheduled to join the Northern Fleet in December 2019 (TASS 2019c); however, delivery was delayed due to “certain shortcomings” discovered during sea trials (TASS 2019l). On 12 June 2020, the Knyaz Vladimir was finally accepted into the Navy (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2020e).

The fifth Borei—Knyaz Oleg—underwent hull pressure tests in November 2016 and was originally scheduled for delivery in 2018 but was delayed for several years before finally being launched in July 2020 (TASS 2020j). The keel of the sixth boat—Generalissimus Suvorov—was laid down in December 2014 for possible completion in 2018 but has also been delayed. Despite these delays, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared in December 2020 that the Navy is expected to receive both the Knyaz Oleg and the Generalissimus Suvorov in 2021, equipped with Bulava SLBMs (Russian Federation 2020a). The keel for the seventh boat—Emperor Alexander III—was laid down in December 2015 for scheduled delivery in 2019 but has also been delayed. The keel for the eighth Borei SSBN—Knyaz Pozharsky—was laid in December 2016 for potential delivery between 2021 and 2023 (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2016). Russia has decided to build two more Borei-As: the first keel was originally scheduled to be laid on May 9, 2020, but has been delayed until 2021 (RIA Novosti 2019b; TASS 2020j). These two SSBNs would likely be delivered in 2026 and 2027, respectively, bringing the total fleet up to ten boats. Eventually, five SSBNs will be assigned to the Northern Fleet, and five will be assigned to the Pacific (TASS 2018c).

In December 2020, Russia conducted its annual nuclear force readiness exercise, during which a Delta-IV SSBN launched a Sineva SLBM from the Barents Sea (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2020f). This year’s exercise appears to have been more successful than the previous year’s, during which the Delta-III class Ryazan SSBN only fired one of its two planned Sineva SLBMs from a submerged position, due to unexpected information regarding the “technical condition of the missile,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry (Interfax 2019b). Additionally, launches of 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles during the 2019 exercise reportedly did not proceed as planned, and required the use of backup launch systems in order to fire (Sidorkova and Kanaev 2019).

The Russian Navy is also developing the Status-6 Poseidon mentioned above—a nuclear-powered, very long range, nuclear-armed torpedo. Underwater trials began in December 2018. The weapon is scheduled for delivery in 2027 and will be carried by specially configured Oscar submarines (TASS 2018g). The first of these special submarines––the Project 09852 K-329 Belgorod––was launched in April 2019 and was originally scheduled for delivery to the Navy by the end of 2020; however, it appears that this delivery will be delayed until 2021 (TASS 2020d). The Belgorod will become Russia’s largest submarine and reportedly will be capable of carrying up to six Poseidon torpedoes (TASS 2019g). The second special submarine––Project 09851 Khabarovsk––will also be launched in the first half of 2021, after its initial June 2020 launch date was postponed. Khabarovsk will reportedly also carry up to six Poseidon torpedoes (TASS 2020e).

Strategic bombers

Russia operates two types of nuclear-capable heavy bombers: the Tu-160 Blackjack and the Tu-95MS Bear H. We estimate that there are 60 to 70 bombers in the inventory, of which perhaps only 50 are counted as deployed under New START. Both bomber types can carry the nuclear AS-15 Kent (Kh-55) air-launched cruise missile and upgraded versions are being equipped to carry the new AS-23B (Kh-102) nuclear cruise missile. Two versions of the Tu-95 are thought to exist: Tu-95H6, which can carry up to six missiles internally, and Tu-95H16, which was built to carry missiles both internally and on wing-mounted pylons for a total of 16 missiles. The Tu-95 modernization program is equipping the Tu-95s to carry eight AS-23B missiles externally for a maximum of 14 missiles per aircraft. The Tu-160s are also being modernized to carry up to AS-23B internally. The new AS-23B being added during bomber modernization will likely replace the AS-15.

