ON THE MAP; Exploring the Fault Where the Next Big One May Be WaitingBy MARGO NASHPublished: March 25, 2001Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.Q. What have you found?A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault? A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement.There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.MARGO NASH
May 11, 20218:34 AM HST
An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
“Fluctuations” at Iran’s Natanz plant pushed the purity to which it enriched uranium to 63%, higher than the announced 60% that complicated talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
Iran made the shift to 60%, a big step towards nuclear weapons-grade from the 20% previously achieved, last month in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz that Tehran has blamed on Israel and appears to have damaged its enrichment output at a larger, underground facility there. read more
Iran’s move rattled the current indirect talks with the United States to agree conditions for both sides to return fully to the 2015 nuclear deal, which was undermined when Washington abandoned it in 2018, prompting Tehran to violate its terms.
The deal says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67% fissile purity, far from the 90% of weapons-grade. Iran has long denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons.
“According to Iran, fluctuations of the enrichment levels… were experienced,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in theconfidential report to its member states, seen by Reuters.
“The agency’s analysis of the ES (environmental samples) taken on 22 April 2021 shows an enrichment level of up to 63% U-235, which is consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels (described by Iran),” it added, without saying why the fluctuations had occurred.
A previous IAEA report last month said Iran was using one cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-6 centrifuge machines to enrich to up to 60% and feeding the tails, or depleted uranium, from that process into a cascade of IR-4 machines to enrich to up to 20%. read more
Tuesday’s report said the Islamic Republic was now feeding the tails from the IR-4 cascade into a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6s centrifuges to refine uranium to up to 5%.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian militants launched dozens of rockets from Gaza and Israel unleashed new air strikes against them early Tuesday, in an escalation triggered by soaring tensions in Jerusalem and days of clashes at an iconic mosque in the holy city.
Twenty-four people, including nine children, were killed in Gaza overnight, most of them in Israeli strikes. More than 700 Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and across the West Bank in 24 hours, including nearly 500 who were treated at hospitals. The Israeli military said six Israeli civilians were hurt by rocket fire Tuesday morning.
This round of violence, like previous ones, was fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, home to major holy sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The rival national and religious narratives of Israelis and Palestinians are rooted in the city, making it the emotional core of their long conflict.
In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.
One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers.
Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.
By Tuesday morning, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired more than 200 rockets. That included a barrage of six rockets that targeted Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. It set off air raid sirens throughout Jerusalem, and explosions could be heard in what was believed to be the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war.
There appeared to be some first signs of de-escalation in Jerusalem early Tuesday. Palestinian worshippers performed the dawn prayer at the mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound. Amateur videos showed dozens of faithful marching to the mosque and chanting “we sacrifice our blood, soul for Al-Aqsa.”
In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed a man in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis early Tuesday, according to local media reports. In another strike, a woman and two men were killed when a missile struck the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, according to Gaza Health Ministry and rescue services.
Hamas’ armed wing said it intensified the rocket barrages following the airstrike on the house.
The Israeli military said it had carried out dozens of airstrikes across Gaza overnight, targeting what it said were Hamas military installations and operatives. It said a Hamas tunnel, rocket launchers and at least eight militants had been hit.
Dozens of rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But one landed near a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing light damage to the structure and sparking a brush fire nearby. In southern Israel, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a missile struck a vehicle.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem.”
He said fighting could continue for some time and that “”whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time.”
Gaza health officials gave no further breakdowns on the casualties. At least 15 of the 22 deaths in Gaza were attributed to the airstrikes. Seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in a mysterious explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket. More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.
In a statement issued early Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.”
Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.
In Monday’s unrest, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound.
More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.
Over 600 Palestinians were hurt in Jerusalem alone, including more than 400 who required care at hospitals and clinics, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Palestinians and police reported renewed clashes late Monday. Israeli police also reported unrest in northern Israel, where Arab protesters burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at security forces. Police said 46 people were arrested.
Monday’s confrontations came after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.
Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.
Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.
“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the U.S. would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.
In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by thousands of flag-waving nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day.
