The Biden administration is making a big push for hypersonic-related research funding in the fiscal year 2022 budget. The administration has requested $3.8 billion, almost 20 percent more than the Trump administration’s allocation of $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2021. There is no guarantee that this will encounter smooth sailing in Congress, considering that one of the two hypersonic missile prototypes had to be cancelled last year after criticism from the House appropriations defense subcommittee. This is the latest indicator of a spiraling arms race in this new technology.
A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office on hypersonics noted that there are “70 efforts to develop hypersonic weapons and related technologies that are estimated to cost almost $15 billion from fiscal years 2015 through 2024,” most of which belong to the Department of Defense. In a speech at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Mike White, who directs the hypersonics program in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said that the United States’ adversaries have made that decision for the U.S., pushing Washington to prioritize hypersonic systems. Earlier in June, Vice Admiral Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces that “U.S. aircraft carriers are already facing risks from hypersonic weapons that are now entering the inventory of American adversaries and the Navy has developed early defenses for the threat.” Both China and Russia are reported to have deployed early versions of their hypersonic weapons, putting U.S. ships at risk.
Additionally, the MDA has made a budget request of $8.9 billion in the fiscal year 2022 budget, with the goal of developing capabilities such as “a next-generation interceptor for homeland missile defense, hypersonic defensive capability, and space-based tracking critical to detecting challenging threats.” By way of defending against hypersonic threats, MDA is reported to be pursuing a hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensor (HBTSS). The agency has made a funding request of $256 million for the research, development, testing, and evaluation of HBTSS.
China and Russia have been pursuing the development of hypersonic capabilities for a decade now. Alexander Fedorov, a professor at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology claims that an arms race is already on in this area but adds that Russia “has experience without much money, China has money without much experience, and the United States has both, although it revived its efforts later than did Russia or China and is now playing catch-up.”
China has already made significant progress in the area of hypersonics and is considered an equally consequential actor. Similar to Russia’s rationale, China claims that the logic behind its development of hypersonic missiles flows from “a concern that U.S. hypersonic weapons could enable the United States to conduct a preemptive, decapitating strike on China’s nuclear arsenal and supporting infrastructure. U.S. missile defense deployments could then limit China’s ability to conduct a retaliatory strike against the United States.”
Irrespective of the veracity of this logic, China has made systematic progress in its pursuit of hypersonics. At the October 2019 military parade in Beijing, marking the 70th anniversary of its founding, China paraded for the first time the DF-17 missile. With a range of 1,800-2,500 kilometers, the DF-17 is a medium-range missile system equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV).
The U.S. acknowledged the existence of the DF-17 prototype in 2014. In 2018, Mike Griffin, undersecretary for research and engineering at the Department of Defense said that China has done “20 times as many hypersonic weapons tests as has the United States over the last decade.” China’s pursuit of the DF-17 and other hypersonic weapons are reportedly undertaken to “counter adversary missile defenses, as well as to develop a fast, long-range, high-precision strike capability that ‘leaves enemies with little time to react.’” The HGV’s higher maneuverability and ability to fly at lower altitude make them difficult to track and their flight path unpredictable. These are attractive aspects of HGVs, which could also reduce the effectiveness of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems.
In early 2019, Chinese military officials stated that they are also developing “an antiship DF-17 variant.” Media reports in October 2020 said that “the air-launched ballistic missile that China has reportedly been developing appears to be a hypersonic warhead boosted by a conventional rocket.”
Meanwhile, Russia is also pursuing hypersonic weapons, and according to the state-run think tank IMEMO, hypersonic weapons are “a priority for the Russian government.” Talking about the benefits of hypersonic weapons, one Russian security analyst, Dmitry Stefanovich, said that they provide “new, combined abilities for missile weapons: increased speed and maneuverability, and improved accuracy.” Even though Russian research on hypersonic technology dates back to the 1980s, the program began to pick up momentum after the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2001.
President Vladimir Putin last year identified this as a key reason for Russian development of hypersonics. He said, “While developing their anti-ballistic missile system, the Americans wanted to upset… strategic stability and balance thinking that if they created a missile defense umbrella, then the other side wouldn’t be able to respond adequately if they use nuclear weapons… However, after having developed these modern [hypersonic] systems, including those which easily evade any anti-missile ballistic system, we maintain… strategic stability and strategic balance.”