It is unclear how many nuclear weapons are assigned to the heavy bombers. Each Tu-160 can carry up to 40,000 kilograms of ordnance, including 12 nuclear AS-15B air-launched cruise missiles. The Tu-95MS can carry six to 16 cruise missiles, depending on configuration. Combined, the bombers could potentially carry well over 700 cruise missiles, but we estimate weapons only exist for deployed bombers for a total of approximately 570 bomber weapons. The Tu-160 may also have a secondary mission with nuclear gravity bombs, but it seems unlikely that the old and slow Tu-95 would stand much of a chance against modern air defense systems.4 According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russian strategic bombers performed 50 flights on preset routes in 2020 (Russian Federation 2020a). Most of the nuclear weapons assigned to the bombers are thought to be in central storage, with only a couple hundred deployed at the two bomber bases.5 Modernization of the nuclear weapons storage bunker at Engels Air Base continues.

RELATED: Nuclear Notebook: United States nuclear weapons, 2021

The aging Tu-160s and most of the Tu-95MSs have also been undergoing various minor upgrades for several years. The first seven upgraded Tu-160s and Tu-95MSs returned to service in 2014, another nine followed in 2016, and five more were added in 2018. Only a few dozen of the Tu-95MSs—perhaps around 44—will be modernized, while at least 10 Tu-160s were slated to be modernized by 2019, although there has been some delay. Two additional Tu-160s and five Tu-95MS bombers were reportedly upgraded in 2020 (Russian Federation 2020a).

In addition to these minor upgrades, Russia is conducting a significant modernization campaign for its aging Tu-160 force; however, there is some confusion with regards to the nomenclature of the upgraded planes, with various news outlets using Tu-160, Tu-160M, Tu-160M1, and Tu-160M2 designations interchangeably. It appears that there are two distinct modernization programs for the Tu-160 taking place simultaneously: one program involving a “deep modernization” of existing Tu-160 airframes to incorporate a next-generation engine, as well as new avionics, navigation, and radar systems, and another program involving the incorporation of similar next-generation systems onto completely new airframes (Krasnaya Zvezda 2020b; Butowski 2016; TASS 2018h).

The first public flight of the Tu-160M (sometimes referred to as Tu-160M1) prototype was conducted in January 2018 at the Gorbunov Aviation Factory in Kazan, during a visit by President Putin. Immediately after the visit, a 160 billion ruble contract (approximately $2.13 billion in US dollars) was signed for the modernization of ten “deeply modernized” Tu-160M aircraft using existing airframes by 2027 (Russian Federation 2018b).

This contract appears to be separate from the Tu-160M2 project, which will require serial production of completely new airframes in order to accommodate the 50-aircraft order made by the Russian Aerospace Force (VKS). During Putin’s 2018 factory visit in Kazan, he described the requirement for the new aircraft: “The older version of this plane was discontinued in 1993. In 2015, we decided to modernise it and resume production. This, in fact, is a completely different aircraft, including avionics and everything else. […] It may look the same, but the engine, the flight range and the capacity are different” (Russian Federation 2018b).

Both the Tu-160M and Tu-160M2 aircraft will reportedly include a new engine––the NK-32-02—that will reportedly increase the aircraft’s range by approximately 1,000 kilometers, or about 621 miles (TASS 2017). The Tu-160M’s first flight with its older NK-32 engine was conducted in February 2020, and the aircraft’s first flight with its next-generation engine took place in November 2020, although the United Aircraft Corporation declined to show pictures of the November test flight due to classification concerns, instead electing to couple its announcement with pictures of an older version of the plane (United Aircraft Corporation 2020). A second Tu-160M, converted from an older Tu-160 airframe, began ground tests at the Gorbunov factory in December 2020 (TASS 2020h). In January 2019, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the first Tu-160M aircraft would be delivered to the VKS in 2021; however, state tests of the modernized aircraft have still not taken place as of December 2020, so this scheduled delivery may be delayed until late 2021 or possibly 2022 (Russian Federation Defense Ministry 2019b; Russian Federation 2020a).