The annual festival is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. But it is widely seen as a provocation because the route goes through the heart of Palestinian areas.
Israel also captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.
Meanwhile, the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar, which frequently mediate between Israel and Hamas, were all trying to halt the fighting, a diplomatic official confirmed. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.
The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region and come at a crucial point in Israel’s political crisis. Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition last week, and his opponents are now working to build an alternate government.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he seeks ‘to have good relations’ with Iran. Three years ago, Salman had said Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei ‘makes Hitler look good.’
Eli Lake10 May, 2021 9:36 am IST
File photo of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman | Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
File photo of Saudi Arabia’s Crowned Prince Mohammed bin Salman | Photo: Simon Dawson | Bloomberg
Late last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered an olive branch to his country’s main adversary. Speaking on Saudi television, the kingdom’s de facto ruler said he seeks “to have good relations” with Iran.
That represents at least a rhetorical retreat for the Saudis, who are fighting a vicious and destructive war against Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen and were public supporters of former President Donald Trump’s economic warfare against Iran. It was only three years ago that Prince Mohammed said that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “makes Hitler look good.”
Now President Joe Biden has made clear he will not give the Saudis a blank check. He has pursued a path for the U.S. to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that would release billions of frozen revenues to Iran’s cash-strapped government.
So one explanation for the Saudis’ attempt at rapprochement with Iran is that America’s regional allies are adjusting to a new president with a new foreign policy. “They are reading the tea leaves,” said David Schenker, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who served as assistant secretary of state under Trump. The Saudis “don’t want to be left isolated or without U.S. support.”
Yet this explanation goes only so far. U.S. diplomats tell me that the Saudis began their quiet outreach to Iran in late 2019, after a devastating missile attack on their oil infrastructure in September. The crown prince pleaded with Trump to respond to Iran’s escalation, but Trump declined. As a result, lower-level talks between the Saudis and Iranians began. The only difference between 2019 and 2021 is that there is a new U.S. administration and Prince Mohammed has publicly acknowledged this diplomacy.
After the Iranian missile attack, according to my sources, the State Department urged the Saudis to hold tight. In January 2020, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and afterwards Trump sent more U.S. forces to the region in a show of deterrence.
By contrast, the Biden administration has encouraged the kingdom’s outreach to Iran. Schenker told me that it reminds him of the Arab outreach to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in the late 2000s. After the U.S. hosted a regional Arab-Israeli peace conference in 2007, several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, dropped their policy of isolation toward Syria as punishment for its role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The Arab states went back to isolating Syria in 2011, after the regime launched a war against its own citizens that rages on to this day.
Then as now, the policy of the U.S. president influenced the relationships among its Arab allies. What’s different this time is that America’s Arab allies are now preparing for a Middle East where their most powerful friend is no longer around.
This explains why a country like the United Arab Emirates, the first Arab state to join the Abraham Accords with Israel, is also quietly pursuing a diplomatic dialogue with Iran. If the Biden administration follows through with its promise to begin America’s disentanglements in the Middle East, then Arab states will need as many friends and as few enemies as possible.
It will take a great deal of diplomatic skill for the UAE to balance a new friendship with Israel and a budding relationship with a regime committed to Israel’s destruction. Just last week, Iran’s Khamenei gave a speech making clear that Iran still would like to destroy the world’s only Jewish state.
Khamenei also had a message for the Arab states that have recognized Israel. Will the Jewish state’s “normalization of relations with a few weak, pitiful countries be able to help that regime?!” he asked on his English-language Twitter account.
For now, it’s clear that the Abraham Accords have helped Israel. Their lasting impact, however, depends on Israel’s new Arab friends coming around to the realization that feeding an Iranian crocodile only whets its appetite. — Bloomberg
By Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, May 11, 2021
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.
Of all the nuclear weapon states, the United Kingdom has moved the furthest toward establishing a minimum nuclear deterrent. The United Kingdom has a stockpile of approximately 225 nuclear warheads, of which up to 120 are operationally available for deployment on four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). This estimate is based on publicly available information regarding the size of the British nuclear arsenal, conversations with UK officials, and analysis of the nuclear forces structure. The SSBNs, each of which has 16 missile tubes, constitute the United Kingdom’s sole nuclear platform, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) comprise its sole nuclear delivery system. The United Kingdom is the only nuclear weapon state that operates a posture with a single deterrence system (Table 1).