The Russian military currently has two hypersonic missiles: the Avangard and the Kinzhal. The Avangard is a nuclear-capable missile that can fly at 20 times the speed of sound. The Kinzhal is also a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile fielded first in December 2017, and according to reports from January this year, it is being prepared for deployment with the Northern fleet. In October 2020, Russia conducted a successful test launch of the new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile test from the Admiral Gorshkov frigate in the White Sea.
The U.S., Russian, and Chinese pursuit of these technologies will have cascading effects. It is unlikely that such developments will end with the three. Other countries like India and Australia are also pursuing hypersonic technologies, either on their own or in partnerships. A new arms race involving hypersonics is clearly already underway. AUTHORS
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
Dr. Rajeswari (Raji) Pillai Rajagopalan is the Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy & Technology (CSST) at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden agreed nuclear war isn’t a viable option, but Russia hasn’t completely taken the option off the table.
On Wednesday, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, raised concerns about the development of weapons blurring lines during the Moscow International Security Conference on Wednesday. He stressed the need for treaties to keep nuclear weapons in check and categorized Russia’s nuclear arsenal as being “purely defensive.”
While Russia’s policy isn’t to be aggressive with the use of nuclear weapons, Tass, the official Russian news agency, reported Gerasimov noted that the country “reserves the right” to deploy the measure as a response.
That response could be prompted by another country’s use of nuclear or other “mass destruction weapons” against Russia or its allies or ” in case of aggression against Russia with conventional weapons that endanger the very existence of the state.”NEWSWEEK NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP >
In June 2020, Putin endorsed Russia’s nuclear deterrent policy, which allows him to use nuclear weapons in response to a strike with conventional weapons. Putin could also deploy nuclear weapons if Russia gets “reliable information” about the launch of missiles targeting its territory or its allies, according to the Associated Press.
With relations between the United States and Russia at a post–Cold War low, Putin’s signing of the document raised concerns about a potential conflict and supported Russia’s consideration of America’s ability to launch a military strike as a top threat.
Gerasimov pointed to the development of nuclear weapons and the Allied bombing of Hiroshima and Nagaski as a demonstration of the ability for a military confrontation to turn into a hot phase. Given the danger a nuclear war would pose to the world, Gerasimov said preventing the conflict is the primary goal of strategic stability between the U.S. and Russia
After their first face-to-face meeting, Biden and Putin said in a joint statement that nuclear war “cannot be won and must not be fought.” In an effort to prevent nuclear war, both sides agreed to lay the groundwork for future arms control and reduction measures.
Part of that reduction was the extension of the New START treaty, the only arms control agreement between the U.S. and Russia. Shortly after Biden took office the two countries agreed to extend the treaty, which was set to expire in February, and limits each country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons to 1,550 each.
The United States considers Russia a top threat and NATO nations agree. Posing a united front, the member states said they were “expanding the tools” at their disposal to counter threats, including from Russia’s nuclear expansion.
Gerasimov criticized western countries for using their perceived threat of Russia to justify an “unleashed arms race.”
On June 13, 2021, a World Bank high level delegation led by the Vice President of the MENA region, Ferid Belhaj, and Executive Director of the Board, Merza Hasan, visited Gaza to witness first-hand the damage of the recent conflict, including to World Bank Group projects.
Throughout the various conflicts that have taken place in the Palestinian territories, the images carried by media and seen all over the world capture the destruction of physical assets: buildings, houses, and infrastructure. But the psychological and mental toll on the people on the ground is not often captured.
In the last month, yet again the people of Gaza have seen themselves in the midst of conflict, damage, and destruction. The World Bank, whose founding mission is reconstruction and development, mobilized immediately to carry out a rapid damage and needs assessment (RDNA) in Gaza. Teams are working around the clock with our UN and EU partners to finalize this assessment, which will be instrumental in informing the Bank and international partners in their support to Gaza’s reconstruction and recovery.