The Tu-160M2––which is also  expected to include a communications suite drawn from the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter––is expected to make its maiden flight in the fourth quarter of 2021 (TASS 2020f; TASS 2020g). It is possible that the eventual target of 50 new Tu-160M2 bombers might be exaggerated, but if it is accurate, it would probably result in the retirement of most, if not all, of the remaining Tu-95MSs, which are expected to be retired no later than 2035.

The Tu-160M2, meanwhile, is only a temporary bridge to the next-generation bomber known as PAK-DA, the development of which has been underway for several years. The Russian government signed a contract with manufacturer Tupolev in 2013 to construct the PAK-DA at the Kazan factory. Research and development work on the PAK-DA has reportedly been completed, and the aircraft is expected to share many systems with the Tu-160M2 (TASS 2019n). Construction of the first aircraft’s cockpit reportedly began in the spring of 2020, and final assembly is expected in 2021 in advance of flight trials (TASS 2020i). Preliminary tests of the PAK-DA are scheduled for April 2023 (to be completed by fall 2025), and state tests are scheduled for February 2026. Initial production is expected to begin in 2027, with serial production beginning in 2028 or 2029 (Izvestia 2020; TASS 2019d). However, it is unclear whether the Russian aviation industry has enough capacity to develop and produce two strategic bombers at the same time.

Nonstrategic nuclear weapons

Russia is updating many of its shorter-range, so-called “nonstrategic” nuclear weapons, and introducing new types. This effort is less clear and comprehensive than the strategic forces modernization plan, but also involves phasing out Soviet-era weapons and replacing them with newer but fewer arms. New systems are being added, leading the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review to accuse Russia of “increasing the total number of [nonstrategic nuclear] weapons in its arsenal, while significantly improving its delivery capabilities” (US Defense Department 2018, 9). In the longer term, though, the emergence of more advanced conventional weapons could potentially result in reduction or retirement of some existing nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, the Russian military continues to attribute importance to nonstrategic nuclear weapons for use by naval, tactical air, and air- and missile-defense forces, as well as on short-range ballistic missiles. Part of the rationale is that nonstrategic nuclear weapons are needed to offset the superior conventional forces of NATO and particularly the United States. Russia also appears to be motivated by a desire to counter China’s large and increasingly capable conventional forces in the Far East, and by the fact that having a sizable inventory of nonstrategic nuclear weapons helps Moscow keep overall nuclear parity with the combined nuclear forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

After the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review was published, inaccurate and exaggerated information was distributed in Washington by defense sources that attributed nuclear capability to several Russian systems that had either been retired or were not, in fact, nuclear. Moreover, although the Nuclear Posture Review claims Russia has increased its nonstrategic nuclear weapons over the past decade, the inventory has in fact declined significantly—by about one-third—during that period (Kristensen 2019).

We estimate that Russia today has approximately 1,910 nonstrategic nuclear warheads assigned for delivery by air, naval, ground, and various defensive forces.6 This is a slight increase compared with the previous Nuclear Notebook on Russian forces. It is possible that there are more nuclear-capable systems and that this inventory is growing. This estimate, and the categories of Russian weapons that we have been describing in the Nuclear Notebook for years, were confirmed by the Nuclear Posture Review, which said:

Russia is modernizing an active stockpile of up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, including those employable by ships, planes, and ground forces. These include air-to-surface missiles, short range ballistic missiles, gravity bombs, and depth charges for medium-range bombers, tactical bombers, and naval aviation, as well as anti-ship, anti-submarine, and anti-aircraft missiles and torpedoes for surface ships and submarines, a nuclear ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and Moscow’s antiballistic missile system (US Defense Department 2018, 53).