The United Kingdom’s nuclear posture
Carrying approximately 40 warheads, one of the four SSBNs is deployed at sea at all times in what is called a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent (CASD) posture. Two of the submarines remain in port and can be deployed on short notice, while the fourth remains in overhaul and could not be quickly deployed, if at all. The patrol SSBN operates at “reduced alert;” that is, its capability to fire its missiles is measured in days, rather than a few minutes (as during the Cold War). Its missiles are also kept in a “detargeted” mode—target coordinates are stored in the submarine’s launch control center instead of in the navigational system of each missile.
To safeguard against the degradation of its nuclear command, control, and communications in wartime, the United Kingdom uses a system of handwritten letters to command its submarines in the event an adversarial strike incapacitates the country’s leadership. On their first day in office, the Prime Minister is expected to offer preplanned instructions regarding the United Kingdom’s nuclear response, which are said to include options like “Put yourself under the command of the US, if it is still there,” “Go to Australia,” “Retaliate,” or “Use your own judgment” (Norton-Taylor 2016).
British SSBNs, which carry out secondary tasks such as scientific data collection while on patrol, are based in southwestern Scotland at the Naval Base Clyde at Faslane, which has access to the Irish Sea. Nonoperational warheads are stored at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) at Coulport, approximately three kilometers west of the base.
The United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons stockpile
Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom has not declassified the history of its nuclear weapons stockpile size. Over the past two decades, however, the United Kingdom has made several declarations about reducing the sizes of its nuclear inventory and operationally available warheads. In 2006, the UK government announced that they would be “reducing the number of operationally available warheads from fewer than 200 to fewer than 160” (Ministry of Defence 2006, 17). It is believed that around that time, the UK nuclear stockpile included 240 to 245 nuclear warheads. In May 2010, Foreign Secretary William Hague declared, “[f]or the first time, the government will make public the maximum number of warheads that the United Kingdom will hold in its stockpile—in [the] future, our overall stockpile will not exceed 225 nuclear warheads” (Hague 2010, col. 181). The Ministry of Defence subsequently revealed that these reductions to a 225-warhead ceiling had already been completed by May 2010 (UK Ministry of Defence 2013).
Later that year, in October 2010, the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) declared that the United Kingdom would “reduce the number of warheads onboard each submarine from 48 to 40; reduce our requirement for operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120; reduce our overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180; [and] reduce the number of operational missiles on each submarine” (HM Government 2010, 38). In June 2011, the Secretary of Defence announced to parliament that some of these proposed changes had already been implemented: “at least one of the VANGUARD class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) now carries a maximum of 40 nuclear warheads” (Fox 2011).
In its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK Government reaffirmed its plans to cut the size of the nuclear arsenal. By this point, the number of operationally available nuclear warheads had already been reduced from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, and all Vanguard- class SSBNs “now carry 40 nuclear warheads and no more than eight operational missiles” (Fallon 2015). The 2015 strategic review restated that the overall size of the nuclear stockpile, including non-deployed warheads, was expected to decrease to no more than 180 by the mid-2020s (HM Government 2015, 34). Despite these stated intentions, it is believed that throughout the decade the overall size of the UK nuclear stockpile remained constant, at approximately 225 nuclear weapons in total. Warheads removed from service during this time were put into storage, but not dismantled.
In its 2021 Integrated Review, the UK Government suddenly reversed decades of gradual disarmament policies and announced a significant increase in the upper limit of the United Kingdom’s nuclear inventory, up to no more than 260 warheads (HM Government 2021, 76). This decision joins the United Kingdom together with China and Russia as the three members of the so- called P5 NPT countries to increase the sizes of their nuclear stockpiles. In clarifying statements, UK officials noted that the target of 180 warheads promised in the 2010 and 2015 SDSRs “was indeed a goal, but it was never reached, and it has never been our cap,” stating that 225 remained the cap even after the 2015 SDSR explicitly declared that “we will reduce the overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads” (Liddle 2021; HM Government 2015, 34). In a speech to the Conference on Disarmament, foreign minister James Cleverly stated that the 260 warheads “is a ceiling, not a target, and is not our current stockpile” (Cleverly 2021).