However, reconstruction of physical assets isn’t the whole picture: Gaza also has to recover from the cumulative cost on its fragile economy of wars, prolonged closures, restrictions on economic activities, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the recent hostilities, Gaza suffered from 48% unemployment, and half of the population lived in poverty. Gaza’s contribution to the Palestinian economy was cut by half in the last three decades.
And the human toll is troubling. In the recent conflict, 66 children lost their lives, 551 children perished in the previous conflict, and many more have lost their lives in past wars. The human cost is also reflected on those who became orphaned or physically injured or who are now suffering from mental trauma. Any 13-year-old child in Gaza has lived through four wars. Considering that children in Gaza constitute half of the population that lives in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, the risk of being exposed to danger and trauma is huge.
On June 13, 2021, a World Bank high level delegation led by the Vice President of the MENA region, Ferid Belhaj, and Executive Director of the Board, Merza Hasan, visited Gaza to witness first-hand the damage of the recent conflict, including to World Bank Group projects. The video gives a glimpse of the physical damage but also sheds light on the impact that the hostilities have on the mental health of the people of Gaza – particularly youth and children.
VIENNA, June 24 (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran have a temporary agreement on monitoring Iran’s atomic activities that expires on Thursday. If it is not extended, wider negotiations on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal would plunge into crisis, diplomats say.
Struck on Feb. 21, the interim monitoring deal was valid for three months, then extended by a month on May 24. The IAEA has said it expires on Thursday but not said at what time. It is in talks with Iran on another extension. read more
In February, Iran announced that it was scrapping some of the deal’s inspection and monitoring measures.
That included ending its provisional implementation of the Additional Protocol, an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency and some member states that, among other things, enables the U.N. watchdog to carry out short-notice snap inspections at undeclared locations. Tehran signed the Additional Protocol in 2003 but never ratified it.
Iran also said it was abandoning the 2015 deal’s so-called transparency measures – the monitoring of parts of its nuclear programme, often with devices like real-time measurement equipment and cameras.
To soften the blow of Iran’s move, the IAEA and Tehran reached a black box-type agreement in February under which some of the transparency measures would continue but the IAEA would have no access to the data collected by its devices until a later date. read more
Not all the transparency provisions involve monitoring that can continue under this black-box arrangement. One that Iran has scrapped grants IAEA inspectors “daily access upon request” to Iran’s enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow.
The IAEA, however, has not needed to send inspectors daily, diplomats say, and has the authority to inspect those facilities independently of that arrangement.
WHAT DOES THE AGREEMENT COVER?
* Enrichment: The IAEA can use “online enrichment measurement” – devicesthat measure and relay in real time the amount of uranium being enriched and calculate its fissile purity. Without such data, inspectors must take samples and send them for analysis, which takes much longer.
Iran has refined uranium up to a purity of roughly 60%, far above the deal’s limit of 3.67% and much closer to the 90% suitable for atom bomb cores, though it maintains that it seeks only civilian nuclear power and could quickly reverse its moves if Washington rescinded sanctions and returned to the 2015 deal.
* Centrifuges: The deal provides for IAEA monitoring of various aspects of assembly and storage of centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium. Without that, the IAEA has no oversight of Iran’s centrifuge production, a senior diplomat said.
* Yellowcake: Uranium ore concentrate, or yellowcake, is obtained from mined uranium and must be processed further before enrichment in centrifuges. The deal provides for IAEA monitoring of “all uranium ore concentrate produced in Iran or obtained from any other source”.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Iran’s decision to stop implementing the Additional Protocol has stripped the IAEA of the ability to carry out snap inspections at locations not declared to be nuclear sites by Iran. This has made it more difficult to detect a secret facility or activities if there were any.
I The IAEA does, however, monitor and have regular access to Iran’s declared facilities housing its core nuclear activities under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, which spells out the obligations of each member state that has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The CSA also says Iran and the IAEA must account for all nuclear material in Iran.
The transparency measures expanded monitoring to areas not covered by the CSA, making it easier to detect activities or materials that might be used to develop nuclear weapons.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s government appears increasingly weak in the face of militias and parties that are expected to entrench their power in an upcoming election, dashing the hopes of protesters who were promised reform, say activists, officials and diplomats.