The Nuclear Posture Review also said:

Russia possesses significant advantages in its nuclear weapons production capacity and in nonstrategic nuclear forces over the US and allies. It is also building a large, diverse, and modern set of nonstrategic systems that are dual-capable (may be armed with nuclear or conventional weapons). These theater- and tactical-range systems are not accountable under the New START Treaty and Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons modernization is increasing the total number of such weapons in its arsenal, while significantly improving its delivery capabilities. This includes the production, possession, and flight testing of a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Moscow believes these systems may provide useful options for escalation advantage. Finally, despite Moscow’s frequent criticism of US missile defense, Russia is also modernizing its long-standing nuclear-armed ballistic missile defense system and designing a new ballistic missile defense interceptor (US Defense Department 2018, 9).

These paragraphs constitute the first substantial official US public statement on the status and composition of the Russian nonstrategic nuclear arsenal in more than two decades, even though the paragraphs also raise questions about assumptions and counting rules. Most of the nonstrategic weapon systems are dual-capable, which means not all platforms may be assigned nuclear missions, and not all operations are nuclear. Moreover, many of the delivery platforms are in various stages of overhaul and would not be able to launch nuclear weapons at this time.

Sea-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons

As far as we can ascertain, the biggest user of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in the Russian military is the navy, which we estimate has roughly 930 warheads for use by land-attack cruise missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-submarine rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, torpedoes, and depth charges. These weapons may be used by submarines, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and naval aircraft.

Major naval modernization programs focus on the next class of nuclear attack submarines, known in Russia as Project 885/M or Yasen/-M. The program is progressing very slowly. The first of these boats, known as Severodvinsk, entered service in 2015 and is thought to be equipped with a nuclear version of the Kalibr land-attack sea-launched cruise missile (the SS-N-30A) (Gertz 2015). It can also launch the SS-N-26 (3M-55) anti-ship/land-attack cruise missile, which the US National Air and Space Intelligence Center says is “nuclear possible” (US Air Force 2017, 37). The second boat, and the lead ship of the improved Yasen-M class – known as Kazan – was originally scheduled to join the Northern Fleet in late 2019 (TASS 2018d); however, the boat was delayed due to the poor results of its dockside trials, which indicated that “some of the ship’s auxiliary sub-assemblies and mechanisms do not meet the requirements of the specifications set by the Defense Ministry” (TASS 2019e). The Kazan underwent sea trials in late 2020, successfully hitting a target over 1,000 kilometers away with a Kalibr cruise missile (TASS 2020k). State trials are expected to be completed by the end of 2020, meaning that the Kazan will likely become operational in 2021 (Krasnaya Zvezda 2020c). The Severodvinsk is reportedly 10 to 12 meters longer than the Kazan and can therefore accommodate 40 Kalibr missiles, eight more than the Kazan (Gady 2018). Six more Yasen-M boats are planned—with two boats to be laid down in 2021 for completion by 2027—although the CEO of the United Shipbuilding Corporation acknowledged that program delays were likely due to unexpected “design flaws” (RIA Novosti 2019a). The Yasen-class submarines will also be able to deliver the SS-N-26 cruise missile, SS-N-16 (Veter) nuclear anti-submarine rockets, as well as nuclear torpedoes.

Other upgrades of naval nonstrategic nuclear platforms include those planned for the Sierra class (Project 945), the Oscar II class (Project 949A), and the Akula class (Project 971). While the conventional version of the Kalibr is being fielded on a wide range of submarines and ships, the nuclear version will likely replace the current SS-N-21 nuclear land-attack cruise missile on select attack submarines. There is also speculation that Russia might consider building a new type of cruise missile submarine based on the Borei SSBN design, which would be called Borei-K. The Borei-Ks could potentially carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles instead of ballistic missiles, and if they were approved then they would be scheduled for delivery after 2027 (TASS 2019f).