RELATED: Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does Russia have in 2021?
Because the United Kingdom has not declassified the history of its nuclear weapons stockpile size, illustrating how the stockpile has fluctuated over the years comes with considerable uncertainty. Based on documents previously published by the British government, statements made by government officials, and analysis of the British nuclear weapons force structure over the years. Figure 1 displays our estimates for the overall size of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal between 1953 and 2025.
The degree to which the Johnson’s government’s policy change will affect the United Kingdom’s targeting requirements remains to be seen; however, the Integrated Review states that the stockpile increase comes in response to “the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats” (HM Government 2021, 76). After publication of the review, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace explained this included Russian ballistic missile defenses: “We have to . . . maintain a credible deterrent to reflect and review what the Russians and others have been up to in the last few years. We have seen Russia invest strongly in ballistic missile defense. They have planned and deployed new capabilities. That means if [the UK deterrent is] going to remain credible, it has to do the job . . . . A quite clear study of how effectively warheads work and how they reenter the atmosphere means you have to make sure they’re not vulnerable to ballistic missile defense. Otherwise they no longer become credible” (Wallace 2021).
It is notable that while Russia is singled out as “the most acute direct threat to the UK,” the Integrated Review also includes what appears to be a subtle—but clear—nuclear threat against Iran, despite the fact that Iran does not have nuclear weapons: After assuring that “the UK will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 1968 (NPT),” the document states that “[t]his assurance does not apply to any state in material breach of those non-proliferation obligations” (HM Government 2021, 77).
In addition to the warhead cap increase, the Integrated Review also reversed longstanding transparency practices and stated that the United Kingdom will “no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers” (HM Government 2021, 77). This is a mirror image of the Trump administration’s abrupt decision to keep the nuclear stockpile number secret after nearly a decade of relative transparency under the Obama administration (Kristensen 2020).
To increase its overall stockpile, the UK will likely bring warheads previously retired for dismantlement back into the stockpile. Under the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment’s (AWE) Stockpile Reduction Program, warhead disassembly is undertaken at AWE Burghfield. According to the Ministry of Defence,
The main components from warheads disassembled as part of the stockpile reduction programme have been processed in various ways according to their composition and in such a way that prevents the warhead from being reassembled. A number of warheads identified in the programme for reduction have been modified to render them unusable whilst others identified as no longer being required for service are currently stored and have not yet been disabled or modified (UK Ministry of Defense 2013).
These reserve warheads are either stored at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot Coulport or at AWE Burghfield. It is unclear how many stored warheads could be quickly reconstituted in light of the UK Government’s recent decision to raise its warhead ceiling; however, it is possible that a few dozen warheads could be returned to the stockpile over the coming years.
Nuclear modernization and the UK sea-based deterrent
Despite decades of nuclear weapons reductions, the United Kingdom—with broad parliamentary support—has committed to replacing its current fleet of Vanguard-class SSBNs with brand-new boats. The new Dreadnought-class SSBNs are expected to enter service in the early 2030s and have a service life of at least 30 years (Mills 2020). The four boats will be named Dreadnought, Valiant, Warspite, and King George VI (UK Ministry of Defence 2019).
The Dreadnought-class SSBNs will have new “Quad Pack” Common Missile Compartments that are being designed in cooperation with the US Navy to also equip the United States’ new Columbia-class SSBNs. Each “Quad Pack” Common Missile Compartment holds four launch tubes, and each Dreadnought-class SSBN will have three Quad Packs onboard for a planned total of 12 launch tubes—a reduction from the 16 launch tubes currently carried by the UK’s Vanguard-class submarines. Technical problems and quality control issues have resulted in the delayed delivery of the missile launch tubes for the Common Missile Compartment; however, in April 2020 the first four tubes were delivered and have since been welded into the first UK Quad Pack (UK Ministry of Defence 2020a). In July 2020, two more missile tubes were received by the submarine building facility at Barrow-in-Furness, meaning that half of the tubes required for the lead Dreadnought boat have now been delivered and are in the process of being integrated into the pressure hull (UK Ministry of Defence 2020a).