The Baghdad government has painted an early vote in October as the answer to Iraq’s woes, and the West has thrown its support behind Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih in calling for the election, which the United Nations has agreed to monitor.
But a series of recent events have demonstrated the impunity of paramilitary groups mainly aligned to Iran. Iraq’s biggest parties – all linked to armed groups – are already positioning themselves to divide up election spoils while pro-reform activists are gunned down in the streets.
“The Iraqi state is not in control of the situation,” said Hanaa Edwar, a prominent Iraqi rights activist. “Activists and candidates are being assassinated and threatened. It will be very difficult to hold (free) elections in these circumstances.”
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said militias are “stronger than the state itself … the old guard are in control. An internationally-monitored election will just lend them legitimacy.”
A spokesperson for the government was not immediately available to comment.
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, toppling its Sunni Muslim leader Saddam Hussein, Shi’ite parties aligned with Iran dominated state institutions and successive governments.
In late 2019, huge crowds of Iraqis took part in mass protests calling for the removal of that elite. Hundreds of protesters were killed when the security forces and militia fired on the demonstrators. The government of the day was forced to resign.
Since then, interim premier Kadhimi has promised to hold to account people responsible for the killing of protesters, and enact electoral reform for a vote that would weaken the grip of armed groups.
But almost two years later, no one has been successfully prosecuted for killing protesters. The old elite appears on track to strengthen its power, and activists complain that political freedoms have eroded even further.
The United Nations says at least 32 anti-establishment activists have died in targeted killings by unidentified armed groups since October 2019. Iraqi officials privately blame groups allied to Iran, although those groups deny any role.
For Hisham al-Mozany, an activist who had co-founded a new political party, it was a series of deployments by supporters of rival militias in Baghdad this year that scared his party off from running in elections.
“There’s no law and order in Baghdad, no (strong) security apparatus … the state is dying,” he said.
In February, armed supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr paraded through Baghdad over what Sadr said was over a threat to Shi’ite holy sites. In March, supporters of Iran-aligned militias took to the streets over government delays in passing an annual budget. On both occasions state security forces did not intervene.
Last month, militiamen deployed inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings. The militiamen were demanding the release of Qasim Muslih, a senior paramilitary commander arrested for what government and security officials said was involvement in killing activists and firing rockets at a U.S. base. Two weeks later, Muslih was freed.
NEW LAW, OLD PARTIES
Activists including Mozany continue to be threatened. “I left my home after (militias) raided my home and torched my car,” he said.
The ongoing intimidation and impunity is creating an environment in which big parties and groups linked with militias will do well in the October vote, officials and diplomats say.
Iraq passed a new election law in 2019 that in theory favours independent candidates, a move meant to encourage young, pro-democracy candidates to run. But so far, few are standing.
“Security is one of the main reasons I haven’t yet announced my candidacy,” said one activist, on condition of anonymity. “I don’t feel safe if I do so.”
A spokesperson for Iraq’s election commission said many registered candidates had recently withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the old parties say they are feeling confident ahead of the election.
“We meet regularly at someone’s home and discuss alliances. We know each other from many years back, we’re on speaking terms no matter the general political tension,” said the leader of one party.
Activists have lost all hope.
Mohammed Aldhamat, whose brother Amjad was gunned down in a targeted killing in 2019, said he would boycott the election entirely.
“There’s no point taking part,” he said.
(Reporting by Amina Ismail; Writing and additional reporting by John Davison; Editing by Peter Graff)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to hint at Israel’s role in a recent attack on an Iranian nuclear site during a speech at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots on Thursday.
“Our enemies know — not from statements, but from actions — that we are much more determined and much more clever, and that we do not hesitate to act when it is needed,” Bennett said in his speech at the IAF’s Hatzerim Air Base, outside Beersheba.
His remarks came a day after an alleged drone attack on an Iranian centrifuge production facility outside Tehran, which reportedly damaged the site.
In his speech, one of his first since taking over as premier earlier this month, Bennett referred to Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor nearly 40 years ago.