Air-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons

The Russian Air Force is the military’s second-largest user of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, with roughly 500 such weapons assigned for delivery by Tu-22M3 (Backfire) intermediate-range bombers, Su-24M (Fencer-D) fighter-bombers, the new Su-34 (Fullback) fighter bomber, and the MiG-31K. All types can deliver nuclear gravity bombs. A total of four regiments are now equipped with the new Su-34, which is replacing the Su-24, with a total of 125 aircraft delivered so far. The new Su-57 (PAK-FA) that is in development (called Felon by NATO) was listed as nuclear-capable by the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (US Defense Department 2018), but it is not yet fully operational. The Tu-22M3 can also deliver Kh-22 (AS-4 Kitchen) air-launched cruise missiles. An upgraded missile known as Kh-32 is in development to replace the Kh-22. The Tu-22M3 and Su-24M are also being upgraded, and the new Tu-22M3M—which reportedly contains 80 percent entirely new avionics and shares a communications suite with the new Su-57 fighter—conducted its maiden flight in December 2018 (United Aircraft Corporation 2018; TASS 2020g). The second prototype of the upgraded Tu-22M3M conducted its first flight in March 2020, and has since conducted four additional flight tests––one of which tested the plane’s resilience at supersonic speeds (TASS 2020l). It is possible the Russian Air Force also has various types of other guided bombs, air-to-surface missiles, and air-to-air missiles with nuclear capability, in which case the air force’s inventory of warheads—and thus also Russia’s total number of nonstrategic warheads—could be greater.

Russia has also developed a new long-range dual-capable air-launched ballistic missile known as the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal. The missile, which appears similar to the ground-launched SS-26 short-range ballistic missile used on the Iskander system, allegedly has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,243 miles) and is launched from the center-pylon of specially modified MiG-31K (Foxhound) air interceptors. The Kinzhal could potentially be used against targets on both land and sea and has reportedly been deployed on experimental combat duty in the Southern Military District since December 2017 (TASS 2018e). The Kinzhal was publicly demonstrated for the first time in an airshow in August 2019, although it is unclear if the missile was actually fired during the competition (TASS 2019h).

Additionally, the Russian Aerospace Force reportedly received its first batch of Su-57 (PAK-FA) fighter jets in late 2020 (TASS 2020m). Four more are scheduled for delivery in 2021, and the delivery of 22 aircraft are scheduled by the end of 2024. The full contract is expected to comprise 76 planes for delivery by the end of 2028 (TASS 2020n). The US Defense Department says that the Su-57s are nuclear-capable (US Defense Department 2018). They will reportedly also be equipped with hypersonic “missiles with characteristics similar to that of the Kinzhal” (TASS 2018f)

Nonstrategic nuclear weapons in missile defense

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review also asserted that Russia continues to use nuclear warheads in its air and missile defense forces. The missile defense forces use the Gazelle interceptor, but the Nuclear Posture Review did not identify which air defense system has dual-capability or how many are assigned nuclear warheads. The US Defense Intelligence Agency said in its March 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment that, “Russia may also have warheads for surface-to-air and other aerospace defense missile systems” (Ashley 2018). The S-300 is gradually being replaced by the S-400 system with SA-21 interceptors, and US government sources privately indicate that both the S-300 (SA-20) and S-400 (SA-21) are dual-capable. An upgrade of the nuclear-tipped A-135 anti-ballistic missile defense system around Moscow is underway, and it will be known as A-235; however, it remains unclear whether the A-235 system will use either nuclear or conventional warheads, or perhaps instead rely on kinetic hit-to-kill technology (Red Star 2017).

Russian officials said over a decade ago that about 40 percent of the country’s 1991 stockpile of air defense nuclear warheads remained. Alexei Arbatov, then a member of the Russian Federation State Duma defense committee, wrote in 1999 that the 1991 inventory included 3,000 air defense warheads (Arbatov 1999). Many of those were probably from systems that had been retired, and US intelligence officials estimated that the number had declined to around 2,500 by the late 1980s (Cochran et al. 1989), in which case the 1991 inventory might have been closer to 2,000 air defense warheads. In 1992, Russia promised to destroy half of its nuclear air defense warheads, but Russian officials said in 2007 that 60 percent had been destroyed (Pravda 2007).