RELATED: Nuclear Notebook: United States nuclear weapons, 2021
The United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent relies heavily on American nuclear infrastructure, to the point where its own independence has long been in question. The United Kingdom does not own its own missiles, but has title to 58 Trident SLBMs from a pool of missiles shared with the United States Navy. The UK Government is also participating in the US Navy’s current program to extend the service life of the Trident II D5 (the life-extended version will be known as D5LE) missile to the early 2060s (Mills 2021).
Additionally, the current UK warhead, which is called Holbrook, is believed to be highly similar to the United States’ W76-0 warhead—so similar that it has appeared in the US Department of Energy’s “W76 Needs” maintenance schedule (Kristensen 2006). As part of its Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme, the United Kingdom is currently refurbishing its warheads for incorporation onto the US-supplied Mk4A aeroshell, which is an upgraded version of the Mk4 that includes an improved MC4700 Arming, Fuzing, and Firing (AF&F) system. UK officials have suggested that “the Mk4A programme will not increase the destructive power of the warhead;” however, the new AF&F system reportedly includes new technology that significantly increases the system’s ability to conduct hard-target kill missions (Norton-Taylor 2011; UK Ministry of Defence 2016; Kristensen, McKinzie, and Postol 2017).
These warhead upgrades are taking place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) facility at Aldermaston, from where the warheads are transported on trucks north to the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport, near Glasgow. Warhead scheduled for dismantlement are shipped to AWE Burghfield eight kilometers (4.8 miles) northeast of Aldermaston. The UK disarmament group Nukewatch has tracked these transports and assesses that by the end of 2020, two SSBNs had been loaded with Mk4A-upgraded warheads (Nukewatch 2020).
In February 2020, the UK defence secretary announced the start of a new warhead program to eventually replace the current warhead (UK Ministry of Defence 2020b). The announcement was preempted by the commander of US Strategic Command, who leaked during Senate testimony that the United States’ W93/Mk7 program “will also support a parallel Replacement Warhead Program in the United Kingdom” (Richard 2020). In April 2020, the UK defence secretary sent a letter to US members of Congress, lobbying them in support of the new warhead and describing it as “critical . . . to the long-term viability of the UK’s nuclear deterrent” (Borger 2020). The UK Ministry of Defence subsequently suggested that just like the similarities between the current US and UK warheads, the UK’s replacement warhead will be very similar to the US W93: “It’s not exactly the same warhead but . . . there is a very close connection in design terms and production terms” (Lovegrove 2020).
Concerns and issues for the future
The increasing costs and poor management of the United Kingdom’s nuclear complex have long been sources of frustration. The 2015 SDSR suggested that the costs of building the four new submarines would be £31 billion, an increase of £6 billion from 2011 estimates (HM Government 2015, 36, 2011, 10). The UK Government also set aside a contingency fund of £10 billion to cover possible cost overruns. In December 2020, the UK Ministry of Defence reported to Parliament that approximately £8.5 billion had been spent on the program as of March 2020, of which £1.6 billion had been spent over the previous 12 months (UK Ministry of Defence 2020a). Altogether, the National Audit Office (NAO) reported in 2018 that the Ministry of Defence was facing an “affordability gap” of £2.9 billion in its military nuclear spending between 2018 and 2028 (National Audit Office 2018, 36).
In addition to these longstanding cost concerns, in 2020 both the NAO and the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee published reports indicating that three crucial nuclear infrastructure projects would be delayed between 1.7 and 6.3 years, with costs increasing by over £1.3 billion due to poor management (National Audit Office 2020, 21; Committee of Public Accounts 2020, 3). One of these infrastructure projects is MENSA, a new warhead assembly and disassembly facility at Aldermaston that has been delayed by six years and overspent by 146 percent (National Audit Office 2020, 4). Other critical nuclear projects—such as Pegasus, for handling enriched uranium components, and Hydrus, for conducting hydrodynamic-radiographic experiments—have been plagued by similar issues (Plant 2020).