The attack — dubbed Operation Opera — was the first implementation of what has become known as the Begin Doctrine, named for then-prime minister Menachem Begin, which favors taking military action — unilaterally, if necessary — in order to prevent enemy countries in the Middle East from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Bennett said Israel’s prime ministers have always had a “sacred responsibility not to allow an existential threat to the State of Israel. Then it was Iraq, today it is Iran.”
Speaking at the same event, Defense Minister Benny Gantz also discussed Iran’s nuclear program, threatening to conduct a military strike against it if necessary, as Israel did in the case of Iraq in 1981.
“As though no time has passed, today in Iran — as it was 40 years ago [in Iraq] — a murderous and dangerous enemy, which is building arms of terror around the State of Israel, seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel and the stability of the entire region,” Gantz said.Advertisement
In his remarks, the prime minister indicated that Israel was breaking from the policy of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, of refusing to engage with the United States about its plan to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The previous Israeli government effectively refused to discuss the matter with the US except to express its profound opposition to the move.
Bennett, however, said that while Israel would ultimately defend itself if necessary, Jerusalem would cooperate with US President Joe Biden’s administration on the issue.
“We would prefer it if the world knew that a brutal and fanatical regime like this… that is willing to starve its people for years in order to fulfill its military nuclear program, that this is a regime that you can’t make deals with. Unfortunately, that is not the case,” he said.
“We will continue to consult with our allies, to convince, to speak, to share information and understandings, out of deep mutual respect. But at the end of the day, the responsibility for our destiny will remain in our hands and in no other’s. We will act responsibly and carefully,” Bennett said.
Gantz also said Israel was cooperating with the US on the Iranian nuclear issue, and similarly reserved the right to take action against Tehran.
“We are in contact with our American allies in order to ensure the security of Israel. If needed, we will act as we have always acted. We will remove and prevent any threat, with stratagems, with initiative and — of course — with professional and diplomatic responsibility,” Gantz said.Advertisement
Wednesday’s drone attack reportedly hit the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran.
The TESA factory was tasked with replacing the damaged centrifuges at Natanz and also produces more advanced centrifuges that can more quickly enrich uranium, according to a New York Times report on Thursday.
Tehran has sought to downplay the attack, saying that it had not succeeded, despite contrary reports by Iranian opposition sources. Iran has also not identified who it believes was responsible for the drone strike. The country has accused Israel of similar attacks on its nuclear program in the past.
A small quadcopter drone was used in the attack on TESA, the report said, citing an Iranian source who was not identified.
The drone was apparently launched from within Iran, not far from the site, and succeeded in hitting the target, according to the Iranian source familiar with the incident, the report said. However, the source did not know if it caused any damage.
The centrifuge production site was reportedly on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration last year, at the same time as it suggested striking Iran’s uranium enrichment site at Natanz and assassinating Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier, an intelligence source told the New York Times.
Fakhrizadeh was killed in November 2020 in an attack Iran blamed on Israel, while a mysterious explosion damaged a large number of centrifuges at the Natanz plant in April 2021. Former Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen all but confirmed that Israel was behind these attacks in an interview earlier this month, given shortly after he left office.
The intelligence source said that Israel’s campaign against Iran’s nuclear program had the blessing of the Trump administration.
While Iran maintains that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, it has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018, when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.Advertisement
The attack came as the US and Iran — through intermediaries — were negotiating a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. When Trump abrogated the agreement in 2018, he put in place crushing sanctions, which prompted Iran to also abandon the accord a year later, enriching more uranium and at greater levels of purity than was permitted under the deal, as well as taking part in other forms of proscribed nuclear research.
Iran’s uranium enrichment is a key talking point at negotiations in Vienna to revive the deal.
In an apparent effort to ramp up pressure during these negotiations, Iran in April boosted its uranium enrichmentto 60% purity, bringing it closer to the 90% purity threshold for full military use, and shortens its potential “breakout time” to build an atomic bomb — a goal the Islamic Republic denies.
Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, but as it dropped its commitments to the deal it began enriching uranium to levels that the International Atomic Energy Agency said are only sought by countries aiming to build a weapon.