If those officials were correct, the number of nuclear warheads for Russian air defense forces might have been 800 to 1,000 a decade ago. Assuming that the inventory has shrunk further since 2007 (due to the improving capabilities of conventional air-defense interceptors and continued retirement of excess warheads), we estimate that nearly 290 nuclear warheads remain for air defense forces today, plus an additional roughly 90 for the Moscow A-135 missile defense system and coastal defense units, for a total inventory of about 380 warheads. However, it must be emphasized that this estimate comes with considerable uncertainty.

Ground-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in December 2019 that the upgrade of all army missile brigades to the SS-26 (Iskander) short-range ballistic missile had been completed (Russian Federation 2019a). This includes at least 12 brigades: four in the Western Military District; two in the Southern Military District; two in the Central Military District, and at least four in the Eastern Military District. Each SS-26 launcher can carry up to two missiles with a range of at least 350 km. We estimate there are roughly 70 warheads for short-range ballistic missiles. There are also unconfirmed rumors that the SSC-7 (9M728 or R-500) ground-launched cruise missile may have nuclear capability.

The US government also says Russia has developed and deployed a dual-capable ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the now demised Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The missile is identified as the 9M729 (SSC-8) (US State Department 2019a). Former National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said Russia initially tested the 9M729 to prohibited ranges from a fixed launcher, then tested it to permitted ranges from a mobile launcher (Office of the Director National Intelligence 2018). The first two battalions were deployed in late 2017 (Gordon 2017), and US intelligence sources have since indicated that Russia has deployed four battalions in the Western, Southern, Central, and Eastern Military Districts with nearly 100 missiles (including spares) (Gordon 2019). Each battalion is thought to include four launchers, each with four missiles, for a total of 64 missiles plus spares across all four battalions. We estimate the four battalions are co-located with the Iskander sites at Elanskiy, Kapustin Yar (possibly moved to a permanent base by now, possibly in the Far East), Mozdok, and Shuya. It is possible, but unknown, if more battalions have been deployed.

Gen. Paul Selva, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, told Congress in 2017 that the 9M729 deployment at that time did not give Russia a military advantage: “Given the location of the specific missiles and deployment, they don’t gain any advantage in Europe” (Brissett 2017). After having denied the existence of a 9M729 missile, the Russian military in January 2019 displayed what it said was a launcher, missile canisters, and schematics of a missile named 9M729, but claimed its range was less than 500 kilometers, or about 311 miles (TASS 2019m). However, a US intelligence report on the display subsequently concluded that the event was a hoax: Neither the missile, nor its launch vehicle, nor the schematics shown were what Russia claimed them to be (Panda 2019b). The Trump administration in February 2019 formally announced the United States would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty effective in six months (US State Department 2019b). On August 2, 2019, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty officially died.

Russia presumably has continued to add 9M729 battalions beyond the four reported in December 2018. There is no public confirmation of this, but in February 2019, only a few weeks after Russia acknowledged the existence of the 9M729 but claimed its range was legal, the press service of Russia’s Western Military District reported it had carried out “electronic launches” of the 9M279 in the Leningrad region (RIA Novosti 2019c). This could indicate the 9M729 has been added to a fifth brigade: the 26th Missile Brigade outside Luga about 125 km south of St. Petersburg. And in December 2019, Izvestia reported that the Russian military planned to add a fourth battalion to each Iskander brigade (Izvestia 2019). It remains to be seen if this means 9M729 launchers will be added to all of Russia’s 12 Iskander brigades; however, in October 2020 Putin declared his willingness to impose a moratorium on future 9M729 deployments in European territory, “but only provided that NATO countries take reciprocal steps that preclude the deployment in Europe of the weapons earlier prohibited under the INF Treaty” (Russian Federation 2020b

Iran Horn enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges: Daniel 8

Iran enriching uranium with third cascade of advanced IR-2M centrifuges: IAEA

On 7 March 2021, IAEA verified that Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into the third cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges. (Reuters/File Photo)

• The new enrichment further breaches Iran’s 2015 deal with major powers

Updated 09 March 2021


March 08, 2021 20:22

VIENNA:  Iran has started enriching uranium with a third set of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog told its member states on Monday, a further breach of Tehran’s 2015 deal with major powers.