In a bid to resolve some of these issues related to management and oversight, in November 2020 the Ministry of Defence announced a renationalization of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which had previously been government-owned but contractor-operated via a consortium led by Lockheed Martin (Wallace 2020).
The Another future concern for the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent lies with the prospect of Scottish independence. Naval Base Clyde, where the United Kingdom’s SSBNs are ported, is in Scotland, at Faslane on the Gare Loch. A 2013 Scottish government white paper clearly stated that if Scotland voted for independence the following year, “we would make early agreement on the speediest safe removal of nuclear weapons a priority. This would be with a view to the removal of Trident within the first term of the Scottish Parliament following independence” (Scottish Government 2013, 14). Although Scotland narrowly voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, it is increasingly likely that the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union—a decision opposed by the majority of Scotland—could soon trigger another referendum. Although several potential relocation candidates have been identified by external analysts—such as HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth—the costs and logistics involved with relocating the United Kingdom’s SSBN force would be prohibitive and could prompt the UK Government to reconsider its current plans to modernize its nuclear deterrent (Chalmers and Chalmers 2014; Norton-Taylor 2013).
Palestinians scuffle with Israeli police officers during a visit by Israeli right wing Knesset members to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, Monday, May 10,2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner) (Associated Press)
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, setting off air raid sirens throughout the city, after hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli police at a flashpoint religious site in the contested holy city.
The early-evening attack drastically escalated what already are heightened tensions throughout the region following weeks of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem.
Shortly after the sirens sounded, explosions could be heard in Jerusalem. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The Israeli Army said there was an initial burst of seven rockets, one was intercepted, and rocket fire was continuing.
Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, said the rocket attack was a response to what he called Israeli “crimes and aggression” in Jerusalem. “This is a message the enemy has to understand well,” he said.
He threatened more attacks if Israel again invades the sacred Al-Aqsa compound or carries out evictions of Palestinian families in a neighborhood of east Jerusalem.
Earlier, Israeli police firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians at the iconic compound.
More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the iconic golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.
In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by ultranationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. The marchers were ordered to avoid the area and sent on a different route circumventing the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.
But tensions remained high.
More than 305 Palestinians were hurt, including 228 who went to hospitals and clinics for treatment, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Seven of the injured were in serious condition. Police said 21 officers were hurt, including three who were hospitalized. Israeli paramedics said seven Israeli civilians were also hurt.
The confrontation was the latest after weeks of mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional center of their conflict. There have been almost nightly clashes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, already a time of heightened religious sensitivities.
Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties. Monday was expected to be particularly tense since Israelis mark it as Jerusalem Day to celebrate their capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war.
On Monday, two anti-Arab members of Israel’s parliament, surrounded by an entourage and police, pushed through a line of protesters in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Several Arab members of parliament were among those trying to stop Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, amid shouting and jostling. Smotrich and Ben Gvir eventually got to the other side of a police barricade and entered a house already inhabited by settlers.
Over the past few days, hundreds of Palestinians and several dozen police officers have been hurt in clashes in and around the Old City, including the sacred compound, which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The compound which has been the trigger for rounds of Israel-Palestinian violence in the past, is Islam’s third-holiest site and considered Judaism’s holiest.
An AP photographer at the scene said that early Monday morning, protesters had barricaded gates to the walled compound with wooden boards and scrap metal. Sometime after 7. a.m., clashes erupted, with those inside throwing stones at police deployed outside. Police entered the compound, firing tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and stun grenades.
At some point during the morning about 400 people, both young protesters and older worshippers, were inside the carpeted Al-Aqsa Mosque. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades into the mosque.
Police said protesters hurled stones at officers and onto an adjoining roadway near the Western Wall, where thousands of Israeli Jews had gathered to pray.