The move is part of a recent acceleration by Iran of its violations of restrictions under that deal, which granted Iran relief from financial sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear activities.

It began breaching limits after then-U.S. President Donald Trump quit the deal and re-imposed sanctions in 2018.

The acceleration of breaches appears aimed at raising pressure on Trump’s successor Joe Biden. The new U.S. president wants to revive the accord, but Washington and Tehran are locked in a standoff over which side should move first.

The deal allows Iran to enrich uranium only with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at the underground, commercial scale Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz. In November Iran started enriching there with a first set of IR-2m machines, which are far more efficient, and has since been adding to it.

“On 7 March 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into the third cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report obtained by Reuters, referring to uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges to purify it.

“The fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges was installed but had yet to be fed with natural UF6; installation of a fifth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing; and installation of a sixth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges had yet to begin,” it added.

In addition to its IR-1 machines, Iran is now using 522 IR-2m centrifuges to enrich uranium to up to 5% fissile purity at the FEP, the IAEA added.

That is more than the 3.67% purity allowed under the deal but less than the 20% it is enriching to at another facility, Fordow. Uranium enriched to 90% purity can be used to make an atomic weapon.

Palestinians accuse Israel of blocking COVID-19 vaccines outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Palestinians accuse Israel of blocking COVID-19 vaccines to Gaza

February 16, 2021 00:27

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority on Monday accused Israel of refusing to allow some 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses destined for Gaza health workers into the blockaded coastal strip.

The health ministry of the PA, based in the occupied West Bank, had planned to send the Russian Sputnik V doses to Gaza, a separate territory run by Hamas.

But on Monday evening, the ministry said Israel had blocked the transfer.

Israel carries “the full responsibility of this arbitrary move” said minister Mai Al-Kaila in a statement, saying her ministry was coordinating with international organizations to organize the delivery as soon as possible.

COGAT, the Israeli authority that runs civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, said the PA had requested to transfer 1,000 vaccine doses to Gaza but that “this request is waiting for a political decision.”

Israeli sources had told AFP in recent days that the transfer was not a simple administrative measure under the purview of COGAT, but rather a political decision possibly linked to talks between Hamas and Israel.

The two sides have fought three wars since 2008, and Israel has demanded the liberation of two Israeli hostages reportedly still in Gaza as well as the remains of two soldiers killed in the last war, in 2014.

Earlier Monday, the PA said it had pushed back the rollout of its vaccination campaign in the West Bank due to a delay in deliveries.

It had said it was anticipating a shipment by the middle of this month, enabling it to start vaccinating the general public in the occupied West Bank while sharing stock with Hamas.

“There has been a delay in the arrival of the vaccine,” Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting, without providing further details.

He said the launch of vaccinations for the general public would be announced “at a later time,” when sufficient supplies arrive.

The PA is expecting some two million doses ordered from various manufacturers, in addition to vaccines from the UN-backed Covax program, set up to help less wealthy nations procure vaccines.

It began vaccinating frontline health care workers earlier this month with an initial procurement of 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, as well as several thousand doses of the Moderna product via Israel.

The Jewish state, which is carrying out one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns per capita, has faced international calls to share its stocks with Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Israeli-blockaded Gaza.

The PA has registered nearly 115,000 coronavirus cases in the West Bank, including nearly 1,400 deaths, while Hamas has recorded nearly 53,600 cases in Gaza, including 537 deaths.