The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region.
Before Monday’s rocket attack on Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Gaza, Palestinian militants had fired several barrages of rockets into southern Israel. Protesters allied with the ruling Hamas militant group have launched dozens of incendiary balloons into Israel, setting off fires across the southern part of the country.
The rare strike on Jerusalem came moments after Hamas had set a deadline for Israel to remove its forces from the mosque compound and Sheikh Jarrah and release Palestinians detained in the latest clashes.
Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has fought three wars with Israel since it seized power in Gaza in 2007. The group possesses a vast arsenal of missiles and rockets capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel.
The rocket strike on Jerusalem was a significant escalation and raised the likelihood of a tough Israeli response.
After several days of Jerusalem confrontations, Israel has come under growing international criticism for its heavy-handed actions at the site, particularly during Ramadan.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled closed consultations on the situation Monday.
Late Sunday, the U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. A White House statement said that Sullivan called on Israel to “pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm” and expressed the U.S.’s “serious concerns” about the ongoing violence and planned evictions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against the criticism Monday, saying Israel is determined to ensure the rights of worship for all and that this “requires from time to time stand up and stand strong as Israeli police and our security forces are doing now.”
In other violence, Palestinian protesters hurled rocks at an Israeli vehicle driving just outside the Old City walls. CCTV footage released by the police showed a crowd surrounding the car and pelting it with rocks when it swerved off the road and into a stone barrier and a bystander.
Police said two passengers were injured.
The day began with police announcing that Jews would be barred from visiting the holy site on Jerusalem Day, which is marked with a flag-waving parade through the Old City that is widely perceived by Palestinians as a provocative display in the contested city.
But just as the parade was about to begin, police said they were altering the route at the instruction of political leaders. Several thousand people, many of them from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, were participating.
In the 1967 war in which Israel captured east Jerusalem, it also took the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It later annexed east Jerusalem and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.
The recent round of violence began when Israel blocked off a popular spot where Muslims traditionally gather each night during Ramadan at the end of their daylong fast. Israel later removed the restrictions, but clashes quickly resumed amid tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.
Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday that could have forced dozens of Palestinians from their homes, citing the “circumstances.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Associated Press)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — A group of 13 armed speedboats of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard made “unsafe and unprofessional” high-speed maneuvers toward U.S. Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter fired warning shots when two of the Iranian boats came dangerously close, U.S. officials said.
It was the second time in two weeks that a U.S. ship opened fire to warn vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. The encounters come as the United States and Iran are in indirect talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the United States left in 2018.
Asked whether it appeared the Revolutionary Guard are trying to pick a fight with the U.S. Navy, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to comment on the Iranians’ intentions.
“Sadly, harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon. It is something that all of our commanding officers and the crews of our vessels are trained to for,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “This activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt and could lead to a real miscalculation there in the region, and that doesn’t serve anybody’s interests.”
On April 26, an American warship fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard came too close to a patrol in the Persian Gulf. That was the first such shooting in nearly four years. The Navy released black-and-white footage of that encounter in international waters of the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf near Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
In the latest incident, Kirby said 13 Iranian vessels maneuvered at high speed toward six Navy ships that were escorting the guided missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait on Monday. The sub was sailing on the surface. The six Navy escort ships included the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey. A day earlier, the Monterey had intercepted an arms shipment aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea apparently headed for Yemen, whose Houthi rebels are supported by Iran.
At one point, two of the Iranian boats broke away from the others and positioned themselves on the other side of the U.S. ship formation. The two then sped toward some of the U.S. ships. In an attempt to de-escalate the situation, U.S. crews issued multiple warnings to both groups of Iranian boats, including repeated bridge-to-bridge verbal warnings, said Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Navy 5th Fleet spokesperson.
After the two Iranian boats failed to respond to the multiple warnings and closed to within 300 yards, the Coast Guard cutter Maui fired a volley of warning shots from its .50-caliber machine gun. It fired another volley when the Iranian boats got within 150 yards.
The two Iranian boats then “altered course and increased their distance from the U.S. forces,” Rebarich said.